This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies And lads and girls; Was laughter and ability and sighing, And frocks and curls;
This passive place a summer's nimble mansion, Where bloom and bees Fulfilled their oriental circuit, Then ceased like these. (Emily Dickinson)
I suddenly awake from the company of stars to find silent flesh quietly forming on my dry old bones like snow, layer upon layer.
Soft contours starting to emerge like flawless new mushrooms, slowly pushing away crumbs of earth, shrugging off worms and decay. The former bare boughs of my bones are being swaddled in a pristine blanket of silky young skin.
Fine hairs start to erupt, tickling my baby-sensitive flesh – miniature golden forests marching along my arms and legs, colonising whole areas of my topography.
A shock of keratin as nails thrust their way out of my fingers and toes, and a glossy mane of springy long hair unfurls from my skull like streamers, landing on bare shoulders.
Whole again, my scars and ravages all seem to have vanished. Some invisible seamstress has secured my head back on to my neck – the obscene gaping smile made by the knife now just a memory. Bruising and scratches, cuts and skin rubbed raw by restraints, have all been erased.
Fibres start forming over my brand new body, weaving themselves into my last dress – my favourite lacy yellow cheesecloth with a gypsy neckline and a line of leaves embroidered around the hem. My platform shoes materialise too, slowly regaining their sharp angled lines, their thin straps and sparkly gold metallic finish.
My strong new nails start to claw at the earth covering me, frantically scooping handfuls from my shallow grave. Light dazzles my delicate eyes as I emerge to a green and brown world with light filtering through trees. An earthy woodland smell fills my nostrils – leaf mould, fungi, a hint of fox and fresh green growth.
I finally push myself out of the womb of earth I have been sleeping in and rest for a while. There is green and amber and ochre, brown, gold and a vast blue dome overhead, dappled with white candyfloss clouds. Dust motes sleepily float in the shafts of golden light.
I carefully lift myself into a standing position, reaching for a tree trunk to help me readjust. The bark is cool and ridged – I run my fingers over it, and bend towards the trunk to embrace the rich aroma of its woody heartbeat.
Intoxicated by the energy rising inside me like spring sap, I leap up like a happy gazelle. Swinging arms and legs for sheer joy, I am Eve, immaculate and restored to the Garden.
Effervescence fills my every cell as I leave the woodland, and start walking down the familiar road to town. I recognise the road, but it seems shorter now – new housing estates have sprung up and spread out during my absence, almost reaching the wood.
As I pass, I smile at the twee saccharine names given to their streets: Meadowsweet Crescent, Cherry Tree Lane and Primrose Bank. No sign of a flower or a tree near them, just tarmac, concrete and identical boxy little brick houses with the same obligatory square of manicured lawn in front.
There are changes in the town too – the National Milk Bar, hippy boutiques, eclectic gift shops and newsagents of the 70s have all been replaced by brash primary-coloured bargain shops, charity shops and the sad boarded-up windows of vacant properties. It has the air of a town on the verge of demise, terminally ill but still clinging on to miserable scraps of life.
I take the turning towards my home, eager to see my mother’s face again. I jauntily knock on the door of the house, which seems different – there is a new door and windows, and where the weeping willow once stood there is now parking space for an oversized silver vehicle. A strange woman with hair the colour of autumn leaves opens the door, and stares at me blankly.
‘Hello, is Mrs. Thomas in?’ I ask.
‘No, there was a Mrs. Thomas here before us, but she moved away ten years ago after her husband died.’
'Oh . . .'
I stagger from the door in shock and grief as it is briskly slammed in my face. I sit on the curb, head in my hands, dazed and distraught. Torn between sobbing and screaming, I tug at my hair. Like a zombie, I stumble away from the house back towards the run-down town.
Once there, a road sign for the church catches my eye, and I rush towards its sanctuary. I am relieved to see that its welcoming stone arch, its time-worn architecture and stained glass are all unchanged.
However, like the town, the ubiquitous plastic trash has invaded here too, and the churchyard’s trees all have frayed plastic bags caught in their branches, floating in the breeze like strange jellyfish. I wonder at the pervasive neglect which has infected the previously tidy and bustling town.
I wander around the graves, searching for anyone I know. The Thomases were many in this town once, and it takes me a while to locate my father’s gravestone – a shiny black polished granite stone engraved with gold lettering. I am shocked to discover my sister’s by his side, and her youthful death at 29, but I cannot find my mother’s.
A few metres away a tall young man is laying flowers on a grave. He carefully places the white roses into their vase, adding water from a plastic bottle. I sit on the grass between my father’s and sister’s graves, tears making channels on my face like rain down a car window. The young man looks over and approaches me.
‘Are you okay?’ he asks softly.
‘Yes, no, oh I don’t know . . . ,' I answer shakily.
‘What’s your name? I don’t think I’ve seen you around.’
‘Molly, I’ve been away for a while.’
‘I’m Robert. Rob. Would you like to go for a coffee?’
We leave the shaded refuge of the church and he leads me towards a coffee shop in the town centre.
‘I think I need something stronger,’ I stammer, so we go instead to the nearby Bar Euphoria.
Bathed in pink light, I perch precariously at the bar on a tall magenta leather and chrome stool. Even the pictures of trees on the walls are in shades of hot pink and mauve. I down a couple of glasses of white wine in quick succession. It makes my head fizz like an Alka-Seltzer in water.
I notice how good-looking Rob is with his misty blue-green eyes, thick dirty blond hair and chiselled features. An air of quiet self-possession and an intensity in his blue-green stare.
After several more glasses of wine and banter, my distress has subsided. I almost slip off the stool and start to giggle uncontrollably. Rob laughs and we decide to go back to his flat for some coffee.
The coffee is so strong that the smell alone is sobering, filling the astonishingly minimalist kitchen with its aroma of tropical forests, jungle drumbeats and sweet crumbly black earth.
I playfully slink towards Rob and impulsively place a fingertip on his deliciously defined lips, gently following the strong contours. He responds by taking me in his arms. I can taste the coffee as we kiss, plus the tantalising aroma of him: masculine with a woody base note of something earthy like sandalwood. We stumble to the bedroom where we greedily drink each other like two thirsty hummingbirds sucking nectar from a flower.
When we are both sated, spent, we lie entwined, our sweat and body fluids co-mingled. We doze off in a tangle of sapped limbs.
He is the first to wake up in the morning, and heads for the shower. Wrapped in a sheet I go to the kitchen for water and an aspirin for my hangover.
I nose around his flat – he has a few photographs around the place, and one catches my eye. It is obviously him as a child, with an older man who could be his grandfather standing in a garden. There is a strong family resemblance, and tucked into the side of the frame I find a funeral service card. I assume that this must be the man whose grave he was visiting yesterday – his grandfather.
On looking closer at the photo, to my horror I realise that I have met his grandfather before, when he was much younger. I would recognise that square jutting chin anywhere. This man was the last person I ever saw in my previous life . . .
The scene replays as a vivid and gruesome flashback: the man callously drawing a hunting knife across my throat from ear to ear in the woodland at night, his teeth exposed and face red with the effort. Then the lights went out, my ears filled with white noise and I fell into the nebulous drowsy darkness which lasted until yesterday.
I am consumed by a sudden overpowering fury, and hurl the photo to the floor, smashing the glass in the process. Incandescent, I continue to lash out, smashing everything in sight, livid at the discovery I have made. I hastily dress and leave the flat, slamming the door, leaving it reverberating in my wake.
Back at the churchyard, I sit between my father’s and sister’s graves, seeking comfort for my turbulent emotions. The sky above me is as angry as a three-day old bruise, perfectly reflecting my tempestuous feelings.
Out of the blue, I begin to feel a great unravelling, as if my very being was starting to splinter and fragment. I begin to disintegrate as if a plague of killer ants were swarming and eating me alive, cell by cell. Each particle of me is buzzing and popping like electricity, and I watch in horror as my body gradually turns to ash, starting from the feet and slowly working upwards. The ash lands in a pile between my father’s and sister’s graves.
My mayfly renaissance of a day is over. A paralysing somnolence overtakes me as I fall once again through space to the cold eternal singing of stars.