Almost 2.5 years ago, Rus and I embarked on our most ambitious collaborative adventure to date. We called it The Glass Marionette, after becoming enamoured with Angela Meyers’ photo of a glass marionette on Instagram, when we were in the early stages of brainstorming and writing.
This month we are returning to the hallowed (hollowed?) narrative hallways to pick up where we left off…which turns out to be no mean feat given the breadth and craziness of the original idea.
‘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
Marion Taffe was once a journalist, occasionally a dancer, always a dreamer. She loves stories, especially those with history, quirky metaphors and fish swimming upriver.
Spark is a monthly collaborative post written from a spark of inspiration that organically finds its way to us. This month we were inspired to write fiction based on this fabulous picture Rus came across.
Coven of One by Stephen Mackey
The table was always set the evening before. The mismatched crockery and forks with tines askew and knives with the tips slightly bent. Communing with the future, she called it. A eucharist for the deceased of the past, of the present, of the soon to be.
She set the kettle set on the hob early first thing in the morning and filled it to capacity for guests who would never wet their lips or ask for sugar or decline milk. Rubbing the air between her fingers she felt it at first thicken like rubbing folds of velvet, then thinned out to the vapour of gauze. At the whistle of the kettle she warmed the tea pot, rinsed it and poured out the clean water as a libation before adding spoons of finely cut leaves.
Seated at the table she rubbed the air between her fingers again and the gauze whispered into singular strands of cotton. Wisps of clouds dancing around the spout of the tea pot. She sliced the fruit cake and served herself. Poured the tea and watched the sugar crystals dissolve.
And he was there. A memory. A framed portrait. As if memory was nothing but cake fragments and breadcrumbs to be fed to the birds at the park. And bone china cups held the structure of trauma and the rigidity of tradition. Around her an exoskeleton, a carapace, as thin as a veil, as thick as love. The thinness of the day giving way to the thickness of night.
I wanted the green hat or the sheet. Wardrobe insisted I wear the red. It’s always the way with these things. Everyone knows better than you.
‘We can see your lovely face,’ they cooed.
I screwed it up and everyone said I was difficult to work with.
‘Can we trade?’ I asked.
‘You want me to be the girl?’
‘No. I want you to wear the red hat.’
‘I prefer the green,’ he said. ‘If I can’t do green hat, I’m doing the sheet.’
‘No one listened to me when I said that.’
‘Can we have a dog?’ I asked. ‘I’m allergic to cats.’
Someone laughed and then they all laughed.
‘We love your sense of humour,’ they said.
But I am not amused. It’s hard to laugh when you’re sneezing.
We are pretend reality, masquerading as common place. We are the things that go bump in the night, tidied up, sweetened up, so you’ll never think we are anything other than what you want us to be.
‘Smile,’ they say.
I grimace and secretly wish they would all go to hell. Or perhaps we are already there.
They waited, with undying patience, for the others to make it through the forest and take their seat at the table.
“Perhaps they have lost their way,” said the ghost, unable to really understand any concept of time.
“Or perhaps they have found it,” whispered the girl, knowing that, sometimes, these things happen.
The cat, though, would have none of it. He was hungry, and he looked beyond the forest for his next meal, staring at us in the distance, as if we would be providing him a tasty rodent for a late-night snack.
On the other side of the wall, where the wild things walked and stalked under the light of an endless moon, three creatures sat under a tree, staring longingly at the wall in front of them.
“Perhaps they have lost their way,” said the goblin, chewing on a recently fallen twig with fresh berries still clinging to the underbellies of bronze leaves.
“Or perhaps they have found it,” replied the boy, proudly wearing a green beanie. “You know how they are, always seemingly finding a different way to where they need to be.”
The dog, though, would have none of it, though. He was longing for the sweet flesh of a floundering rabbit stuck in some hole. It was late, and he was too hungry to think of much else.
Above, the owl sat perched, chin in chest, observing the stale mate of patience as he, himself, preserved his energy with great will.
“Perhaps this is their way,” he hooted. We are never as lost, or found, as we think we might be.”
We are very pleased to offer you a glimpse of the next JAR Collective publication.
HER FIRST REALITY, DARKNESS is the first in a series of eight interconnected mini novels from Jodi Cleghorn.
This series has its genesis over a decade ago. Known colloquially as “the birthpunk novella”, it had the working title of ENCURSION for several years and will go to press as HER FIRST REALITY, DARKNESS.
“The path of radical responsibility is one of facing the places where our unknowing is a catalyst for destruction.” ~ Alina
On the winter solstice, 51 years ago, snow bloomed red in Manhattan.
Six months later, a quiet epidemic sweeps the island on the hottest day in a century leaving less than 1% of the population clinging to a precarious existence.
Sylvie O’Brien has made a deal with The City’s most powerful Information Architect: Joseph will provide safe passage off the island in exchange for midwifery services for his wife. The only problem is natural birth is considered a crime against the state and Sylvie is only barely one step ahead of City authorities and the outlawed Deme.
In forgotten parts of the urban landscape, among those who have outlived their reproductive worth, Sylvie finds allies, enemies and the truth of her family’s involvement in the Red Winter.
Can she survive long enough to experience a life beyond the damage of the past? Or is some trauma impossible to outrun and outlive?
The full cover will be revealed on the new moon at the end of the month.
HER FIRST REALITY, DARKNESS launches December, 2019.