There’s a deep, dark, perilous hole that you tend to fall into now and again. It’s not that you don’t try to escape it, because you do. It’s not that you don’t run away from it as fast as you can. But, it follows you. Wherever you are, wherever you go, it keeps pace. Everywhere. However much you run and hide, the moment you stop thinking about it, it appears, right there before you, waiting to suck you in and swallow you whole.
The water was warm against her toes and the soles of her feet as they hung lightly over the surface, with the current of the canal swirling around them, soaking itself up in her trainers.
Caroline could hear voices around her. They were muttering so that she wouldn’t recognise the words, but she caught a few out here and there: “alert”, “parents”, “accident”. After a while of trying to piece together their mumbles, she drifted off into her own mind, contemplating more important things, like how the moon hit the water, its beams picking out the pieces of rubbish like criminals and bathing everything in cold. She closed her eyes to feel the water flood around her already drenched socks, warming her toes while she tightened her grip on the heat blanket they’d given her. It was shiny like foil, and crinkly like foil, but the river was starting to make it smell of dead sheep, unlike foil.
She gripped it tight to steady herself against the vertigo of the swirling inky black. Black that could eat you alive. Black that could hold you under. Black that could lose you.
Then she opened her eyes, blinking a few times to accustom herself to the torch lights circling around her in sweeping, erratic movements. Sort of scavenging for things like sniffer dogs, looking around for the forgotten things that people leave in the dark.
To Caroline, the darkness was like an infection. A disease with the germy tendrils climbing up through her fingertips, wrenching out bunches of nerves just to hold them splintered and torn, triumphantly declaring to the world that the victim had been vanquished. While elsewhere, the victim – or more accurately, the victimized — is left to nurse her wounds in the dirt, where more germs and infections come like hyenas to the weakened mess.
To Caroline, darkness was a foe. A foe who knew her pain, who knew her suffering, and who took solace only in the mild endorphin pleasures that followed its carefully planned attacks.
To Caroline, the darkness was interesting, like inky black waves which motives you could never really work out.
“Close your eyes,” the voice said as Caroline faced the mirror. So Caroline did.
She felt the brush of her own hair against her neck. It tickled and made her squirm. The voice whispered other things that Caroline heard in her dark. From what she could imagine with her ears and her skin and her nose, the voice was painting her.
There were powders and chalks, soft gooey pastes and thin cooling serums. Caroline’s mother brushed lightly, rimming her eyes with kohl, combing out the knots in her hair and animating her face to be a lot more interesting than Caroline thought it was in reality.
She could feel the hair being pinned just that little bit too tight around her temples; she could feel the lipstick coagulating and sticking on her lips.
Too red, she thought. Much, much too red.
And when she was instructed to open her eyes, to transition from the dark and shadowy place behind her eyelids, Caroline was dazzled by the bright lights coming from the vanity facing her and reflecting off her porcelain skin.
“Flawless skin. The only good thing to come of looking so pale.”
She was fretted over a bit more by her mother before she was finally left in peace. And when Caroline had a moment to herself, she looked at herself one more time, picked up a cloth and dipped it in water.
“Too red, I think,” she muttered to herself.
And she smeared the cloth across her face, taking the sticky red, the inky black and the many, many, many beiges and pinks, which her mother had used to “animate” her skin, into a smattering of blotches. The only thing recognizable was the blank, white, porcelain canvas, upon which sat the colourful debris.
Foxes were being hunted, and Caroline saw them, just over there, in the dark. Wolves were running them down on great white horses with blowpipe guns. Caroline was sprinting for them; Caroline ran till her heart burst. She jumped every bush and stump, dodged the trees and followed the tractor marks. They were running out of hiding space, those foxes and their cubs. Plume-tailed with emerald eyes, the wolves were hunting for the foxes’ riches.
She found them and bundled them up quick. She snuck them through alleyways through the urban shit, where whores crooned out ballads, beautiful ballads concealed beneath damp beds. Where the judge’s gavel is a gunshot taking its cue from the jury’s verdict. Caroline slid them between plastic chairs and rusting metal grills. She hid them in the worn leather and mouldy cotton.
Here the foxes will thrive, she thought. Here the foxes will live, among the rich.
But when she turned her eye, what would the foxes do? They would slink off in their pack, ducking under the cat flaps and through the doggy doors, running back to their forest trees. Running back to find their brother wolves on white palomino horses and giving chase the whole night through.
Caroline didn’t see as she watched the beasts play in the dark. Caroline saw only the riches running toward her. Caroline, the poor thing, became wrapped up in stealing games, taking plumes and emeralds from wolves on horses.
There’s that terrible moment, where you realize that the darkness isn’t following you. It’s not keeping pace, it’s not tracking down your every move. In fact, it’s not even there. It’s YOU. It’s all you! You’re dragging it around with you, you psychotic wreck, this incredible burden you hide from, you’re the one creating it. And that’s really, really scary.
Doubt is a cancer. Mystery is a trap. It lures you and lures you and snares you up once it’s too late, because you’re too afraid to be confident.
And that’s… really scary. Because it means that… not even you. Not even you believe in yourself. No one’s out to get you, no one’s beating you down, that’s all on you. And not believing in yourself… well, then, how is anyone else meant to believe in you?
So tell us darling Caroline, from which dark recess of your mind did it start? Don’t give us that blank stare; those innocent eyes won’t get you through life much longer.
Why the thieving, Caroline? Why all the running away?
Why the hating, Caroline?
Do tell us if you’re so corrupt and dead.
Are you so destroyed?
Let. Me. Guess.
Mummy issues? Daddy issues? I’m-just-not-good-enough issues?
Oh Caroline! Do regale us with your heart-rending tale!
What, Caroline – if I may ask – What ruined you so?
She couldn’t think as the waters swirled around her, waiting to drag her in. She couldn’t feel with the porcelain caked on her face, her eyes flashed left and right in a panic. She felt lost, looking at something so clearly, then being shown all the different ways she was wrong.
Image is‘Dead Fox’ by Stoptimephoto on Flickr.