The River

Feb 21 2014

although i respect that i have no idea what its really like to experience incest, i went ahead and composed this depiction of it because i think that refraining from discussing it does nothing to stop it from happening, it just makes it seem like it happens less often than it does, and it turns the whole thing into a taboo of a kind that hurts victims by silencing them.

i also think that in making art, we choose to believe as one of the tasks of what we are doing that it is possible to comprehend and communicate subjectivities other than our own, and that we have to be brave and to try to do that even when its difficult.

if this piece of writing deeply offends anyone who reads it, let me know and i will take it down. thank you for checking out my stuff anyway!

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the day when my mother passed away was the worst day of my life not only because i lost a parent, but because it was the day i discovered what the rest of my life was going to be like. i sat at her bedside while my brother filled the doorway and she informed me of her wishes. “You must bear children to your brother and keep our family alive,” she said, “It is what your father would have wanted.” i held her hand and tears rained onto it. “but mother, the college”, i said. “None of that is important for you now, this is the best thing,” she said. “but mother why”, i asked. “Progress!” she said, as she faded away, “Growth – Change – Onward – Onward – ”

after the funeral, my brother didnt wait to get me pregnant, he started immediately, in the room that had been our parents, and that our mother had died in. he said that new life must begin as soon as possible now. i turned my head and looked out the long window over the valley and pretended i felt nothing but a dim awareness that he was hurting me. i wondered if things had been like this between my mother and my father, and i realised that i didnt know about their lives before my brother was born. the river that rushed beside our house filled my mind with the thunderous roar of its rapids and then like always it was a music to me, the sound that was the companion of my days and that in the evenings wiped away my thoughts and put me to sleep.

i remembered my father and i wondered whether he had wanted this as my mother had said. i believed that my father had not wanted what was now happening to me, but things had changed now that my mother had died, and maybe he had wanted it after all. maybe he had planned that i would be educated, and then bear the children of my brother. we had gone on a holiday once, the two of us only, my father and i without my mother or brother. i wanted them to come, and i told my father repeatedly, but after we left he said that this journey was to do with me. i realised then that it was not a holiday exactly but something else. he took me to a place of knowledge, and people there ran tests on my mind. they used instruments that looked frightening, but they did nothing more with them than to touch them to the sides of my head, and then examined endless concertinaed punched cards that came out of a machine. a man with a head as completely bald as though there had never been a hair on it told my father that i had a special gift and they were looking forward to teaching me. but nobody ever spoke to me directly about what i would learn exactly or what my talent was supposed to be. my father knew strange men and women who lived at that place, and he spent time with them while i was allowed to wander through the halls and the gardens and libraries looking at things i didnt understand but wanted to. at night i felt homesick and couldn’t sleep without the roaring river, and i sat in an enormous kitchen where a housekeeper gave me tea that tasted like flowers and soft biscuits with pieces of chocolate in them. that was the only time i have ever left the valley.

when i awoke i thought it had all been a dream, that my mother was still alive and that i had somehow imagined everything. but then i realised that i had not been asleep, but that i had been remembering my visit to the school so vividly that i hadnt been any more aware of my surroundings than if i really had been dreaming. i couldnt tell how many days had passed while i had been wandering my memories as though they were the present, but the sheets i lay on were foul with dried blood and sweat, and i felt weak and hungry. i rose out of bed and washed myself and called someone to replace the sheets and to bring me food. it was one of the young men who was a child of one of our house servants, and had now grown old enough himself to be employed by us. i had known him all of my life but he looked at me as though he didnt recognise me and i realised that he saw me with both disgust and horror. how unfamiliar this is, i thought, that we have all grown up so quickly, when it seems like just yesterday we were children – and i had thought that i still was so young, only fifteen – but everything has changed now. rather than making him uncomfortable with conversation or pleading, i thanked him quickly and said goodnight. over the coming weeks my brother spent a great deal of time getting me pregnant. i hated it and whenever it happened i looked out the window and felt that once again i was back in those corridors and in the library between the books, and that i was reading the books and learning what was in them. when it was over and i came back to myself, i usually couldnt remember what had been in the books, but sometimes i remembered, and even if i didnt i felt that i had somehow learned it anyway. soon i became unwell and my body changed slightly and i told him that i thought i must be pregnant now. i was hoping he would stop getting me pregnant, but he said that it was like the way that our field workers tended to our crops. just as the crops needed rain in order to continue growing, the cultivation that made the baby in me did not mean that it did not need further cultivation in order to continue to grow.

i never left the room anymore, but during the days i remained sitting on the terrace that issued from the apartment and commanded views of our valley and lands. the river ran ever onward down the valley, always forwards as fast as it could. on the other side of the river, the impassable mountains rose to the sky, and they were owned by no one, and i liked to look at them too, for that reason: that it seemed they were a place of freedom. one day my brother came out onto the terrace where i was, and i prepared myself to be removed to the room, but for the first time he appeared to notice my body and he hesitated. the expression on his face was similar to that of the boy who had changed my sheets. “whats wrong”, i said, “dont you need to fertilize the baby?” my brother looked sick. he said that the baby seemed to be doing fine, and that he wouldnt need to fertilize it anymore. i felt a curious pang of deceit. “but wont it die if you dont water it?” he looked away and said that it had been watered enough now, and he left me alone. but i knew he was being untruthful with me. i thought that he hadnt needed to continue to do what he had been doing in order to obey the wishes of our parents, and that although it had hurt me he had been doing it for his own amusement without caring how i felt.

further down the valley in the distance, an enormous new house was being built, bigger even than the house i had grown up in, and i watched its construction from the terrace. i had believed that those lands had belonged to my family, like all of the land as far as i could see, but now i knew that i had been wrong about so many things – and anyway, it was of no consequence to me who the land belonged to. i imagined that the new house was being built by a great lady, who existed to be beautiful and powerful, and to be kind and generous towards others. i wondered what it would be like to be a lady like that, and i knew i could never be her. i had never been strong, i had been fragile. maybe the lady would come and she would be kind to me.

by the time the house was finished, my baby had come. looking at her i felt that the agony of her birth was soothed. i decided that she would be a lady like the one who had built the new house. my brother hadnt been near me for weeks, and he didnt come to see my baby, or to get me pregnant again. i was relieved that he didnt come, and i put a blanket around her to hide her so that none of the house workers who came to my room would put their eyes on her small soft rosy face. i wouldnt let anyone see or touch her for as long as i could. i knew that id find a way to make her protected and id make sure that she would be able to have an education that i had not been able to have. i decided to call her Jane. i thought it was such a pretty name.

as i sat with her on my terrace one morning, a cortege emerged from the new house and moved towards us, consisting in a sedan chair surrounded by servants on foot. they approached up the valley at a measured but steady pace, without stopping for the servants to rest. it was a significant journey of several hours and they didnt arrive until the afternoon. i could tell that the chair belonged to a lady, and i wondered what she would be like. i hoped she would be kind to me and that i might be able to go and live with her where Jane could grow up in safety from her father. when the lady arrived, my brother brought her in to the room where i lived, but i quickly realised that she had been unprepared to meet me. “What is this?” she asked, turning to my brother in surprise. i saw that she possessed the appearance of a very grand lady as i had imagined, but that her manner was not what i had expected. she carried herself towards me as though i were very inferior to her, and my brother recognised her response. he explained that i was only a servant girl whose family has been with his for a long time, and who had just had a child. the lady was unmoved. “What is she doing in this room?” she asked, as though it were her own. my brother told her that my family had been so faithful to his, and had been through so many difficulties, that he thought it would be kind to allow me to convalesce there. they both left me alone then, but my brother came back later in the evening to tell me that i would have to leave our parents room and find somewhere else in the house to make my bed. the suite of rooms in which i spent my girlhood had now been occupied by the head housekeeper, but he was sure that i would find a smaller room where i might be comfortable. i understood that the lady now intended to make use of the room that had belonged to our parents. “would you like me to leave the valley?” i asked. he asked me where exactly i intended to go. “i dont know”, i said, “perhaps i could stay at the school i visited as a girl?” my brother exploded with rage. ridiculous, impossible, ungrateful creature, he called me, greedy, wicked, and conniving. if the house of our ancestors was no longer good enough for me, then he couldnt have anything else to do with me. of course if i condescended to remain in the house, he supposed he would have to tolerate me.

the single unoccupied room that i found was the pantry, and i crept out of there only to go about the business that i had to. but the lady noticed that i was staying in there, and she asked my why i was not yet working. “my baby is still so small, and im too weak to work yet”, i explained. “What’s your name, little mother?” she said, “My husband, what is her name?” she asked my brother. my brother told her that he couldnt recall my name at that time. “She looks like a bitch, a little bitch with her little whelp,” said that lady, “And that’s what we will call you. Get out of the pantry, Bitch, and stop eating all of our food. Do some work if you can, but if you can’t just stay out of my way.” i moved to a corner where i thought i wouldnt bother anyone, and the housekeepers ignored me, but every time she passed me she stared at me with hatred, and before long she began to come to the corner in order to kick me. She showed my brother that she was kicking me, and he began to kick me too. as he kicked me, he said that i was a stupid bitch, and that if i didnt leave then they would just have to drive me into another dimension. and he kicked me harder, as though he would drive me through the wall.

i curled up around Jane, in order to keep her from violence, and i felt that my body had changed. when i had been younger i remembered that it had been composed in articulated limbs and a fine slender trunk, but now it was lumpy and formless like a sack of garbage, and my head was not where it should have been. a slimy mineral water ran out of the ceiling and down the wall and onto me, and it ran through my skin and into my body, and crystallised my flesh. my body was like a mountain of crystal with a sparkling gemstone cave in the middle, and in there was where my head was, and my head was watching over the small body of my daughter, because she was like my sparkling gemstone. droplets of water fell out of me onto her face, which i thought was the mineral water that had filtered through me, and where the droplets fell her face hardened. it wasnt hard like my coarsened body, but it was hard and smooth like porcelain, without its fragility. i could tell that her skin was unbreakable, and her eyes looked the same, because the water had fallen on them too, and the same thing had happened to them. the droplets rained all over her body and made it the same all over. she had become very still, as though she were sleeping. the droplets went on raining on her, but they ran off her and drained away, and she continued breathing. i knew that she was at least safe and warm in the sheltered cavern made by my body, even if she had changed. my brother and the lady stopped kicking me, because my body had become so hardened, and it hurt their feet to try to hurt me. instead they pretended that i was too unimportant to notice.

i didnt know where all of the water was coming from. i thought it must be coming from the river, but that didnt explain why it was running down the walls from out of the ceiling. it was dripping into the room around me, and i noticed that pails and dishes were being placed as catchers in order to prevent the water from damaging the house beyond repair. i believed that it must be raining heavily, and i thought that the heavens must be crying, that there must be so many tears to cry. i thought that i could hear a woman crying from somewhere in the heavens, but that made no sense, because a woman in the heavens wouldnt have anything to cry about. i wondered whether the tears were coming through ceilings in other parts of the house too, but before long i knew it was, because the water was running throughout the house in little rivers, up and down the hallways, and up and down the walls. the people of the house, and my brother and the lady, were jumping over them and avoiding touching them. i noticed that they were trying to pretend that the water was not really there, but i could tell that it was really there. there was too much of it, and it was going to tear the house down.

over time, i had felt the boards beneath me weaken with the moisture, and eventually they cracked and i fell through them to the cellar. i was terrified for Jane, but i looked at her and she was unchanged, still and breathing and unbroken, like an unearthly doll. i noticed then that i too had survived the fall, and that i could move. i hadnt moved in so long, since my body had turned to stone, that i had forgotten that i could. it was cold and dark in the cellar, and i held Jane to me and stood up. i saw that an entire wall of the cellar had come away, and that the river was rushing by where it had been. i couldnt tell why it didnt rush into the room; it was held back as though by magic. i approached it and as i looked into it i could see by its jeweled tones that it was bright summer daylight outside, and it must not be raining at all. my brother and the lady came down the stairs to see whether i had done any more damage to the house in my fall, but they were so distracted by the roaring torrent that i had time to retreat to the shadows and conceal myself. they approached the river and gazed into it, and i could hear that they were saying things to each other, but i couldnt hear what. they were unable to look away, as though they were mesmerised. i carefully put Jane down, and i approached them quietly and slowly. i was creeping, i was sneaking, i was approaching them with treacherous stealth, and i knew what i was doing. when i came close enough to their backs i gathered all of my strength to myself and i pushed them into the wall of water, which tore them away, and carried them onward and always onward, dashing their bodies against all of the sharp rocks it could find. i knew that they were drowned then. as i came out of the house with Jane in my arms, the roof collapsed and the entire structure buckled and crumbled. later i discovered that several people who had been inside had died under the heavy falling beams of the rooves or the stones of the walls. others disappeared and perhaps they ran away or were snatched by the river. they were people who had been employed by my family for many years, and i did justice to them.

i demolished the house that the lady had come from, and its materials helped to build a bridge across the river, where i built a new house between the feet of the mountains. it was safe and cool in those shadows where my daughter began to move and live once more and to grow. she grew up strong and when it was time i sent her to the college, where she was an excellent student. but when she had become an adult she stopped aging, and while my crystal skin has become flaky and brittle, and i have begun to prepare myself to leave this world, Jane has stayed young. her body has never lost its porcelain indestructibility, and i believe it will remain hard and living forever.

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