FICTION: The Nature of Wounds by Sascha Aurora Akhtar

Flowers know well the art of falling

As when the night storm blows

Yet the world

Sees not how beautiful

Falling is.

Yukio Mishima
Tr. Author

 

The house was set upon the placid Lake of Aegis, a remote locale surrounded by the Apperinian Hills. The seasons were prominent here, a change from their life surrounded by concrete in the city. They moved in just before Spring, having made enough money from their fast-paced jobs to afford to live simply for a while and focus on their creative endeavours.

The village nearby was quaint and populated by other young couples like themselves, artisans, artists, writers, musicians who kept the small economy afloat. Migratory birds, all of them,fleeing previous existences for new ones.

Maria started growing her hair long before they moved. In preparation, she had said for a different life. It snaked down her back in a sheath of black silk; it was starting to approach her knees. Rainier had never seen her with such long hair. It became her, he thought. Her features were so finely inscribed that sometimes he believed her face to be disappearing. The long hair anchored her and assured him that she would not in fact vanish.

Once they moved, Time stretched out before them, a vast desert with nothing interrupting its sweep. From having their days sliced and carved into ventifacts of time and space with activities infinitely expanding, their days and nights were whole again.

The garden that she had so carefully planned with the garden designers for the advent of Spring and their arrival in the valley was now exploding into a rhapsody of life, love and fragrance. The paper-white narcissus initiated the parade. Soon, the magnolia trees came ablaze with white fire. She had planted lilacs everywhere, The scent has the power to intoxicate she said.

Once the fragrance of the lilacs had diminished, the wisteria bloomed adorning the garden in a cloud-like haze.

But it was the Japanese cherry trees that held pride of place in Maria’s garden. It had been a complicated process getting them there but her devotion to the project never waned. Their garden had to have them. She had them shipped over from Kyoto spending more money than Rainier wanted to imagine, but he never questioned her.

As long as he had known her she was obsessed with these trees, they made her smile like nothing else, as if in some other existence her spirit had been linked to Japan. The day they started blooming, Maria spent all day and everyday after, outside in a state of rapture, sometimes sitting on their deck overlooking the lake, sometimes in the garden sitting at their garden table with her notebook.

As Rainier sat outside with her that first day, luxuriating in the vastness of his surroundings, he thought about the city they had left behind. There, space was the scarce commodity with abandoned warehouses, shops and factories, constantly demolished to make way for new high-rise blocks in which to house the masses of people piled on top of each other in layers like a Neapolitan.

Those fortunate enough to be able to afford a dwelling space would have compact, neat homes with clean lines and efficiency but never open spaces.

Rainier and Maria had been confined within their space but it suited them well. The boundaries held their lives together, keeping everything in place. Like clockwork, they operated – Work, Meals, Social Life, Sex, Weekend Leisure and then back to Work. Once a week they went dancing. Three times a week they exercised at the gym. Every morning they went running. There was no room for anything else; not an extraneous thought, not even a rogue emotion.

Their love was channelled into carefully controlled repositories of expression for emotion; thoughtful gifts, flowers, massages, loving gestures, every now and then special lingerie. The system had worked well for them, and they had been happy.

The idea of the move came slowly upon them, a leak in the fabric of reality, emerging like a mysterious portal. They had jobs in Publishing and Multimedia, but Maria did not write anymore and Rainier had not created his wild and wonderful animations since he put together the portfolio that had landed him his job.

Despite their carefully choreographed lives, this void was present even though they had no room for it. Perhaps it was for this reason, the form of the lake house apparated from this void and started spinning its own appearance into reality.

They had been out for dinner one night with friends who were moving away. As Rainier and Maria walked home on that warm summer night they talked about how excited Jenna and Gary had been to embark on a new journey. Jenna was trading in her life in P.R to become a fromagier and Gary, a vigneron.

Maybe we should do it Rainier, Maria said that night, sitting at her dressing table removing her make-up. 

What?

We should make a change like Gary and Jenna.

You really think so?

I really think so.

Think of all the time we would have to do only what we love.

***

When the crying started there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Come August, her garden started changing. The leaves, verdant and lush, lost their sheen and lustre and started thinning out, vacating their summer-long premises, to disintegrate and return to the earth. Each flower too, staged its own disappearance. Some in overt fashion like the tulips and poppies; others more gradual like the slow death of the marigolds. The roses first wilted, than waited patiently for that gust of wind that would unhinge them completely, absconding with the petals, leaving only the stamen to dry up and wither away.

Around the lake, the russets, golden yellows and spectrum of chocolate and orange leaves framed the area in a new light; a last blaze of glory before the arrival of winter. Maria walked around her garden examining the losses. She would tell him every day after her ‘inspection’ about her findings that day:  

The Stargazer Lilies are gone.

We’ve lost the Lavender.

But it was when the cherry trees truly succumbed to the grip of Autumn that Rainier really noticed a change in Maria. At first, it was subtle. Her waking and sleeping patterns became erratic. He would come down in the middle of the night to see her sitting on the couch in the middle of their open plan living room with her legs drawn up to her chin, the lake outside glowing, luminescent in the moonlight.

You alright?

Yes. Go back to bed. I’ll be up in a minute.

Or he would find her sleeping in the middle of the afternoon, something she had never done.  Soon after this, he started hearing the sound of crying when he was in different parts of the house. At first he thought he was imagining it, but when he walked into the kitchen and saw Maria’s tears as she sat stock-still at the dining table, staring out the window, he realized he had imagined nothing. He ran over to her, she so rarely cried, and put his arms around her. Her head lolled over to the side lifelessly resting on his chest. He tried to ascertain what was wrong but she was not forthcoming with any information, so he let it be.

But then it went on. They had slipped into a routine since the move; he would wake up and go to his studio before she awoke. Later, she would bring him a cup of coffee and work at her desk, or in the garden. They would take breaks when they would eat together and muse together in the central space of the kitchen. Soon, he stopped seeing her there, she was often missing from the bed and always, now and with more frequency could he hear the soft sounds of weeping.

After 23 days and nights Rainier was lost at sea without a rudder.

What’s wrong with you? he yelled.

I can’t stop she replied as the tears continued to swell in her eyes like brimming lakes and spilt over down the wells of her cheeks, running rivulets down her neck, dampening her silk blouse.

Why can’t you stop? he asked.

I have wounds that won’t heal.

What do you mean! All wounds heal.

No Rainier. Not all wounds heal, she replied steadily and softly. He noticed that

talking seemed to make the tears abate temporarily so he encouraged her to continue.

There are some wounds that are small, inconsequential. They only gash the surface. Those wounds bleed a little, then they scab, then they’re gone.

Other wounds go one layer below the surface. To the Dermis. They are more painful. They bleed more, for longer. If cared for immediately with some healing balm and a protective wrap they too close up and heal. The healing also depends on their length, their width and breadth.

Wounds can go even deeper. To the Subcutaneous tissue. They can bleed for longer. They can cut through a vein. They can cut through an artery or they can just miss. It is a fortunate woman whose wound has just missed an artery. It will still bleed, but chances are death won’t be imminent. It is called a flesh wound. If it is too deep though or too wide or long, a deft hand will need to apply stitches.

Any thread will do. You need to bring the flesh towards its other bank to close the river of blood off, to help the skin fuse with itself and make the body whole again. The body is not meant to be open. It must be closed within itself, sealing in the blood, the muscle, the tissue, the fat, the bones, the brain, the organs.

Only the skin remains exposed. The skin is the final frontier. She paused and he thought she would start crying again but she continued. A flesh wound can leave a scar on the skin. It is a mark on the body of all that went before. A physical reminder of the event that created the wound.

It is a most beautiful thing, for it is a memory imprinted on the body. Sometimes, the scar heals completely, depending on where on the body it is and how much you take care of it, which oils and unguents you apply.

The visible memory is then lost – which is considered a good thing. A mark on the body is believed to be a mar. It is an unwanted blemish to perfection and most of all it is a reminder of pain. No-one wants to be reminded of pain.

Other scars are special. They stay with you forever and you keep them like butterflies pinned to pages or framed on walls. A wound to the face bears a scar that does not leave the delicate facial skin easily. A burn on any part of the body too is harder to forget.

More drastic wounds either imposed on a person with malicious intent or willingly participated in for the purposes of surgery, usually leave a scar.

He watched her as she talked slowly, in a tone so soft he could feel its caress. The whole time she spoke she stared out of the picture window set into the wooden walls of their house. The lake was glistening that day, a sharp flickering silver, as if millions of tiny fish made of mercury were skimming the surface.

The tears started again – running in two steady streams down the sides of her face, the salt in her tears making her skin red.  He realized he felt thirstier than he had ever felt before.

She stopped abruptly. He waited for more, but it seemed like she was done. He went up to her and gently moved her hair, heavy and wet, off her face. She closed her eyes and slumped on the couch, exhausted. He put his arms under her, lifting her gently. She needed to sleep. There was no resistance from her as walked up the stairs to their bedroom and laid her down.

He sat on the edge of the bed and watched her as she slept, letting the image of her face at peace dwell in his sight for as long as he could. His heart felt splintered, mangled. He placed his left hand on her heart and let it rest there a while. She made a barely audible sound as if it gave her some relief. Rainier stayed like that for a while and then made his way down to his studio.

***

 It’s his birthday today, she said blankly as he stumbled into the kitchen in search of coffee. She was up earlier than him that day, or perhaps she had never slept. She looked so fragile at the moment, the days and nights of endless sorrow were taking their toll on her. He swore he could see cracks forming in her skin like a china doll, breaking apart.

Whose birthday? he asked. She didn’t reply. Maria, Rainier went up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. Whose birthday?

She looked away. Her chest started heaving and she was crying in full force in loud, wretched sobs. As her shoulders shook, the pain emanating from her was almost visible. He wondered how she had carried so much pain in her body for so long and how it was he never knew that this pain was hiding behind her barrier of skin.

Later, she came up to him as he was sitting on the porch watching the lake. She had a hairbrush in one hand and held it out to him. Could you?

Brush your hair?

Yes.

She pulled up a stool and sat off to his left side, as he was left-handed. Her hair was so long now, he marveled. It was as if the tears were making the thick, black strands grow faster. He thought of his elder sister’s doll whose belly had a button that when pressed made the doll’s hair came shooting out of her head. He had found it fascinating.

Apart from the occasional squawking of some late geese over the lake heading South, the only sound was of the brush going through Maria’s hair.

Maria, which wounds never heal? You didn’t finish… Rainier ventured hoping to hear more.

The body is an animal that we keep like a pet, she said in due course. It screeches and howls if hurt. We have to tend it, nurse it back to health.

We have to live in this animal. If it is hurt it won’t work.

Is your animal hurt, Maria?

She said nothing. He could not see her face.

Even if a scar heals and disappears the animal will carry the memory in its limbs, in its back, in its chest. It becomes a fearful animal, a weak animal. It does not want it… to happen again.

She stood up leaving Rainier’s arm suspended in mid-stroke and walked closer to the edge of the deck.

And what of other less subtle wounds? Extreme violence inflicted brutally with such force like being bludgeoned by a wrecking ball repeatedly, having an axe sever an arm, slice your head clean off your neck. Or you could be beaten in the stomach till you are broken clutching at the floor unable to stand on your feet…

Rainier winced as she described these horrors, with a voice like the delicate sound of crystal being struck

…but now imagine these brutalities are inflicted invisibly, without a weapon, without a sound, without even a single mark on the body.

And what of the perpetrator? Rainier asked.

Yes, she replied, There is always a perpetrator.

A visible one?

A real and visible one. Several different ones even.

So if there is no mark on the body where is the mark? Where is the pain inflicted? Where does the violence occur?

In the invisible body that lives inside and around the visible body. In its energy centres. Where we really feel everything, every impression and every emotion. Where disorientation and loss truly occur. Where memories dwell, often forever, if you let them.

In the heart of the heart. In the mind of the mind. In the core of the core. That’s where I am bleeding Rainier. That’s where I am always bleeding. That’s where I have always bled. You see no wounds or blood, but if you could see my invisible body it would be disfigured, maimed, deformed like a soldier who has fought a vicious battle.

Some of my wounds have been too deep to heal. Sometimes they have approached healing only to be ripped open again before they were ready. Imagine if you will, that you are burnt with pokers and your skin is bubbling and rippling and then you are burnt in the same place.

I am a headless woman trying to retrieve my head. I sew it on and it falls off again.

I am a woman whose heart has been ripped out by different hands and thrown different places. I have recovered it over and over. Sometimes a chunk has been cut off, other times eaten and chewed up. Those parts are missing. I have put my heart back in my chest cavity and fashioned a mesh to keep it in but the arteries and veins stay severed bleeding with no end.

My tears are my blood, flowing endlessly. This is why, Rainier, I cannot stop.

***

Now, when Rainier went to his studio, he felt haunted. He felt uneasy in his own skin as if something was trailing him, trailing his thoughts. He sat in front of his monitors, switched on the second love of his life, a machine he called ‘The Beast,’ that allowed him to conjure up every detail of his nightmares, fantasies and dreams.

Here he dwelt in vertices, grids, weights and rigs to ultimately strike a balance between constraints and attributes to render mere polygons into permanence. When he opened the project he had previously been absorbed in, a spectrum of colour and sound to create a synchronized abstraction, he found he could not work on it. He merely stared at the screen.

He found himself looking up ancient Japanese scrolls instead and started studying the line work of the painter and printmaker Hokusai, the perspective of Ito Jakuchu and the figures of tattoo artist Horiyoshi III. He contemplated their minimal use of ink, and often colour and admired how despite this there was much movement in their work, and always he found, a desolation, alienation – melancholy.

Figures and animals often appeared on their own, or with one other figure dotted in some enormous landscape, small, insignificant. Soon he was sketching. It was a woman who stood tall on the paper gliding over it with long lines. Her clothing was elaborate, not quite a kimono but a white silk kosode with a black obi that enfolded her in a symphony of soft, flowing fabric embossed with red, bursting hibiscus flowers. From the very corners of her eyes and across her cheeks flowing outwards ran two streams of red – she was crying blood.

***

 The woman in white is running down a highway, her clothing flying behind her like wings made of cloud. There are people after her; a gang of men who appear vicious and threatening. There are mammoth rock formations on either side of the highway. She is in a desert but it is nighttime. All is dark, except her. Her face and gown glow like an incandescent beam. The reflection of the light of the moon bounces off the black mirror of her hair.

She stops in the middle of the road as her pursuers get closer. Her eyes drip red tears. As the first one hits the ground, a flower appears. As more drip down, the road disappears and in its place are beds of flowers as far as the eye can see. The rock formations disappear, the desert disappears and she is no longer in a desert but in a blooming, lush garden at the apex of Spring.

***

Winter arrived. The silence of the fallen snow outside exacerbated the sound of Maria’s cries in the house. She had not stopped in months, but he no longer tried to stop the flow. He worked with it and around it. He gave her water constantly. He made sure the log fire roared in the fireplace providing heat to warm the core of her and provide flames to gaze at. This seemed to soothe her as she spent hour after hour, watching the blaze, through her tears, lick the wood lovingly, hissing, leaping and dancing in glee.

Often, when she had been there long enough, he believed he could see bodies burning in the fire as if she was letting go of those terrors that were holding her hostage, throwing them one body at a time to be interred in the flames.

The glow from the fire gave some colour to her skin which was now bordering on translucent. Rainier would sit with her and sketch. She looked to him sometimes like a wretched angel, bound to earth interminably.

He wondered how this had happened and why now. It seemed as if the way they were living before had kept them so bound and ordered that it had held her together. Here, in the vast expanses of time and space, there was more room for things to enter at will, and more room for them to linger.

***

C’mon Maria. Rainier went up to her gesturing towards the door. Let’s go outside in the snow. She looked up at him without expression or recognition. He put a hand out to help her up. She reached for it and he grabbed her by both arms leading her to the hallway by the front door. He chose her white faux fur coat for her. She stood there like a small child as he dressed her. He wiped her face so that the wet from the tears would not make her cheeks freeze instantly. He put on her white furry hat. He found her gloves.

Sit, he said as he helped her put her boots on. She barely seemed to notice her surroundings and carried out his orders like a programmed automaton.

When he opened the door and led her out, the cold hit him immediately. It felt invigorating. The branches of the trees were coated with a three inch thick snow frosting. The lake was a blue-grey, emitting a reflection of cyan into the atmosphere. The surrounding hills too, were covered in a delicious icing of snow. The absence of colour was calming.

Maria walked watching each foot sink into the deep snow as she ambled aimlessly a little way ahead. At times he could have sworn she disappeared completely, camouflaged to perfection in her environment.

***

The vivid, crimson flowers on the woman’s white silk garb look like they are made of fire. She is sitting in the snow brushing her hair which trails off into the distance, in reams and reams of iridescent black, a vortex transporting anyone who steps into it to a different land.

The flowers are slipping off her dress very slowly inching their way to the peripheries of her clothing in a slide to freedom. He watches from afar as the first flower finds the snowy ground. It seeps liquid-like into the white without form or cohesion, growing into a vast break of colour in the otherwise colourless vista. The flowers are becoming blood blossoms. He feels himself hopelessly drawn to her. He wants to approach the whirling vortex, like a man drawn to the raging sea. She is completely unaware of his presence.

He puts one foot on the mass of hair and it disappears. He puts his other foot down and the blackness starts painting him. He holds his arms upwards and feels himself slipping away. There is no light, just a warm, almost soft blackness like velvet. He is comforted in its embrace.

He is sinking, sinking. He wonders if this is the portal to Hades. He sees illuminated, moving pictures along the way. The woman is a little girl, watching her father cut the head off a snake. The woman is a young girl sitting on the top of a tall cliff, the sea below lashing at the rocks. The waters are turning from aquamarine and turquoise to orange, russet and gold then leaping out, licking the cliffs in towers of flames. Smoke rises.

The woman is huddled in a corner, and a man whose face keeps twisting out of shape is screaming. His jaw is elongating, his eyebrows are rising till he seems to be turning into a beast. His shoulders are growing larger and rising up, his knuckles reaching the floor as his limbs grow gnarled and loose.

The woman is battling what at first appears to be a man, the same man who is her father, but his face is flickering like a bad television connection and soon he has turned face-first into a particularly vile and ugly Oni. The woman’s hair is matted, her clothes are ripped.

She has gashes in her arm and cuts on her face, but the demon and her continue. It has horns and what appear to be multiple phallus-like tentacles, wrapping themselves around her legs, her arms, her torso, trying to invade her. She keeps ripping them off as fast as she can, her face contorted with the exertion.

As he watches, it seems to him they have been there for an eternity. The demon leaps on her back and clutches her around the neck, opening its jaw wide to reveal long, thick curved teeth. She twists its arm, screaming and then pulling her sword from its sheath manages to impale the demon in the roof of its mouth. It howls and yelps like a wolf, then shrieks like an eagle. Bursting into flame, it re-forms again in front of her ready for the next round, tentacles waving behind it like the tail of a peacock, fanned out.

He tries to enter the scene to help her; to save her but an invisible barrier bars his entry. He opens his mouth to call out to her but no voice comes out. He swears that she looks over at him and sees him there. And then it is all gone again, just him and the velvet blackness and he is feeling cold, very cold.

He thinks he hears her voice calling him over and over, but he cannot see her anywhere.

***

Sunlight streamed in through the picture window in their bedroom. Rainier awoke before he opened his eyes and lay there absorbing the alien sensation of warmth spreading over him as if a body were entangled with his body. It had been a long, cold winter.

He was up all night working on his animation. He remembered with a sense of great joy that he had finished. Finally it was complete, ready to meet the world. He turned over slowly to the right side of the bed where Maria slept and opened his eyes.

She was not there. He stood up and walked over to the window. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt like he was looking out of it for the first time. Something was different. He realized that for the first time in an age, he was not feeling a heaviness in his body or the crushing sensation in his chest. For the first time since Autumn began, he believed he was experiencing lightness.

He saw something move in the garden. It was Maria. She was crouched over the ground with a trowel and gardening gloves. She was digging a hole. He continued to watch enraptured. He had not seen her perform any kind of activity with this much focus and purpose in a long time. She dug and dug.

He noticed she was wearing jeans and a crisp white t-shirt. Rainier hadn’t seen her dressed like that since the Summer had ended. As his eyes moved curiously over this strange occurrence taking place in the garden, it finally struck him what really was wrong with the picture he was witnessing. Maria’s hair was gone. She had cut it all the way to her chin. As she dug vigorously, what was left of her black mass swung lightly around her face as she pushed it back with her wrist to avoid getting the dirt on her face.

When the hole was deep enough she placed a viridian lacquer box in the earth. It was neither small, nor large. She filled the hole, appeared to be bedding some seeds in there also and then she was finished. She sat there for a while, her legs folded under her, resting on her heels. Her eyes remained closed as if she were trying to embed the moment in her mind.

Rainier hastily put a shirt on and went downstairs. She was walking in through the door as he walked down the steps.

Maria?

Rainier.

Her face was clear and unstreaked with tears. Her eyes bright and focused, were on him. Rainier could not hide his confusion.

What’s happening Maria?

It’s over.

She leaned over and kissed him. He could not recall the last time she had kissed him like that with warmth and longing.

It’s over? He repeated her words back to her, uncertain of her meaning.

Yes.

Can we return to the city? she asked, cocking her head to one side like a bird.

He looked at her a long time. There was nothing but light emanating from her. No shadows moving over her face.

Yes, he replied without hesitation.  Yes, let’s go back to the city.

Outside, the first cherry blossom emerges on the first planted of the cherry trees.

Sascha Aurora Akhtar

Sascha Aurora Akhtar is a writer and editor based in London. She is the author of two poetry collections The Grimoire of Grimalkin (Salt) and 199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees (Shearsman). Her work is widely anthologized and has been translated into Armenian, Portuguese, Galician, Russian, Dutch and Polish. She performs internationally.

If you enjoyed The Nature of Wounds, leave a comment and let Sascha know.

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