‘Words As’ is our regular guest posting. We invite creatives of all ilks to respond to the prompt ‘words as’. This month we welcome Marion Taffe to the page to share her thoughts.
WORDS AS THE UNSAID
Close your eyes
Make a wish
Don’t touch the bottom
Don’t wish out loud
(Or it won’t come true)
We are taught from a young age that there is mysterious power in the unsaid. But, those teachers also say, be careful what you wish for.
For the architect, lines on a page become a wall, a window, a roof. For the writer, rows of lines and circles on a page become words, stories, intentions. They can transfix us for hours and some stay for a lifetime. “What can that be but magic?” author Ilka Tampke (Skin, Songwoman) said at the recent Historical Novel Society Conference in Sydney.
Few would argue that when a character takes hold and runs across the page via your fingertips: it is a kind of magic.
Yet, the architect’s magic is not in the building of walls but the creation of spaces. Likewise, I’m discovering, a writer’s magic is as much in the unwritten as the written. Call it subtext. Call it ‘between the lines”. Call it space.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s June describes her life with Luke:
We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.
Indeed so much can be said in the unsaid: so much written with the unwritten.
It’s an invitation to the reader to unpack their own life, with all its colour and darkness.
So how do we do this?
If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.
But first, I was reminded recently of the power of unsaid words in a short dark chapter of my childhood.
So let me tell you a story…
THE POWER OF WISHES
I had wished to be a mermaid. I had wished to fit in. I had wished to be put in the front row of our ballet troupe with the pretty petite girls, instead of the back row where I always seemed to find myself (and where I felt most comfortable).
None of these wishes had come true, despite me absolutely never touching the bottom of the cake.
But, one day, I made a different wish.
The words did not pass my lips but they were my words. They formed in my soul and felt weighty at the back of my mouth, each like a smooth river stone, unmoving beneath rushing, raging waters.
I was eight, maybe nine. What did I know of shaping and wielding darkness?
I had been dropped off late for my ballet recital. All the other girls were tu-tued, bunned, made-up, and waiting to shine. A parent left her daughter to help me get ready in the dressing room. She was not pleased.
Tuts and sighs came thick as she plastered my face with foundation, pushing hard as she swiped the stick of greasy eye colour over my lids. I tried not to cry.
“Where are your lashes?” she snapped at me.
My mother had raged when she’d read the letter from the ballet school informing that all girls must have false eyelashes for the performance.
“You’re a little girl and you have a perfectly good set of eyelashes,” she’d said.
I knew not to argue with Mum.
“Well?” the woman said.
“I forgot them,” I lied.
She took her frustration out on the mascara wand, stabbing it in and out of its bottle then jutting it at my eyes as she held my head with her other hand.
That was when I cursed her.
I hope something really bad happens to you.
Simple. To the point.
When tears tumbled down my rouged cheeks, taking muddy deposits of fresh mascara with them, she dabbed my face with tissues.
I ran-walked along the narrow corridors to the join the troupe in the green room.
We went on. We danced, my vision rimmed by black diamonds of tears and mascara clumps sparkling in stage lights.
People clapped. The parents were happy. The teachers were happy.
I felt a small part of the reason everyone was happy and that made me feel happy.
THE RIVER STONES RETURN
Once home, my mother tutted and sighed as she scrubbed ‘that muck’ off my face.
Life danced back to normal.
The curse I had shaped from my darkness meant nothing, I told myself.
No one knew of it. Well, except Jesus, I figured. I vowed to be good, say a lot of Hail Marys, be nice to my siblings and behave in church every Sunday forever.
I can’t remember how much time had passed – weeks, maybe months. Then one day, we got the news at ballet that the woman’s young son had died from an asthma attack.
The river stones returned, heavy in my stomach.
When Dad asked if I’d like to go to the boy’s funeral, I knew I could not. So, I spoke of the unspoken.
“That is why, Marion, you must never, ever wish ill of anyone.”
He was supposed to laugh a little, give me a hug and say, “this is not your fault.”
The stones remained.
I was too young to know that 500 years earlier, girls not much older than I would have been burned at the stake for admitting such a thing. And I was too indoctrinated into a world of saints and demons and sins and brimstone to want to acknowledge any evil power I may or may not have summoned.
Now, as an adult, I am pretty sure (there is always a tug of doubt), that I did not cause the boy’s death.
Thinking of that mother, more than 35 years on, I imagine the spaces between the walls of her soul. The vastness of her agony, the emptiness her little boy left behind – his unspoken words, his unwritten stories. When I think of her, I feel the river stones again.
Perhaps that is my curse.
Would the memory have stayed, had I not spoken of it to my father?
Incidentally, this dark memory only returned recently when listening to the spellbinding writer Kate Forsyth (The Wild Girl, Bitter Greens). At the HNSA conference, she recounted a story of a curse she’d made as a child. The space in Kate’s story, drew forth my own memory, which I have told you here.
Perhaps you shall now bring your own experiences?
So many things unsaid inside the stories within spaces within stories. I hope we never touch the bottom.
Image: Skitterphoto via Pexels