Saturday, 21 August 2010
Promises - Part three.
Sometimes when they came to me, to tell me their troubles next to my small fire, the ones who had already been would tell me a little of what had happened. Hands clasped over their faces to hide their shame, they would speak. Not full accounts, just broken snippets. Always, when they had gone, I would leave myself and make my way to the safety and freedom of my Emme’s beautiful house.
She took her time to sort out their practise. She moved back and forth, right and left, her body between me and the counter. I closed my eyes and listened to the clink of the objects she was handling. When I opened them again, he was standing there also. He was wearing a mask over his mouth and nose. A shadow made it impossible to see his eyes. She put a mask on herself, and then he nodded towards me, indicating he was ready. She picked up a silver object and stood beside me. He tapped his gloved finger against the counter top. Then turned towards me.
I was very careful as I folded the picture up, out of the way. The space underneath was smooth and clean. I took the pen Emme was holding out for me. Bekka and she moved around me: They unfolded pieces of paper that were lying on the floor; they opened some of the tins and drew out more pictures, more drawings; they rifled through the pages of books and picked up photos and poems and paintings. I uncapped the pen, pressed it against the wood, and began to write.
Even when the people have gone, their confessions still talk to me. They repeat what they’ve seen. “He just reached out-” “no preparation…” “It glinted in the light...” “So sharp you won’t feel a thing.” “I sold it. Ah, it’s gone, it’s gone!” “…like quicksilver.” “No feeling. You’re left with no feeling.” “…an empty space…” “…as if your soul..” “…cut in half…” “It was so dark…” “Oh, oh, oh! No! What have I done?” “He was so quick…” “No eyes! Oh, no eyes!” “…so dark…” “…and then she said-”
“A lick and a promise.” She took my hand and held it up to her mouth, drew her tongue over the veins. Then she spat onto her fingers. The moisture gathered in a droplet on her index fingertip. She stroked the wet fingers around the edge of the hole. Her fingers pressed against the sides of my empty socket, round in a circle. Then she placed her hand flat over it.
I wrote our names. Emme. My name. Then Bekka. Then I drew a line and started on the other names. Hana. Juliette. Guinnie. All the girls, all the ladies, all the women. The memories of the house in one list of names. As I did this, Emme and Bekka pinned up the papers on the back wall all around it, covering the old wood. The new owner’s loud voice was a soundtrack to our work.
They were waiting for me as I walked out, my shame tracking tears down my cheeks. I remember one woman in particular. The sister of Mr Farner. She was all in white; a dirty, faded white, her pale hair in a mussed up bun, the thick skirts and lace-edged bodice smudged with grey, the pink ribbon lining the lace like lines of faded blood stains. She was wearing one of the fashionable, new, mini top hats, in an off-white colour that was not unlike the colour of her dress. The small lace veil just skimmed the edge of the deep hole that lead a path into the depths of her desperate soul.
The promise was handed to me in a glass phial. Bright green-blue powder sprinkled into thick liquid, then shaken into a paste. The same bright, bright green-blue of my eye. She took my hand and pressed my fingertips into the colour, before she sealed it and put it into a paper bag. A lifetime of colour in one small glass phial. Just one lifetime. My promise.
We covered the back wall. When we had finished, the man’s shouting had been reduced to a suspicious, awe-filled silence. His daughter stood at his knee, hands grasping at the thick material of his trousers. I pulled the original child’s painting back over the names so that he wouldn’t see them. We stood back. His daughter had the biggest, biggest grey eyes. “For your daughter,” we said. Then we left them staring at the collage of colour.
They parted before me. There was a sense of relief, a sense of release. As if I had been the final clause, the sealing part of the promise. I stumbled as I walked through them. My towns people smiled at me, encouragingly, with sorrow written in their empty sockets and remaining eyes. As they drifted away it was with a growing sense of purpose. Emme caught me as I tripped. Her arm slid, strong and firm, around my waist. She turned her head to me, and with my half-a-gaze I caught sight of her two, beautiful, purple eyes. In this crowd of half-people, her completeness made my cry. “I’m so proud of you, Emme. So proud.”
They came out onto the steps to watch me go. Her white coat and his black shirt. Her peroxide hair and his dark curls. Her long, pale fingers and his heavy, olive hands. Her ice-blue eyes and his black-open sockets. Blind as the day she’d been born, empty as the day he’d succumbed. I never saw them again.
We walked down the worn steps of Emme’s beautiful house for the last time. The towns people were ranged at our feet. Their houses in the hands of others, their belongings in cracked leather cases at their feet. They stood in silence, watching as Emme helped Bekka and I down the steps and onto the mud road. Then, as one, they picked up their cases, and with one last look around the broken town, started to walk.
We became the people who had passed through our town for years and years before. With our lives in our suitcases, we walked from settlement to settlement. We became known as the Half-Town. A name as unimaginative as it was true. People shied away from us. They saw only our empty eyes and the shame that was carved into our faces. When we reached the city, however, everything changed. In that place of broken people and unfinished spirits and crippled souls, noone noticed yet another set of incomplete people. We could hide here.
The years have dragged on. Emme and I share a house. We sit in front of the fire in the evenings, in the dark, twisted rooms of our abode, and share our stories in the silence. Always, nowadays, I find myself holding my promise. I stare into the colour depths, press the colour onto my fingertips; that bright, bright green-blue. The colour that lasts a lifetime. Sometimes I think that it is fading, or that the paste is running low, and the certainty of my oncoming death grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me hard.
Sometimes I look at my promise, my special return, my empty guarantee, and sometimes I know what it is. Sometimes I know that it is the promise of long life. I have lived a long time. Sometimes, instead, I know that it is the promise of a single life. No returns. That the end will be the end. And a blessed darkness, in which I am already half immersed.
When I sink too deep into these thoughts, Emme comes over to me and takes the glass phial from my hands. She opens the lid and presses my fingertips into the colour. My beautiful, bright, green-blue. Then she puts my promise away. And then, sometimes, I realize I don’t know what it is. I only know that it must come soon. So I close my eyes. Hide from the half-darkness and the colour on my fingers. And I listen instead to her stories; her voice winging its way out of the shadows cast by our small fire, painting images on the walls of our twisted room. And I know, then, that in the end, it will not be so dark, after all.