She found the formula for living forever. It involved an elixir made from woodland tree fungus and the blood of small animals. Not palatable. Something must always be sacrificed in spells like these, to create a moral dilemma for the spellcaster. But she used the rest of the animal for meat, so it felt like thrift—a minor virtue. We don’t know why she wanted to live forever—probably the usual reasons. And it’s not even clear that the elixir is working; forever is a long time, and she is only at the beginning of it. Just like the rest of us.
Every child born in Endloss Ditton had a knack. Agnes could spot dropped buttons; Peter could never miss a train. No one knew why the village was so singularly blessed. Then the village midwife moved to Snittlegarth, and all subsequent babies born in Endloss Ditton were knackless. It turns out the midwife had a knack for gifting knacks to her charges. Now it was Snittlegarth’s turn.
The ocean, grey as slate, gobbles up my children’s feet. My youngest calls a wave a sea avalanche. I plug my vague anxiety with two tylenol, washed down with the flat remains of a sparkling water. There’s sand on the rim. It scratches my teeth like salt. The seagulls clatter on, sounding of squeaky guitar strings. Someday, I realize, even Beyonce will die. I tell it to the sand. I tell it to my lungs overcompensating with their big, gulping breaths. Someday, the ocean will eat nothing but the noiseless beach. Someday all that’s left of us is hair, jewelry, and teeth. Someday the sun will supernova. If I am lucky, my daughters will outlive me. And, if luckier still, there will be a heaven, made up just of words. Callus and rampion, it will say when I get there. Balustrade and obsidian.
I believe some kind of angel has taken up residence in the barn, for I’ve relocated the possum and still the cat’s kibble disappears in the night. Each morning I reload the bowl, freshen the water. I imagine the angel hungry and undocumented. One day a small feather I couldn’t identify waved gently at my approach, caught in a hay bale like a childhood memory of a stranger’s kindness. That’s why I don’t believe it’s the cat, who more often sleeps in the spare room, curled among the decorations we’ve pulled out for the holiday. (So many we don’t use!) Nor do I think it’s an owl. The weather’s been so warm, so unusual, and most creatures of an earthly nature keep death occupied in the woods all night.
all summer when the cold’s flown somewhere far away, we use the fireplace room to wrestle. dead ash in concrete. slate and brick. hardness. my brother knows double-leg takedowns and headlocks; i know how to dig my nails into a pinch so hard it’ll tear through sweatpants, how to scream and buck my head upwards to the skulls of bigger kids. today i’m two surge sodas deep and august-anxious. my brother stomps near the fireplace: a challenge. i lunge and he holds my head indelicately. he’s champion of pain—king of knuckles on pressure points, hip-tosses; i’m falling now, like a plane-crash dream, towards stone. wake dizzy. my eyes collect the broken parts of me tossed across the room; he repeats sorry-sorry-sorry, gentles the fat welt. i don’t know where i am.
here is fireplace. here is finger-twitch. here’s brother. here, sun through late-summer clouds. here’s the same new world.
How tiring becoming has become—the state of emergence, the degrees of visibility, the despite and because of. As onto the loaded present, as Valery says. One lives on the surface of the Earth, walks a leaf-strewn track through a forest where diffuse sunlight distorts time. One wears primitive camouflage against facial recognition software. One rehearses the future, but cannot keep up with the script changes. Artificial intelligence encroaches upon sacred geometry. The sulfur vents vent sulfur. A pilgrim steps from a briar tangle. Like fire, one is born of two sticks, a spark that catches and must be fed.
Sunday, March 19, 1815.—Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby.
May 17, 1816.—Such are our pleasures here, which would be greatly increased if the season had been more favourable, for they chiefly consist in such enjoyments as sunshine and gentle breezes bestow. We have not yet made any excursion in the environs of the town, but we have planned several, when you shall again hear of us; and we will endeavour, by the magic of words, to transport the ethereal part of you to the neighbourhood of the Alps, and mountain streams, and forests, which, while they clothe the former, darken the latter with their vast shadows.—Adieu!
Thursday, February 7, 1821.—During a long, long evening in mixed society how often do one’s sensations change, and, swiftly as the west wind drives the shadows of clouds across the sunny hill or the waving corn, so swift do sensations pass, painting—yet, oh! not disfiguring—the serenity of the mind. It is then that life seems to weigh itself, and hosts of memories and imaginations, thrown into one scale, make the other kick the beam. You remember what you have felt, what you have dreamt; yet you dwell on the shadowy side, and lost hopes and death, such as you have seen it, seem to cover all things with a funeral pall.
October 5, 1839.—Twice in my life I have believed myself to be dying, and my soul being alive, though the bodily functions were faint and perishing, I had opportunity to look Death in the face, and I did not fear it—far from it. My feelings, especially in the first and most perilous instance, was, I go to no new creation. I enter under no new laws. The God that made this beautiful world (and I was then at Lerici, surrounded by the most beautiful manifestation of the visible creation) made that into which I go; as there is beauty and love here, such is there, and I feel as if my spirit would when it left my frame be received and sustained by a beneficent and gentle Power.
I had no fear, rather, though I had no active wish but a passive satisfaction in death. Whether the nature of my illness—debility from loss of blood, without pain—caused this tranquillity of soul, I cannot tell; but so it was, and it had this blessed effect, that I have never since anticipated death with terror, and even if a violent death (which is the most repugnant to human nature) menaced me, I think I could, after the first shock, turn to the memory of that hour, and renew its emotion of perfect resignation.