Anchorite

Anchorite

Autumn snakes through the suburbs, claiming one tree after another. It sheds a skin of dead leaves. The sunset is obscured by the terraced roofs; the moon comes and goes behind day-lit clouds. I can smell the barbeque outside, in the garden. I hear genteel laughs from the hired marquee, music I can’t identify. A hand comes. It offers me food, and I accept with grace. I am careful not to bite the fingers, but the meat is still burning from the flames and my mouth opens and shuts at random, wanting and withdrawing. I’m unable to contain it all. The hand withdraws. I wipe my mouth on my dress. Then the hand returns with water. I tilt my face and it pours down me, drowning me, I choke. The hand withdraws, I hear feet walking away. They stay away.

It is winter and the air smells cold. The sun must not be there anymore. It’s all moon, all clouds. I’m stung all over with the cold and I can’t escape from voices. Cooped up voices, feet always walking past. More people, less to share. I haven’t seen the hand today. My teeth chatter yet I can’t move my mouth to say my prayers. I think them; but I also try to think myself warm. One trick is to picture coldest Antarctica, to imagine what it is to be a polar bear rolling in the snow, covered in snow, a polar bear in an avalanche who can’t tell up from down, who is tunnelling into more snow instead of up to freedom. White upon white.

And then I’m less cold.

The darkness is lifting slowly. The voices are slowly leaving, leaving for school, leaving for work, leaving because they’re no longer obliged to stay. Many hands come, many hands to kiss goodbye. I’m still cold, my polar bear trick is played out and my prayers can only be answered with time. Darkness now, light later, is the eternal promise. I keep my hands in my armpits and fold into myself. I feel my chest, I feel how there is warmth in there. Warmth I can’t get at. I scratch at my hidden heart. I feel warmer.

A voice whispers to me that it is spring, and to remember the sacrifice. Jesus is a lamb. Jesus on the cross. A hand sneaks me some lamb and I can’t eat it. I bend to the light for nourishment, the promise is fulfilled but the sun still hides its radiance. It rain rain rains, but the sun stays alight behind the clouds. I hope to see a rainbow. I hope to see seven colours. Another promise. The lamb slowly rots.

Warm. I no longer have to hide my hands anywhere, I can spread myself. I almost sing. The house is empty, but I can smell barbeques from somewhere: there’s fire, there’s smoke. I almost sing. The lamb is gone. It took a while to go. I saw things grow and I saw them destroyed. I saw much. The moon has been driven back, so there is much to see. The sun wants me to see.

Warm. So much that I burn. They are burning. They are burning me. The hands are burning me. The mouths promised me this would happen. I think of the hottest desert, I think of what it is to be a tiny gecko, pressed to the sands of the desert, covering myself in burning sand to escape my predators. It is so light and I cannot see, the light is all around me and yet the smoke is higher, the darkness is higher. I think of the promise. I think of the desert.

I feel cold.

Olivia Payne was born and raised in Surrey. A graduate of the universities of both Aberdeen and Cambridge, she is currently working as a Librarian in West London.

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