Grey eyes fix like a dim light concentrating on dark water. I have been a point in the distance of your thoughts these long hours, but like Eurydice returning, you cannot look directly at me. The path of your sight is just beyond: at a mirage, the spirit of a mother, a lover not yet real. There is no body to recognise. I am still crossing over from the dead to the living, that in-between time where the self I was to them becomes the self I am to you. I cannot feel the flow through my veins. That warm rush has been replaced, flooded by the Lethe. With an alien touch I grasp a faucet handle, the refrigerator door, bodies small and rounded, tall and lean; there is only the feel of my own hands clutching at nothing, the fever dream of forgotten muscle memory. The little one, he does not notice that the mother-figure that holds him is still a stranger. You scrutinise my too-stiff arms that have not shaken off the rigor of the night. Held up like offerings in your searchlight fingers, you murmur:
—are you trembling?
I remove them and reply with the weariness of the automatic comforter; the voice that soothes brows and induces sleep. The false lull(aby).
—my hands never shake.
But I look down and see beneath the layers of skin, where my very bones shiver in that perennial winter of the flesh. Later, sunk deep in the bath, I release my body. The violence of its response—a guttural shudder—throws up arcs of water, a silvered escape. A whispered phrase from a long-ago story chasing itself in circles around my head. ‘Silenced she sank easily through the deeps under the deeps of darkness until she lay like a stone at the farthest bottom of life…’ I want to sink, melt, evaporate. Anything that can promise rest; images of others and their memories imprinted upon my bones, the density of time that weights us. My reflection in the silver taps is obscured by steam; there is only an indistinct outline, a shade crossing a field of mist. I have descended again. What was the line in that movie? ‘Mirrors are the doors through which Death comes and goes.’ Sometimes I think we have no mirrors to delay the arrival of Death. Just one more minute, a day, a month, a year … now, am I coming or going? Each is a reflection of what is to come. The doorbell rings. Temporarily, the faces and voices in my bones are quelled, a glass too many of wine silencing their echoes. I hesitate, then lift the entry phone, speak into the receiver.
—if you could please leave the delivery …
My voice trails down a path that leads my mind back, through the mirror and its many reflections. I count under my breath. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. Don’t look, don’t look. Opening the door: for a moment, the night is silver-rippled. Death comes and goes. I see a dark rider by a dark metal horse. Face obscured by the black helmet, hand held up—beckoning, or in acknowledgement? For a moment I am frozen. Eurydice seen, to be returned to the underworld and its cacophony of sadness by the unknown guide, the glove through the mirror, the path that disappears with every step forward. And then he is gone. Picking up the warm paper bag, I look down at my shaking hands, the nightmare of its fever-dream melting into the air; a return.
1. From ‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider’ (1939) by Katherine Anne Porter
2. From Orphée (1950), dir. Jean Cocteau.
Image: still from Orphée.