What lies behind
Father has put up the Christmas lights outside, even if it is only the 10th of November. They shine in the darkness and it’s not even 6pm, so incredibly coloured against the muddy brown of the fallen leaves. From my peak view at the wet window, I observe. 10 to 6. They won’t be long.
Mother is still away at work; she won’t be back before 9pm. Or maybe before tomorrow, or maybe before three days, three months, three years, after I have bitten three of my fingers, after three of the dogs have died. You never know with Mother.
The huge clock behind me starts its funeral tolling. Clong, clong, clong. The world moves around in pairs of three. Clong, clong, clong. 6pm. Here they come.
From my frozen tower, I can see the top of a head, peaking just above the wall that goes around the house. Reflections of red and gold and brown, autumn in veins; hair the colour of a leaf just fallen from a huge tree—an oak, I imagine. Soon two dark eyes appear under the fringe. I call the boy ‘Scarlet’. Scarlet lowers his head and whistles, upon which Bitter John’s and Happy Tom’s faces appear at the top of the surrounding wall, next to Scarlet’s. From where I stand, I can see their dark eyes staring at the garden. I can’t remember when they started coming and peaking, at precisely 6pm, when the clock goes on and on. Maman still hasn’t come back. Peut-être.1 Three pairs of muddy hands grab the scorching stones. In three days or three months there will be snow and the boys’ precious muddy hands will be hidden under woollen gloves. I look down at my own fingers, that I keep muddy on purpose, even if Father grabs my ears and kicks my bum before dinner. Sometimes he says, and sometimes he shouts, and sometimes he whistles good-humouredly: “You’ve been out in the garden again, hein?”
Bitter John’s eyes are barely visible under a scruffy fringe, and Happy Tom’s head is ornamented with a dirty cap. I see the way their faces are eager for the garden, the way they wonder and ponder at the treasures lying under the trees, and at what could be hidden buried beneath the dark pond. They whisper to each other—look the earth! So muddy and brown, perfect to dig worms out. Look at the branches fallen from the tree, look how they would make perfect swords to be thrust into the air—the futile memory of their fathers’ masculinity.
They look at the dark mirror or the pond, with its nénuphars2 listlessly sleeping by, and the reflection of the Christmas lights.
I bring my ten muddy fingers to the windowpane in front of me. It is freezing and I feel as if it were cutting through my skin. My mouth opens and a semblance of words tumble out, but they don’t mean anything. I arrange them once more in my mouth, but their sense escape me. This is what happens when you try talking the language of—
Mais fais attention—Scarlet—to this majestic tree you are praising. J’étais sous ses branches hier. J’ai écorché son écorce, dans un élan de curiosité morbide, I pulled back its bark and it felt like picking at my own torn skin after it opened up and blood trickled down.3 And under the bark, no blood, but a swarming of red ants. They rushed on my dirty and pale and cold hands, contrasting with the purplish blue of my nails.
The boys are too shy—for now—to jump across the surrounding wall, to wallow in the brown earth of the garden. They won’t know what we both know, that the yellows and oranges and dark reds take over your face and your fringe until you disappear under the mount of wet and sticky leaves, until you are but a mount of dead leaves yourself, hidden well enough so that Papa doesn’t find you and doesn’t shout “T’as encore été dans le jardin, hein?”
Sometimes, if you stay in the garden long enough, it feels like it swallows you whole. The earth settles in your mouth and between your nails and the tender skin underneath. Dirty, dirty hands. Dirty, dirty mouth.
Happy Tom, eyes fixed on the glistening pond. You imagine the stretch of water in summer, when you can paddle in it with only your trunks, with the water coming up to your knees. But in autumn at 6pm when the clock strikes three times and three times, the pond is just a black hole. There’s no end to it, it delves into the earth. If you lift your skirts up to your knees, the freezing water goes up and up and up. Into the darkness, your dead calves come into contact with warm and concrete bones. Maman will come home after three of the dogs have died. Scarlet, the vizsla. Bitter John, the hound. Happy Tom, the shepherd.
When Maman comes home, when she does, I’ll be a dog once more and ruffle her coat pocket. I’ll find the key that opens the door in the wall, the door through which she goes out and maybe goes in.
Until then, the wall goes round and round and round the garden, and the Christmas lights reflects on the hard mirror of the pond. On the other side, darkness, shadowy darkness, oppressive darkness. And into the darkness I go. Into the darkness I fall
When she is not missing the southern French sun, Marie Guéguen is doing an MA in English Literature (20th and 21st century) specialising in gender studies and feminist studies. She also works as a Postgraduate Assistant for the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities, where she helps organise the Afterwork sessions. She is passionate about sports and plays handball for Team Durham.
Karen Pang was born and raised in Mauritius. She is currently transiting between Mauritius and Shanghai, specializing in both fashion and lifestyle photography. In search for authenticity and individuality, she draws inspiration from her island’s nature and people through her personal work.