According to Martin Amis: “The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone.” Although this is certainly true in the case of creativity and the visiting muse, one should be careful of spending too much time alone. This easily leads to feelings of despair and depression; as in all things a fine balance is needed.
Solitude stands by the window
She turns her head as I walk in the room
I can see by her eyes she’s been waiting
Standing in the slant of the late afternoon
And she turns to me with her hand extended
Her palm is split with a flower with a flame
Suzanne Vegas (Lyrics to Solitude standing)
Stifling silence filled the living room in which Eleanor sat, her knees clamped tightly together and her back ramrod straight against the unyielding wood of the antique chair. Her eyes stared unseeingly ahead, her lips and teeth clenched firmly to stifle the primitive shriek building up inside her. She wrung her hands; the knuckles startlingly white against the black material of her woolen skirt. From where she sat she could hear the clock in the kitchen slowly ticking off the seconds, minutes, hours, days spent in solitude.
When her mother became ill, Eleanor did the right thing. She quit her well paying editing job, sold her apartment and moved back home to nurse her. Eleanor was the dutiful daughter; the one who sacrificed; the one who cared above all else, at least that was the idea her siblings and mother had of the person she was. Her sisters distanced themselves from the process, believing that their mother had just reaped what she had sowed for so many years. Eleanor thought this a cold and austere outlook on life and wondered if she would ever be able to forgive them for leaving the menial task of administering to a dying, decaying body solely to her. But then did she truly expect anything more? No, probably not. After all she had known them for most of her life and people in general rarely disappointed or surprised her anymore.
Her 42 years in the world had taught her to rely totally upon herself if she wanted anything done properly. This meant that she spent most of her time alone and was rarely invited to social gatherings as most of her acquaintances found her aloof and distant. She knew that people talked behind her back. The main topic; her perfectionism and lack of empathy for people who knew better but refused to do better. This was why men in her life only lasted a couple months and why she was as yet unmarried. They tended to leave, their tails tucked between their legs after seeing who she truly was inside and knowing that they could never measure up to her rigid standards.
Perfectionism seemed to be a pit that could never be filled to a point that satisfied, there always seemed something more that could be done to affect the outcome. This was a rule she lived by, the rule that made the emptiness so much more profound. Eleanor could not see any possibility of change in herself; it just never seemed worth it. She laughed when people told her that she would never be able to change that which she would not even acknowledge. This seemed like so much psycho babble to her; the daily entrée of many popular television shows; sustaining supplement to the down and out.
Since her mother had been laid to rest a week ago, and the clods had fallen with a sense of deadly finality on the coffin, she had spent most of her time in this chair, or in front of the window; searching for an indication as to what the future might hold. The thought that every day would be exactly the same as the one before, frightened her to the point where she was barely able to breathe or to move at all. She seemed suspended in the gelatinous resin of time. Yet, this had been her choice after all; intelligently made and reasonably thought through, so why was the reality of the situation so shocking?
She had her daily routines of dishwashing, dusting, vacuuming, preparing meals, doing the laundry yet that only melted away a fraction of the time. She watched some television in the evenings and read extensively, but she missed the sound of voices to fill the spaces in her mind. She worried that she would wake up one morning and find that her lips had been sewn together with stark, black, uneven nylon stitches and she was forever muted. When she talked to herself she could hear the hoarseness encroaching on her vocal cords, feeding on her overpowering solitude like a greedy little ferret.
Her heart rate seemed to speed up or slow down erratically, entirely without reason. At times she saw shadowy figures at the very periphery of her vision. Was her longing for company manifesting physically or could it be ascribed to a morsel of her mother’s energy left behind somehow? No, the latter was unthinkable even to her; she was not and never would be a woman who believed in ghosts or energies hanging around listlessly in the rational world. However, as the days dragged by at a snail’s pace, she could feel the presence of something in the house. As much as she tried to shake the irrationality of it, the feeling never left her conscious mind.
Eleanor deemed the presence a female one, though it would be difficult to explain exactly why she felt this way; only that it seemed to make sense. The inevitable touch was light and ephemeral, the breath wispy and tender, the scent floral with a hint of musk- female without a doubt. Eleanor started to wander around the house in search of the invisible, the barely felt, and the only ever hinted at, but found nothing. Surely the loneliness was affecting her mind, playing on the visual synapses and breaking down Reason and Intellect. How much longer before she was an empty vessel, clothed by a listless body?
As the days dragged by and inevitably became weeks, Eleanor crept about the house, rushing blindly around corners as a form of surprise attack. Yet, only the hint of the presence having been there seemed to linger in the empty rooms; a wispy, ethereal consciousness on the very brink of touch. At times Eleanor caught the briefest glimpse of shimmering green gauze darting playfully in the shadowy corners or disappearing into rooms she had just left.
Sadness seemed to fill the very pores of her skin at the thought of never finding the being she now so anxiously sought. Tears rolled unbidden down her stark, hollow cheekbones as Eleanor forgot to feed the body that housed her. She seemed to sustain herself on the lingering molecules of the entity that now overpowered both the hours of wakefulness and sleep. She yearned to find what now seemed like part of who she was; someone to talk to, to share life with…a companion.
Eleanor’s appearance gradually became more unkempt; her hair straggly and oily, her clothing spattered with coffee stains, her skin sallow and streaked with dust. She was becoming the Unwashed as she referred to beggars in her former life. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Her eyes had the haunted look of every hungry child in Africa and her body smelled of sweat and decay. Eleanor was losing hope….
After an evening spent tossing and turning in the sweat soaked sheets, Eleanor dragged her body to the kitchen for the obligatory coffee. She survived on fumes and coffee; strong, rich and black as despair. She folded her hands around the curves of the mug, trying to extract some energy from the radiating heat. Her gray eyes scanned every nook and cranny as she moved silently through the house. Eventually only the living room remained to be searched. Eleanor halted in the doorway aware that the moment seemed to be an auspicious one; as if she were on the brink of a crossing from which she more than likely would not be able to return.
Gingerly she stepped into the room and into a cold and distant light that seemed to emanate from the window at which she herself had stood countless times. She drew a sharp breath as she beheld Solitude standing at the window; wearing a gossamer, green dress, the shade of pity and existential angst. She held her hand out to Eleanor. In the delicate alabaster palm a fiery rose blossomed, beckoning Eleanor closer to the austere, cold energy it radiated. With a serene smile on her face Eleanor stepped forward to embrace Solitude and whispered: “Thank you for coming, somehow I knew it would be you….”
Word count : 1417