This is my 100th post and it is from my new computer so I figured I would so something special and fun for this one. I am including audio of today’s post, which is one of my longer pieces that is still currently in progress. The project is called Thou and is a reinterpretation of Anne Carson’s understanding of Emily Bronte’s use of Thou. I hope that you all enjoy the first part and my reading of it.
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She grew up being assured she was not alone. Her mother told her as much. A hand would smooth over her brown hair as her mother spoke. God watches over you. He is always with you. He is omnipresent. In everything, everywhere. Having been made in His image she carries a piece of the divine inside herself, that is why her body is a temple and sacred and she must always take care of it, guard it. She absorbs these lessons, and even though she is skeptical they inform who she becomes, a pattern pressed into her brain that shapes her in ways she will never fully understand.
Insomnia found her young and unable to shut off her brain. She would creep down the creaking and groaning stairs and past her snoring father to stand next to her sleeping mother. On a good night her mother would stir and hold out a hand, whisper assurances, and send her back to bed with a warm kiss to her forehead. A bad night was her father catching her first and sending her back up the stairs with no assurances, no hugs, no kisses, only a gruff order to not bother her mother and get some sleep.
Eventually she stops going downstairs because her mother’s advice never changes, it is always: When you can’t sleep, say a prayer to God and talk to Him. At her insistence that it doesn’t help, she is told to make lists.
The lists appeal to her more than God and she fills notebooks with them. She starts with modest to do lists to organize the coming day, which turn into prioritized lists to help her survive the week, and soon she is listing goals and activities for the rest of the year, for the rest of her life. When she finishes the list for her funeral at age one hundred and two she expands the scope of her lists. She makes lists about what she hates, usually about herself. Books she has read, books she needs to read, books she wants to read; schoolwork, things that make her anxious, things that scare her, and the lists go on. They sometimes lift the weight enough that her mind can let go and she drops into an exhausted, but restless sleep. When the lists cease to work she starts writing down everything scrabbling around in her mind.
Lying in bed late at night she thinks about the fact that even though she is technically alone, God or no God, she is surrounded by living things subsisting off her. Millions of dust mites live in her bed and eat her dead skin. Microscopic, lumpy potatoes with segmented legs that shuffle around blindly while she sleeps. Then there are the unseen organisms in her eyebrows and eyelashes and intestines. Face mites crawling out her hair follicles as the sun disappears, munching on her skin cells. Her face is infested with Metapods that grew legs and she wonders if her dandruff isn’t actually Butterfrees escaping her face.
When she thinks about them too closely her skin tries to crawl away and when she falls asleep she dreams of decomposing and being eaten, of having her flesh stripped from her bones by scarabs. She alternatively experiences and watches herself disappear slowly down the throats of a variety of creatures from mites to maggots to mice to cats to wolves and finally down the maw of a faceless man. All he has is a mouth set in the middle of a visage composed solely of twisted scar tissue. A mouth that opens only for her flesh.
She stares up at the smooth ceiling, the small lamp next to her illuminating the dozen brown smears scattered across the white expanse. They are the bugs she has killed over the years with her fingers, flat palms, and a few shoes. The crunch of the exoskeleton is always satisfying, She doesn’t wash the stains out and she only scrapes the bodies of the bigger ones off because the remains act as warning signs to other bugs: beware; only pain and death await you here. Having a graveyard on her ceiling feels poetic to her, an inversion of reality, the ground over her and the sky beneath her. She feels kinship with God, lord over the small crawling things and she expands with the rush of power until she remembers that these bugs will probably outlive her species and cockroaches will inherit the earth. She falls silent.
Talking to God is pointless; He never responds and she feels far away from Him. Some people, her sister, have a connection with Him. He listens when her sister talks and sends her the signs she needs in times of crisis; one, two, three dimes. The only time she has felt Him was two years ago when she was lying on her stomach, her cheek pressed to rough carpet probably crawling with billions of beneficial parasites, underneath a table. Her fellow Confirmation candidates were silent like her, their writing utensils scratching over the papers they had been given. Ask Him a question, the paper instructed, then take a moment to feel Him and write out what He might say in response. She wrote her most pressing and present question and although “His” answer moved her to tears she knew it was her own mind being kind to her, not Him.
Thus, when the writing is not enough she talks to the air, to the void. Every time she opens her mouth to fill the silence she firmly reminds herself she is not talking to God. She whispers about all the things she writes, the symbiotic relationship she has with the creatures devouring her from inside and outside, and the words consuming her mind. She speculates that maybe tomorrow there will be a breeze to caress her face and reassure her or a strong wind to push her around and tell her to fight because all the energy she is expending, all the air she is creating must come back to her somehow. What she doesn’t expect is the soft hairs on the back of her neck to prickle, her heart to race, and to suddenly know someone is there.
“Hello?” she raises her whisper a little.
The air is still around her in a way that draws her attention. The radiator is not whistling, her hair is not stirring around her face, and the oxygen-nitrogen rich gas she can never feel and rarely thinks about feels heavy on her skin, oppressive.
The muscles in her arm tense and her eyes are drawn to the window. She shouldn’t, it is barely the beginning of spring, her father hasn’t turned off the heat yet, she has no screen to keep the bugs out. Regardless, she rises from her bed and fumbles to pull the pin back and then shoves up on the window. It sticks and she pushes harder, shifting to get her shoulder under it, grunting. It dislodges and goes up a few inches.
The cold air rushes in and touches every inch of her. Races up her bare arms, over the band of exposed skin between her frayed pajama pants and her loose spaghetti strap shirt. Her short hair lifts up with the wind and her mouth opens. The air brings her the memory of doing the same thing too long ago, bare feet, and a long-sleeved nightgown with hair longer than she has ever had in this lifetime. It fills her mouth and she speaks it into existence.
© Michelle Austin and Little Gentian, 2015.