I sink down into my body as into a swamp, fenland, where only I know the footing. Treacherous ground, my own territory. I become the earth I set my ear against, for rumours of the future. Each twinge, each murmur of slight pain, ripples of sloughed-off matter, swellings and diminishings of tissue, the droolings of the flesh, these are signs, these are the things I need to know about. Each month I watch for blood, fearfully, for when it comes it means failure. I have failed once again to fulfil the expectations of others, which have become my own.
I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will. I could use it to run, push buttons, of one sort or another, make things happen. There were limits but my body was nevertheless lithe, single, solid, one with me.
Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping. Inside it is a space, huge as the sky at night and dark and curved like that, though black-red rather than black. Pinpoints of light swell, sparkle, burst and shrivel within it, countless as stars. Every month there is a moon, gigantic, round, heavy, an omen. It transits, pauses, continues on and passes out of sight, and I see despair coming towards me like famine. To feel that empty, again, again. I listen to my heart, wave upon wave, salty and red, continuing on and on, marking time.
I’m in our first apartment, in the bedroom. I’m standing in front of the cupboard, which has folding doors made of wood. Around me I know it’s
empty, all the furniture is gone, the floors are bare, no carpets even; but despite this the cupboard is full of clothes. I think they’re my clothes, but they don’t look like mine, I’ve never seen them before. Maybe they’re clothes belonging to Luke’s wife, whom I’ve also never seen; only pictures and a voice on the phone, late at night, when she was calling us, crying, accusing, before the divorce. But no, they’re my clothes all right. I need a dress, I need something to wear. I pull out dresses, black, blue, purple, jackets, skirts; none of them will do, none of them even fits, they’re too big or too small.
Luke is there, behind me, I turn to see him. He won’t look at me, he looks down at the floor, where the cat is rubbing itself against his legs, mewing and mewing plaintively. It wants food, but how can there be any food with the apartment so empty?
Luke, I say. He doesn’t answer. Maybe he doesn’t hear me. It occurs to me that he may not be alive.
I’m running, with her, holding her hand, pulling, dragging her through the bracken, she’s only half awake because of the pill I gave her, so she wouldn’t cry or say anything that would give us away, she doesn’t know where she is. The ground is uneven, rocks, dead branches, the smell of damp earth, old leaves, she can’t run fast enough, by myself I could run faster, I’m a good runner. Now she’s crying, she’s frightened, I want to carry her but she would be too heavy. I have my hiking boots on and I think, when we reach the water I’ll have to kick them off, will it be too cold, will she be able to swim that far, what about the current, we weren’t expecting this. Quiet, I say to her angrily. I think about her drowning and this thought slows me. Then the shots come behind us, not loud, not like firecrackers, but sharp and crisp like a dry branch snapping. It sounds wrong, nothing ever sounds the way you think it will, and I hear the voice, Down, is it a real voice or a voice inside my head or my own voice, out loud?
I pull her to the ground and roll on top of her to cover her, shield her. Quiet, I say again, my face is wet, sweat or tears, I feel calm and floating, as if I’m no longer in my body; close to my eyes there’s a leaf, red, turned early, I can see every bright vein. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I ease off, I don’t want to smother her, instead I curl myself around her, keeping my hand over her mouth. There’s breath and the knocking of my heart, like pounding, at the door of a house at night, where you thought you would be safe. It’s all right, I’m here, I say, whisper, Please be quiet, but how can she? She’s too young, it’s too late, we come apart, my arms are held, and the edges
go dark and nothing is left but a little window, a very little window, like the wrong end of a telescope, like the window on a Christmas card, an old one, night and ice outside, and within a candle, a shining tree, a family, I can hear the bells even, sleighbells, from the radio, old music, but through this window I can see, small but very clear, I can see her, going away from me, through the trees which are already turning, red and yellow, holding out her arms to me, being carried away.
The bell wakes me; and then Cora, knocking at my door. I sit up, on the rug, wipe my wet face with my sleeve. Of all the dreams this is the worst.
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