In Serein

1-2-5 Studies In Black & Red

Every day there was a new form of torture.

His favourite thing was to set me tasks that were impossible to achieve, and then to punish me in many different ways for failing to achieve them.

One of my first assignments was to study a particular book. But I could not read and did not know what to do to protect myself from his wrath.

He gave me to the end of the week to fulfill the assignment and shouted into my face that I was stupid, and a waste of time and space. In desperation, I crept into the black and red room and took many books from the shelves, particularly those which had a great many illustrations and pictures, and sat all night long trying to make sense of the squiggles and the lines. After three days and three nights, a clarity began to emerge and I began to understand some of the words. It was so hard. The book I was supposed to study was not written in a language like we speak but different, perhaps older, perhaps used by certain wise people and most of the words did not make sense to me.

He often did not call me for dinner and I would be hungry beyond belief. When he did, I was only allowed to briefly creep into the room and he would watch me collect some food items.

Sometimes he let me stand for a long time before dismissing me, sometimes he shouted at me right away to get out. I was terrified of it, of him.

In the beginning, I would cry because I was so hungry and I wanted him to call me, and at exactly the same time and in the same place I dreaded his call and prayed he would not make me have to go through this terrible thing again, not ever again.

Marani only came every threeday and sometimes longer, and I was so desperate to see her and eat with her, that he noticed soon enough and forbade me to see her at all. Marani tried to leave some extra food for me in the kitchen but he found out of course, and I don’t know what he did to her or said to her, but after that, she never talked to me or even looked at me. He must have had a special hold on her in some way, because she never failed to come and provide the food and keep the bedrooms passably clean.

Once in a tenday, the prisoners would arrive, men shackled across their ankles, and they would half heartedly work around the house and in the gardens during the morning. I was not allowed to be near them and would sometimes try to watch them from the stairwell just to remind myself that there were people in the world besides me and him, no matter how downtrodden they may be.

One day, he came into my room in the middle of the night and made me put the dead singing stone into a wooden box which he carried away. I cried and cried and cried myself to sleep.

He never had a good word for me, never any kindness of any kind. He hated me and hated to see me and everything I did, it was always wrong, never good enough, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried. He did not ever talk to me, did not ever teach me anything, he just punished me for not knowing what I didn’t know, and for not being able to do what I could not do. Always, always, he was at the very edge of exploding with violence all around me and the smallest thing would have him shout into my face, into my brain and that hurt me more than when he pushed and shoved me around, threw me against the shelves and into the walls, down the steps of the tower, against the windows. That was just pain. The other was – ah, there are no words. I was nothing any longer, a creeping shadow trying to be invisible, trying to be smaller than the smallest worm, sliding along with breath held and in constant terror, all of me shaking, every noise, every shadow, every movement an enemy, a tearing of my heart and guts.

The worst of all was that I would never know when the “COME” command would explode into my mind.

After the first tenday, I was not just afraid of it any more, I was dreading it. Then the dread turned into an ever present obsession that was tucked right behind what ever I was doing and then I went to imagining it had come when it had not and that was truly terrifying. I would run to him and he had not called me and would be furious. I was afraid to go to sleep at night by then, and would work on the insolvable assignments with a desperation that was hard as dried blood.

Around that time it was too that I stopped eating altogether. The act of chewing made my head hurt and brought on the false visions of him calling me, or so I thought. The task was to reach into the pattern of a small crystal and to draw the pattern in ink on parchment, and it was impossible to do this because the parchment was flat and stuck in one piece of time, and the pattern was flowing and behind, in front, between, everywhere. I did the best I could and when he saw the drawing I had made, he exploded worse than ever before and  threw me all the way across the room until I struck hard against the wall and lost my senses.

Of course, he never, ever laid a hand or even a finger on me.

And then the day came, where I had been up for five or six days, without any food and barely two sips of water, and the task I was set was as endless as ever – I was to catalogue every book in the tower room, to read each one and write a description of each one, which he would tear up and say that it was not a good enough description, and that I should start over – and he stormed into the tower room where I was working at my endless task, and when he started raging at me and trying to hurt me some more, a strange threshold was breached inside my heart and soul, and I simply could no longer be afraid of him at all.

I climbed down from the bookcase and onto the floor with the symbols, and he fell silent and speechless as I slowly walked into the centre of the painted circle. I took off the cruel shift that made my neck and arms bleed, dropped it on the floor, then took off my undergarment too and moved my naked body to lie face down on the ground.

It was a strange sensation, feeling the wooden floor against my bare hips, thighs and breasts. My face turned so that one cheek and my temple touching a painted red symbol. Cool the floor was, and loving. My hands and arms long stretched out as were my legs, I just lay there whilst he was silent.

A long time passed.

I turned over onto my back and saw him sitting on a table across the room, one leg crossed over the other, his head supported by one hand on the elbow, staring at me.

His eyes were grey, a normal man’s eyes, and though I searched there was no fear of him left in me. Not a trace of it. There was just peace and silence.

I put my arms beneath my head and wriggled my toes. I was entirely naked but did not care. In my mind, I clearly called out to him, So will you kill me now? Get it over with? Or do you want me to kill myself? For either way, this is the end.

His answer came back right away, unexpectedly softly. There’s no need to yell at me, Isca.

Why not? You’re always yelling at me, I sent back tranquilly. I was tired and there were gentle white waves washing around my awareness. When they had merged and covered me, I would be at peace at last.

I sighed happily.

His answer did not surprise me much.

I’m sorry, he sent.

I know. Deep down I had always known.

Did you know that I was in love with you?, I asked although the answer really did not matter that much. The white waves were covering more than half of me now, and it would not be long before I might forget him, and then forget me too.

Of course. There was a certain sadness around this statement which I did not intent to follow to its deepest roots. The rhythm of the waves was too soothing.

Good night, Lucian. I send it with a sigh and detached and gentle, through the mist and spray of the gathering white waves I felt his fear now, and I heard his voice, far away, calling me, not forcing and brutalising but asking, begging. So far away. Then the white waves rushed in and there was nothing but brightness all around.