Matryoshka

Matryoshka

Getting your dolls in a row

Sarah had always been fascinated by Matryoshkas - those nesting Russian dolls which contained increasingly tiny version of themselves, sometimes as many as seven. Bright-eyed and rotund, they wore a traditional garb of headscarves and aprons, decorated with flowers and glistening with primary colours, their hair neatly combed away. They seemed unambiguous: but unscrew them in the right way, break them in two, and they would reveal a tinier self within. And so on and so on, till the last Matryoshka of all was revealed. Was she mother or child? Who could tell? One thing was sure: the faces were always, always the same. First and last, big and small, they were imperturbable, and expressed neither pleasure nor pain.

What a potent metaphor! Sarah thought that if she could get it right, the Matryoshkas could help her to think about how she might change and grow. She sat down in the corner of her room, and summoned all her mental powers. And it worked: suddenly she knew she was a Matryoshka, even though she didn’t have an apron. This first one was rather bumptious, and prone to extravagant display. Physically solid, overconfident (that was a sign of weakness), ravenous for love and new experiences. Tact and discretion was not her forte. Gradually, gradually Sarah began to sense a limitation in herself. Being like this might be fun: but she was all noise. And her disquiet with herself was signalled by a sense of cracking and rupture. This body began to break open. First small shards and then large tranches began to break off, and they lay around her like shattered porcelain. She stepped out of the old body and her feet made a crunching sound as she stepped on the fragments.

To be sure, the new Matryoshka was different. She was more subtle and secretive. She was diffident. Sarah became obsessed by the desire to know everything that her friends knew. On a bad day, she might be accused of filleting them, like fish at a market. Certainly she began to think that a sort of osmosis could be at work. By talking to people deep into the night, and by making love to them, she might somehow absorb their essence, learn more. And so she sought out people with more and more arcane areas of expertise.

Of course, it could not last. Sarah came to feel that this Matryoshka was exploitative. She was capable of sucking people dry. And then the process started up again: the cracking, the rupture, the shards on the hard ground, the stepping out of the old carapace with smooth skin and sparkling eyes. This new one had empathy. She was soft. She could love. Not wisely but too well, as it turned out. Excessive and at times embarrassing. And this one in turn broke up, and a new Matryoshka - perhaps the last one - was born.

How strange, to give birth to yourself! The little creature, hidden inside her own body for so long, was neither baby nor crone, not foetus or corpse either. This Sarah had composure, she had tenderness, she had grace, she had balance. She had stepped out of her own fragments. She ran her hands over her body. It seemed there was nothing more to come. She was empty. And yet the emptiness felt like the most remarkable plenitude. Her eyes were full of things seen and to see, her mouth was full of past pleasures and future caresses. She stretched out her hands. She was truly here - here - at last.