Lantern in hand, I open the door and stare into the musty, murky dark. The light doesn't penetrate the gloom; it is a living thing, winding around itself serpentine-like, not quite hissing but more of a hushing muffle that devours sound as well as the light.
There are stairs. Sometimes they are grand, majestic marble that glows and show the way. Sometimes they are simple wooden steps. Sometimes they are whole, sometimes half-rotted, ready to crumble. They are clean, or covered in the grime of ages.
Just now, they are stone; sturdy, not too filthy, maybe a little mossy. They'll hold me as I descend. There is no railing. There is never a railing - I must make my way down and back up again under my own aegis.
I leave the lantern behind - I know the futility of it, and it's better I should have my hands empty, open, ready to catch me if I fall or to receive whatever comes out of the deeper-than-night space below.
It's a secret place. A secret room. No one comes here save through me. It is at once full and empty, cluttered with years of flotsam, jetsam - but always expanding to hold more. There is a pool shining with dark light in one corner, where the tears flow. No matter where the silver drops fall, they end in the pool. There are things that drink from the pool, things that thrive in it. They wait, eager for the next inflow, and we all know I will oblige them; if not today, then tomorrow.
There are memories stuffed into drawers, sprawling on counter tops. They are loud, insistent. I see me, little girl, hearing the poison words pouring from someone's lips, telling me how stupid and useless I am. I believed them then, and I believe them still. It is not a rational place.
Older, answering the door, no one home but myself...and he knew, timed his visit perfectly to coincide with the absence of his neighbor/friend (Mum, often gone because she was a single mother struggling to raise two kids...largely along) and his son's best friend (Big Brother). It is not a comfortable place.
Other things, equal in unpleasant flavor and tenor, waiting for my inner eye to fall on them, to wake them. Sometimes I can manage to forget for hours, days, and once I did not think on them for years. They were still there, though, pulling my strings - better to remember and know why some parts of the waking world are so unwelcome.
In another corner, a chest of old and broken dreams - the ones that fell and shattered and could not be pieced back together or remade into some other thing. I can no more throw them away than I can be rid of my fingers, or the memory of multiplying by nines.
Here and there, flitting from one place to another, restless and seeking egress into reality, are the dreams left behind sound, but unattainable. These are not real things; they are, in every sense of the word, haunts.
As soon as I step from the staircase, they rush me - some are happy for my company, but most are simply reminding me of themselves, of the very real delusions they represent. They are frighteningly solid, especially when I come down in dreams - for some reason, remembering in the waking world, be it day or night, doesn't give them much to feed on.
Dreams, though - dreams are fodder for deeper stuff.
There's the red-headed child who was my daughter (only she never was because...she never was). She used to wait for me to fall asleep before tormenting me with her laugh, her eyes, her irrepressible spirit. She took years to relegate to the secret place, years of waking and crying and going back to sleep because nothing quite compares to knowing that a very real soul is showing herself to you, inviting you to bring her to life, and knowing that it won't be you who does it...but you can't help wanting to, and if dreaming is all you get of her sweetness, well...
There's the stranger who is no stranger, except I don't know his face or name. I know his touch. I know the solid comfort of his presence behind me as we face the world in contentment. I know our life together, years of it rolling behind us, our history. I know how tall he is, how he smells, the sound of his voice, the weight of his hand upon my shoulder and the warmth of him as he holds me wrapped in his arms. He is the other part of me, and we have never met except in dreams. Awake, I am bereft - though I am often a human space-heater, when I dream of him I wake chilled to the core, and it can take months to shake the spell of his presence...his presence entirely in my mind. Sometimes I wonder - is there someone out there in the blue nowhere who has dreams from the other perspective? Does he dream of a woman he doesn't know, whose face he never sees but whose laugh is as familiar to him as his own?
Dear goddess, I half hope not, because it's a kind of hell to feel torn in half for no reason other than a figment...worse if is was real, some oddity in space/time that connects us in dreams but denies us our waking hours.
There is the woman I was going to be, until I turned another way. She is legion.
Sometimes, she is corpulent, wheezing, gasping for breath, struggling to move. She eats, and the filth of her dining is strewn across her vast expanse, crumbs and stains, a history in leftovers dribbling down her front. I hate her. I hate her greasy hair, her stink, and the way she laughs; her laugh grates, a throat full of gravel, a laugh without mirth, full of bitterness and mockery.
She is a swimmer, wide shouldered, fit. She slices through the water stroke after stroke, relentless and powerful. She is not fast, but she has endurance, and she doesn't have much to say to me - mostly she stares at me, puzzled, before returning to her endless laps.
There is the singer. She has been through the grinder - chorus, always chorus, scrabbling for every tiny part, practicing endlessly, audition after audition, all the while enduring the daggers thrust into her by every other vocalist after the same tiny piece of music. She is tired but her voice is still strong - failure is not an option. She has her small solos, and the young ones following up the ladder whisper, scheme, make their plans to oust her and take her place. It can be a cruel world, stage music.
There is the writer. She lives alone, content with her solitude. She writes, she gardens, she walks in the rain, the sun, the snow, through the woods, up the mountain, fords the stream, and she revels in all of it. The world is her lover, her love.
There are others.
I don't come down here lightly, willingly. I am compelled. Who wants to see what they could have been, especially when they hate what they are? I am no masochist - I'd just as soon leave all of it boxed neatly, taped and labelled in the basement, sanitized, for someone else to find when I am gone.
At least this time, I haven't tripped, stumbled, tumbled to the bottom and landed hard, seeing stars and fighting to stand up before they weigh me down beyond my ability to rise.
How I get down there isn't as important, though, as how long I remain, and how swift I may ascend again.
If I am less than warm or welcoming, if I am not cheerful in disposition or active with my words, if I do not walk out into Blogopolis with my accustomed frequency, it is because I am fully in the secret place, the basement, the internal darkness, and am finding my way out again. As always, I will muddle through somehow...and hopefully, I will not have sent anyone running with whatever madness slipped through the door before I could close and lock it once more.
If you made it this far through my self-indulgent maundering, thank you.
There are fires gobbling their way through people's homes, their towns, their lives and dreams, in California. If you pray, spare one for the strangers who are experiencing Dante's vision as they hurry to evacuate just in front of flaming chaos. Spare one for the people who stand and fight conflagration - they know the terrible beauty of the raging blaze, and they strive to kill it even as they love it.
Quote of the day...er...week...umm...hey, look, a quote!!
"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One
For old quotes, look here.
For old quotes, look here.