- the house
She yawns in the fog, stretching up to the sky.
A yellow dirt road runs between her and me.
Appearances are deceptive from where I stand:
she seems the gothic ruin of a gothic castle,
turrets, greenhouses, gargoyles,
the unreal air of prison, refuge, cloister.
Here I will be Teresa in her ecstasy, Beatrice in her martyrdom.
Here I will reign (briefly, painfully) overseen
by the gargoyles, the turrets, a collection
of closed doors, rooms shaded by curtains
and thousands of locks with thousands of eyes.
- the newly-wed
I wake up early to Judith’s sobbing;
you are no longer here.
You have gone up to the study, your work,
leather-bound books and Bàrtok.
I cannot move, I cannot get up.
I am a dead weight
unmoored in the middle of the vast
house. The house,
a gigantic compound eye at your service.
I know that you, alone in the study, are watching me.
No one told me about this. What they said was:
nausea, vomiting, dizziness, holes in my teeth,
fingernails broken and ruined. They said:
foul cravings. And you, famous gourmand,
made to watch me eat jars of redcurrant jam,
stinking Marmite, chips.
Aches, sickness, terror of the birth.
Violent delight, fear.
That was all. No one said anything
about seeing the dead.
Now they visit I understand you; everything fits in its proper place.
The collection of dolls, useless broken objects,
this out-of-control accumulation of junk.
The house, a gigantic eye with little eyes inside.
Dolls’ eyes, mannequins’ eyes.
You inherited these objects, inherited the urge to dig them up—
antique shops and house sales,
grand houses brought to ruin like your own.
Gentlemen getting rid of their treasures, their favourite toys;
and you come back, the car filled with arms and legs,
stuffed birds, mechanical dolls,
kaleidoscopes, magic lanterns, philosophical games,
our sad menagerie of faded feathers,
dusty junk which someone once called antique.
The entrance hall becomes an improvised field hospital,
and I remember that you were
in the faraway war, in a faraway land.
A war I know of from old wives’ tales.
And I wake to something else, that singularity that hangs about you, because you came back.
I don’t think that the dolls are watching me,
but I do believe that they have conquered the place.
You smile when you fix one.
Impossible unworking collection of trash eccentricity.
Nothing like Vaucanson’s duck, failed attempts at perfection;
What makes me more human than these rusty toys?
And she will understand: not that much.
I am hungry. The girl inside me is hungry.
What do I fear? Precisely this: seeing them. Not seeing them.
You could play real tennis in this kitchen, such a huge cave, dank,
sunk underground in your castle of Never Return.
But there is nothing to eat.
The cupboards are bare, the larder full of cobwebs.
The stove is cold as our marriage bed.
No pheasants hang from the hooks in the ice-house,
no corpses, no pain stored inside.
A cold room—huge, hollow and useless.
Don’t go in there, you say, woodworm, and the all-conquering and tenacious damp of centuries.
Heavy shadows on the mirrors, all your beautiful women,
silent and mouldering and covered in dust.
I burst out laughing: when I see one it is always a doll
instead of the Hungarian opera singer,
the North American heiress,
the spiritualist with the palindromic name.
I don’t understand the empty ice-house,
the pristine biscuit tins polished so brightly I can see myself.
I don’t understand why there is no food at all,
as if you were saving ingredients for a more elaborate feast.
You go out hunting, you come home.
I don’t know where you hide the little corpses,
dry blood staining your jacket,
and that glint in your eyes,
glossy as they sometimes are when you look at me,
as if you were about to cry.
But also like wolves’ eyes when they see their prey,
the instant before they spring.
III: the locked room
There are thresholds it is better never to cross, rooms which should stay sealed.
Vestibules, alcoves, wonder-rooms,
perverse collections of memories and dreams.
There are keys that can lock doors shut,
mid-sized keys, tiny keys,
keys with bows as enormous as bulls’ eyes.
Heavy keys for cellars, catacombs;
thin keys for the breakfast room and the larder.
Rusted iron keys, bright aluminium ones,
bronze and gold keys for the secret chests.
There are papier mâché keys you offer me with exaggerated courtesy,
but which I know to be useless.
There are other keys, made of memory and pain.
There are keys made of flesh and bone.
- the dead wives
They came back yesterday,
their bluestocking know-it-all faces.
Very quiet, all of them,
like broken dolls at the foot of my bed.
They seem to understand that I do not want the girl.
They seem to know the future, all the pasts.
The present is this house, the dolls, them,
and all the doors that should never be opened.
About the Contributor
Marian Womack grew up in Andalusia and lives in Cambridge. In Spanish she has published the experimental nouvelle Memoria de la nieve, and she has contributed to a number of anthologies of literary and speculative fiction. Her fiction in English can be read in Weird Fiction Review, Apex, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, vol.3 (Undertow, 2016), and she has written for video games. A graduate of the San Diego Clarion Writer’s Workshop and of the Cambridge University Creative Writing MSt, she is currently a postgraduate researcher at The Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, working on the connection between the gothic, weird fiction, and climate change fiction.Lost Objects, a collection of tales about ghosts and nature, will be published by Luna Press in 2018.
Marian is a co-founder of the small press Ediciones Nevsky/Nevsky Books, and can be found online at marianwomack.com / @beekeepermadrid
Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
A gothic tale which is in some senses a taxonomy of loss where the protagonist loses her home, her name, and finally her identity.
More from Issue Nine:
- The Place That He Can Never Return To
- The Cyclops
- The Girl with Many Names by Kristin LaFollette
- Three by Deb Scudder
- The Mourner by Louise Burgess
- Margot by Marni Appleton
- Pebbles on a Shore by Lynne E Blackwood
- blindfolded minds by Rachel Hawkins
- Phantom habits by Blakeley Bartee
- Dementia’s Mantra by Mike Ferguson
- Pack Animals