Rena had lost her wings and for that reason her head. She called her upheavals her ‘fever’ but others had given her condition the psychiatric term of schizophrenia. Rena laughed when she heard the diagnosis, I am a human being and that’s all I have to say about that. She was given little tablets to swallow and sent home to live the rest of her life trouble free.
At home Rena crushed the packets of tablets she had been given and threw them down the chute. Now I can think more clearly, she said. My wings are gone. A part of me has died but I’m still here and I must give my soul over to something worthwhile if I am to find peace in the world once more. Without a meaningful occupation I will shrivel and die in their hospitals, either that or resort to taking my own life.
Rena decided that her only recourse was to turn to the birds for help. Their feathers had bore her in the air at one time. They were her friends, they would not let her down.
So she went to the forest and spoke to a skylark. What can I do to become part of your kingdom she asked. I was once a bird woman but my wings were stolen when I took them off to swim by a lake in the Black Forest and now I am in despair. Can you help me? The skylark stared at her for what seemed like a long time and then said, I know you. You use to dance in the forest at night with the bird people. They are good people, they look after the forest and are kind to the animals. I can’t help you find your wings but perhaps there’s something you can do for the birds that will bring back your joy and your will to live. We need a composer to direct our songs. The dawn chorus is a mess, utterly tuneless. If you can bring some order to the pandemonium it would be invaluable for us and beneficial to you. They both agreed she would need some time to study music to perform the task.
It took several months but when she returned the birds were waiting. Rena moved her baton this way and that and the birds followed her lead. The music they made was beautiful, in fact it was the very same bird sounds she’d heard from her bedroom window in the spring months before sunrise. Whilst she was studying Rena had concluded that the dawn chorus was perfect as it was and that the skylark had known this all along.
On the first of December it rained and Elizabeth, an insomniac, who had gone without sleep for several days hallucinated that she had turned into a swarm of butterflies.
She was standing by her bedroom window looking down at the spot in the garden where a butterfly shrub had bloomed in the summer. At first she had revelled in the brilliant spectacle of blues, oranges, reds and deep shades of green. But after a while, without knowing why, the plant had become offensive to her. She thought of uprooting it but the memory of it’s unpleasant scent and the fits of nausea this had produced in her in the beginning when she had planted it made her falter. As the days went by Elizabeth did not gather the courage to kill the plant, instead, she decided to wait for it to come to the natural end of its cycle.
As if sensing its reprieve the fiery shrub seem to swell and spill like an overripe fruit, amassing colonies of butterflies each day. The sight of them gathered into clusters made something squeals inside her. The shrub seemed to pulsate under the weight of its putrid load and grow carnivorous and menacing. After that she no longer took pleasure in her garden and left it to its own devices.
Autumn arrived and the plant shrivelled and died. Elizabeth decided it was time to remove every trace of it. As she set about her work the noxious smell she so dreaded rose from the soil and assailed her. This was too much for her battered senses. She dropped the tool she was holding, ran into the house and climbed into her bed. For days she lay still as a corpse, her breathing shallow, her body like a mass of dough clinging to her bones, her mind caught in a vortex of agonised memories that sent painful jolts thorough her. Then suddenly she erupted, incandescent into the grey light
For the child Ada her father’s head was one of the first things to emerge as a visible external object from a world which until then she had only intuited. This head was smooth, hairless, oscillating on a pliant neck with nothing to hold it in check but Ada herself who was forever trying to make it her own, hugging it to her to drool over eyeballs, ears and cheekbones. She would pull at the lips to reveal sharp white teeth that sometimes grazed her tender flesh, or squeeze the broad nose which felt like a cushion for tiny hands.
One evening as her father knelt down to lift his little treasure from her playpen, she stretched out her hands to his face and a sharp little fingernail caught his eyelid and tore the skin up to his eyebrow. Her father yelp and holding her away from him called for her mother. His grasp on her became too tight and she screamed so that her mother rushing into the room feared a catastrophe.
Sometime later when everything was calm, Ada finding comfort in the milky warmth of her mother’s bosom watched her father in the mirror dressing his wound.
Ada’s father’s head seem to evade her for a long time after that, it’s strange manoeuvrings tormentedw her and she would whine and cry until one day her mother did the sensible thing and bought her a plastic bust the size of her father’s head. Ada knew the difference but she stopped complaining.
Later as a young woman she would imagine this head of her father’s suspended in time and space much like the glass encased frozen head of blood of the contemporary artist Marc Quinn
The scenery was whitewashed momentarily and the cacophonous shrills of the city faded to a whisper. A pale green butterfly floated jerkily at the periphery of her vision and disappeared. Janice was leaning forward to take a closer look at the small tattoo on the nape of the boy’s tanned slender neck where the glossy black hair tapered into a soft curve. The tattoo was a peculiar ornate design of a red and black snake devouring itself by the tail. The engorged jowls of the snake extended around the gills, out of which protruded curved fangs or feelers. As Janice watched the snake began to swell, rippling over the surface of the boy’s skin, then suddenly it lurched and her surroundings contracted upon her diabolically throwing her off balance. She fell back and fainted.
Martha Martha… somebody was calling her name from the bedroom window. She turned from her reading and sat erect and alert, staring through the glass at the darkness beyond. She could only make out the shapes of swaying branches. Martha knew she had imagined whatever it was she’d heard but the feeling of being arrested by her surrounding had transfixed her. Her heart was beating wildly. It occurred to her that she wanted to be frightened. She was eager for some new and unusual experience which did not preclude the supernatural. Her desire to laugh at the idea of a ghost was so strong the spell was broken. She lay back in bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. After a while she reach for the cord to the lamp and plunged the room into darkness.
For as long as she could remember it had stood there solid and unmoving so unlike everything else around her. The children played in its shadow just as she had once done. Nobody paid any attention to it than they would a tree. But was that truly the case? Didn’t they all wake up to the sight of its inscrutable presence, which asked nothing and gave nothing in return? Perhaps each one woke and looking at the wall wondered how it came to be there, what it meant if anything at all, if there was something beyond and what it was.
Every morning she looked out of the window and there it was jarring her consciousness. Whenever she spoke to others about it they would say I don’t know or it’s been there a long time. Once when she asked her grandmother what it was, her response had been, it never did anybody any harm. As far back as she could remember nobody had taken her up to the wall and said “look, a wall”, as they would some other object. They had never said, the colour of the wall is brown and it is made of stones, rather they made allusions to it which only made it all the more obscure and in a way threatening.
What little she had learned about it had been from fairytales. In one the the hero plunges into the wilderness to discover its origins only to wither away in the mist. As a child whenever she played hide and seek with the other children she would look wistfully up it’s moss covered surface wishing she could find a hole through which to crawl to the other side where no one would find her. How many times had she wished herself a bird so she would discover what lay beyond or of following it to the ends of the earth wherever that may be and finally penetrate it’s mysteries. It was utterly irrational and this fascinated her. Unlike anything else around her it didn’t belong. Something had placed it there, but whom? Why was everybody so reluctant to speak about it?
Once a man who was said to be mad had caused an uproar when he tried to dig a trench at its base. He had been carted away before he could do any damage.
The girl is crouching in the dark, holding her breath, watching in close up, though in reality the lovers are several feet away. They shimmer in the glare which encroaches on the surrounding darkness. He is stroking her black hair which he inhales deeply and kisses. His hand slides up the length of her brown arm to the shoulders and at the apex of her slender neck squeezes gently, then weaving his fingers skilfully through her hair takes a handful and pull with a violent jerk that twists her body out of view. The girl gasp and loosing her balance fall back on my haunches. For a moment she is only aware of her heart pounding in her ears. She closes her eyes and wait till her breathing returns to normal then stealthily as if in danger of being seen, pull herself up and crawl into her bed and draws the covers up to her chin.
She is afraid to close her eyes so she stares up at the dark and immediately falls asleep. In her dream the man in the window is floating towards her. He grows rapidly and expands, obliterating the room as he closes in. His eyes are two pinpoints, his mouth aiming for a kiss which she knows will sucks the breath out of her.