Fabian Black - The Dead Zone ~ My Lady of Ruins


                                    THE DEAD ZONE

                                        My Lady of Ruins



“Tell me about the dead zone,” he said, making a temple of his fingers, leaning back in his chair and looking at me. He didn’t smile, but his eyes made contact with mine, peering through the small black holes…the gateways to my mind.

For once I let someone enter, I did not shut them out. The creature within shrank back, uncertain, but it did not run, sensing a kindred spirit.

“Tell me in your own words, in your own way,” the voice was persuasive, it rustled like the robes of the dark angel who haunted my life. He made no promises, gave no guarantees of understanding or help. “Your voice is yours alone,” he rustled, “feel its power, own it. Let the creature out. Let it speak. Your voice belongs to it, deny it no longer.”

His eyes were blue, but not human and as a gesture of trust he let me see what he really was…a tiger in a cave with its breath smoking in cold mountain air. I felt a chill penetrate me as if he had impaled me on a spear of ice. It took my breath away.

The creature within stepped forward. I heard a sound, like the whisper of wind through graveyard trees. A dry voice, creaking, furred with the dust of long silences.

I was nine when I first walked through the mirror and went to live in the dead zone beyond the glass. I remember how soft the darkness was as it wrapped itself around me. Everything fell away, sight, sound, feelings. There was only enshrouding darkness. It brushed my face like threads from the spider’s web.  My mother had hurt my mind, my father had hurt my body and now my friend’s father had done something that I did not even have a name for. He had eaten his own daughters’ souls and now he had eaten mine. I was dead at last, a walker in the dark places.

A faint smile touched his lips, but not one of mockery, a seductive curve, inviting. “This is your voice, the words are your song and yours alone. Sing it. Ignore the rule of the clock,” he said. “It has no truth except that which man allows it to have. I am not man and you are not woman. It cannot bind us, we are creatures of an infinite galaxy.”

I succumbed to the rustle of his voice. The world fell away and I was lost in random time. The whisper of wind gathered strength, moving the branches and leaves of graveyard trees.

I have been on the edge of the dead zone all my life, stepping in and out, moments of lucidity strung out like beads on a chain. I am a creature of limbo. I view from a distance, standing on the rubble of crumbling houses, watching the world tumble around me.

The dead people beckoned me. I saw them. The woman in her blue, candlewick dressing gown, a towel shrouding her hair, her feet, with red painted toe nails, balanced precariously amongst the ruins of a house. She smiled at me, at me, and held out a hand. I reached through the shattered window, felt the ice touch of her fingers draw me on. Only the bricks beneath the tortured window frame prevented me entering her world completely.  I never knew who she was. She had no name, none that she gave to me, but her sweet smile is with me still. I went day after day to the shattered window hoping to see her and claim my smile, but she never appeared again. Then the bulldozers came, stirring the air of a late summers day, turning the hope of a smile into dust and ashes.

I was in the dead zone for a long time, three years. I have no idea what I did in that time. Ten, eleven and twelve are tomb years to me. There is one brief memory, one chink in the curtain. I was eleven I think. I became aware of myself walking along a street. It is my coat I can feel, its weight is crushing me. There is a grey light all around me. My body is full of pain, it is leaking out of my mind, which no longer has enough space to contain it all. It shrieks, like a devil, invading me. I can scarcely breathe. I’m not ready to leave the dead zone. I’m not ready. I step back into the darkness. The coat walks on.

I did see my Lady of Ruins again, years later, out of the blue when my mind disintegrated before a burnt out church and I watched the pieces crash around me. She was there in all her timeless beauty, the smile as sweet as I remembered. She held out her hand once again, but was gone before I could touch it. I knelt before the blackened church and wept for the Lady of Ruins.

“Speak on,” the voice said, “own yourself, I am listening.”

Strangely I heard my own voice, yet my lips were not moving. My eyes were closed, hands crossed against my breast. Time ebbed and flowed. I stood like an urban fox atop the rubble of a small universe. The stars spun through their constellations and at the edge of this world voices rose and fell. Only God was silent.  Perhaps I was God?

Even before I was nine the world was a strange place to me. I watched and listened as it whirled around me. I heard my footsteps scuffing schoolroom floors and dirty pavements, but I couldn’t feel them and my voice was a flat tuneless thing. It sang in my head, but couldn’t find a way to my mouth. My mouth was clever you see, it knew that words would not be welcomed, so it held them back and sent them to my eyes instead. I saw words all around me.

Life was a page of words, black on white. It was words on pages that taught me how to be human, how to stand upright. Words were my mother and father. Words caressed me, comforted me. I fed on the emotions evoked by words, suckled on their meanings.  I have always been able to read, I never learned as far as I know. I could read when I was born. I remember lying there in the light of an August sun and reading the look on my mother’s face.  I had no umbilical cord; there was no attachment between us. Her eyes were blank. There was not a single word written there for me. It hurt me then, it hurts me still. Hurt is a word with a wealth of meanings: pain and hurt, bitter sweet, but when all is said and done, only words. Life is only a word…it can be erased by the application of rubber to paper.

“I’m listening,” whispered the voice, but I could no longer see him. He had entered my mind completely, stepping within my prison walls.

A soiled polar bear, savage with confinement and denial of its spirit made me aware that I did not see the world in the same way as everyone else. I was five. I dropped a red, tartan purse into the stinking pit where the bear paced. It dropped onto a cage- like ledge, halfway up the pit. I climbed over to get it. He stopped his frantic pacing and rocking to stare at me. His eyes were full of words, he had no voice either, but I read his pain. Someone pulled me out, a man…a keeper. I can see him, bending towards me, words gushing from his mouth. My purse was still in the pit, I wanted it back. Nothing else mattered. His words had no sound to me. He wouldn’t let me retrieve it. It was lost. My spirit was in that purse. Now there was two lost spirits in the pit. One had matted and bedraggled fur and the other bore the outward look of a child within which lay a mind that had weathered a million years.

I saw the world through soiled polar bear eyes after that, crouched on all fours rocking and pacing. The bear dreamed of me just before he died. I stood there in his blue painted chamber while his life ebbed away. Holding out my young, white arms I embraced his pain, closing my eyes as it spoke to me. I heard the power of his rage, his frustration at his wordlessness. There is only one spirit in the pit now. His used my body as a springboard to the stars. He still roams the night sky. I can feel his eyes watching me sometimes.

“Are you still sad for him?” The voice echoed around the narrow confines of my cell.

Sad? A small laugh escapes my lips. Define me sad: sorrowful, unhappy? The words lack definition. Sad is defining. It is not a tissue applied after a scripted moment. Sad is as precise as a surgeons knife. It cuts, paring flesh from bone, spirit from body. It trickles through nerve and sinew, like water through porous stone. It is my essence, inherited from my parents. I resent my inheritance from those grave dwellers, but I no longer apportion blame. I was chosen just as they had been chosen. They did not give me to the dark angel with cruel intent. He claimed me, just as they were claimed from birth. Lack was our destiny. An evolution of hurt sings in my genes. If I could, I would have absorbed their pain, set them free, but they took it to the dark tomb just as I will take mine.

There is too much truth in these last few words. I am not ready for truth yet.


He said nothing, but reappeared within my range of vision, outside my mind.

The wind hushed and the creature stepped back. The wind ceased and the gateways closed. I watched the tiger lie down on its belly and close its eyes to sleep, its ears alert and twitching. I re-entered the dead zone.

It stayed dark for some time, then I became aware of a grey light and suddenly he was there again watching me through the mirror, or was I watching him. I wasn’t sure what side of the mirror I was on and which side he was on.

“I’ve been waiting,” he said.

“So have I,” I said, “all my life.”

“Step outside the confines of time. Tell me what you see on the clock of memory.”

I watched them, kissing, holding each other in their arms. They were young; the way lovers should be…young and beautiful. She should have been in school, so should I, but I had been drawn in to their magic world and I never wanted to leave. My innocence was still intact then. I was greedy for the scraps of their drama, for a share of their romance. They were so beautiful, encased in the glow of their love.

“You envied them?” The tiger licked his paws.

Envy? A pretty word for an emotion frowned upon, yet one that is rooted at the base of our humanity. Oh yes I was jealous, though I didn’t know that then. I was very young, in years anyway and I hadn’t yet learned a name for every feeling I had. I was jealous because the old part of me, the inner part, knew that love like that was not to be on the agenda of my life. I knew then that I would remain untouched by love, of every kind.

I watched, yearning. The sea sang a song and the sky and sun were blue and yellow especially for them. I was caught in the overflow of their love and it dazzled me. I had never felt such colour in my life. He bought live crabs to take home, tying them with string watching them scuttle and patter on the floor of the train, their pinchers lashing wildly as she screamed and held her legs up on the seat. Her screams echoed later in the screams of the crabs as they were dropped alive in to boiling water. Air leaving the shells, he laughed as we ran shrieking into the yard, hands over our ears. He swung me off my feet high into the air. I loved him for that, loved him with all the intensity my five-year-old heart and my ancient mind possessed. I had no other word to use. I still don’t.

“You find this amusing?” The ice blue eyes fixed themselves upon me as I convulsed with laughter

I’m sorry. The laughter comes unbidden; dismiss it as part of my madness. It is a gallows laugh, hollow, desperate.  Love is a word that should be removed from the dictionary because it has no intrinsic meaning. It is a blanket word that people use to express emotions they have no other word for. In itself it is meaningless, like my life. It seeks to deceive and tricks the simple minded into believing that they are important because they are loved. Fools!

“Such cynicism, it helps keep the door of your prison locked tight.”

Should I be silent again? Perhaps the creature is best restrained.  My mind closed its doors. The creature retreated to the dark corner where a frightened child crouches.

Time passed. I eventually glanced up and he was still there. The wind whispered in the trees.  I should have had the chance to love when I was young.

“Ah, you have claimed your voice again. Good.”  The tiger waited, sitting at the entrance of his cave, sniffing the cold mountain air, certain of who he was. I wanted to be out there with him.

I would have loved with such passion, with all the sensuality of same sex lovers.  It is too late now for that kind of passion. All that’s left is the grey act. Its lack of colour and texture taunts me, torments me. It is a sordid duty that nibbles away at the edges of my identity. I no longer believe in love of any description.

Fuck is a real word; most people do not make love. They simply fuck. Tell me tiger, do you fuck, or do you make love?

The tiger’s ears twitched and its man voice said, “the time here is for your words not mine.”

The hands of the clock whirled backwards.

I woke up one Christmas morning to find that I had been imprisoned in the body of a large plastic doll. Its rigid limbs and blank eyes confined me. There was a ring attached to a cord in the back of the doll that when pulled made the doll speak without moving its lips. It said only what it had been programmed to say. I could feel its words build up in my mind. I killed the doll. I had to, before it possessed me forever. I smashed its painted face with a brick until it splintered into a hundred pieces. I buried it beneath the rubble of a ruined house.

Sometimes when I wake in the night I see the doll standing by my bed and I know I should not have destroyed it. I should have taken it in my arms and loved it, but I didn’t know how to love, not then, not now. I’m still imprisoned in the doll’s body. I feel the weight of a ruined house pressing down on me. I hear bulldozers stirring the air of a summer’s day, a thousand lifetimes ago. I watch the faces of houses being torn away and see the corpses of the dead lying within.

The world crumbles, my back arches against the invading pain and I am covered in volcanic ash, set like stone my mouth open in a scream of eternal agony.

The tiger purred. “You are moving through time, the world is rubble, we are all dust. Concentrate. I want your pain. I have had theirs.”

My sister told me that if you counted to three you could come back to life, that was the rule of the game, you said: 1,2,3 and then you were alive again and could rejoin the game. She lied. I know I counted and counted, but I still stayed dead while the game continued around my corpse. On the blue horizon life walked on, while I lay on the ground waiting to be resurrected: 1,2,3.  The grass grew over me.

Time whirled on and I was seventeen.

The glass sparkled with myriad lights; a bowl of iridescent spheres on slender stem. A repetition of faces stared back at me.  The bowl shattered, bubbles burst and a storm of blood rained about me.

They said I was mad, but in that moment of torn flesh when my veins thundered, I knew the truth of existence. Pain is truth. I grasped at its meaning, but it flowed through my fingers and was lost, drying and shrinking to a dull brown stain. They said that my truths were lies and I must stay dead until I accepted the single truth universe.
They put me in prison and here I am.

The tiger’s voice rumbled low in his chest, I thought he was growling, but he was laughing.

“Child,” he said. “It is they who are in prison, not you. They are bound with the chains of their own limitations, imprisoned within the confines of their exiguous worlds. It is time for you to own who you are, you hold the key to your own prison. Are you ready to free yourself?”

The child in the corner raised her head and looked at me. I held out my hand and she rose to her feet, our fingers touched, our spirits joined and the gateways of my mind opened like a womb.

A great cry echoed around the mountains. A rough tongue licked the birth caul from my body. I lay naked and shivering in the cold mountain air.

The tiger’s voice spoke once more. “You are born child, now you must grow. The world is a fearful place, but remember this: there are places on this earth that were created to bear the weight of your footsteps and yours alone. Find those places, put one foot in front of the other and walk the path of who you are, who you were meant to be. It will lead you to love.”

He rose and stretched his beautiful body. With one great bound he was gone and I was alone, standing at the edge of a new multi-truth universe. I set one foot before the other...

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Copyright Fabian Black 1999 - 2012