Helios In Amber
Vera hears the whispering through the windows long before she gathers the strength to get out of bed. She crawls through the dark house, towards the hostile murmurs. So close to the floorboards, she can hear His sad, ragged breath.
The neighbours are crowding below her kitchen window. Vera does not see them, but she knows they must be staring at a patch of soil where sunflowers usually pierce the earth, unashamedly pleading for the sun’s caresses. She lies very still and quiet against the floor.
‘I’ve heard of this happening in other places, but here – ‘
‘This kind of thing doesn’t happen in regular people’s gardens.’
‘It’s an evil sign.’
‘Sign of what?’
Vera soaks in the disapproval of her neighbours. Being the object of emotion creates an unfamiliar glow in her ribcage, a lukewarm fire spreading outwards. She slides tingling fingertips over the floor, trying to share this warmth with Him. He flings it back to her like a burning piece of coal. She forces her yelp down by biting her tongue, sucks on the salt of it. It is a kind of a kiss.
‘I remember something like this happened during the war. A whole field of forget-me-nots froze overnight, in the height of midsummer. My cousin Lillian said there was a fifteen-year-old girl who stared at those flowers for too long and went home with an old woman’s face.’
‘Your cousin Lillian is always lying.’
‘But the thing about the frozen forget-me-nots is true. I swear, I saw a picture in the newspaper.’
‘That explains why you look like such a hag.’
‘Shut up, James.’
‘Maybe we should leave.’
‘Poor girl. She’s been left alone in there for far too long.’
‘We still need to report this.’
The voices retreat. Vera lays there with leaden limbs, eyelids sinking deep into her sclera. It is not that she allows herself to rest – she cannot afford to – but her body is depriving her of other options. Time passes, too much of it, until the possibility of movement presents itself again.
Outside the window, the sunflowers are petrified, not frozen like one of the idiot neighbours said. Utterly colourless under the twilight sky, their long necks fail to bend towards the setting sun. Vera could take a hammer and smash them to bits, but it’s not the sunflowers she is angry at. She is caught by her reflection on the windowpane. Maybe it’s a trick of the light, but it does not look like a face she has ever worn before.
Vera drags her feet to the conservatory. Every glass surface here is draped in black curtains. There’s no need to fixate on appearances; people change constantly.
The familiar weight of the knife brings solace. Vera opens a well-used cut below her left collarbone and twists the skin around the wound. She transfers her blood between containers: a body, a small vial, a bone cup. The blood-soaked photographs laid out on the table acquire a renewed clarity: three young men in uniform, their expressions schooled to smooth solemnity. Vera traces her index finger along the lines of one miniature face within the silver gelatin sheen, brushing down the cheekbones, touching the tip of His nose, His lips. She brings her hand up to her own mouth in a suspended kiss, the second of the day. She feels ghost fingers around her neck, itching to break it.
There is a knock on the door. In a daze, Vera walks towards it. An old friend stands on the step, wearing a black coat and a steely expression.
‘You have to let him go, Vera.’
‘He cannot be kept like this.’
‘He is my husband.’
‘Yes. Not an animal.’
There is that ghastly grasp of fingers around Vera’s throat again, the words choked out of her. ‘I must punish him for leaving me.’
‘You hate each other.’
‘God, so much.’
Anja looks Vera up and down.
‘You have already exhausted yourself.’
‘Those sunflowers will crumble to dust when I do. Will you scatter their ashes with mine?’
‘Of course, my dear.’
In death, I will forget my husband. I will grow flowers for you.
Not all love is a sickness.
Cross me thrice / Slowly. Slowly.
Plumes of sage lick this leather
Shards of heated glass to sweep –
Why the impatience?
I’ll smoke you out / Hold you down / Forget
Skin I had before
She calls every cardinal
Deliver us from fear
Tonight I am a northerly wind
Gonna give her the time of her fucking life
She loves the kiss of it. I know she does
Why else would you be here
again. Again. Again. Wretched woman
with her old wounds unlicked
she begs for more
I’ll be your vessel / You be mine.
I watch ink run down her back
slicked with blood & lavender oil
Turn towards me darling
imprints in your eyes
O god does it want to hurt us
The future is sigilised. Through my windows to the night
when something screams she screams right back,
snaps the circle shut. Where are we now?
A wound swims too close to my eye upon the silver
tube of Savlon cream crumpling in his fist
It’s not you he says. It’s the violence
How can you possibly need this
My desire is my unbroken breath
hitched on the cross, lungs inflamed
too much life to take
angel threaded blood palms
bound into skin and beyond
biological substance I
freeze frames of nothing
— K.S. is a researcher and writer currently based in London. Her work is published or forthcoming in The Hungry Ghost, Sledgehammer, Babel Tower Noticeboard, and elsewhere. Her debut book of prose and poetry is forthcoming from Feral Dove.