Variations on the Theme of Sadness

This is a short and (for me) experimental piece, mixing fiction and non-fiction. I haven’t written much creatively in a long while, and this baby just wanted out, so here I am, unleashing it upon the world. Constructive feedback and thoughts are always appreciated. (Full piece after the cut!)


CFT003 101256 002There are days when the brokenness spills. It starts gushing out of every thought, crashing against furniture, rebounding. On those days, tea and flowers and lemon cake aren’t enough. On those days, it takes all the effort to just breathe, and tame the many-tentacled Baphomet. It takes patience. The soft man’s voice that lives inside the YouTube meditation channel takes all the time in the world to form one sentence. This voice has no guilt, no fear. This voice has it all. ‘This’, it says. This is a bad day. ‘Is’, it says. Is it always going to be like this, this mute struggle? ‘A’, it says. A dog is barking somewhere outside. Its distress can be heard clearly through the (not so) noise-cancelling earphones. ‘Guided’, it says. Guided: now here’s a thought, what would it be like to have some guidance for once, a smooth ladder to climb, an open window. ‘Meditation’, it says, with sliding intonation. Meditation cannot be achieved when the brokenness has prongs and it wants to eat you. The voice continues, steadily, without rush, just as before, building its sentences over neurologic centuries. ‘Take a deep breath.’ The dust in the air invades the lungs, chokes them violently before agreeing to settle. The room must be a mess. The carpet probably hasn’t been combed by a hoover in two months. ‘Inhale to the count of four.’ Is that onetwothreefour, or more like one. two. three. four.? ‘Then hold it in for four.’ Four what? Seconds, minutes, hours, years? Is that what those mummified Buddhist monks do in Nepal, hold it in for about four years, but end up forgetting how long that’s supposed to be until someone digs them out of their cave forty years later? ‘Exhale through your mouth.’ Mouths are strange things, they can do so much. They can chew, and kiss, and pout, and smile, and sing and scream with a little help from the throat. They’re the antechambers of the body: a lot goes in and out of them. But not the brokenness. That’s screwed in too tight.

booksThere are other days, too, when the brokenness sleeps. But then the fight tires, and sleep hovers over everything. There’s no writing to be done, no thinking straight. That’s when the phone or the doorbell rings. That’s when there’s talk of missed deadlines, work unfinished or undone, food left to rot on the table, dishes and mugs turning yellow, their enamel cracking in the sink. Polite questions are asked, to mask the accusation that comes later, wielded swiftly and efficiently to cut all strings. It’s damage management, both during the fight, and after. It’s constant gnashing of teeth, discovery of unremembered scratches and bruises. But, above all, it’s tiredness, heavy, decisive, claiming every single inch of the body. And there’s a lingering sense of shed tears, even when no tears have been shed at all. The lachrymal glands ache. The eyes are sore. The heart pounds irregularly inside the head. People become faces, to be navigated with effort and sent away. Perhaps coffee is made, if the feet aren’t too uncooperative. Otherwise, a forgotten bottle of stale water is fished with some difficulty from under the bed. There’s a stash of books on the bedside table, the only comforting landmark in a shifting, centreless world. As soon as they are opened, they let their words loose, words that have danced and bred with danger. These are words that build bridges, or walls, or houses, or oceans, or dreams. These are words that don’t ask polite questions. These are words that have all the time in the world, as well as no time at all. The tower of books by the side of the bed is the only one that never topples in a room where nothing else is safe. They are quiet, but vigilant. On their own, they are powerless, but words know how to bide their time.

sitting room.jpgOf course, there are variations. It is calmer in spring, for instance, more silent, but also more present, a mild, threatening nausea under the ribs. In winter, it likes to moan a lot and it feeds on memories sadistically. On busy days, it takes the form of a round, polished, white stone in the pit of the stomach, just heavy enough to give the shoulders a slight stoop, and to weigh down the knees a little. On quiet days, it tugs at the back of the mind like a half-forgotten commitment, causing mild anxiety. On sunny days, it can make the sky seem hollow and pale, the passing cars too noisy, and it makes wasps multiply in number, as well as aggressiveness. On rainy days, it tends to take a step back and draw the curtains. The brokenness doesn’t like rainy days. Maybe the smell of musty earth makes it sick, or maybe the stinging freshness of raindrops causes its skins to shrivel. Rainy days are the best, that’s when words also like to come out of their shells, and graze on waterlogged air.

bedMostly, though, the brokenness keeps pace, it falls in line. In cold beds, it becomes a blanket. In hot weather, it blooms into a parasol. The blanket is just slightly too itchy on the skin, the parasol a little too unwieldy. If there are no friends round the table, it joins for lunch, and eats most of the meal without giving thanks. It speaks of the future at great length, and it likes to measure: the volume of knowledge, the depth of emotion, the height of aspiration. Nothing measures up for a myope with perfect memory. When sleep comes, it folds itself into the creases of the night, and comes up in flashes and visions: a childhood fear, a warped desire, a worry whose aftertaste will turn milk sour in the morning. It has become a fixture, almost loved, almost necessary. The cat turns its nose at it when she sneaks into the bedroom, as she would turn its nose at the discarded body of a hunted sparrow. Breathe in for four, hold for four, release. The books are still on the bedside table. The phone will ring soon, and polite questions will be asked.

[All photos from New Old Stock]

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