HOW PEOPLE CHANGE

“Well”, Sarah thought “it’s easy enough to want to change yourself. To bring it about is something quite different.”

She used to think that she was not in control of her own emotional destiny, and that a slow, organic transformation was the most you could hope for. By the time you died, you might be a little more like your best self, perhaps. She had thought that it was pointless to meddle with the wheel of time, which surely had its own pace. How could you dare to think that this year might be any better than the last? It was an act of effrontery. But Sarah now thought that perhaps such effrontery was the only way forward. You needed to get rid of that part of you which was dead. Or ought to be.

Suddenly she recalled, in a vivid flashback, a wall of tombs she had seen in Lycia. It was a vertiginous cliff-face and the soil was a soft, yielding tilth. Starting at the bottom, the mourners of old had scraped out little resting-places for the people they had loved, but from whom they were now parted. Some made little hutches, some made vast halls. And then she remembered something else. She had seen a programme about an area in the Philippines where tribal people placed their dead in tiny coffins fastened, with steel staves, onto the wall of a bluff. Before inserting them into the box, they had sat the corpses on wooden chairs set into the cliff, to shrivel and become wise. Row upon row of serried coffins hung precariously to the wall, and Sarah had no doubt at all that the people who had affixed them could now go about their daily business with full hearts and quiet minds. Their dead were safe: and more importantly, they were visibly separate from the living.


She decided would make her own mourning cliff and precipice, and entomb the bitter memories and the experiences that had held her back. She looked long and hard, and finally found a craggy outcrop in a wood. It must have been twenty feet high. Some long-ago landslide had exposed the roots of a huge tree, and in between the living tendrils were little gaps and holes. If there were not enough of them, she could easily excavate new ones. Making sure she was unobserved, she carried a little ladder to the site and began her task.

Into each cavity, she put a picture, or an object, or a piece of writing. Here was an image of a dead friend whose absence seared her heart: there was a photo of a lover who was emotionally pusillanimous. Each little hole received its occupant, and she tamped down the entrances so that the inhabitants could sleep sweetly in their long hibernation. She inserted objects that she had come to dislike: a ring given as a bribe, shards from a broken pot never repaired, a scarf worn on a disappointing day. And then little notes describing unhappy times: the seminar when nobody spoke, the hotel afternoon when nobody came, the idea which stubbornly refused to come to fruition, the light that failed. As she hollowed out the little tombs, filling them and then blocking the exits, Sarah thought she could hear a noise: something tearing, ripping apart. It was her old self protesting. But it was in vain.

She stepped back and admired her handiwork. The bluff was sealed and smooth. She knew now that change wasn’t always gradual and organic: it could be violent and final. Tired now, she picked up the little ladder and plodded back to her car. To learn to live without all that stuff might be difficult. But she had buried it, and she knew where it was, and why she had put it there. It was time to be someone else.

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 |

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