Room 1: Grey Sunken Cunt
Woman lies in bed, room is almost blacked out with heavy drapes. One low lamp or candle burns at her bedside. There is an old fashioned silver spoon on black velvet beside the lamp or candle. She wears dark glasses or a blindfold. Intermittently she scratches her arms and neck quite violently but without gaining obvious relief.
Old Woman: I forgot this year to watch for the snowdrops. It’s been deadly cold and greyness has propagated greyness…No. I lied about forgetting I didn’t dare to look for the snowdrops. I saw them in a dream all curled up and grey too like dirty swirls of stale smoke. No, I didn’t forget. I lied about forgetting. Did I avoid looking for fear of disillusionment? No. That too is not the truth of it. It comes merely as a symptom of my confinement- no not that - my purdah. Perhaps I am the one who is parched and dead, wracked by this bone-twisting illness into greyness.
For all I know it has been a fresh and crisp late January; a blind white sun scoring the delicate frost. If I dared open the drapes would I see the snow? I think it has been snowing from the breath of the men who deliver my shopping – ragged, bitter and sharp. I know they have been told not to give me news from outside for fear of my severity. I would not mind one with spirit though, one to defy my unnatural demands. They look through me as though I am some parched leaf, some ribbon-veined ghost gum trodden and frayed. They believed the stories about me I’m sure until they looked upon my translucent death’s head, my mangled limbs.
Last time I dared look the lead-blue sky was snarling and pelting its niveous excreta. Hah! That pug-white showy bitch. I saw how it had cast its nasty tricks: the powdered landscape no longer bled into the air. There was definition, a straight dividing line between earth (grey)/sky (black). The crueller elements gather geometrically it seems as though some surer hand than mine were conquering our skylines. A winter blanket sparkling in the treacherous morning light is simple death to those who must endure it without protection. It pays us with a handful of cheap white dust yet exacts its toll wildly. Mingled with bone it will inevitably return.
My body has been covered just this last year with a powder all its own; some vile parasite has taken up her lodging and uses me most unkindly in her feasts. Illness upon illness has plagued me these five years but this last visitor has stripped me of all my dignity. She feeds so freely and so impudently on every inch of my clean pink flesh, setting up her banqueting table all along my thighs, my withered breasts, my scalp. All night I wake at intervals to the clatter of steely knives, the braying and chattering of my uninvited guest as she guzzles what she pleases. By morning she has spit out the bones, belched out her whiskeyed fumes and dropped her filthy napkins all along my body. Once she merely picnicked taking up a corner to spread her red and white cloth gently as she nibbled away. Now there is more of me devoured than healthy and she does not relent though she sees my pain. You must think me insane to be talking like this, perhaps you would understand the indignity if you too were robbed of all your proteins. It is not yellow nor white this crust, it is the colour of a clean shard of bone. It picks away at each cell scouring and consuming it, greedily claiming its furrow, its corner, its line. They tell me that you cure a poison with poison, they were willing to poison me with light. Of course, I refused.
The darkness in this room is almost complete, I have had the black velvet drapes completely drawn for some length of time now and I feel unwilling to become blinded by the sunlight any time soon. If I should turn off this muted then there would be nothing but blackness. I am the palest thing in this room, as I slowly turn to dust. Perhaps I am becoming exoskeletal as the cowardly flesh buries itself deep inside. Perhaps that is why I need my armour so terribly badly now, my armour of lies and darkness. I am nothing but a cage of bones with its innards exposed for what they are. All my private guilt and shame hangs outside my body as though I had been disembowelled. For there are dark secrets within me that seem pathetic now, not worth the suffering I endured to conceal them. They have all heard about me those men who stagger in with parcels for me, and I am not so old as all that - only fifty last year, perhaps they expected to taste of my fabled charms, to feast and devour along with my other tormentors. How shocking it would be for me to tell them the truth about my past, for I was not seeking absolution, but pleasure.
Birth, bloody mess, limbs wiped clean, sticky green knots untangled then severed with the physician’s blade, no cleaner than the abortionist’s knife. Not for me that blood stench spewing its virulent sponge - that murderous leech bloating and sucking in the darkness, fierce as a mouth.
One room much like another I lay in bed to wait for judgement. There were dark dreams that had me seated blindfold and swollen at the head of a banquet, glittering knives ranged above us in the cold white light.
Bedridden, bleeding, bleeding, bedridden.
Small pink curl of tongue that slipped between rodent teeth. She was no better, no worse than any other but it is all a matter of proximity. There was nothing shameful in our liaison, no fumbling or tongue kisses no direct or indirect stimulation. I don’t know that she felt my gaze too keenly at all, wrapped as I was in my endless winding sheet. There was a spoon that I had been given for the baby – silvery grey carved with hearts. She visited me once and took hold of the spoon (not like the others who all regretted so deeply and hurried away from the stink of failure that came from me, the cheesy smell of the unstopped milk that I let soak into the covers) inquisitive she did what all unformed creatures do to test new things, she placed it in her mouth.
One day she came in with a vanity case, sent to cheer me up she said. The truth is I was expecting a visit from my father and he was not to be bothered with all this female mess and ugliness. I was supposed to die of shame should he have seen the dirty napkins in the bucket spattered with the ceaseless spotting blood. Or the rags that were freshened daily in an attempt to stop the milk from staining all the good linen. Protesting inwardly at the deception she wanted me to comply with, still I let her take out the brushes, the rouge, the boned underthings that looked just like torture. It seemed to be the end of my long and fruitless confinement, she was to flatten me out like I had been before.
Artless creature she buttoned me up tight and presentable, never taking a moment’s care over the task. To have been softly laced into my new ribs would have been better than nothing. That moment she let her breath linger on the baby’s spoon, let it steam, blossom, fade was not to be repeated. Like a mental patient I acquiesced to her nursing as though underwater, under rubber, under glass.
I think it must have been around this time that I became obsessed with sick rooms and all their paraphernalia, cold metal stirrups, glass thermometers, endless syrups and potions and unguents. Dressing for night time, negligee’s, bed jackets… bandages. Why not? I thought. Why not become a sickroom companion. It solved my family’s anxieties around my future and yet had little to do with penance.
She did not ask me to help her undress. That was what they paid a nurse to do. But she would not disturb us for a few hours yet and I had her undivided attention. She looked stiff and uncomfortable in her church clothes and I knew that had I not been there she would have divested herself of the starched shirt and intricately boned undergarments. What lay beneath the fur blanket over her knees was uncertain to me. It took on the excitement of the forbidden, and how I yearned to know. My mistress was not used to such appraisal of her figure, and I could see her flinch and retreat.
"Would you like me to undress you?" I blushed at my audacity, retreated for the bell to summon a chaperone, a third party to my misdeed. Her hand on mine was cool, absorbing my flush and smoothing it as if she were a flat, cool pebble assimilating fevers. "Yes thankyou dear" was all she said. My hand now firmly removed from the button. Slowly I gathered my nerves and busied myself helping her choose something more suitable A dark red silk kimono hung seductively on a rail. She sensed my desire for it and with a calculated flourish declared her distaste for such garb, a gift from an artless admirer. In the same breath she offered it to me citing my relative youth and dark colouring as reasons. Mutely I acquiesced. For her an ivory wrapper edged neatly with lace - altogether more fitting for our little chat. Tenderly I removed the blouse from her shoulders and hung it neatly on the rail. Not wanting her to catch cold I removed her skirt and woollen stockings from beneath the fur. Pale greys both they blended with her colouring. The back of her corset was exquisitely crafted in pearlised satin, done in a hundred tiny bones. I did not attempt to converse but rather devoted myself fully to the slow unpicking of tiny ribbons. The task completed, I shuddered as the two pieces collapsed away from her naked back. Concealing my disquietude I dressed her quickly in the wrapper and turned all my attention to the folding and packing of the corset in its tissue paper and crepe. By the time I had finished she had fallen, so softly, to sleep.
They left me plenty those old ladies.
After my fall there was enough to see me comfortably into my own sick room. I took great pleasure in the design, to trick it out like a black box. Supplies delivered frequently, a doctor once a week and several nursemaids. I know the tricks those young girls play. One came in the beginning, hung a string of pearls round my sack neck and planted great balls of blush on my cheeks. Hadn’t the sense to bathe me beforehand so I sat stinking, rouged, ridiculous before the undraped mirror. Lopsided as a half-stuffed clown I saw finally what the others saw. Yes, I thought. Yes I am a witch.