I keep my soul in a suitcase tucked under the bed, where spare blankets and duvets abide. This is a safe, quiet place where no one else goes. There’s no danger here, only sanctuary.
I keep my soul in a suitcase shoved deep under the bed where monsters gather at night. I hear it crying when the rains cease falling and the moon stops hanging its head. The sound is a constant these days.
I keep my soul in a suitcase hidden deep under the bed, amongst other such discarded junk. I have no use for it any more, never did. Perhaps one day I shall stumble across it, undo the case’s rusting catches, and unpack what’s left. Then again…
I keep my soul in a suitcase too deep under my bed, where dust motes gather and spiders make webs. There’s no means to reach it, as my back hurts and old age has ruined me. No, really, it’s true. I hope it’s doing well, though, and it will remember me when I’m gone.
There’s a soul in a suitcase left under a bed. There are others, too, but they don’t converse.
She frowned in that way little children do, with that absolute certainty that she and not them were correct. Her brows creased to Norwegian fjords so severely as to threaten to crack her porcelain features. Her eyes narrowed. The crème de la crème, out came her tongue to blow a raspberry to wet the world. She ran.
“Come back, stranger!” roared the little boy.
Kara bolted back into the trees from which she’d emerged to a whiplashed face and thorn-tugged clothes. The boy had no such issues, for he was smaller than she. He proved faster, too.
The little boy had her by the ponytail before she’d exited the hawthorn bush. He tugged. She wailed.
There was a scuffle, a curse regarding the football shirt the little boy wore, one returned with interest about her red wellington boots — how she wished she’d worn trainers, he’d have never caught her then. And only when the two staggered from the bush and fell in the long grass did the idyllic summer return.
It was several minutes before the boy rose to his elbows and offered the first words of a truce. “You’re the strangest girl I’ve ever met.”
“My name’s Kara,” she hissed. “And I’m not.”
“Robbie,” he replied. “And you are so.”
Robbie was unsure whether the wellington that hit him square on the jaw was called Kara or the girl who tossed it? He imagined he ought to have known, but the stars in his head prevented any confirmation. So much so, that Robbie collapsed back into the grass with a thud. There, he remained.
Kara waited an appropriate amount of time before retrieving her boot; it slipped back into place with a schlep. She gave her new nemesis a kick, then a pinch to his bare arm, both to no reaction. “Hey-ho,” she mused.
Robbie remained as recumbent as an overfed sloth.
“Why did you leave him, love?”
“But it sounds like he’s hurt.”
“So what? He started it.”
“It sounded very much like you did. It’s not normal to blow raspberries at someone who was just walking past.”
“Raspberry,” corrected Kara.
Her mum rolled her eyes. “Come on, you’ll have to show me where you left him. I want to make sure he’s okay.”
“He’s not okay.”
Her mum pulled the same frown Kara had.
“How’d you know?”
“The same way I knew he was going to call me names.” Her eyes widened to raging suns. “I’m strange!”
Grinning, she toasted his death, then smashed the bottle over his head.
They locked her away, called her mad. She was mad, but not without reason.
Seventeen years later, and release. She went straight to his grave and did a jig. The police were waiting. They each shook her hand.
Ours was an unusual romance, one bordering on desperate, teetering on brave. Whether squawking like crows or cooing like doves, we loved and hated with equal passion. She was the black rose with thorns so barbed as to puncture, and I was the unwitting gardener who cultivated its cruelty.
Corrine was a hateful woman until one got to know her. She discouraged this by using a wide variety of scowls, sneers, and shakes of the head. If one got close, she stepped closer, sudden and sharp. If one spoke over her, woe betide them. The darkness in her eyes steered all in the required direction, drove the rest away. All except me, that was. I couldn’t run. My pride wouldn’t allow it. We grew close. Some might have claimed us entangled.
We took a tour of Europe by train, The Orient Express. You may have heard of it. Despite the indisputable luxury this vehicle offered, Corrine bellyached non-stop. At first, I agreed with her, employing appeasement. Soon, I grew as disenchanted as she, not with the train trip, but Corrine herself. Despite her unrivalled beauty, her exquisite lines, hair to die for and eyes to drown in, there was only so much one could take. I had taken enough.
I stepped from the train as we crossed a viaduct. Dramatic, but true. I had, of course, threatened to leave first. “If you don’t stop! I’m warning you! I’ll do it! Don’t tempt me!” Etcetera, etcetera.
“Promises, promises,” her always reply. She’d blow smoke from her cigarillo right into my eyes, as if us trapped in a Parisian haze. The urge to scream became unbearable. So, I did. I’m unsure when I stopped?
So, as mentioned, I leapt from the train whilst my strength remained, my will still intact, and most of all, whilst Corrine was, as we say in polite circles, momentarily indisposed.
I hit the water as her scream shattered the landscape, sending boulders crashing and birds flooding into the sky.
The question came after thrashing my way to the riverbank, where I lay like a floundering fish until the moon rose high and stars blinked a welcome: Why? Why would a woman who so discouraged interaction, actively oppose it, be bothered? In the greater scheme of things, what difference did my escaping her make? Here was the key.
Schemes are like flower bulbs planted so deep as to go forgotten. Only when they burst unexpectedly from the cold, hard earth into rainbows of unexpected colours do they become apparent. I was her colour, and she the darkness that buried me.
We met again quite by accident at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan. I had taken a liking to this country so unlike my own, where a shrug meant more than a novel and kindnesses were only ever a handshake away.
Turandot: Opening night. The performers were so close as to sing in my ear.
I don’t know why I turned, looked up, stared. Why I held her gaze when I should have slipped down in my seat, or better still, run. She was older then, her raven hair now closer to lead. She wore black, trimmed in lace, as an Italian widow might. Her face was as pale as snow.
As the music played, she mouthed something at first unreadable in the fragmented light. At first, but not by the end: You killed me.
Curiosity forced me up there to that empty stall. Curiosity or madness? Getting even never came into it. She had gone. Only a solitary black rose left snuggled in a seat proved her ever there. This, I took.
London, and home.
The rose remained un-withered, as fresh as if picked that very morning. This, I planted in my garden.
When I awoke the next day to Big Ben’s incessant chimes, breakfast was on the table. I had no servants? The windows were thrown open, the curtains flung back and a stench of decay permeated the atmosphere. Confounded, I wandered outside. The rose was gone.
Corrine’s fingers slipped around my throat like a noose.
“I always wanted to visit London,” she breathed. “So kind of you to bring me.”
We argue daily. Life is not good. Yet in my heart of hearts I know this, I missed her misery, her melancholy ways, and she missed mine. For what is life without the threat of death to keep the world in balance. No, seriously! I need to know?
“There’s sharks in the river!” screamed Ray.
Our elders set out to kill them, men and women. No one returned.
The army tried next. They dynamited everything, then drained the river. There wasn’t a shark or a villager in sight.
“I lied,” confessed Ray.
“So did our parents,” I replied.
She made sweeping changes, everything from burning the curtains to killing the cat. The outside faired no better. She had the garden walls knocked down, the fountain plugged, even the old willow tree hacked to pieces. She did all this with a smile on her face and an unwaveringly airy disposition. Next, came me.
She made sure I saw everything, every last detail. She stood there bold as brass, hands on her hips and announced in a voice so sick as to be sweet exactly who she was, this woman who’d bought it all, my business, my home, myself.
“I’m your half-sister,” she purred.
“Uh-huh. The worst half.”
Father had never said a word, and now he never would, after all, she’d disposed of him first. Apparently, it hurt less than the cat, and on the plus side, saved me a job.
It was an unfortunate situation, she and I, an overlong affair. We had our good times, or hours, or first moments, which were longer than most. I should have counted myself lucky, really. Honestly, I should. But I didn’t, and neither did she. Shame! After all, she was my mother.
A thin veil of mist delays the dawn. The stars sense it, blazing a trillion semi-permanent goodbyes. Glitter applied to the night, a decorative destiny, the bats fly higher as the swallows awaken, but neither feels fulfilled. A familiar feeling, one I’ve known far too long.
I love these moments, these hints of the beyond. My own private purgatory without having to suffer the indignity of demise, I inhale the damp air, laugh as it laps at my lungs, imagine the soil above me. Somewhere, a barren soul remains as arid as ever.
The spiders have the right idea, hanging their nets to capture the moment. They toil in relentless circles, the dew doing nothing to dampen their spirits. If spiders have spirits, that is? I really ought to know.
A blood-red sun emerges like a sliced tomato atop a decaying salad. This distant giant pulses through the clouds, pours through the mists and fruits in tangerine as a dispelled dawn. My grey nowhere is gone.
I hide in the shadow of an ancient oak. Well, ancient compared to most, anyway. Here, where night’s shawl lingers in a cool kiss, I observe the sparkling gold between the leaves. Like drifting embers, I think. Like the world’s burning. But burning isn’t my job. Never has been. That’s for someone else entirely.
The first arrives later than usual after most people have had their coffees and lunch. She is followed by more, a steady procession of once life. I greet them with a sickle smile and a hollow hello. This is the best I can muster. I try, though. Really, I do.
The rest of the daylight hours are busy, bordering on suicidal. I manage them as I always have, with grim determination.
There is no respite at night, if anything, it’s worse. It’s like they await obsidian in the same way I do grey, intensifying their efforts at self-persecution, war, murder, capitulation. But who am I to judge, as that’s the job of another. Who am I? Yet, I do. This is what they’ve made me. Me! This is what I’ve become.
Dawn, and all is still. I breathe in every peaceful moment whilst the night dwellers tuck themselves in to sleep and the day roamers rub their eyes. I wish I could stay here forever, stood between the sun and the stars.
The tears pool in my amphitheatre caverns.
I am the one you all must meet. I am the darkness glimpsed through the mist. If you hear me, you’re elsewhere. If you see me, you’ve arrived. I will welcome you as best I can, but the truth is, I couldn’t care less.
There was something about her. Something impassive. All she lacked was the nictitating membranes of a reptile’s eyes, that brief translucence before the kill. She killed often. I know. After all, she killed me. We met on a windswept Wednesday, when everyone with sense remained indoors. I caught her umbrella as it blew from her hand, or rather, she let slip from between her fingers. We walked, drank coffee, and later… danced. Wednesday night became Thursday morning and the sun reappeared. The city streets steamed. It was inevitable really, she and I. She had a house near the swamps and I had the money to fill it. I’d always hated the city, anyway. We settled together like a hen on an egg, by which I mean, she smothered me. It was a slow disassembling of self, how she manipulated me with raised eyebrows and slight shakes of the head. She never moved more than necessary. Late spring became mid-summer and the weather turned hotter still. The flowers drooped, trees sagged, and the weeds burned to a crisp. Every day began with the misted leftovers of the prior fried evening. They never quite cleared, the sun a citrine blur behind the withering reeds. I took to walking along the thickening waters like a heron patrolling a stream. It was as if God reduced them daily to pour on his lunch instead of gravy, so unctuous they turned. They had that same solidity as skin and I wanted to walk across them, test physics and nature alike. I wanted to but didn’t. My keeper lounged. She always lounged. She wore as little as possible as often as she could, sprawled like a lizard basking in that endless heat. Nothing bothered her, not hunger, lust, or even death. As the world burned, she bronzed. It came to a head when I tripped over her one afternoon; I hadn’t even seen her there. A dislodged sandal slipped into the water and a whisky-lined throat scratched, “Get it back.” I tried. I really tried! But no matter how far I stretched, reached with grappling fingers deep into the shoreline, the sandal was gone. Her response, “Wade.” And I did. Despite the very real fear of knowing what lurked beneath those stygian waters, her presence commanded it. My own personal Cleopatra, her beauty expected nothing less. My stomach hurt, teeth ground, heart sank. I gagged on the stench, eyes watering and throat retching. She sipped her drink and sauntered over. And just when I thought she might help, she slid onto her stomach and slipped into the water face first. It was not a fast death, that drowning. She made sure of it. I saw the pitch-black night of those depths as an astronaut sees space, taking them in, navigating them needlessly. The pain became insignificant as I faded. She placed me in her parlour with a pat to the cheek, her teeth stained crimson, eyes glazed. There were others in various states of decay. I was just the latest. She remained there for those final moments, motionless, inches from my face. I drooled a lobotomy. “You have alligator eyes,” my last words on this earth. She leaned in close enough to kiss. They say you see your life flicks past at the end. That a jigsaw of all you’ve been and all you’ve known is laid before you. It wasn’t, though, not for me. And as I went to who knew where, passed on, all that marked it were her epitaph words. “Wait till dark comes, my love, they glow.” But I was already there and saw nothing.
Lands are divided by borders, some obvious, others not. Whether lines on a map or cracks in the earth, borders separate. Add war into this equation, and ours was wider than most.
She stood waiting with the others, wearing the same desperate expression they all wore. Families removed from each other. Children unstitched from their parents. Soulmates lost to limbo.
They lifted the rope at the agreed upon time, Lissette and the other refugees pouring forth like an unblocked drain. How could the bridge hold them? But it did. It was their replacing the rope that made us both cry.