― Anaïs Nin
The letter landed loudly on the ceramic tiles under the letterbox like a bird killed with one bullet. She squeezed her eyes shut at the sound.
Mara had been writing for months, as if compounding wings from paper in an attempt to escape the desperate monotony of existence. She attempted to write away the days, slamming the curtains shut as if sunlight was a wound attempting to seep through a bandage, finishing some kind of solace in the darkness – Icarus and his waxen wings had been consumed by the sun, she knew that, and she could not bear her fragility. In the strange half-darkness the paper did not stare up at her quite as blankly. A crawling exhaustion greased her limbs as she groped forward to reach the letter, her bare feet rustling on the floor.
The letter was from a publisher. Another rejection – she could tell by the hollow, depleted note with which the it had fallen. The envelope gave way easily, as if it had been sealed passionlessly with the lips rather than the hopeful tongue. Ah, she knew it well – the loose envelope, the barely marked sheet inside. Her eyes scanned knowingly over the computerised words of artificial encouragement – and then the line – ‘Interesting, but perhaps you would benefit from injecting some more colour into your writing’.
This took her rather aback. It was the most personal sentence she had seen in all her rejections – not entirely artificial, not reconstituted words from some senseless system. But what could she do about it? Her stories were set in an immersion of black and white – young men and women in the 1920s who spoke colourless words to save on silence, watched some empty black and white comedies together, courted over the inevitable cold colour scheme of the piano. It was a society Mara imagined she would like to be in – knife-sharp, with the cutting clarity of illegal alcohol swigged from disguised decanters and the fashionable nature of insanity.
Injecting some colour onto her writing?
An empty sheet of paper lay bare as a bone on her writing desk – as it had done for the last week. In that way she had attempted to convince herself that simply staring at the paper may result in some sense of sudden artistic discovery, wholly beneficial. But to inject some colour? She crossed to the corner cabinet and plucked an orange from the top drawer. In the greasy pallor of the room it weighed upon her palm like a stone, and she thought of how inside it contained millions of spiracles of moisture, the very moisture which could break the dry fineness of all around her. It was repulsive.
As was the thought of natural light. She told herself that to open the curtains would not allow colour, only allow access for a terrible shrieking white, which she shrank from. For she was not pure, she knew. Her right wrist ached as she searched through drawers, files, footstools in a kind of panic to find some permeating colour – rifling through napkins curled like long grey invertebrates , sequins which shone like the last gasps of cigarette smoke. It was useless. Bananas and apples mulched in the paper-bin, rotten black to the core.
She threw herself abstractedly into her writing chair, working the nib of the fountain pen between her fingers in a frustrated fashion. What to write, what to write. The lingering light at the base of the window blinds gave the furniture of the room the countenance of cold steel. She shuddered, the pen flick, flick, flicking against her thumb. Her heart drumming, the mind desperately filtering, thinking – the wind outside snapped into a long hoot of laughter.
There was a silence, there was always silence. Then with a sudden realisation, the pen drew not the craft of words, but blood, the nib somehow catching the corner of her thumb. She stared at the mounting droplet with a familiar apathy, the rich red nothing more than black through tired eyes. It was not enough and she felt nothing. All that nothingness, lifelessness, as she paced to the bathroom – the lightless hall presented a facade of false proportions like a bloated gullet, her thumb smarting through skin nowhere near innocent. The faucet spat as she started to rinse the blood, her nostrils assaulted with the funereal stench of lilies, now skeletal, which had once bloomed thick and ugly beside the sink.
The bath glittered in the corner of her eye – the ornate marble coffin, staring open in a lidless magnificence, like an assaulted eye. So white, so cold! But this gave her an idea. The bath plug clinked in like the final stopper against any unnecessary thought, the taps unfurled like slender steel arms with surprisingly little resistance. Begrudgingly, she ran a deep expanse of lukewarm water, reaching through the ruffling bathroom blinds to open the window slightly in order to dissipate the steam. The wind licked her damp palms. She was glad for the familiar darkness once the window was open but the blind back to buffering all light. She hate steam forming – it was like extra flesh.
Languishing shadows seemed to curl against small currents in the bath water as she lowered herself into it, her thin cotton dress clinging to her like a child about to be drowned. Her eardrums started to shriek as she sunk in by her neck, her shoulders, her head. For the utter immersion in water was beautiful, as if seeping oneself in a sheer mirror, she thought as her chest flamed and open eyes strained upwards to the shadows feeding tentatively at the surface of the water. Everything so alive together! Each palm was pressed down by ineradicable human weight – perhaps loneliness, some kind of sadness which would have made her laugh if she had been able to open her mouth. The water prised at her lips, stroked against the saturated softness of a skin like a desperate lover. It was the hard eyes, the head firm on the surface of the bath, which said wait – waiting, waiting, as the heart slammed sluggishly in the chest, breaths attempting, cutting short, seething at the back of the throat, the beating of blood in the ears, nose, beneath the beautiful searing cold. The long, slow, sifting of water, heavy as a whole human hand around her throat, speaking like one clean shriek through either ear, opening the old wounds – of mind of body, of all. And then suddenly, utterly, the colours swam into her vision – innumerable circles of bright, bursting lights, seeping, bleeding. She shot up. Sleek with water, she ran as she was to the writing desk. Colour, so much colour, colour like a death.
Only it was perhaps too much.
She had to write, to write, she sat squirming, quivering, the pen like a liquid between the fingers, to write, to write…
Searing strange cold. She slumped over the writing desk, the unwrapped orange seeping against her damp skin. Old, ornate hours embraced her, an obelisk of artistry, the quiet statute with blue lips and open eyes, bare breast and a heavily marked wrist. The wind crept through the bathroom window and scattered the curtains like its own kind of confetti. And there on the floor – the immoveable tissues about her seeped a rich, raw red. The pen was somehow stained, the floor covered, the page empty.
She had been searching for colour all this time.