Fiction, Lauren Lagasse
There’s a certain slant of light in winter afternoons. It hits the oak floor and pools, seeping into the grain of the wood. Just a slim ray of warmth in the otherwise entombing chill of the living room. The house groaned. The fire flickered. I sat staring at the solitary sunbeam, escaping from the break in the clouds. How lucky, I thought, that the light was mine. How lucky that it chose to tantalize me of all beings. If only it could afford me some warmth.
I stretched out my stiff legs and wrapped myself tighter in my tattered blanket. The wind howled. The fireplace crackled. The old grandfather clock ticked the minutes by. In and out, my needle went. In and out. In and out. Over and over and over again. I looked up. The sunlight had shifted. How late was the hour? Hunger gnawed.
I set the embroidery on the side table and stretched. My limbs ached with their prolonged stillness. I shivered as I stood; the fire was close to embers. I prodded it a few times with the poker, sending sparks flurrying into the air like the snowflakes at the window. I dropped another piece of wood onto the dying flame, and it thanked me. The world was so quiet.
I hobbled into the kitchen. I had half a thought to reset the needle on the record that had ended hours before, but—I let my hand drop away. The silence was untouchable, and so was the chill, seemingly; the candles were burned down to the nubs from the last time I had forgotten to put them out. Flexing my hands to warm the purple back to red—a fruitless action, and yet I did it anyway—I rummaged through the cabinets for something that had not yet been eaten. Nothing. Nothing. And a half-eaten loaf of bread from the last winter market I had managed to drag myself to, edges jagged where it was unceremoniously ripped and torn apart. I pulled off another piece. It was stale, but it would do.
I pulled the cutting board out from its hiding place. The sky outside the kitchen window was fading into a brilliant blue, a sliver of moon peeking through. The streetlamps had flicked on sometime in the past few hours; glowing orbs leading down the dirt road gently curving down the hill. No carriages would be coming by after dark.
I grabbed the first knife I saw from the cutting block and started work on dinner. But the bread refused to be cut, merely splintering and shedding crumbs. The edges of my vision creeped to a dizzy blackness. I threw the knife into the sink and yanked out a second. After a few saws the bread finally relented, allowing a sad, misshapen piece to fall free.
I had half an idea to put a pan with some butter over the fire and toast the bread properly, but the bread was in my hand and I was hungry. Maybe tomorrow. Even stale, the bread was good. I cut off another piece, the knife slamming on the cutting board when the bread suddenly gave. I inched my hand closer to the blade of the knife. Another piece. My hands were stiff and dry from the chill; even the barest touch from the knife should split the skin open. Something crimson bloomed from my finger and soaked into the remainder of the stale bread. I squeezed the small cut, but no more came out. I could barely even feel it.
I abandoned my workstation. I ripped a piece of bread off with my teeth. Barbarity would do yet again. How heavy I felt, my being dragged down with the setting sun. Back I sat in my armchair. It enveloped me, welcoming me back to its comfortable embrace once again. I settled easily into the divet I had worn for myself, and I wrapped the blanket around me tightly. The wind had eased and the fire was crackling merrily once again and I was swaddled like a newborn, but the chill hadn’t lifted.
I don’t know how long I was sitting there, staring at the wall or the window or whatever the hell, until outside, the church bells rang. Four chimes for four o’clock. Was it really so early? Tonight would be early to bed, like the countless others since the clock moved back and the sun started disappearing earlier and earlier in the evening. I reached for the bread perched on the arm of the chair.
Only the barest glimmer of sunlight remained in the house, hovering now on the wall. The clouds had cleared too late for a proper amount of light to shine in. A few minutes more and the light would be gone. Just the thought of it twisted my heart.
But even that I could not call it a Feeling. The despair ushering in with the darkness was not so much of a feeling, an emotion, something, than simply a continuation of the empty nothingness that had plagued my Winter.
Now the bells sang a song of their own, echoing over the hill from below. The light danced along. How I loved the sweet chimes of the Saturday Mass and dreaded the silent interlude until Sunday morning. The swaying tree branches cast strange shadows in the light, ignoring the rhythm of the bells and moving to Nature’s. Just a couple inches further and the light would hit my mother’s mirror hanging on the wall. Carefully, I reached my wavering hand up to the sunlight, the golden tones setting the pinprick of blood on my fingertip aflame. God was in that Slant of the light.
The church bells grew louder.
God was in that Slant of light and finally had come to deliver his message unto me—no longer would I deal with this seemingly meaningless emptiness! No injury or illness to speak of, just an expansive solitude and a sickness of my soul. I needed a sign. I needed a change. I needed the Light.
And all at once the Light burst into the house, bringing with it the deafening roar of Heaven’s song—the church bells a calamity, the sun itself screaming to me—I basked in it, bathed in it, until I finally I could not deny any longer that the emptiness was not filled.
My throat was raw. I must have been screaming.
If the Angels’ Light could not heal my aliment—if—if—
I looked back to the kitchen.
I drifted back through the doorway, the knife still laying where I left it on the cutting board. Yes, the Light seemed to say, Feel it. Feel it. Gently, I picked up my instrument from its resting place. I moved back towards my calling, in front of my mother’s mirror. I smiled at myself; a manic Light shone in my eyes. I raised the Bishop’s Cleaver. Internal difference, Where the Meanings, are—
I smiled at myself as the sharpest point of the knife went in and out, in and out. Sheep’s wool first. Skin second. Flesh third. Ribs fourth. They fell to the wood floor with a sickly clatter. There, in the center of my chest, my heart was beating.
I laid down the knife.
The grotesqueness of my situation needed some poetic ending—I would understand the emptiness in me; I would no longer have to call my Despair loneliness. I could not stay staring at myself like this, on the precipice of my calling. I clasped a hand around the wriggling thing, and pulled. The veins and arteries surrounding it snapped easily; blood soaked the front of my sweater and pooled on the floor. It beat futilely, once, twice, and stilled, blood still dripping.
The door opened for me and I glided along the snow-coated cobblestones, the hem of my skirt brushing delicately against the ground. The deep blue of the Eastern sky had crept up upon its Western sister. The Light was gone, replaced with the single lantern sitting upon its post at the front of the garden and a gentle flurry of snowflakes. My garden was long dead. The branches were scraggly and dripping with ice, but come Springtime I knew they would bloom again.
Deeper in the recesses of the garden I found what I was looking for. The birdbath. The snowfall inside its basin had melted and refrozen into a solid sheet of ice. The world was quiet now. The birds would not be using what was rightfully theirs for a couple months yet.
Gently, I lay my heart on the frozen Altar of the birdbath. The cavern in my chest yearned for its replacement, screamed for it, every bit of blood and bone willing me to take it back, take it back. I smiled. Red leaked across the ice and dripped from the cavity in my chest to the fresh-fallen snow. And another feeling bloomed. Contentment.
I stood staring at my heart. The snow continued to fall.
My bones were cold.
I watched its stillness.
The world was so quiet.
Silently, I turned away and walked back into the house.
Death should be greeting me soon.
I gave It my offering—what else could it want from me? Remorse? Repentance for some forgotten sin? It evaded me. My only company was the continuation of this horrible, horrible Winter. The emptiness became tangible but the feeling didn’t change. It never changed. Not during the endless cycle of sunrise and sunset, hunger and full stomach, and the constant of Solitude. My soul was barren. The pain had long since faded. What was life now, with nothing sustaining me? How could I walk the Earth in this condition, an Imperial Affliction?
Every so often, I caught a glimpse of myself in my mother’s mirror. I avoided my own sunken, dead eyes. That haunting cavity was all I could see. Day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day—
Early one morning, the sunrise seeped in through my window.
I stirred, a hint of warmth emerging from the outdoors. Almost afraid of what I would see, I pushed the back door open. A rejuvenating breeze caressed my face, beckoning me further outside my confines. In the garden emerged dew-soaked jewels and leaves and petals, rhythmic in the breeze that made the lush grass an ocean’s wave, alight with a watery glow in the rays of emollient Spring sun. The birdsong had started once again, melding with the church bells of Sunday’s mass. The cobblestone darkened with the melting Winter, the sweet dampness adding freshness to the air.
In the deepening foliage, nestled amongst the blossom-heavy bushes and moss-coated stone walls, sat the bird fountain, running over with crystalline water, my heart sitting in its baptismal bath, still beating.
Lauren is a college student studying creative writing, fashion, and advertising in New York. When she isn't writing, she can be found collaging, crocheting, or rehearsing with her a cappella group.