Her Dragons and Dolls
She is snowblind now with the years, the dust and fog of filth, it streaks over the floors and her mirrors. She moves her hands through it, fingertip touches on the hard edges of tables, trailing lightly along the walls of her rooms. She can smell the passing of time in the dust; she can sense the lives and the people in those tiny grains. It gets under her nails, in her mouth. She grinds it between her teeth and tastes it. All these long days she breathes it in, down into her chest where she hopes to give those lives a new home, that those voices will find refuge and safety in her blood.
No one comes to see her now. They haven’t for quite some time. She has been here, shut up within the attics of the hospital for many long decades, secreted away in private apartments, hidden from public view. Now an old woman walks the halls, and no one responds to her calls. Her voice disappears down dark corridors, slaps bluntly on flat walls.
She remembers being visited by accountants, attorneys, doctors, many years ago. They always talked, always wanted her to sign things. She disliked their stammering mouths, the way they moved through her rooms in angular dances. They brought noise and disruption to her quiet life of solitude, her exile. Over time she understood them less, those words just bled together into one horrendous sound, and all those faces became as one.
Those men stopped visiting long ago. Then the hospital fell cold and silent. Even high up in the attic apartments, she could always hear the low hum of the hospital, the thrum of activity that went on all day and night. She would press her face against the grey walls and feel them vibrate, the swell and suck of skin, of the building breathing. She would sleep and dream of the machinery churning away down in the bowels of dark, the furnaces and laundry, enormous metal organs spinning and burning. This hymn kept her company through the decades, became the voice of the building, the deep rumble of comfort she needed in those dark winter months. And when it ended she wept for many days, feeling the loss as hard as losing her dearest friend.
Now she sits here in the dark and in the cold and in the silence. Alone and lonely, with only her many dolls for company. Those playthings of her childhood, many gifts, many made by her own hand during her long exile. They crowd her bed, her room, the window sills and all the floors of all these halls. Each one has a name. Each one a memory of a person she once knew.
Sometimes she feels like throwing open the windows and screaming at the world outside, at that strange, brightly coloured place. She painted them over shortly after arriving as a young woman, barely out of her teens. The thick black smeared over the yellow of daylight and she blocked it all out. The doctors and attorneys grumbled and made noise. They wrote things down and walked away. She wonders where they went.
Perhaps the building consumed them. Perhaps it chewed them up, burned their bones down to ash in its deep dark belly. Maybe they are all dead, incinerated by this monster. What she would give now to hear their voices, to hear any voice other than her own strangulated whimper.
She wonders if perhaps she is really inside the decaying body of some ancient creature, a dragon, like in the books she could once read, but now cannot, her failing eyes. Once they soared together through the skies, swooping low over the city to breathe fire and roar, to incinerate all those who had harmed her or would think to harm her. At night its deep rumbling voice, the fierce flaming heart kept her warm and gave her comfort.
Now perhaps it is dead. Now perhaps it lies in the ruins of the city, amongst the blackened, half-collapsed buildings, the wake of its ruinous assaults. And she remains within, trapped, a prisoner when once she was partner.
She longs for her dragon to speak again, to bark fire upon the earth, to scorch it black and to stretch its wings that they may fly once again. That she may feel alive again.
So now these long days of dark and cold. These long days of her alone. Days of dolls, their static faces and empty black eyes. And now these days of voices, of those dolls speaking when once they were dumb. And nights of them whispering, stroking her hair, reading her story books to gently sooth her off to sleep with fairy tales and adventure. With the burning fire of dragons.
My god walks the halls of my apartment, my solitary sentinel in these empty nights. His laboured breath falls warm and damp, and when He touches my forehead His gentle fingers leave me shivering. My god stands by the windows all through these nights. He stands there and radiates red and blue, flickering like a broken lamp. In jagged fragments of time I feel Him lay His palms on my forehead, while I watch His shape shifting in colour blasts by the window. I never see Him move. He walks, He stands, He blurs. He watches. Moving in irregular flashes.
My god mutters like a fever. Stutters like a thousand singing machines, clattering in halls, metallic parts and switches, clicking. No words, just a raging noise. My god squeezes His hand around my throat and his mouth moves frantically. I hear a blast of static.
My god is a sad, sometimes angry, shape. His rage is often so severe that He moves through walls and leaves burn marks in plaster. The rank stink of scorching. As He sears through this space, I can feel the air grow tight, my hair prick up. My teeth set at awkward angles, bones push at joints. Muscles contract and I feel myself gasping, groaning, lungs empty in great clouds of violet gas.
I am bedridden and sick. A wreck of a man. Disintegrating here, I lie, sleep, twist in sheets. My eyelids flicker in dim yellow light, and I watch as days and days pass my windows, throwing lengthening shadows through these rooms. I can never see outside those windows, not the world, or the city. Just the white light of day and the black of night.
I am melting into nothing. I am slipping into.
I have never prayed my whole life. Never thrown myself prostrate at the altars, nor sought forgiveness from anyone. Now I whisper His name. Mutter it through dry, cracked lips. My teeth chatter when I see His face loom. How my legs lock together. My god, how I cry. How I wish. For anything.
This bed of sickness is my home now. The space I occupy has shrunk down from the apartment to this. My world is all here. This is where I lie sweating into the sheets, into the mattress; my skin burning through nights. This is where I lie alone, my chapel, this church in broken glass and carpet. Alone for. I forget. I lose so much; I am losing so much. Time. It just bleeds and bleeds and bleeds, like so much red out of my veins. I murmur and moan, make shapes with my hands. Shadows dance and flicker over the pale walls.
Then His looms large, swallows my playful shifts. Like a dark rent that spreads, a pool of ink sinking into everything, He absorbs the light as he radiates a hum that makes me shudder.
My god stands by the foot of my bed. Reads from books that pile high as the ceiling. For hours and hours, night after night, His voice spills across the bed, in many languages all at once. His eyes blaze and His skin grows grey, slack. His lips slip, tongue coils slowly around the hard edges of those words. Spluttering now. A machine running down. He sits in a chair by the window. Sleeps for days.
I dream of fires, of burning men nailed. I dream of dark immense shapes that destroy.
My god drags me from the bed, scrapes my pale body across the floor. I am blue bruise and red blood bleeding now. I am pathetic wailing and thrashing limbs down long corridors towards darkness.
He takes me to one of the apartment rooms, throws me inside. Scrawled across the walls in huge letters of red, HELP ME. And here – an apartment within my apartment. Within the four walls of this room, a new apartment, just like my own. And here, in this perfect mirror apartment, a mirror of me, lying moaning in my bed.
I walk the halls of this apartment, a solitary sentinel in these empty nights. My laboured breath falls warm and damp, and when I touch the forehead of the mirror me, he shivers. I stand by the windows all through the night. I lay my hands on the mirror me. I shift in blasts of colour, in fragments of time, in jumping moments I walk, stand, blur, watch. I wrap my hands around his throat and yell, My god help me.
Kenny Mooney is a writer and musician, currently residing in York, England. He was born in Berlin and grew up in England, Scotland and Cyprus. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Housefire, Short, Fast & Deadly, Atticus Review and other places online and in print. He is fiction editor for A-Minor Magazine & Press. He blogs at www.dragline.co.uk.
–Art by Jon Damaschke