You are not scared of the dark – your eyes have grown accustomed to it, to night’s cloaking and masking, its unsteadying of day’s clichés, day’s commonplace shapes and sounds and songs monotonous. You are not scared of the dark; you comply with its growing fascination with form, its gradual dissolution of colour, draining all into itself, swallowing bookcases and tables, photo frames and faces. All that life is marked by, gone, in one liberating yawn, stretched out over floors and beams and beds and surfaces. Gone, gulped down, out of sight, into the mouth of night. You are not scared of the dark, for it is a truer state, if ever true states could be assumed, than the one you falsify by day, crouching on all fours, humming an acceptable tune, smoothing dark’s dreams and desires under stiff skirts and tight coats and forced smiles.
You are not scared of the dark, no. You are scared of the light.
This is why you hold a little dark back for yourself, gathered in a stringed silk purse, gathered like the winds of the four corners of the earth, gathered and tied, a double knot at the bag’s nape, the growling dark in its belly, held tight to the stomach of your own person, two snarling snouts waiting for the sins of your past to be unleashed. But they are your sins, and you will keep them close.
All day your forefinger and thumb will pinch the purse quiet, caress its embroidered seams, hush the animal dark hungry for escape, reassure that at night fall, its time will come again.
Striking a match is like setting pen to paper, you think, as you unpin the bag from your belt, set it down on the wooden table, watch wide eyed and marvelling, as it shakes like a hooded bird. For one short moment, for one strike of the match, you are mistress of the dark, magician to this magic, falconer to an unruly winged beast. Striking a match, watching the flame flow down, watching a particular kind of light – not of day, one accustomed like your eyes to the darkness – hold itself pertinent, throwing luminescence against the penumbra, a tolerant greeting, a fluid meeting, then a dance, of the flame and the shadow. Striking a match is like setting pen to paper – mistress for one short intake of breath before the pen, the ink, the flame, the dark takes over, a visible expanse of darkness lighting the way, engulfing the page, a flagrant flight, absence and presence synonymous.
You strike the match, you light the candle, you let its little glow blink mortally, as night crowds into corners, adorns the curtains, wipes clean the stains of day. Soon the room will shrink to this table, this paper, this pen, and then darkness will complete its reign – you ready the bag, unwind the lace, unloose the dark, lasso it with your hand, scoop out this wily substance, compressed into a torturous shape, embossed with a starry sign on its carbon hind.
Under its lacquered skin, earth’s pelt; under its stony sheen, a swine’s hide; under its jet gleam, the soil’s secrets.
Pressing dark between forefinger and thumb, you remember the old woman’s instructions, spoken through acrid breath, sweeping across your face, coating your skin with overturned earth, seedlings of inspiration, pine mixed with dung. Pressed between forefinger and thumb, you enact the old woman’s words, you emulate her fertile commands, you remember the sharp downward action of her dirt encrusted thumb against the knife.
Peels of darkness, inscription unfurling, falling nebula, flakes of madness, wings and scales and hoofs unbind, grind the inkstick down. Here earth meets ocean. Water revives dust. Elements apart combine in one thin vial.
Swirling the midnight concoction, the old woman’s whisper returns to you, curls in your ear, wraps round your wrist, rings against the glass phial, reverberates in the clamouring darkness, brews and bubbles on the liquid surface, croaks in the crook of your own throat.
You hold the vial to the flame, glimpse careful mutations, laughter and suffering, a tail and an antler, the verbs of the old woman’s words:
‘An old woman stands before you, women to the left and right, a younger curved in the narrow of your back. Beware, beloved, beware – and believe.’
Words bud to images bloom to stories fall to visions again. Dip the pen in the ink: now receive what the dark gives unto you.
Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou is a writer, PhD student and founding-editor-in-chief of Lucy Writers. Her work has featured in The London Magazine, The Arts Desk, Club des Femmes, The London Journal and more. She has forthcoming writing with The White Review and is working on a book about women artists and drawing.