I realised a while ago that over the year we have been doing this blog you have seen a lot of Merle’s artwork. I’ve always encouraged her to share her pictures and have experienced the same breathless elation at the positive comments that follow. But I have never shared any of my own writing. I know it’s time but even as I write this I am considering not posting this. Because I’m terrified.
So here is the first half of a short story I wrote as part of my first assignment on the MA. Actually it started off as a short story but evolved into a radio play or otherwise performed out loud piece of writing. It is a subversion of the Russian fairy tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, now with two beautiful illustrations by Merle. The second half will be going up shortly. No turning back now.
The Lighted Heart
by Abra Hunt
You’ve all done it before. Admit it. I know. You’re doing it now. Aren’t you.
The street stands between the benefit cheques and the private jets, with regimental lawns and battle formation fences, neighbourhood watch and front doors identical in their committee approved colours. I watch her observe where a healthy blaze of exactitude is severed with unprecedented swiftness at the point where the placid blades of grass running in even rows across the front of 45 give way to the striking scythes of 47. Bushy box hedge to crooked bone picket. Sheep skulls sit atop spikes and their empty eyes leer with eloquent disdain. Now that’s a conversation starter and looking closer, I’ve a B&Q theory; that they’re not that is.
She looks at the biro lettering across the alabaster incline of her thumb. Wrinkles her nose. 47? Even the changing angle of her hand against the late-afternoon light effects no alteration to the clearly inscribed digits. The question mark protrudes obliquely from her forehead. Formulates itself into uncertain certainty.
Meanwhile, at the hung lace curtain window I spy an open chink, or, in more potent words, our entrance and…. I say our entrance…. you are coming?
Effortlessly I slide beneath the peeling sash and emerge into shade and silence and air that nets itself between the small circumference of my wings. Witness, in this moment of brief solitude, the advantageousness of being so small, so unobservable and inconsequential. Spying becomes practically an obligation. Let’s wait here.
It’s not a very long wait.
Three and a half minutes later.
Light flickers. There. Gone again. There. A hand on the switch is crinkled in the erratic flare. Gone. There.
Then a knock on the door.
Hand withdraws. We follow the tall back of her shadow. Careful to keep a distance as she flicks the latch and opens the door.
What do you want girl?
Err, hello, my name is Vasilisa…..
Well, I’m sorry for you…
I hope I have the right house….no, please…hey…
Next time it’ll be broken bones, so.
My stepmum sent me, Veronica? Bestley?..or no, Stefanov..Veronica Stefanov?
Shall we get a better look? Round behind the horse mane hair and smell of lavender and garlic, we pass a protrusion of generously proportioned nose. Vasilisa stands sixteen on the front step under a battlement of glossy dark fringe, luminous in the failing light.
Do you know her? She told me to come here. Look, see, 47. Basically all the lights in our house went out? Like two days ago maybe and erm, the power distribution people are claiming it’s not a power cut or anything like that so……..are you an electrician?
Remove your foot from my door.
Wait, I just need to know if you can help. I was told to come here, so can you?
A silence of indeterminate length.
How long have you been in the dark?
You need a light switching on?
I guess. I don’t know, maybe there’s a light tripping the circuit or something.
(Sigh) Get in then.
Oh, errrr, yeah, errr, it’s just you know, erm….. crap, sorry, no my phone’s just dead. It’s just that, I should probably get back right? Like my stepmum will be like….relieved. Maybe I could just phone her to let her know we’re on the way…….erm, could I, could I use your phone?
The girl slides thin as paper between the door and its frame and is followed by a slam. We are left outside.
I mean, there’s a small chance this woman might be an electrician?
They make their way to the back of the house where, via the same window, we observe them from the kitchen table beside the salt and pepper grinders. Vasilisa stands in adolescent angles on the black and white tiled floor. Hand in a pocket. She blinks twice in succession and flicks her fringe, lips bitten pink.
Is your phone through here?
Blink. Blink. Fringe.
Oh, well is it back out in the hall? I really should kind of call, you know?
The woman is extricating an enormous pot from the cavernous insides of a gaping oven. Its shadow glides across the table top and…….QUICK…move, MOVE; up, chair, arm, neck, away. Higher, no, cobweb. Floor veers sideways towards the corner. That was close. There is a smack on the rutted wood and salt and pepper tremble on the pots slick, reflective sides. Clogs retreat, rattle and clink, the running of a drawer open and closed, then clatter across the chequered floor. Blue converse dance emphatically toward the door.
What are you doing?
You can start with my dinner.
You don’t wish to?
No. I just came in to use your phone. Look, I think I’m just going to go now.
Vasilisa’s face appears above the timorous steps of her converse. Her mobile lights up her hand and fingers strike blindly at the touchscreen. But from where we are we see naivety about to be punched directly between the eyes.
In under a second the woman’s hand is restricting the back of the girl’s neck, brittle nails beading her blanched skin red. Phone skitters, black, white, black, white, black, white and is halted by the impact of the fridge.
What do you want? Veronica knows I’m here. She told me it only takes like an hour maximum to get here and back again and if I’m not home soon she’ll call the police.
Twenty-four hours you’ve got to be missing before they take any serious interest I’m told. I’d say that’s plenty of time, even imagining that Veronica is champing at the bit to see your safe return.
Plenty of time, for what? For what? Please just let me go.
Listen Vasil-eesa, lovely girl. I’m sorry you have such a dishonest step-mother. I mean, I’m not an electrician or whatever it was she claimed I was. It’s an original thought though, I’ll admit, I’ve never been called one of those. Just about everything else though I’m sure.
Don’t hurt me.
That’s entirely up to you my dear. All I want is a hot meal like anybody else.
Vasilisa’s tears are running away with her mascara. She nods. Trembles as the tiles catch at her feet and reaches for the lid of the pot.
What’s in there?
Guess you’ll have to find out.
* * *
In the painted light of early morning the dog walkers and joggers congregate outside number 50.
WALKER WITH THE CHOCOLATE LAB
She couldn’t have been more than eighteen…..
WALKER WITH TWO LURCHERS
Fourteen, I have a girl of my own that age.
JOGGER WITH NIKE TRAINERS
It’s the make-up, always makes them look older.
JEREMY EARL, OCCUPANT OF 50 (cup of tea in hand)
She went in there? And has anyone seen her since?
WALKER WITH CHOCOLATE LAB
No, do you think we should call the police?
JOGGER WITH BULGING BICEPS
She could be a relation, let’s not over react, I mean we don’t know anything about her or Mrs whatever-her-name-is for that matter.
WALKER WITH THE TWO LURCHERS
We know plenty.
JOGGER WITH BULGING BICEPS
Yeah but nothing concrete, like nothing we could go to the cops with.
WALKER WITH SOME RANDOM MONGREL
It’s like CSI around here.
WALKER WITH THE CHOCOLATE LAB
Well whatever’s going on in there it can’t be good, it just can’t can it? Obviously we know that she’s got a girl in there and she’s probably brain washing her or sticking her with knives right now and we’re just going to sit around and not do anything? Seriously, you see people like her on the news all the time, so what happens when they dig up the garden and find her bones beneath the petunia bed, how are we going to feel then?
WALKER WITH TWO LURCHERS
It’s awful. I have a daughter of my own just that age. What must her mother be thinking?
The dogs nod sagely.
What are you on about?
What’s best for chasing.
A fly is too small for a dog’s notice, even when it lands politely on their mottled shank. The muscles twitch irritably beneath the delicate touch of my shapely legs and I ride the ripples of rapidly undulating flesh.
We know what went on. In that house after dark. The speculation is certainly interesting but they weren’t there. We were.
The metal lid resounds hurriedly off the tiles. The reverberations mask, for a minute, the elevating aroma, a tasty conglomeration of thick spices and rot rolling sticky and alluring from the silver innards. Happiness and hot weather served Michelin style on a plate. My entire body buzzes but I hold back for your sake.
And after you’ve finished with the meal you will find a mop and bucket and plenty of cloths and bleach and things in the cupboard over there. You can use them to clean this house from top to bottom. Oh, and the light in the front room needs changing, perhaps you can start with that.
I’ll be back in an hour.
Maybe there’s glue on the floor. We certainly can’t detach ourselves from the long strands of brackish hair and dust particles. And probably the back door is locked anyway. At some point the heavy, oxygenated in-breaths peter out and her shivering stops. She twists her face left and right and her eyes oscillate low across the floor. When they run over the fridge they halt.
Her knees crack and a waft of Burberry and sweat overwhelm our musty corner. Blackberry nail varnish glints in the whitening glare of her mobile screen, cracked and disjointed but she’s put faith in an iPhone and a flimsy metallic effect backing case so what can you expect. I am cold to her stricken features; that choice at least is entirely her own fault. She’s frowning. Her thumb scrolls once, twice over the newly abrasive screen. Tap. Tap. Puts the phone to her ear.
Work, please work. No, you useless, stupid, flipping phone. Pleeaasse.
Stab, stab. Puts the phone to her ear.
Why? Please, why? What’s happening?
Blink. Blink. Fringe.
Her fingers punch against the scored surface. We sidle nearer. In the liquidation of her eyes we see the playground colours of google and the vanishing flick of the curser.
quick stewing recipes
672,000 results surface in 0.27 of a second.
The deep oceans in her eyes widen. She sniffs but does not otherwise attempt to stem Niagara as it deluges the tender outcrop of her lip, streaming down her neck into the pool of her clavicle. Merely uses the table to elongate her foal like limbs to standing.
With greater rapidity we reach the lip of the giant pot and are enveloped in the overpowering pungency of raw meat.
The fatly cubed bits of meat are pink and hairless and oozing a dark coagulation of blood, whole carrots and sliced onions steeped in the gelatinous liquid under a seasoning of rosemary and paprika. She takes the handles in each hand and we ride the stainless steel rim to the edge of the table.
Go away, yuck, get out of here. Stupid fly.
Oh yuck, eeuww, grose, sick, eeuww! No way, this is totally disgusting!
But before we can reach the stove her foot skates with unmatched agility across the pan lid and stew and girl disengage as she flies heels over head onto the floor. Meat…….everywhere, smears of blood up the cupboards with floating spears of rosemary and descending onion pieces. The pot lolling on its side.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Vaulting, quite literally vaulting, onto the soles of her converse, she takes two bounds, makes contact with the rolling pot, sort of Ferris wheels the silver sides of it , sort of leaps, mostly neither, one leg on top, the other caught beneath, catapults forwards and smashes, in the most violent sense of the word, into the back door.
Let me out of here! Let me out of here!
Her fingers clutch at the handle and it rattles in her grasp.
You can’t keep me in here. My step mum knows I’m here and you’re wrong! You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong. She will come and find me, I know she will so there you’re wrong, she cares about me and she wouldn’t have sent me here if she’d known…she couldn’t have.
But the door is locked after all. Her nails bite deep into the frame and she peels her legs from the floor.
This time she misses the great pot, its ignoble lid, the globules of meat and carrot and the tips of her hair disappear after her into the oily twilight of the hall. The pummel of fist on glass, crack of foot on wood, scrape of nails over paint drift towards us down the dampening corridor.
Help me, help, please help me.
We wait. Not for a very long time.
Nine minutes later.
Adrenalin hides her from the bruises. She returns and the dark glossy lustre of fringe is stuck to her forehead in smears. Her jeans are ripped. We are the only noise in the room as she reaches for pot, lid and its contents and silently gags. The onions go ignored.
The phone still has 672,000 stewing suggestions.
Number two is a winner. She picks up the knife beside the salt and pepper grinders and slips it beneath the band of her jeans. Then scrolls through her phone to music and hits the play button. Ed Sheeran extols his bouncing vibes through the ear buds.
TO BE CONTINUED………..