This entry won the 2nd position in the Dispatch 2020 creative writing competition

Dear Ganan,

I am writing this against my lap in the glasshouse in the botanical gardens. It is a hollow day today, neither given rain nor any hope of warm light. The glasshouse contains its own type of weather, warm and damp, with white light. The outside world is sedative, I’m a dazed patient, unaware, unable to do wrong. The past is alive, it has been done to me and since you left has become still, I have no control over it. But for me a garden is different, it is separate, and closer to me and my head. I can feel my skin growing green now, peeling, swelling, sweating, slow drinking the burned butter bog ground, saturated with symbols of sex, growing and dying. I don’t want for you to think less of me for writing which might seem stewed, because it is natural in the heat and wet, and it is becoming natural more and more. I could plant it, you could find my intentions in bark and pale leaves. I’ll have you see what I have, what has grown from my dead experience, what is resuscitated by my mind, barely sustaining me now. You can have the thoughts in my head which have built a horrible statue, an awful golden salute to my memories, which is unshaken, always watching me, feeding and being fed.

I like to sit on the bench by the succulent nursery most days, because it is the thing I know is right for me to do, I’ll fill myself with it. There aren’t often staff close by here, nor anyone at all at midday. I, ghoulish, will peer through the foamy glass, strain up over the stains to see my vacant bench. I will press open the door, I will drag my feet over the plastic mat.

I get to sit and see the plant with long and hard spikes, spikes longer than its fleshy body. On its right, one taller than me, perfectly straight, white with fur, looks like the neck of a swan. I fall asleep here all the time, I hear the air filter, the sound of bird feet, of the pigeons and seagulls surveying the roof, which sometimes sounds like rain, rain which slides down the throat, the white skeleton of the glasshouse.

I’m writing to you because I can’t remember you much anymore. I remember things, shapes, opposites fastened to one image, a Salix babylonica on the sand, weather which is bright but incoherent. I remember describing, to myself at one time, your expression, your way of moving, thinking ‘you melt in uncomfortable light, I can see more ugly lines on your face, you look like you have been left’, and I can’t remember where the lines were, I can’t remember your face, or any image of the places we went. I had felt rage for you though, the same as I had felt love, the same as I had felt scared to see you in my mind’s eye through the last fleeting verses of my life. I fix myself in darkness and utter stillness in the night, I try to make myself as though movement is stolen from my body, and I imagine that I am sinking in all of the hair that you have ever grown in your whole life, I imagine sucking in air and having your aroma transposed into my bloodstream, willing my organs to work, and work.

The last time I saw you we were near water, were we? Please say. At one time I know, you were being embraced by cotton, it was perfectly symmetrical, over your head, over your shoulders, over either side of your chest so only the middle was in difficult conversation with the light, your crooked and bent chest, your eerie chest. The cotton, I do know, was grey and blue, with the pattern of brown horses on strips on either end, and then just colour and shapes for its remainder. There must have been birds around us, as I knew the feeling of their floating, as I knew the feeling of being watched from above. The sight of you had made me want to lie down—I had had an idea that I was the shadow that was coming from your feet. I was stopping you from being completely transparent, I was pouring black tones over the sand, the leaves, the stones, the moving water.

And then we were in a hotel at one time. I know that we were, and I had seen you sitting. The hotel was blue, it was the same colour as the sky. There was a statistic on an A4 sheet of paper in the lobby. It said that four birds died per month, their families maybe in hysterics, as they had flown into concrete sky. concrete sky. The deaths happened mostly on Sundays. Beneath it was noted that the pool closed at 7pm each Sunday: I didn’t feel that there was a connection though.

You would sit on a poolside chair. The water had a waxy appearance: it showed the bowl shape of the ceiling above, and the cracks in the material from which it was made, looking like wrinkles, as though we were on the inside of a hollow face, staring up forever. The reflection of the cracks swirled and bubbled around like watersnakes, and you pressed your toes into the pool, and were completely still. In the dancing water your face was four faces, your body dancing, trembling, and different. You were above the water an orchid, the way I remember you now, the many faces that had built your image in the water were unchanged above it, faces petals, legs weeping roots. You were still.

The hotel was not far from the airport. It was so close actually that I could see the planes headed northward, I could hear them. I had found a list of departing flights and took time to watch the particularly big jet which left that evening. I watched the cloud trail it dragged along behind it, I watched the plane dive up, it seemed so affected by the colours of the sky, it seemed so different for the colours, it changed. There was no moon, only you had stolen into my room, as the light was becoming weak and the textures of things were becoming the same, softened, foamy.

And you said and did nothing but made me see myself, you blackened my view of you and the world, and you put my eyes inside of your head. I thought nothing, I didn’t know what I was, I just saw myself, I was the act of seeing and nothing else.

You left my eyes in me as you left the room, my feelings entered, my understanding, and my mouth hung open, disconnected from the ears which needed to hear my scream, like the lungs, the throat which could not do so. Teeth bound together, my frown delirious, extreme, unable to express to any quelling extent the terror which I felt, that I had seen myself. I was not what I was! I was an alien with a brittle texture, controlled by an alien with a brittle texture, my skin unreal, thick, my frame unconceivable, carrying the light in no soft or good way, blind, unlively.

There was only a feeling like waking then after days. I was then just overcome with confusion and sadness, though onward from that time I had had a propensity to disregard my feelings: I had not come to understand how I could have them. Was it by the lake then where I saw you last, asked to see myself again? And you were floating along over sacred lilies, so that with every forward movement a new lily was given to the surface of the water, and your cold skin showed each hair reaching out like little beams of light. Your hair looked so warm, keeping you from the cold, keeping you from harm. The way you looked exuded music, which made me feel drowsy, which made me feel guilty again for the shadow that you cast, that which I had convinced myself I was.

I wanted to see myself and understand more, and you had made me feel fine, that I was a gazing person, that my head was the moon on which the Americans had landed, that my eyes were all mine and that I was good to understand myself pressed against the soil.

And that I stay in the garden now hoping for you to come for me, but I think you won’t. I think that that was all you had wanted for me to know.

With love,

Lydia Bailey
Lydia Bailey
Lydia Bailey is a Scottish writer from the Orkney Islands. She is currently in her second year of English Literature and Russian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, where she has developed a passion for Medieval literature and art. She finds influence for her writing in modern Japanese fiction, and in the rich literary culture at her home in Orkney.