So this is a piece I wrote for an assignment… a pastiche of Angela Carter’s Passion of The New Eve and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I’m not too sure it makes sense if you don’t know the stories… but whatevs, it was a lot of fun to write.
We were not long at sea, my little passenger and I. We came ashore amongst the Blacks, though they were different here. We found an abandoned estate to settle in to, though the garden was wild and the floors and furniture were dilapidated and dusty. The Blacks haunted the place like wraiths, like my Lady of Sorrows.
Tristessa. Her name itself whispered rumours of inexpressible sadness, the lingering sibilants rustled on the flagstone of the glacis, like the doomed petticoat of a girl who is dying.
Our child was born, and every year he grew he became more and more Tristessa’s likeness, until, upon the seventh year, I could bear it no more.
The servants – for that’s what they had been – spoke of a woman, breathed her name in hushed tones and left her offerings of fruit and vegetables like some goddess of the night.
Go past Nelson’s Rest, they said. Up near Cleft Way. Wait at the crossroads by the tree of life and she will come.
Her skin glowed pale amber in the moonless night.
“Come,” was all she said.
I followed her through the dark, along dusty pathways, through the cleft of a cave. I followed her down into her secret chamber, her bloody chamber. I did not ask what had died this night so that my love might live, nor did I ask how she knew I would be in need. She knelt in the dusty floor before a plain mirror, and between her and the mirror was a bowl made of wood, filled with dark liquid. From the black feathers around the rim I guessed a cock, or a rooster, had been slain. She dipped her hands into the bowl, and when they came out they glinted red in the firelight. She began to paint her face and arms and chest. When she was done she stood. She was much blacker than before – black as the source of shadow – with thin, straight features.
Why do you paint yourself so?
An owl screeched far in the distance.
To hide from the mystères, the loa. We steal men’s shadows and cover ourselves up. The loa be tricksy.
Your love back.
Yes, how did-
They will demand sacrifice-
What about your bébé?
She laughed, sprinkling herbs into a mortar. She spat into it, ground it up then mixed it into a gold liquid, humming to herself.
She handed me the glass and moved to an altar, covered in a grey cloth.
A bokor is a sorcerer. They serve the loa with both hands. Do you know what I mean?
We practice both white magic and black.
She placed a straw hat and a brown smoking pipe on the altar and lit the pipe. Legba grant me access to the loa.
She poured some rum into a small silver bowl then lit a cigar and placed it in an ashtray next to the rum.
Baron Samedi, we beseech thee.
She placed a skeletal hand on the cloth.
Marinette free us.
Smoke filled the room and my head swam.
I drank the potion, the sting of rum shocking to my tongue. The fire burned brighter. Drums started to pound, soft at first, then louder, louder. She swayed with them, softly at first, then louder, harder, faster. The room burned hot. She picked up a metal eye mask and put it on, dark eyes peering out from below an alchemical golden filigree crown. I heard the rustle of feathered wings. I began to sway. An owl screeched again and I fell onto the pallet and into a sea of darkness.
I dreamed that I was walking in the forest. Not alone. Someone who hated me was with me, out of sight. I could hear heavy footsteps coming closer and though I struggled and screamed I could not move.
Finally I broke free of my unseen bonds and took flight. I came upon an old white woman in a clearing. But as I watched she began to change. Her skin became darker, and she grew taller. Her hands became dry and skeletal, and her hair became black as night. Her lips opened and I saw the sun in her mouth. It burned bright, blinding, flashed and faded like a firework. When the afterimage that was burned onto my retinas faded to black her visage had changed. She was now a black man. Tall and thin with a skull for a face, his eyes were black with flies and he wore a top hat and smoked a cigar. He grinned at me, doffed his hat and turned to walk back into the darkness. His feet were bare, covered in dirt, and the hems of his suit trousers were ragged and mouldy.
A horrible noise swelled up in the distance, like animals howling, but worse. I heard the words “reintegrate the primal form!” like a witches spell hissing with the wind through the leaves.
I awoke in the dust of the Cleft Way road, halfway home. Dazed, I slowly rose to my feet, stumbled and began to walk home. The dress I wore was cumbersome, and tangled with the brush at the side of the road, so that too was thrown to the ground. I ran home in my undergarments and heels like a thing possessed. Let them talk, I though. The locals already thought me eccentric.
The image of Tristessa burned in my mind like a beacon, calling my feet faster and faster.
There was a crowd outside the house and smoke filled the air. Everybody was looking up and pointing at the parrot on the glacis railings with his feathers alight. He made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed him and he fell screeching.
Cabel! My son! I ran to the doorway but was overcome by the smoke. The fire was everywhere! Once again, darkness took me and I felt, as if from a distance, my body hit the ground.
When I came to every trace of the fire was gone, completely and utterly. The only sign it had been there was a small pile of ash just past the glacis railings, where the bird had landed. As I watched the embers reignited and burst into flame. The fire became a bird, a bird made of flame. It looked at me, beat its wings once, twice, three times, and then it soared past the trees trailing sparks behind it.
I turned my head.
Eve, what’s happened to you?
Well, the fire-
He gathered me into her arms and pulled me to my feet.
Not that, she said. Look.
A small white hand darted out like a pale prancing bird, and flicked the flaccid cock that now lay against the testicles dangling between my legs.
You’ve come untucked. What happened? Where are we?
They will demand sacrifice.
Get away from my mother!
He ran from over the Cleft Way, a stick in his hand, sharp at the point, and threw it not at Tristessa but at me.
It is unlucky, they say, to kill a parrot, or even to see one die.
The spear threw true, straight to my heart.