CARGO CULT

 

Sally had moved into a new house. She shared it with her friend Sam, who often worked away.  It was a huge place, and they divided the rooms between them. There was a tussle for the attic, which Sally won. It was light, dusty and empty, and ran the whole length of the house. The shafts of sunlight slanting through the windows had cobwebs and daddy-long-legs dangling in them. The wooden floor had the occasional splinter. But the attic was not sinister; it was just waiting to be filled. It was in abeyance.

Downstairs  in the sitting-room, Sally mused about how she would deal with the attic. She would work there, of course: she would dance there when she felt like it. For starters, she’d go up from time to time and think about how best to fill the space. And so she did. It was warm from the summer sun, and drowsy, and it made  her think of an island that belonged just to her. 

 

One day when she went up to the attic, she saw an object in the corner. It was a  little chest: and she recognised it with a shock.  It was a carved box which she had once seen at a rubbish tip, and wanted, but she had been too late and it was thrown  into the crusher in front of her very eyes. She had not thought about it for years, yet here it was again, with the brass corners polished. She opened it, half fearful; but it was empty, and the sweet smell of sandalwood rose from it. Well, of course, it could stay. The next time Sally ascended to the attic, a huge carpet had been unrolled. It almost covered the entire floor; and Sally saw that it was one that she had nearly bought in Turkey. She had been unable to afford it (and in any case had been dissuaded by a thrifty swain), yet here it was, glowing in the light. It seemed to exhale when she trod on it  - a mournful, reproachful sigh. And when she opened the chest, it too emitted a sound -   its hinges gave a little squeak, as though they wished to conceal what was inside. 

 

A few days later, Sally opened the attic door and found a huge leather chair that had belonged to her friend’s father. He had been a very tall man, and the chair had been especially made for him. It had had a tear on the arm-rest, and two of the castors had come off. She had hoisted it into the skip herself (with help), and now here it was again, with the rip mended and all four castors resplendent and shiny. As she entered the room, the chair trundled towards her a little. 

 

The days went by, and more objects appeared: books she had  once wanted to read (their pages fluttered in the breeze), paintings she had once seen from afar which now bore tiny signs of animation. The inhabitants of the paintings smiled at her  a little, and the birds fluffed their feathers softly.

 

These were objects which had made their mark on her from afar: and now, perhaps, her  imagination - febrile at the best of times - had reconstructed them. But for what purpose? They seemed solid enough. Was she meant to love them again, or to use them at last? Was she meant to construct a religious system out of them? Before she could make up her mind to sit in the chair or to lie on the carpet, the attic began to fill  with living creatures. Her ex-husband’s aunt appeared  - Sally had only met her once  - and she settled in a corner and began tatting a huge Bertha collar. Occasionally she cast a doleful glance at Sally, reproaching her for her lack of craft skills. An old friend who had emigrated to Australia materialised, wearing a hat with bobbing corks and carrying a large lizard. Most vexing of all, an old lover now stood in the dusky light, with tears in his eyes. He wiped them with what looked like a handkerchief, but which turned out on closer scrutiny to be a pair of Sally’s knickers. 

 

The attic became thronged with people she had not thought of for years - a true Salon des Refuses. Fighting back an unsavoury mixture of panic and mirth, Sally closed the door on the ululating, trembling room, and went down to Sam in the kitchen: “you’ve got to help me with the attic. I have to get rid of all that stuff and all those people.” Sam went up, and she heard the door open and then close. He came back down and looked at her sternly: “Good God, girl! What are you talking about? That room is as empty as when we moved in!”

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |