I shall fall
Like a bright exhalation in the evening,
And no man see me more.
I fell here when she died. That much I can remember but there’s a haze around everything that’s happened since. Time runs differently here; and I can’t work out how long I fell for, nor how long I’ve been lying here. Sitting now. I know I fell for long enough that something should hurt. I think so, anyway, but feeling along my arm, my ankles; tracing around my head, everything seems to be in place. My hair feels dry (though the air down here is damp) and it’s too dark to check my hand for blood by sight. All things being even, I will have to trust no injury, for now at least.
The fall was long. Or very short, or neither at all. It’s a strain to remember anything from before. I was holding a hand; her hand I’m sure and I remember trying to hang onto it as the floor fell away. There was crying too. I know I cried, my cheeks are still hot, sticky in that way they are after you’ve been crying for a while and the relic of a headache that only comes with weeping lurks beside me in the dark. The other voices crying out have drifted away with the soft glow of the lamp beside her bed, distant now like the gentle music we’d been using to mollify the fast-approaching silence.
I remember being scared of that. But, in the dark down here, it makes more sense to be scared of other things and perhaps to get a move on before any such things find me. I must admit I am surprised to find myself whole. Losing grip of her hand, I felt like shattering glass and half expect to find that this is all some trick of the darkness and that I really have been scattered into fragments that all need piecing back together. My body, though, is definitely intact and the more surprised I feel, the more I consider how long it took to fall, how long I may have been lying here; the more I begin to think that it’s time to go.
The fall was strange. It wasn’t all blackness and after a time, the sinking stomach caught up with me and falling felt like floating. Flashes of things I saw, or thought I saw, catch up with me now too – picture after picture from the living room; terribly spelt emails and frustrated texts with no spaces between the words. Though there isn’t time for that now. I remember trying to hold each one in mind but they slipped by too quickly, flitting back up and away from me like confetti caught on the wind. Occasionally, I thought I saw myself, as if reflected but those spectres were gone too quickly to be sure and I’d rather not dwell on my own face right now even if that is what it was. So much has changed that it’s hard to tell.
I stand up slowly, just in case, and find myself a little light-headed but nothing beyond that. My legs seem to work and I flex my other limbs to check again in disbelief that I am whole. The air really is damp down here. It’s impossible to tell how far down I am and how large a space I have fallen into. Is it a cave? Something like a mine shaft perhaps but there is a taste of salt on the air that, now I think about it, feels faintly familiar. It goes with sun cream and chips. It’s not just the air that’s damp. I realise I’ve been lying in water that, now standing, runs ankle deep. I hadn’t noticed that before. For the first time, I wonder what I’m wearing. I don’t have shoes or socks on which is convenient given the water and what must be sand underfoot but my pyjama bottoms (drawstring, baggy – it’s a safe bet) are soaking up water. The jumper I must have pulled on over the top has somehow stayed dry.
I must be in a cave. Sounds from before echo around it. The voices are familiar but the dank and the dark absorb them too fast to make sense of what they are saying, or what they are crying out for. Something prickles in my stomach as I realise that they are not, in fact, saying anything at all. They are high and wailing; they crawl across my skin. I begin to think my eyes are getting used to the dark, shapes start to flicker into focus but never stay for long. Light is coming in from somewhere now. There’s no warmth to it though. In fact, it only makes me shiver. The walls are rough, sharp edges jutting into this new chill silver light that glint. The darkness continues to fall away and I see that the walls are flecked with glass, refracted versions of myself stare back; dismembered, ghostly in the half-light. I’d like to turn away but I am everywhere.
The light is not above me as you would expect, it emanates from the water that had been round my ankles but has risen to half way up my shins. The sand below is glittering, reflecting the light from somewhere, iridescent and shifting, the edges of its glass smoothed in the rippling motion of the water so that it does not cut my feet. Everywhere I look in the hardening light are my eyes or fingers or feet; my mouth, my arms, my body splintered in the glass. It becomes hard to distinguish between bits of me and bits of her.
This cave is not a cave but a passage, a tunnel of sorts. High-ceilinged and strange but it points the way to go, the light grows more intense ahead of me in a cold heat and it seems the only option is to follow. I hesitate at the cliché – am I actually about to follow the light at the end of the tunnel? It’s that or stand around and wait for the water to get deeper. The wailings, animals in pain, are louder now and stranger in their humanness. Moving forward, those images again, flitting in and out of sight: my brother stumbling, pale and sickened under the weight of the room; my father casting himself adrift on her body; the realisation that I must hold on even as the floor begins to gape.
The brute light I’m moving towards seems to burnish these memories without pity, rendering them bloodless in glass and stone. The closer I get to it, the more vivid the images of the place I fell from become, etching into the space in front of me in all their graphic colour. The light acts a canvas, a backlight onto which scenes are played out and projected; tableaux after tableaux of grief in flashes, screen by screen, eking out the terrible seconds and minutes over and over until it’s all I can see, all I can feel. The brine of the water I’ve begun to wade through now reaching my thighs, weighs my clothes down, it rains from above, coating my cheeks in its tears.
There is singing. The animals have not quieted but there is singing also. Snatches of song crystallise around images, some hymn-like and soft, others lilting reminiscences of some theatre show or other. My own voice separates from the animal howls and the songs to speak, alone and clear against the bells that start to ring from God knows where.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two
Such will thou be to me, who must,
Like th’other foot, obliquely run
I stagger in the waves that swell the cave as if some storm had been whipped and brewed to wreck a ship. Some Prospero stirring the surf with invisible strings. I fall against the source of the light; the images cut through me, staining me like ink with all their vivid technicolour before I catch myself, my hands pressing the pane of glass back in the monochrome of the light and shadows. Window or mirror, I watch the funeral. The colours we requested of your guests, luminous in the surrounds of the crematorium that is clean and business-like. The yellow roses resting above you and the sheer lunacy of your stillness make me almost want to laugh. Your absence is deafening. I close my eyes and press my face against the glass, willing myself back to technicolour.
At other times, I am shipwrecked. Alone on a beach, scattered flotsam of the past thirty years. Or I am trapped by the giant Polyphemus until I dissolve into no-one; lured onto rocks by Siren songs of promise and redemption or else I am chasing time down rabbit holes with playing cards and games of whist from summers spent abroad. I know we’re not in Kansas anymore but colours are the wrong way round. The colours are all the wrong way round.
About the Contributor
I am a thirty one year old writer and English teacher living and working in Berkshire. I grew up in Kent and lived in London for most of the last decade before moving to the countryside with my husband with whom I now have a baby daughter. In addition to short fiction, I write reviews and opinion focused on literature, feminism and education for a variety of publications and outlets ranging from Sabotage to The Daily Telegraph.
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
This is the last book I lent my mother before she died. Though she wasn't able to finish it, I have always connected it with her; not least, because the final passage offers one of the only truly hopeful responses to death that I have ever encountered and gave me some, small comfort as I tried to come to terms with her deafening absence.
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