A short story exploring the contrast of hope and of despair in the darkest of places.
By Alice More
As she lay there that night, she considered how insignificant her existence was to the Earth. How, outside of these four walls, life went on as normal. However much she felt like her hopes were crumbling in on her, that there was no chance of stability, somewhere else someone had exactly what she wanted. A sense of helplessness overwhelmed her; such a strong feeling of compassion and desire suppressed by the harsh reality of what was. What does one do when they can't do anything?
Time was the ultimate judge, she thought. At the same time, the same second, a baby's first breath is echoed by another's last. The delicate silence of an intimate moment contrasts the bustle of a busy city. During the same 5 minutes, people from all over the world, from all walks of life, have received telephone calls. Some from friends, family; a warm invitation for a sunday dinner or a catch up over lunch. Others sharing the deafening news of an accident, a discovery that would rupture the stability of someone's own, personal world. Time stops still.
But, outside of that room and that telephone call, life everywhere else goes on. Clocks tick, counting something; time passed or time left? Seconds split winners from losers. From reaching the bus on time to a gold medal at the finish line. Time is everywhere; every house, town, country in the world. It's what unites us, all of us, without judging our background, our experiences and our mistakes. It's how we choose to spend it that counts. That's what divides us.
This is really real; it’s actually happening. I'm not hearing it over the radio or watching it on the news. I'm not reading it on the front cover of the newspaper because the story is me.
Slumped in the corner I trace the cracks in the wall that I know so well; the places where I have scratched and clawed. Maybe one day someone will see them, see this, see me? Through the tiny hole in the wall I hear the gentle pitter patter of drizzle, wellies in puddles and umbrellas catching on zips. The laugh of lovers or a giggle from a child. The insignificant things, I always hear them.
Everything in my head is a mess; fragments of thought a jumble sale in my brain. I’m cold; physically and emotionally frozen. I used to cry. Every day I would cry, each tear bleeding another hour, another day trapped within these malevolent walls of despair and desire. Mourning the past and yet fearing the future. Now, when my eyes begin to sting no tears fall, or if they do I don’t think I can feel them anymore. My skin is too sore; my bones too weak to cope with my anguish. My spirit, the spirit of the girl I used to be, begs for an escape. I release from reality, through the dark hole of my mind and, like sleep, I fall into the past...
The fleeting of my heart against my skin felt like a drum in a silent night. At this moment, I couldn't feel more alive; my veins ache with anticipation and my tingling skin throbs with each touch. Each hair on my body stands on end, so sensitive I feel delicate and vulnerable; afraid and yet alive, so alive. In these few minutes my emotions, suppressed for as long as I can remember, are so raw and real they come in shuddering waves. My breath quickens, rushing like a stuttering waterfall, yet I feel each one to my very core. That dawn, as the sun rose, life took on a new meaning.
Trapped in my mind is a photo album; each page, each photo a different memory. Some mean more to me than others and sometimes the photos are ripped or bent in the corners where the details are hard to recall. Tomorrow I will turn another page and the day after the next. It's a slideshow of reminiscence. Enveloping my senses in the past is my only escape from the present. Some days there are so many pictures they begin to merge together.
Every Easter, my family and I would visit our local parish; an elegant tall church with a comfortable silence. The pews were hard but smooth and from there I would often admire the stained glass windows high above and out of reach. It is here where I used to decorate the church each spring with arrangements of flowers – carnations, hyacinths and apple blossom. My favourite were always the daffodils -big or small their twisted stems folding and moulding together as one, the prisms of light from way up high bouncing off the walls and illuminating each petal, each grain of space. I remember singing there - the echo like a conversation as the church sang back. I would visit every time I needed to think something through. At a young age they were small things like who to give a Valentine's card to or which race to enter in the swimming gala. But as I grew older bigger things entered into my life, bigger questions. More often than not it was the question of what to do next.
Looking back, I can see the girl in the church. I can see the way her hair waves and curls and understand her frustration as she tugs at each coiled ringlet. I can feel her stinging eyes or the tiredness behind them. I can hear her breathing and on those winter mornings see her breathing; the puffs of mist from her chapped lips forming shapes and clouds in front of her eyes.
As I lie, my eyes shut, a glimmer of a smile meets my frail cheeks and I feel my fingers reach up as if to question this alien expression. I follow the line of my jaw down to my chin and my neck cradling my face in my hands. I used to think the world was at my fingertips.
He's back. My body knows. I can feel it in his footsteps. You might think I’m afraid but I’m not. I’m not afraid. I am not shaking from fear or trepidation; I'm trembling for the smells of the outside world that he carries on his clothes. Of Danish pastries cooked at sunrise, of roast dinners, of fresh rain. The aromas from his clothes begin to transport me back to a life worth living; when I had so much to live for. As his fingers claw my back, I feel nothing. I am numb. I am obsolete. I clench my eyes shut; so tight flecks of yellow and blue batter against my eyelids.
It is the season when life began to creep back into the orchards and the meadows, and the first day of April showers. I feel myself there once more; I can feel the hard earth under my shoes and the gentle breeze skimming my cheeks. As the rain starts to batter the ground I gaze across the waterfall into his eyes. Up above the clouds thunder and the downpour soon turns into a rhythmic song, each droplet dancing in my hair or clutching at my eyelashes. At this moment in time I do not know whether the stream running down my cheeks is from the rain or from my happiness, dissolving in every crevice of my clothes and skin. Through the trees I can see the sun, her rays casting a quilted pattern on the forest floor - a delicate weave of light and darkness, moments of hope and of fear side by side, as they always were. Arches of strong colour danced over the horizon. It’s all a delicate mess of a painting.
My eyes stammer open and my blood begins to swell; my veins throbbing with violent anger each time reality drags me back into its clenched fist. But suddenly for the first time in months I feel my eyes grow cloudy and the agony and the torment and the pain seeping out through every pore in my body. I begin to feel free. I feel my eyelids begin to ache and throb, my heart begins to beat faster and finally, finally I can feel the tears on my cheeks and my skin grow damp and my hands cupping each drop. Then, because I can feel them there, because I know I haven’t lost, more begin to flow and then more- tears of joy and of sorrow all interlacing in one beautiful moment.
As the slideshow starts at the dawn of another day, I begin to question the end. What happens when the photos run out? What will I be then?
Under the cover of the night she wove the paths towards the village. Glinting through the trees in the distance the streetlights up ahead provided the only source of colour in the daze, cutting through the fog and casting shadows on the dried earth beneath her feet. The storm brewing overhead did not seem to matter; the air felt fresh and subdued. To her left she could make out the valley; hills and streams moulding and meandering together like a jigsaw. This part of the world was beautiful, she thought. In the calm before the storm.