sidebrow

from Beyond This Point Are Monsters



9.1

a few drops of sweat attend her body - anemones, bracketed by nylon and lace. she throws open the width, observes an opposing movement: the house withdrawing into itself, anger spiked by embroidery floss, spun sugar. the cat glides onto the roof, dropping down to feast on wood-sorrel. a dove-coloured girl jumps from peril, runs from the red room to the casement. as the sun sets, darling finds herself alone.


her alarm lasts through the night, too enamored of locks.


i am encouraged to call her once every hour: to let the phone ring three times. she takes a breath only out of necessity: otherwise, the simple word overwhelms; only the cry is precious. she doesn’t want to move, to disturb her remarkable smallness, the heat of honey blazing the curtains - swaddling the room in cinders and ash. her sweet way of saying she’d like to see someone coming down the stairs to fetch her.


i drag on; it may rain, the aster thin on the ground. i hurry downstairs and back up, my hands drifting in vales of light. i repeatedly shift positions. i saw by her look that she is no longer interested in me; something beyond the window caught her. i start by emptying the milk glass into the kitchen sink. i try the pilot, leave the cat to her sentry. i want to say something, but my mouth stiffens, burdened, as if some heavy creature has nested on my tongue. i imagine myself, for a few moments, somewhere else: a stooping forest, a path punctured without demand.



in response, i abandon the wall canvassed by a gold-veined mirror, the dirty shoelace dangling from the unshaded light. rather than drink, i find something easy to hold. darling no longer wishes to say anything.



darling stands and gathers her dress, drawing it off; a softly uttered hiss against skin. she is all down and brutal wool, plucking the errant hair from her clavicle, flicking a crust from her nostril. something could be missing; the intense echo of silverware clattering on glass. the difficulty of slender nettles thundering against the door.



the first barrier, brought by those who can tell what would have come to pass if she hadn’t stood in shadow. the house opens and closes, spits out tropical lobsters and sow bugs; a clot of bees and walking sticks. the interruption is sweet, if disruptive. the neighbors did not believe the roses had been shipped several hundred miles. the sea extends a palm of salt, a blessing to keep the dark at bay.


there should have been quicksilver, a convulsion of light. darling begins by turning off every switch: carefully examining, and opening, every drawer. where will i start? in the sawdust? without silence, without distractions: always the bluster of traffic, clouds careening in the sky, refusing to untangle the light.



9.2

i waited for the opportunity. darling turned; the door had been left open. look! duchess cried in bewilderment. a bruise around every light, expanding and contracting. while i looked i listened for footsteps on the stairs. i did not need to step through the door to witness the proximity of the sea. a girl who was not afraid could jump very easily, could narrowly miss the rocks. i assured myself that such a thing would never happen. i looked away.


darling could be anywhere around here, miles away in the woods.



i kept my watching eyes that way - the sea very far from strong today. what is it to be false? duchess called out the direction in which darling had run. the waves passed along the shore. how could i hurry? a vicious turning of the chamber, a curve from which duchess could not reach the telephone. from the door to the phone sprawled the broken body of the house. the whine of a hinge like a dog from below, the screen rolling open: a way to escape the feeling of being enclosed.


her eyes watched the big clock, the tender hours.



she’d seen all the wrong things.



duchess avoided darling’s eyes. darling glanced at the clock with a start. she went to the door and looked into the room, doubting what she saw. i saw what happened, darling said. of course, darling, duchess said. duchess closed her eyes completely.




9.3

duchess knows where to look; she won’t waste these moments scouring the woods. darling could be out, making laps around the house. she’s missed the original airdate. the lights are burning late tonight. she’d talked like she was going away, like silk leaves and plaster tree trunks would part and tip her onto a concrete floor. morning settling in and the house empty, upstairs and down. duchess banging against the wall; the only sound her fist against fiber board. not a sound like the anxiety of gulls whirling over the sea. the window wiped clean of fingerprints; the cat pleased. duchess guides her flashlight beam, so near that i want to scream. a clock rattling in the adjacent room, a spot on the floor she steps over on her way. crossing the hall anxiously, certain that i will not see her sidestep, a small movement she has to make in order to proceed. i have no idea where she could be… duchess says, striding through a maze of diamonds woven in wool. she will handle this. the tide was in, the beach and the lower part of the cliffs were bare. duchess pushes disasters to the side. i don’t like to see her like this, to see her closing each cupboard quietly.




9.4

i keep swallowing. a patch of darkness moved. i swallowed and then i started. a patch of darkness moved, and stopped. she had hidden in the forest, found a bird, and thump, thump, thump. a patch of darkness moved, stopped and moved again.


everything has to move, yes yes move and stop.



everything so still she said stop but keep moving she kept moving keeps moving now so she can make it stop. she makes it slow; duchess had told her to run and darling caught her breath and came back. all the trees marked with x, a girl wondering. hunger slithering in her stomach, she woke folded on the ground, scenes missing. she laced her fingers behind her head, came forward step by step, her little eyes covered by hair. she knows that it will never happen to her.


it was the seaweed rising up through the floor.



it was the salt taste of her palm when she licked her fingers clean.



it was the fire that filled the room.


she should go in; when darling saw that the light had gone out she thought it was the end. when she saw the x marked on the door she thought she should go in. she’d seen this before; she heard the ordinary, everyday sounds. a door i don’t want to go in. she followed her shadow along, a saw slicing through a trunk, the rhythm she called softly, a head mounted on the wall. ashes falling from the tree. a failure of warmth, of comfort.


she made it stop - at other times it felt like end; now she has a reason to stay.



9.5

the house was intended to be a home. everything had been tried to make it comfortable; darkness was required, and in this window, light. the floor was left deliberately dirty, and silhouettes left careening round the fire. the seashore would always be soaking wet, and the smell of jasmine would gradually become intense. what mattered was the placement of the foundation on the hill, and the direction of the wind. some afternoons she would sit in her casement gazing out at nothing. a breeze would lift off the water to stir her; her mouth, ever more red, would fill with saliva. her effort in watching lead to unseen movements and a triumph over passing ships. the image of fish hanging from the trees in the forest beyond her sight appeals to her. at an enormous distance she appears as nothing more than a speck covered with glass sealed up in marble, wood and stone.



i found a key, darling says.



a key? says duchess. you don’t mean a key?


darling hangs her head and says, i found it. a key, nearly buried on the beach.


the key glittered on her open palm and her hair was stuck over her eyes so she didn’t stare, and her open mouth was clogged with salt water. the key felt cold and hard in her hand. her lips moved gently. i found a key, darling says. darling had arrived and found the house upon the hill. darling had dared to climb the hill, aware of the dark brambles around her, insects vibrating in the air. she had wanted only to creep back towards her train. she had looked up at the house, long and low and built of rough stone. then she looked beyond the chimneys to a line of pine trees, dipping towards a vast edge of jagged rock. somewhere below the sea clutched the cliff and broadcast a bewildering wail. there was a wind, and darling had shivered, a long, slow sob reverberating in her body. as she came closer and closer the house got larger, the windows began to swarm and hum a word that could not be and somehow darling knew the secret was meant for her, she knew this house; knew the inarticulate warmth, the terrible sorrow locked away in its rooms.