A Death Refracted – Part 5.6
After the Wedding ceremonies have been completed Derry finds herself at Jivraj’s house
She remembers the house, the entrance, runs her fingers across the wooden door, across the face of the carved she-wolf and her cubs, the lines familiar, coming alive under her touch, the warmth of the wood entering her, the blood of the animals surging through the grain, joining with her flow.
She’s not sure where she enters. The house is no longer just a house, its walls disappearing into themselves, shifting as she moves forward. It changes, is much more than a house; it’s a rounded body, warm curved, pulsing around her; its’s a vibrant river, the flow of the water sweet upon her flesh, the ripples feeding her the moments of their birth, cleansing from her the dust of the day past; it’s a rising mountain, the thick black foam of its starched stone and soil seeping into her eyes and ears, her mouth, her lungs, her sex; it’s the sky endlessly cladding her in a silky dress which reaches to the corners of the universe and beyond, curving upon itself until there is no knowing of the beginning and the ending, there is only the moment coming, the thought forming and the pen writing, only that and no more than that.
She is taken into the body of the house which is not a house, and yet is not a body, is not anything but itself, is a doorway into the universe collapsing into itself, into a moment that cannot and will not exist except in the memory of itself. She wants that memory, to be able to take it like a bulb, bury it in the soil, and wait for the next Spring to watch it unravel, flower once more as the sun feeds its sap, watch it grow and leave all that is dark behind.
Everywhere Derry’s eyes fall there are stars, candles in a sky which has descended into the soil. There are chrysanthemums, marigolds, orchids, tulips of colours to which there are no names and never will be. She marvels at the beauty of snow petals settled on a leaf. There’s the heady scent of hyancinths……..
Hey, Derry? It’s Miri. Come.
Come where? She is still marvelling at the garden which had sprung up in front of her. They’re in the small courtyard. She doesn’t remember it from her first visit, but then she had been tired.
Hey, Derry? Miri again.
She feels the other take her hand.
They’re waiting for us. Come.
She knows they are waiting, have been waiting, and will wait for her.
They’re in the room where they’d first met, ranged around the table. Jivraj is at the far end with his mother standing behind him. Piri is nowhere to be seen, but Derry hears her voice coming from the kitchen.
She’ll be here any minute, Miri says noticing Derry glance at the doorway. She raises her voice; Piri, hurry with the lassi. Then to Derry; You must be hungry as well. You didn’t eat much at the wedding.
Derry notices the simple flower arrangement in the centre, a lotus floating in a bowl. There are ripples, barely discernible as the bloom revolves slowly. She closes her eyes trying to stamp the image inside of her.
It’s been a long day, Derry. Come sit with us.
The scent of burning mango wood carries to Derry. She looks for the fire; hadn’t noticed its curling fingers behind Myriam.
It gets cold at night, the mother explains. Her hair shimmers with the shifting light from the fire. To Derry she is exquisitely beautiful, not in a fragile sense, that of a painted porcelain courtesan, but with the surety of herself. She longs for that surety herself, to be as rooted as this woman is, as are her children – Piri has joined them, carrying a tray of drinks – their faces without colour of any sort. For a moment, the blink of an eye, they are transformed into the wolf images carved into the wooden doors to the house. An instance, no more.
This has all been such a rush. Piri pours out five glasses. We’ve hardly been able to breathe this week. And you must be absolutely bushed, Derry.
Derry doesn’t feel tired, she feels emptied; the wedding ceremony had opened and closed the scars she carried; she is just spinning, taking in all that this serene house has to give her, trying to recover from the history which has been revealed.
I am totally pooped, Jivraj declares. He reaches, hands Derry a glass. When do you go back to the UK? Your mother was saying you were only here for two weeks.
She takes a sip before answering.
I hadn’t thought about that. And it’s true; the ghosts have been spinning their threads inside her head, all other thoughts hidden by their cloudy tongues, a dawning of snowstorms she will have to face up to later. How is she going to deal with her return? What will she say to Desh? She hasn’t spoken to her since the day she broke, and that is the only way to describe it, into her father’s diaries. The colours of his words still lie stinking on her flesh; and she has washed and scrubbed until her skin was raw, the scars a vivid blossom, threatening to burst, and the stench is still there, a part of her.
She’d told Desh everything was going to plan; she’d chosen a match and it was time to move to the next part. But sitting here with Jivraj, his family, the warmth of the fire a gentle heaviness blanketing her, she has no idea how she will take that next step. She knows she’s caught in a weather which is turning darker, threatening storms, and she knows she will have no shelter.
He’s watching her. Just watching her. Eyes empty of everything.
You’re far away, Derry.
She is. She’s lost. She doesn’t want to be. She senses herself floating away from this scented room, where, she knows, she belongs, wants to belong, but the ghost voices are calling again, rising through the stillness nesting inside her. Will she ever rid herself of their stain? She shivers.
His mother comes and wraps a shawl around her, sits beside her, lets Derry lean her head on her shoulder.
There are storms in every life, Myriam says, and Derry wonders whether this woman can read her thoughts. They leave us battered no matter how we hunker down and prepare. It’s the people around you who help you to rebuild, to create and move yourself into whatever shape and sense you want.
Derry can feel the other’s heartbeat, strong and steady. She’s tried to shape herself, to be true to what she is, and that “she” is not an aberration, she knows that fully, but there are the words of God and his many manifestations, then interpretations of his mouthpieces which colour her and those like her as an abomination, and there can be no law passed which can change those colours and how she is perceived. How does she fight against that?
It’s too early to say we’re your family, but when you chose Jivraj, when you both chose each other, the woman corrects herself, we opened ourselves, every door, every window. We are what you see; there is nothing hidden.
Derry is fully aware that is not true of her. She has been hiding since she was twelve. She has rooms hidden within rooms within rooms. And within those rooms are locked boxes containing more locked boxes. How much can she expose? She’s afraid, already anticipating the inevitable loss of what she has started to build should she open her doors, allow all that has been stored there to go free.
That is not strictly true, Jivraj tells him mother. We have dimensions which we cannot yet see….
Ah, there he goes again into his mathematical theorising, Miri laughs. Give the poor woman some slack, Jivi. She’s been on her feet all day today, and no doubt little sleep these past days, and you want to tax what little energy she has with your chaos.
I’m just saying that we’re not as simple as we seem at first glance. God alone knows how many “me’s” there are and what secrets I’ve placed into these multi-dimensional pigeonholes.
My “me” is telling me that what I need right now is a piping hot bath, a pot of steaming tea and then off to bed. Miri walks across to Derry. How does that sound Derry?
Sounds wonderful. Where will I find this hot bath?
I’m pretty sure that your handsome husband will stir himself and get things going. Miri glances at her brother. What do you say, Jivi?
The man rises from his chair, laughter now floating in his eyes. I will go and check if a bathtub exists in this E8 prototype of a house, and whether its coordinates will allow it to be filled with physical water.
Not too hot, please, Derry says.
A touch of lavender to help ease the aches of the day, his mother reminds him. Just five drops. When the door closes behind him, she asks softly, Derry, why are you afraid, my child? I can feel your heart jumping. It’s almost bursting.
Derry pauses to collect her thoughts before replying. This house, all of you, have welcomed me without question. I’m afraid that I shall find the happiness I’ve always wanted. And that’s terrifying.
We are meant to find happiness. Don’t complicate life by overthinking what has been placed in front of you. You are what you are, a rare woman, Derry, your own woman. Accept that and enjoy life.
I want to be happy. But I’m afraid of what I am.
What exactly do you think you are, Derry?
I have many secrets. Derry is surprised how easily she is able to open up to this woman.
Then let them stay secrets.
They haunt me. They rise in my sleep, and now they’re beginning to appear in the day. I just have to close my eyes and they are here.
That means you are starting to face up to them.
That is not how it seems to Derry; her secrets are facing off to her, challenging her to acknowledge their hold over her, that she is not her own mould, has been shaped by others.
I don’t know if I am strong enough.
You’d be surprised how strong you are, Derry. It took strength to accept this match. When I first saw you, I knew that this was not what you wanted, and yet, here you are.
How much does the woman know about her? Who has told her?
Beyond the door the sound of water falling. Ripples in time, of time. She smooths the surface of the lake inside her. She takes herself back to that first time she stepped into this house…… there are questions she wants to ask.
That picture. By the bathroom door. Who is that woman standing behind you in the mirror?
The woman smiles. You have a keen eye, Derry.
Who is she? She looks so much like me? How can that be me?
Miri passes behind and places more logs on the fire. Sparks lift and float upwards carried in the draughts of their own heat.
Jivraj enters wiping his hands. There was no lavender, he says. I used tea tree oil instead. Is that ok, Derry?
She nods, waiting for an answer from Myriam.
You do look uncannily like her.
Your aunt Laila.
My aunt? Why is she in that picture? How do you know her?
Your father hasn’t mentioned her? There is an undercurrent of surprise in the woman’s question. They were very close.
Should she tell them about the diary entry? She decides not to. It’s too early.
He’s never talked about her.
You are sure?
Derry straightens and looks at the woman.
Why is my aunt in a picture in this house? Did you know her?
Do you believe in re-incarnation?
Fuck re-incarnation! The words just explode from her. A sudden rage inside her. Why the fuck do people think they can mess with her? All she wants is to know the truth, no mumbo jumbo explanations, just the straight fucking truth. Tell me! And don’t wrap it in some mathematical shit! Just tell me!
She regrets her words as soon as they are uttered.
I’m sorry. This has been a long day…..
And you have uncovered many things, Myriam finishes gently, and when Derry looks at her in surprise she continues; You have the look of one who has had a revelation, and it has not brought the peace you were hoping for, the reconciliation you needed.
The woman is right; there are many questions, but the one she wants answered now is about her aunt.
Tell me about her, my Aunt Laila.
I got to know her after your father married. Your mother’s eldest sister lives two alley down. Our families have known each other for a long time.
You know my mother?
Only in passing. We saw her when she came to visit her sister. She was just a face in a crowd, and she kept herself to herself. But after your father left for the UK, she and your aunt came more often. Your mother was with child, and I know how hard it can be living away from your family, and I suppose, no, I know she needed the comfort of her own. Your aunt accompanied her and leaving your mother with her sister she would walk through the village looking for things to sketch. That picture you want to know about, Derry, has been drawn by your aunt.
There was nothing in his diaries to say her aunt had been an artist. Just that one entry about her death.
I met her in the market. We were waiting for milk and I, being the curious person I am, asked her where she was from. That was the start of our friendship.
But she was different, wasn’t she? Different to other women.
She was herself, child. She was what she was. I do not judge. She was a friend, and we spent many happy times in this house. This was before these pesky children came along. My husband was busy building up his agency, travelling to see authors, publishers and editors, and your aunt helped me fill my empty days and to grow into the woman I am now. She taught me not to be afraid of who I was…
A woman the equal of anyone. A woman confident within herself and of herself.
And your husband?
He loved me for who I was. He accepted me, knew I was his match and more.
You were lucky.
No, I knew what I wanted, was willing to become what I wanted, stood my ground to be accepted. And that is what I have taught my children.
More logs are placed on the fire.
What happened to my aunt?
She fell in love. Myriam stops and contemplates the resurgent flames. A forbidden love.
No child. It was another.
The flames take hold on the new logs, spit and spur shapes without names. Warm fingers reach out to her, but Derry feels chilled. The sound of bats, their high-pitched scissor voices calling to each other, seeps through the walls. The others seem not to have heard; is she the only one who can sense them? Again the wailing noise, the slice of their wings in the night sky. She can imagine them wheeling, dark spears cutting into the shadows, angles disappearing one after the other, a crepuscular tide of superstition and awe. Whose blood were they after tonight? she wonders, what throat will they kiss?
How did she die? She has to ask, even though she knows.
She killed herself.
There is only the sound of their collective susurration; even the fire has ceased its boastful surges. There is the ache of absence, each cut by its sharp edges.
She was born into the wrong time, Myriam says softly. She tried to be herself, but it was too much.
And death was the only way out?
She could not live a lie. She knew where her heart was.
Derry knows then that she, too, will not be able to live a lie. Can she bring the two halves of her heart together? Can she reconcile with her past? And it is her past, even though it has been forced upon her, the roads she would have taken blocked, diversions set to take her into dead ends she had never imagined. But this, this moment, her presence among this family, that cannot be a dead end, cannot be allowed to become one. She wants to be able to see herself growing old surrounded by her children and their children.
The house warms, folds itself about her, enveloping her in the safety of its quietness.
She gathers herself away from the curl of her mother-in-law, stands and extends her hand to her husband.
Teach me how to write my own equation.
He takes her hand in his.