:: Article

Words Escape Me

Fiction by Claire-Louise Bennet, from her forthcoming book, Pond.


pond cover


Something came down the chimney fast, swerved, hit off the coal bucket. A small thing, and sharp maybe – the sound it made when it hit off the bucket suggested it was a small sharp thing. I don’t know where it landed, or if it even landed at all. I think it probably just disappeared. After hitting off the bucket I think it vanished, or was absorbed at least, withdrawn, anyhow, from all visible possibility. A little later, a long time after in fact, there was some thumping, as if inside – as if, again, there was something half-tucked inside the air perhaps. I didn’t like it very much, the thumping, but this didn’t develop into a difficulty for me because it too disappeared, or returned fully, whatever it was. I could hardly see by this time, my eyes were quite unable to focus – sort of unpractised and inept – as if they’d had no prior experience of form and perspective. They just slid around, nothing was organised – it was difficult then to locate where I was, for the reason that I just wasn’t able to establish any stable coordinates, so then I closed them. In an effort to attain some feeling akin to stillness I closed my eyes but this didn’t alter anything, it was as if, in fact, they were still wide open. Indeed, I felt them to be open and alert and searching. They went on with their palpating activity for some time, sometimes I twitched – but not because I was asleep – I wasn’t asleep. How could I have been? My blood was teeming, or ensorcelled, and my heart despised me, or wanted to divulge something, whichever either was at, the overall sensation was quite calamitous. I got that feeling again that I was some sort of funnel, for want of a better way of putting it – though a funnel isn’t accurate at all actually since the direction is wrong. I didn’t want to dwell on it anyhow, for the reason that that’s precisely what it wants you to do. As much as possible I turned away from all that – I could hear the flames turning the logs white, a kind of tinkling sound, as made by icicles and Gothic snow.

I hadn’t gone anywhere. Earlier I’d sat on the bed and faced the window. There was a male blackbird on the shed roof, his head was turned very much, so in fact it looked like he had shoulders. I think it may have been getting dark. That’s right. I lay back then and carried on looking at the window, which was in a difference place now, in relation to what it showed you of the outside I mean. Now the tree filled it entirely, not the whole tree, obviously, but that section where the tension between the aerial and the subterranean is most palpable and there are all these knots and orifices, and it could have all got a bit over-wrought, one would have thought, if not for the occurrence of branches – and isn’t it remarkable, and a bit repugnant, how the ivy always knows where the chaos is and wraps about it, siphoning off and getting greener with its potent volatility?

But such large beautiful impervious branches, they exceeded the window, and the sky appeared distantly available between them. I think the light was going, and I thought, soon that star from before will resurface – and that is exactly what happened actually. Just in the way I’d seen it. The sky was the darkest nearest blue then. At some point, I don’t recall if it was before or after, I opened the top half of the front door and lent across the lower half. There was no rain now and I couldn’t quite place when it was I’d last seen any but everything was soaking and dripping. I wished I could suck at something, it seemed like you ought to be able to – it was difficult, actually, to subdue the craving I experienced when I looked at the stones piled into a wall and the sopping moss spread across them. I don’t know why I came to stop standing there and shut the door. Or maybe I didn’t shut the door. That’s more like it. I came to stop standing there, but I didn’t shut the door because – I remember now – being at the desk – I was sitting actually, sitting at the desk – sitting and looking out – it’s quite clear to me that that’s how it was. And perhaps what I thought was, it all looks so very alive it might move – wouldn’t that be right – it will all move down this way and come in through the door, and perhaps in through the windows too. Perhaps I thought something like that, sitting there, at the desk, looking up at the outside.

And perhaps it was the case that things did begin to move down this way, I don’t know, but that was not the reason why I did in fact get up after some time and came to close the door. Or maybe it was, I don’t remember in truth – I think actually I’d forgotten the reason that had caused me to open it in the first place and because I could not recall the reason for it being that way I could no longer see the point of it being open. I just no longer knew what the purpose of it being that way was. There were other things, after that – I moved around like this for hours in fact, liking the bathroom least of all, possibly due to its cotton buds and south-facing nozzles, who knows. There was no end to it really, not one I could fathom. I should have gone outside, but by now it was quite impossible – even in the dark. You’re terrified, I thought, and you probably have been all day. What’s all this been about if not panic? What other way is there of describing it? Terrified, absolutely terrified. That made sense, actually, and I felt a bit easier then, realising that. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I’d been terrified for longer than all day, and I had rather mixed feelings upon realising that – I wasn’t much keen on the idea that I had been terrified for years, but it seemed possible. Well, I knew it really. I damn well knew it, have known it all along – and couldn’t figure out what all this present fuss was about. Why it should be that my blood was rampant and my heart scouring for a way out. Why should it all be getting on top of me, as they say, on this particular day? I was suspicious really and thought it best to not get too involved with any ideas that came about, after all, being terrified seems quite normal, one learns to live with it – possibly you forget, or it tilts. And then, from time to time, such as today, it reappears, just to remind you, perhaps, what you are living with, even if you almost always forget. That seemed like a sensible explanation and I was quite satisfied with it, I didn’t need to go any further. I thought again about that small sharp thing that had come down the chimney like a dragonfly first thing. And even though it was almost completely dark by now I opened a notebook by the fire and wrote some things down.

There were lines across the pages but they were imperceptible because of how dark it had become and once a word was written it was quite irretrievable, as if abducted. I went on, sinking words into the pages, perhaps wondering what or who was taking them in. And then, for the first time that day, just as it was ending, I knew where I was – I was beneath the ground. I was far beneath the ground at last, and my blood thronged and my heart flounced back and forth bewitchingly. The pen came to settle in the seam of my notebook. Sooner or later, I thought, you’re going to have to speak up.

Claire-Louise Bennett was awarded the inaugural White Review Short Story Prize in 2013 and she has received bursaries from the Irish Arts Council and Galway City Council. Her first collection of stories, Pond, will be published on 23rd April by The Stinging Fly Press.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, April 13th, 2015.