At the end of a long, dusty summer, I was preparing to hand back the keys. My stay at the shack was coming to an end, the owners due back to the main house, bringing their daily possessions back from the coast. They were materially wealthy and I was not. I knew the value of my own company and the rich treasure of a sunset looking at me with two golden faces across the mirror of the lake.
The shack was really an extension of the boathouse. Neither old nor new, a little worn and rotten from a lack of attention but the dry season had prevented any mildew and accompanying sneezes. I had a simple camping bed and cotton sheets. The natural spring that fed the lake was a tumbling distance from the door.
Cool mossy ground that cushioned the floor beneath the spring had been partially dug out and large pink speckled slabs of weather smoothed granite dragged and dropped. They provided a dry platform by the edge of the lake, of enough square metres to allow a body to lie down comfortably.
This served as a pier now, for the main wooden bridge to a boat had not been replaced since it waded deeper and never climbed out.
I could recline on the sun warmed slabs and my feet would be immersed in the peaceful green water.
trailing fronds carelessly across the rippling skin of water
The piano trill of spring water would laugh at me in amusement. I often sat and picked at my guitar, singing at the wildlife.
For a plain woman of late youth, it was an unusual circumstance in which to find oneself. Not the lofty pines of of an American vampire mystery, nor the longing sighs of an Italian romance. Not even a tragic Scandinavian forest murder story. No, nothing more confusing than a wealthy educated couple needing someone resident on their property in their absence, to calm their imagination.
The lake and boathouse sat at the bottom of a hill valley. There were bundles of sheep everywhere. The coast was close, ten miles west. I had agreed, or rather, begged, for the opportunity to stay, to ‘keep my eye on things’, for the solitude and isolation drew me. The rich green, the trilling melody of evening birdsong, the blissful lack of people.
I wanted to exorcise some horror. To let it flow into the lake, sink below the silt and be buried softly, silenced in rich mud forever more. Or at least, to exist, expanding and reducing in cycles, slowly, as it can never truly go but be put away somewhere manageable. In the same way that we desire to capture a photograph of a sentimentally pleasing moment, to transform and exalt into art. Or to wonder at a caged songbird and admire wilderness controlled, take our fill of pleasure and natural beauty at our own pace. We do the same with trauma and pain. Attempt to discard it, hide it, cage it away from our senses so that it may not scream in our ears or burn at our eyes any longer.
I cannot destroy the memory completely. How dare I risk losing the evidence of an event that altered me so deeply? The agony carved from me, rang in my skull, tore at my skin. All at once a hundred years of false scoldings, lost precious moments, endless clifftop stumbles. This had assaulted me and although I was able to regard this as one holistic demon, I did not want to let him go. I wanted him to live somewhere neutral, peaceful and calm.
When I am ready to see my face shining back into the glossy dark eyes in which they are held, to face him once more, I can do so with the clarity of earth filtered water, the constant embrace of a loving ray of sunshine, the friendly caress of cool coastal air and cheers of encouragement thrown loud by trivial avian gossip. He may even find that he relaxes himself in such a pleasant environment.
I have been here all summer long, strumming my guitar and generally finding peace for myself. Taking pleasure where I can, in all ways. Watching, listening as the sun set twice meeting itself on the horizon in ever decreasing hemispheres. Often I would still be sitting out, feet soaked as the stars were unveiled. I never stopped singing to the life all around me. The beers came and went. A man visited me and we made irrelevant love that only touched my flesh.
I barely told anyone where we were going. The owners of the house know me on a practical level but have only ever nodded and smiled. It was generous of them to open the peripheral doors on their own inner sanctum and allow me somewhere to feel safe and secure, unjudged in their actual warm absence. They gave me somewhere to deposit my demon. The gently rippling surface unbroken, unsullied by his presence because the water is cleansing itself, isn’t it? Constantly refreshed by the spring, any poison is washed away; and a lake is teeming with life anyway. So much can happen here.
On the hotter, more uncomfortable days, I stripped down naked and swam out a few metres. It was cool and I appreciated the opportunity but I felt unsafe. There were many dangers; alone without a safety line. I suppose I might have felt safer if only the owners were at home because I would be anticipating their checking up on me but alone, literally out of my depth, the demon beneath the surface was too close and I could feel my fear grow. What if he woke? What if he wanted more of me and took control once more? Would I drown alone, or even die?
I had hauled myself out into the rough slabs, the second time, heart racing, breath lost, hair clinging to my dripping face. I was crying I found and did not understand the tears. Crouched, hugging my knees, sobbing, until eventually the heat of the sun licked me dry and the silence filled my ears once again.
I remember my gaze fixing upon some new point of interest. A ladybird crawling centimetre by centimetre directly beneath me, oblivious to the thoughts I was having. How irrelevant I suddenly felt, a great hulking collection of self pitying cells, naked and ugly. I considered crushing the ladybird, it was within my power to do so, after all. It is not something I would ever take pleasure in, the deliberate explosion of death.
At that point the tears and heat had dried me and I moved a few paces to lay down in the spongy cool moss, to drink directly from the spring. There was a little dappled shade here. This was cooler and refreshing; I remained here briefly, until once more my gaze fixed and I observed a tentative snail beginning an exploration of my wrist. I enjoy proximity to nature but I wanted to say, “snail, I am still but I am not inanimate, so you should fear me.” It did not fear me though, because a snail does not know what I mean.
Weeks later I realised, watching clouds pass across the calm silky surface of the lake, that if the demon is separate from me, kept submerged, clean, richly surrounded by the oblivion and trivial comings and goings of everyday existence, amongst the snails and ladybirds, is the demon aware of what I mean? Is the demon sentient? Does it need to eat, can it reproduce? Does it diminish if I do not feed it? Can it exist at all if I am the only one that knows about it? Is it bigger than I am? What is it made of?
Dragging my drifting contemplations back to the beginning…I am folding my few sun bleached clothes, tshirts, dress, cut off jeans, a bikini that really should be consigned to a bin now. Sandals with broken straps. I am circling the place, deciding which mementoes of this summer should remain here and which should come with me.
I could leave it all. I know that the demon and the boathouse will be here for as long as I can return. Even the slabs, the moss, the spring, the birds. Nature just repeats itself, the life force goes on and on. One day I won’t. One day will be my final chance to crush the ladybird. The only chance to blow a sweet goodbye to the taste of sunlight.
If I decide to live without the demon, what do I have left?
Tell me what on earth do I have left?
I was only sewing together the loose threads. She was dropping them everywhere, tripping over them and so I picked them up, gathered them to me, so fast and tangled they became, wrapped around me. I panicked I could not organise anything, nor definitely a bundle of threads.
Many colours. Oh she was untidy, emptying her pockets for another tissue, or to take herself for a cigarette. Silly girl, she created mess. She should have come to find me sooner.
I was hurting too, all the times she shut me out, I only wanted her to feel my presence. To let her know I was there for her, each fresh wound could be tended and I would help her to heal. Instead of looking at me, she was furious and threw more threads. It was not my role to like her but she should have known I was as inescapable as her need to breathe.
I took to sewing the threads. I went to her when she was not looking and I stitched things to her. I reached and pierced her skin and sewed a strand of gossamer fine feeling between she and I. I pushed the needle into my eye so that what she had felt and what I had seen would never be separate. She knows this, for I whispered to her, dear heart, night after night.
I watched her wringing her hands, scratching her nails down her cheeks, biting a lip so hard it bled. Ruby red, is my favourite colour. She shuns me. Does not want to know. Well my love, it matters not what you desire for we have already done the learning.
When it was over she began to look around herself and notice life again. No matter how loud I shouted, she ignored me. I scattered the bundle of tangled threads at her feet and saw her bend to collect them. I watched her clutch her chest in shock and I heard her voice gasp in pain but she did not speak to me. She pulled at this one, that one before falling to her knees, reaching for the hem of my clothes. it was as though I punished her and was not simply returning her possessions.
A canary yellow strand slipped through her fingers and I saw that she had stopped breathing.
Coming closer to lay her down, I recoiled at her loss. I would revive her, return her reason to live. She could not have been stopped so simply.
Her lips were cool and slack, all naive wonder had evaporated.
Once I had watched from far away, as she raced madly in the wind, carrying a rainbow of silken streamers that rippled behind her. I knew how vibrant this person could be. I leaned on her ribs and pushed the last of that sigh from her lungs. I blew sharply into her and began to compress, natures rhythm, forcing a pulse across her broken heart.
When I felt a beat, I gathered the bundle of threads and retreated. I went away, quiet so that she did not have to see me.
I missed her deeply. I hid and unravelled the threads and then I stitched and wove them into something else. Something better. A strong rope and a net.
The passenger door opened and she dragged me out. I stumbled, it was bright and clear. There was a lake. I heard the slap of lazy waves against a bank. I looked around and was intimidated by a lofty sky, bleating sheep and many tall orange trees that faded to deep blue as I looked between. A little house. A broken limbed pier. A spring.
She has brought me here alone and I was unprepared, suddenly glad I had sewn my eye to her.
She carried her possessions to the little house and looked at me over her shoulder as I followed her. She appeared exasperated. The bag was not even heavy. My feet made no sound on the soft earth. Was it a shy, almost coy glance? I was excited, was it an invitation? I wanted to be bound to her in a more dangerous, corporeal way, taking pleasure from her bones. I grew in confidence at that moment for the more she entertained me, the harder I became.
A shadow passed across her, a cloud before the sun. With dismay I saw her enter and close the door behind her, leaving me outside. It is not today then.
I leave her there and go to explore the lake. Strolling without purpose to the far end of the immense pool of water, away from the spring, where the fluid was deeper and still.
I felt tired and was grateful. I placed the rope and net in a safe place up the bank, then slithered noiselessly into the water. If she did not want my company then I would not force her.
We both knew one another was safe. I am not hurt, I am not angry. I just miss her she is my friend and lover. It saddens me that she can’t hold me close. I know her friends don’t like me, I am ugly and I don’t fit in. I touch her in a way nobody else does and although she won’t connect with me, she also cannot let me go. I can see her feelings, silly girl.
Deeper I swim, the marbled moving ceiling of the air meeting liquid, mirrors me. I inhale the water and transform. Drown, submerge. I have no heart. The water is darker, the silt stirring, thicker as my intrusion disturbs the aquatic civilisation. Swim in circles until I rest, coiled in a bed of the finest dirt. It settles upon me and then I am stopped.
I close one eye. The other remains open because of the fine thread; if she pulls upon it I will wake immediately.
Time passes and creatures ignore me. They trust me and I love them, busy and hopeful, making their epic journeys, celebrating their lucky existence by tirelessly repeating their duties. I like them. What is a bigger tribute to the unexplained wonder of existence than to exist, unquestioning. Mainly, I ignore them, because I am listening.
I am waiting to respond, watching with one eye. I never gave her any reason to mistrust me because I never acted inappropriately.
I listen to her singing lively melodies, mantras she has designed to ward me off, as though I am evil or sinister. I am not. I am connected ineffably to her, no matter how much she laughs, dances or copulates.
She is thinking that she has no power and she is frightened of how I may consume her. In the reckless summer heat sometimes she invites me to watch her. I know she is thrilling inside to let me closer. Always on her terms, though I push sometimes, take advantage to revel in her attention. Occasionally she is calm and we share moments of equanimity.
I am sly and also patient. I can be, for I will always be near her. She can’t live without me anymore, for she defines herself by me. I am her shadow. I fill the gap when she moves. Stare at her silhouette and when you close your eyes, that is me that you see. I am but am not.
One day I was brooding beneath the mud and the muted waves of energy travelling through water were intensified, crashing, throbbing noises. I rejoiced! She was in the lake, her smooth pale limbs splitting the skin of glass, churning up a fuss where the elements collided. A pressure difference, she breathes the air; I am underneath, slower and compressed. I see her trepidation, the stiff dance of her body as she tries very hard to ignore me. She cooled too rapidly. I felt so sad when she waded out through reeds towards the slender brown beach across from the spring. She vanished, naked into the tall trees and walked back around the peripheral footpath, returning directly to the boathouse. I heard her singing louder than before, her anger loud. She drank. The man came then and I heard her shouting. In pleasure? She pretended I didn’t matter to her, I know. She needs to go through these human rituals to feel like one. I love that she feels delight. I speak to myself, comfort, one day she will need me, in order to feel ecstasy. Later, when he left, she cried on the rocks and I longed to touch her. When I move, she runs. Goodnight, dear heart.
The next time she swam, I was closer yet. She wanted me, I could see her, ripe and bold, hot as the sun was so high beating down on her. She was confident, had stopped doubting her ability to resist me. Naturally, that confidence to confront me inspired my lust to consume, meet her with equal enthusiasm. I reached to touch her as she moved through the water. Too close. I frightened her and she panicked. The water frothed, she fled. Did I misread her intention? All still once more. I am trembling with her.
The packed bag is in the car. The worn bikini inside. I’m taking all but him. I am almost ready to leave. I will return another time perhaps when the owners are home.
I have a sense of an equilibrium at last. It is a day of change, I have no doubt. The sun is just a fraction lower in the sky and even the first leaves are falling, still green but losing their intensity. They fall and it doesn’t seem to matter at all. Birds soar from the treetops as I push noisily into the overgrowth on the little path bordering the lake. I want to circle the lake one last time before I depart.
With each step, I am humming, inhaling the powerful scent of fungal spores, pungent bracken and a sweetness of decay. I think of all the energies dissipating. All is recycled in nature. I look through the trees at the sky; watery, milky blue, cataracts of clouds obscuring the outward view. I am tired but glad to have rested here. I am exhausted by the loneliness.
Reaching the far end of the Lake and the boathouse is equally distant from both sides. I stand, looking, for many breaths. My reflection beneath me, regarding me. I startle myself, for I can see a broad grin split my face yet I don’t feel that happy. It must be the movement of the water. It is so quiet here I almost cannot breathe. I feel powerfully alive, vital, electrified almost. Hair lifts on my neck. I feel watched.
I crouch down and the crackle of a dry twig snapping, provides the shock.
The grass here on the bank has been flattened by a large creature recently. I am uncertain: can I move? I am drawn to the water and the face I see is smiling so lovingly, possessively. Not cruel but somehow knowledgable. My secrets are all there. I shudder and step back. Am I so changed this summer?
A bright tangle of colour is beside me, something dropped in haste. I reach down to pick up this bundle, a sense of absolute curiosity lures me for I believe i recognise the hues. Ruby red, canary yellow, orange and blue. A strong rope and a hand woven net. They belong to me, I know they do and I want to keep them. I don’t recall ever making them but I confess so much has happened here at the lake of which I am barely conscious. So many numb hours, deconstructing, decomposing. Inevitably reconstructing.
It is time to leave but I will keep these perfect mementoes.
She is leaving. I feel my eye pulled as she travels further away. I ache for her but she saw me and she needs me here. I left her the rope, ordered threads bound together for strength. And a net for security and safety. She knows where I am and one day she can bring the rope and net to haul me from the lake. I am both her most beloved and hated part, respectful of my threat but nothing without my existence.