This is the first installment of Duessa, a 12,000-word allegory (of sorts). I’ll post a new installment on each of the twelve days of Christmas, wrapping up on January 5th.


Lights out, door shut.  Silence and solitude.  Lump of sleeping husband gone, perhaps forever; wisp of child unsleeping in bed. Colors drifted around the insides of the woman’s eyelids, forming and dissolving shape after shape.  

She’d lied about him and Lily — Lily, whom she thought she adored, who had always tried to be her friend, who was so pretty and gracious and kind — out of envy or God knew why.  Slipped a sideways comment between her husband’s ribs at the firm party.  Cried, made a scene, run off, ruined everything as the guests cowered and her daughter looked on.  

Ruined everything: story of her life.  It wasn’t real anymore.  The words remained, a voiceover to the memories, but they left her outside, in a dark, echoing place in herself she had never know.  

Thought shifted toward dream. The dark opened up in her, washing her away. She wasn’t stopping it.  Soon she would be almost nothing.

The darkness gathered before her remains and spoke: “Let me do my work. In me there are no limitations.  Once you are empty, can’t you be filled with whatever you choose?  What cannot be built from nothing?”

One shard of her was a harder, truer thing.  It shrieked with laughter.  “You came to kill, didn’t you.”

“Beauty?  Kindness, success, confidence, freedom, happiness?  Everyone wants something.”

Any of those things, she might have begged.  But the truer part of her said, “No.  That is nothing.  What I want — I don’t even know what it is.  It’s why Lily was pretty, it’s how she was kind.  It’s the way you know things.  It’s why you want things.  Give me a little tiny bit of that and I’ll give you everything.  But you can’t.”

The darkness laughed, loud and long and everywhere.  “The light is all you want?  Then submit.”  

She sank into deeper sleep and lost consciousness.


Commentary

My main character’s darkness, chosen as my featured image because it is the starting point of this story, may be evil, misery, or Nothing–with or without the capital N. Her light is something like her imagination of God, as the source of aesthetic value (“it’s why Lily was pretty”), desire (“it’s why you want things”); goodness (“it’s how she was kind”); and certainty (“it’s the way you know things”). I honestly don’t know whether it will turn out that the darkness can give her the light or not; one fears that it can offer only a poisonous counterfeit. The only Faerie Queene reference here is slight and tangential–the colors that form and dissolve shape after shape are a slight gesture toward Archimago, the villain whose name means “creator of images”–and, incidentally, a reductive but perhaps telling description of the entire episode to follow. A suspicion of mere images (including literary, probably, giving an odd irony to the work) pervades The Faerie Queene.