Prose from Sharifa Petersen

Reap

‘TV screen after TV screen drives past and you realise: we’re going to reap just what we sow.’ The young man, eyes peering out curiously, nodded in response to his fellow passenger’s diatribe. Situated at the front of the coach, he stared resolutely ahead whilst the companion fated to him looked darkly through the faded red curtains, like a huddled up Dracula. Rain was beating heavily on the windows, the greyness turning everything outside two-dimensional. This, combined with the glass pane it was viewed through, reduced the pride of trees and the sporadic eruptions of birds and the dainty roadside graves to nothing more than a spectacle – a painting – whilst reflections faded in and out, synechdocic of magic apparitions being interrupted by returns to brightly lit life. 

Why had she put her fingers in my mouth?

‘We’re going to reap just what we sow,’ said the man again, not moving from the window. ‘The hour of vespertide is almost upon us.’

‘Yes,’ agreed the young man. As soon as he said the word, it soaked into the grey background, lost forever before it could ever have meaning. 

17:28

17:29

He tried not to look at the time but the digitally illuminated red light bounded into sight off every reflective surface.

17:30

The coach jumped and farted along whilst the rain’s anger became less easy to ignore.

The grey expanse brightened momentarily, wanting his attention with the blue wave of a ghostly hand: ‘Look here,’ it seemed to say. The hills, like a huge pile of shoulders, encircled sunken villages and jolly puffs of smoke billowed upwards as the old little building – knowing each other’s ways – chortled and rasped. And windmills splashed through the air, scattering the clinging droplets upon the dead leaves, only to be trampled by a magpie on his way to pull a juicy worm from the soil – whilst it was still wet. For a moment, the young man felt happy, his mood only disrupted by the shameful fact of its pathetic fallacy. 

But soon the moon was there. Darkness fell and they could only see themselves. By this point, the coach could not be said to be on the road. It had started floating in the floods. A pale figure floated along beside them for a while, her arms trailing in her wake, like ribbons. The vampirical man could not control himself and screeched with maniacal laughter on seeing her, rocking back and forth in his cocoon. The young man turned to see how the rest of the coach had reacted to the corpse. Had they even seen her? A mush of a woman was chattering away in Italian to her squeaking baby; a few people were snoozing uncomfortably; the ageing men continued to age and the young man – well, the young man did nothing.

The water was rising quite steadily now, occasionally lapping up against the coach windows like an amiable seaside swell.

Piano, Natalia! Piano,’ cried the mother, shaking the wailing baby. A few people to the rear of the bus had managed to break a window and were now jumping out into the watery depths below. Whether they were trying to die or trying to live the young man could not tell. Still he did nothing. The man next to him had stopped laughing now and had fallen all together silent, preferring to contemplate the scene outside and how extremely it had changed. 

Why had she put her fingers in my mouth? Of all the sunny days in all the world, that had been his favourite – it was sort of violet and diaphanous, like a jellyfish. The ward, usually so noisy and unbearable, had been silent. His mind had felt clear for the first time since he could remember. Colours took on meaning: white for man and woman; yellow for wickedness. The only sounds as he crossed the sloping grounds were those of the birds and the breeze whistling in the trees. He was finally walking out of there – free – when one of them, out of nowhere, had ran at him. He had lifted his knife, still sanguine, and drove it into her. That’s when she had put her fingers in his mouth. Why had she put her fingers in my mouth?

The coach was now entirely submerged in murky red water. Bodies circled him like Great Whites. And still, the young man did nothing.

Clay

I inhale deeply. The remaining stars twinkle in a different way: not the way they usually would, but obscured in the crepuscular blanket – soft dust specks blowing in a broke brick eternity. He is sitting on the bench next to me.

What am I supposed to do, then? I say.

She shifts in her seat. She always does that as soon as something is too much for her to bear: her despair is not powerful but fidgety, which scares me more.

What am I supposed to do? Just move on? This is ridiculous, she says.

I don’t know, I say. I don’t have all the answers. I’m the same age as you, probably younger by now…

She looks down at her hands, making figures of ‘8’ on her fingernails. We both do.

Remember that time we ran after the sun? I say. Trying to get to it before it rose?

He looks at me and smiles and the skin around his eyes crumple as though it had grown unaccustomed to this movement.

Yes, I remember. We climbed onto the hill and then when it was almost gone we ran as fast as we could into the field.

My shoulders are closing in on me as my heart pounds against them but all I do is trace figures of ‘8’ on my fingernails and listen.

And it nearly disappeared again but we got up onto your mother’s car and caught a final glimpse.

I frown at him – we didn’t run. He’s fading, his eyes blurred by something.

I…

I can barely see her through all the memories. Not the things I thought I would remember but brick walls and breakfasts and brown leaves that had somehow gotten into our bedroom.

It’s getting light, I say. Her palms move slowly towards her closed eyes and her face lowers itself into them.

I close my eyes and watch the scene unfold once again: these arms are wading through the air – slicing it, not part of it – while they explain that they will have to switch my husband off. Death comes to all of us, they say. I want to break the clay that has taken him from us and swallowed him whole, as though it were all made of the same stuff.

Every time I try to unravel it, I find there’s nothing there.

He looks at me, still smiling like a smooth, round pebble and says: I suppose that’s what comes of unravelling.

Yes, I say. Did you… I mean…

No, I say. Things were… hard, but you must know I would never have hurt you deliberately.

It had been a strange day anyway. Nothing seemed very real and then all of a sudden nothing was: a white light, maybe just the headlights, took away the smell and taste and feel of the day and I became everything and nothing.

Today finally breaks through the tough flesh of yesterday and mercilessly beats down on me. He’s gone. The yawning silence throbs on.

I inhale deeply.

Four Vignettes on Time

1. One day, the arrow of time – spinning slowly on its axis – changes direction and the entropy in the house becomes very low. The shards of egg shell tremble and levitate towards the egg box where they meet and enclose the yoke, floating in its translucent albumen. A two pence covered in verdigris becomes good as new. A chaotic pile of papers, blown over by a gust of wind that came in through the open window, now basks in the light, neatly stacked. Out of the window, the sun sets as normal but the stars are no longer there.

2. Many years ago, reclining upon a steep perch (made possible by my youth and good health) I was reading a book (I forget which) and I realised that time had changed. Reading, I found, de-linears time, suspends it, reveals what’s crouching behind it. Even now as I sit here in the dark, or maybe as I walk and read the world around me, I am in the hands of multiple forms of time. 

3. In a breakfast cafe not far from where I live, I watch a man speak very warmly to a woman whom he hardly knows. Although I cannot be sure, I believe his decision to seduce her is a Dionysian man’s desire to affirm a life of loss. Like any other addiction, sex and its climax actualizes loss through a constant cycle and interpenetration of hunger and excess: it imitates the transience of pleasure in a life where it is wedded to pain, deforms beauty as soon as it occurs, yet is in itself corporeal proof that beauty exists. In other words, he is drawn to the abyss even as he runs away from it at top speed.

4. The girl, however, was quite different. One morning (perhaps the very morning she was seduced) she awoke in a haze and quickly ran her fingers down the window frame (a survival instinct) the solid fact of it wrenching her from the tendrils of those floppy thoughts. Looking out, framed in light, she could suddenly see everything, no matter how far. She could see a distant droplet before it fell and focus and unfocus her eyes like a camera lens: a strand of her hair blew softly before them, gleaming impossibly, defined by the nebulous, impressionist backdrop. And every object in the world spoke back to her, elucidating the meaning of things. Unlike her male counterpart, she was a woman who had become one with the endless void of the universe, unafraid of the monumental lack. 

 

Author Bio

I am a London based freelance writer currently writing art reviews and studying an MA in Creative Writing. I am also working on my first novel which I hope to publish by the end of the year. My work can be found here: sharifapetersen.wordpress.com and I can be found here: sharifa.petersen@gmail.com

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