No Luck (After Jean Rhys)
This writing is based on an imagined monologue of Mary Ball’s death mask who received the death penalty after domestic violence and poisoning her husband. It looks at different people’s truths and lies, silences and voices. You can read more about her here.
Trigger warning: references violence, domestic violence, gaslighting, death, suicide, capital punishment.
She handed me the other glass and said, “To happiness.”
“Drink to the endless days that will be tomorrow.”
I remember taking the glass back to the bottle and draining another cup of this thing called happiness.
I had never wished to live before I knew you. If I could die now. When I am happy. That would be happiness to me. Just say die and I’ll die. You don’t believe me? Then try, there’s no harm in trying. Say die and watch me die.
We watched the sun set again and then again – many times. All, helplessly and forever, through stories and histories but who could tell where we went between these histories? Find and seek’s not our game. Everybody knows that things appear from nowhere, from no one knows where. But if you ask me everybody knows. The rumours I’ve heard stretch very far from the truth. It is better not to talk of it. Better not to tell.
I don’t know if I could believe what they was telling me. It lived in a place between audiences and actors, truth and fiction, wanting and having, acting and being. That was his way too.
You ask if there’s another side. There’s always another side. Always.
But then he hears so many stories he doesn’t know what to believe.
I began to wonder how much of this was true, how much imagined, twisted. Was it him, or was it me? Darkness came, and it came quickly. Not a night or darkness I knew but night with glaring stars, an alien moon – night full of strange noises. Hushed, muted, growing louder, more persistent, strong, inescapable sounds.
Look. And look again you hypocrite, he says, before you judge me.
I get the sense that there’s things hidden because people do not want to see what they see or know what they know.
“I learned to hide it.”
Yes, better not to tell them. Better not to tell. I can hide and kill time too – for the moments in the future when you are only a memory to shut away. And all memories become confused, melodramatic and unreal after a time.
“I managed to hold her wrist with one hand and the vodka with the other, but when I felt her jaws clamp into my skin I dropped the bottle. It smashed and the smell filled the room. I was mad and she saw it. She smashed another bottle against a wall and stood with the broken glass in her hand and murder in her eyes.”
“You touch me once, she said. And you’ll find out if I’m a gutless fuck like you are.”
“She doesn’t understand what she says. Her perception is skewed, fleeting and uncertain, then quickly suppressed. I ran away from her and didn’t speak about it because I thought if I told no one it might not be true. A sort of consciousness smothers what she thinks she might know but doesn’t want to know. She is surrounded by people acting the parts she has forced them into. She is cleverer than you give her credit for. In the wax of her eyes you can see that she knows she has her own tricks which could always rescue her. Feelers grow when feelers are needed and claws grow when claws are needed. Did I see it all before and refuse to admit it? Everything was too much. She lies about me and is so sure you will believe her and not listen to the other side. But there is always another side. Always.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “what I believe, or you believe, because we can do nothing about it.”
I puffed out a cloud of smoke. A bag of air: that’s all my life is. Caught in a cloud, air and dew.
I don’t know what I am like now. I remember seeing myself in a mirror and seeing my eyes look back at me. The person l I saw was myself but not quite myself. She never blinks at all it seems to me. Large, fake, strange eyes. Trying to protect herself with silence and a blank face. Poor weapons. They have not armed her much or helped her long. A waxwork’s copied life leads to all sorts of ideas of the life that has left them. An eerie condition, a trance, she has migrated elsewhere, either to somewhere in this world, or to somewhere else. Shall I wake her up and listen to the things she says? Maybe. Her face is still blank, no expression at all.
“Is he badly hurt?”
“More stunned than hurt.”
I heard a clock ticking.
“Once,” she said, “I used to sleep with a knife under my pillow so that I could fight back if I were attacked. That’s how scared I was.”
“Scared of what?”
“Of nothing. Of everything.”
I got up and drew the blinds. The sky was a weaker colour than I’d imagined and the sea slunk stealthily backwards and forwards, still drowsy. There was no sun and the air was worn out and sterile, greasy-warm, as if thousands of other people had breathed it in before. It was one of those days when you feel the ghosts of all the other good days gather up around you. You end up drinking a bit and watch the ghosts from the bottom of a glass. I liked watching one eat fruit. His teeth would grip into the fruit and his lips press around it, and while he sucked you saw he was perfectly happy. When he finished he would always lock eyes and grin like a conspirator. He would always laugh, but whenever he spoke he seemed sad. He doesn’t recognise me now. I saw him look at me and his eyes liquidated, first going to one corner and then to the other, not finding anything to hold onto.
I woke up and heard something whistle long and sad. What was that? Something came out from my heart into my throat and then into my eyes.
A fly buzzed around me. I couldn’t think apart from it was winter and too late for flies, or too soon, or something, where did it come from? “And where does this escape lead to?” She was watching me. “You think there is a place to escape to?”
“How can you ask that. You know there is.”
“I’ve never seen this place so how could I know?”
“So you do not believe there is a place outside of this?”
She blinked and replied quickly. “I didn’t say I don’t believe, I said I don’t know. I know what I’ve seen with my eyes and I know I’ve never seen it.”
“Sometimes when you do things you’re not sure about it brings you luck. It changes your luck. Haven’t you ever noticed?”
“There is no luck,” she said.
“But you don’t know that.”
“If I could take you with me, because you’re telling me it is only in my head.” They saw everything they wished to see. And saw nothing they didn’t.
I don’t know how much time passed before I started to turn cold. The light shifted; the shadows were long.
It can be like a cold dark dream here sometimes. I want to wake up.
But how can all these people, their houses and their streets be fake?
I still don’t know why but, suddenly, I was certain that everything I had imagined to be true was false. Truly false. Only the fantasies and delusions were true – all the rest was a lie.
I often wonder who I am now and where I’m supposed to be and who I should have been to who. Yes this must be a dream.
“No, this is fake and like a dream,” she thought. I was undecided, uncertain about facts – any fact. The sense of safety had left me. You are trying to change me into something else, calling me by another name.
Her back faced me and she was still, sleeping. The noiselessness was disturbing, absolute.
Surely now it’s my turn to sleep – a long deep sleep and very far away. I lied down motionless, breathing steadily with my eyes closed. I felt sick. My eyeballs felt so big inside my head, rolling around like pinballs.
I opened them again to try and steady them staring at a spot on the ceiling. I looked at it not blinking and it became two spots, pink and green. The two spots buzzed very quickly, one away from the other. They hovered about six inches apart and stretched bigger. Two eyes watching at me. I watched back. Then I had to blink and the entire thing started over again. I must have been dreaming because I was very tired after this. Very tired.
“This isn’t how I imagined it to be.”
“I know. It never is.”
Finally I slept. When I woke I was somewhere else. Colder. It was then, I think, that I lost my way home.
“You look like you’ve caught a fever.”
“Oh, I’ve caught that before.”
“There’s no end to the times you can catch a fever. I am sorry for you.”
It felt to me as if something was following me, something was hunting me down, laughing. At times I looked left and right but never behind me because I did not want to see the ghost who they say haunts this place. No. I won’t look. Forget it and I told myself I forgot.
In a different time a death mask was made. A body buried within prison walls. The gallows built and a crowd gathered. The chaplain held her hand over a candle - not to be unkind, but to ready her for a fresher hell.
Your head will be their trophy and themselves its victims. It’s all a question of justice.
I’ve seen that word. I’ve heard that word. It’s a cold word. I tried it out, wrote it down. I wrote it down several times and it always looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice.
You’re blind when you want to be blind and deaf when you want to be deaf. Things kept hidden whisper but are never heard, willed on by forced forgetting. No one talks of those things now.
They are forgotten, apart from the lies. Lies are never forgotten, they last and they grow.
“Why do you pester me about all these things that happened so long ago? When the old days go, let them go. There’s no use grabbing at them, this world doesn’t last long for us.”
It was not a safe game to play. Want, hate, life, death came very close together in the dark. Better not know how close. Better not think. “Perhaps she lied for a long time with the belly ache I give her. You look alive but that plastic smile’s back – screwed onto your face. The mask was made of wax, moulded over the whole face, closing her eyes. No eyes, maybe, no mouth, maybe not.”
Pull yourself together.
A creepy stillness made me see the blanks in my head that can’t be filled up. A memory of touching something passed in my mind. I am no longer a toy, but a kind of ghost. Even the wrinkles on my face have been caught and smoothed out a by wax’s own unwrinkled skin. The strange translucence and slight sweatiness of the wax coats the museum display, a sleeping figure, the fairy tale and its expected prince, a dreaming figure with hope, an inner life. I remember once we kissed but nothing like that. That was the life and death kiss. You only realise a long time afterwards what that is.
“I put my arms around her to keep her up, I kissed her, but she pulled away.”
“Your mouth is colder than my hands.” I tried to laugh.
Our mortality melted, broke down like bodies do. But her wax tricked death, copied life, validated truth and lies. Preserved the dead.
This is not for you and not for me. It has nothing to do with either of us. That’s why you’re scared of it; because it is something else. It promises sleep, but a different sleep.
The seconds pass and each one was a thousand years. Hours and hours and hours I thought. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. Nights and days and days and nights, hundreds of them slipping away. But that doesn’t matter. Time means nothing. It is not something you can touch and hold. Everything is still here, fixed for ever.