A Little Hearth: Snippets from an Unfinished Novel by Reka Jellema
Darkness comes, as promised.
My sister, and her canny predictions: You like your water deep, your edges sharp, your face drawn, your fingers chilled, your sky black, your sun blotched, your heart flayed, your legs splayed, your men hard, and so on, Kath wrote. This has to stop.
Oh, for crying out loud, Katherine.
One day you’ll look up and the lights will go out. And that will be it. Darkness will come: The end of all things. And for what. You’ve buried yourself. Rise up.
My sister. Always big on imperatives. But I like her sense of rhythm. She used to say so much. Now she’s silent.
This is where you look into the fire. Contemplate this letter. The title of that play Dad read us comes to mind: Burn this. By now, this page is ash. Sew your own shroud. Build your own ship of death. You’ll not listen.
Have you ever jumped out of an airplane? There’s nothing like it. You think you’re powerless, and then you’re crouched by the open door of a flying machine at a high altitude, gripping the bar until the dive master tells you to let go. Arching back, you’re airborne, the earth and sky like the inside of a spin cycle. Like something dreamed by Salvador Dali. Here a cow, here a clock with its hands missing. The dive master tells you to let go.
In her letters, Kath said the opposite.
The trick is to do the unexpected. Remember the monkey bars in the playground in Sutton’s Bay? The way you clung to them? You’re going to want to hang on a little longer, Liv. If it feels wrong, do it.
In the dark I’m wide-awake and mole-like. Other people’s windows are little hearths. Go near to them and warm yourself. Inside, a staircase, family photographs of the kids at all ages as you climb. A couple watch blue imagery moving on a screen, steaming mugs balanced on a TV tray. Inside, a red lamp casts red light. It’s friendly. But it’s not about color.
Morning is when the walls and ceiling envelope me in their deadly whiteness. It is always cold and thoughts impose themselves on the blank canvases. My mind is a bleak house.
Afternoons are worse. I fall asleep and dream of open graves and the inside of a pine box. There is a place awaiting you. Forever after. Partly it’s the coffin and the claustrophobia, but the satin lining does me in. A substance softer than skin. Someone pulled the plug. Motionless. Moonlight white. This is my vision.
In the evening, when light dies, dimness warms the little cottage. I stuff newspaper and kindling in the wood stove and scrape a match against a matchbox. Set the kettle boiling. Fill Wallace’s mug with strong black tea and top it off with a generous splash of milk. For it is important that awake people be awake, I hear my father say. Through the glass, orange and blue. Outside, trees take shape. The moon materializes and stars are lite-brites.
You know what comes next. The color black. The Smiths. Hennaed hair. Glam lipstick. Goth regalia and the accoutrements: Piercings, drugs, sex.
Except it wasn’t like that. I stuck to blue jeans and T-shirts. A bottle of vodka in my desk drawer. Reading binges by day: John Berryman. Hart Crane. Delmore Schwartz. Lowell and Jarrell. And so on. Anyone who died young and badly. I read the poetry and I read the letters and I owned their madness, coveted their genius, and knew I’d never see twenty-five.