The fading of the light

Tap tap tap.
The sound of security, purpose and direction. Vibrations of a life being lived, if not well then at least with intent and without surrender.
Tap tap tap.
The sound of derision, laughter and pity, a spectrum of emotions-all but one of which cut deeper than a knife.
Tap tap tap.
Decisions made, promises broken, friendships lost. Even the kettle is a mountain.
Tap tap tap.
A tangled web of lies, not driven by malice but by fear. It’s for the best, they say. But who are they? Who are they really?
Tap tap tap.
Loneliness creeps like a thief in the night. It wears a cloak of shame, its swag bag groans with regret.
Tap tap tap.
Feeling your way, everything is new, everything distorted. Complacency is dead.
On. Off. On. Off. Blinking like a defective strip light. Soon you too will be stripped of light, and terror will seep into your bones like tea diffusing from a bag.
Tap tap tap. You’ll learn to cope, the doctors say. Other senses will prevail, like knights in shining armour they will rescue you from the dark-from yourself.
Tap tap tap.
Not long now. Nothing to do but wait.
Tap tap tap.
Darkness falls.

Beauty Queen

Blankly she stares through mascaraed eyes, a soulless being with a painted face. For hours a tumultuous swarm of activity has ebbed and flowed around her. It is only now, with moments to spare, that the hurricane winds gather pace. Faceless fingers tug her hair into a style that defies both gravity and reason. Yet more tend to her nails, pinch her cheeks, tweeze her brows. Quietly she sits in the eye of the storm; watching, waiting.

From behind the chair upon which she is borne aloft a camera clicks. She smells the cloying odour of stale alcohol before she sees the photographer’s face in the mirror. Sweat oozes from his forehead like ectoplasm, sticky and wet. His lips purse, he blows a kiss at her then laughs, spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. She does not respond, merely looks away.

Her rosebud lips are painted pink, a final wash of blusher applied to the apples of her cheeks. She steps down from the chair. Her vantage point lost, she feels her diminutive stature acutely. The layers of cream and pink tulle on her princess cut dress are adjusted. Her feet are prised into crystal slippers; replicas of Cinderella’s, or so they told her. A cloud of perfume and hairspray shrouds her, stinging her eyes and throat like nettles. Now she is unrecognisable even to herself, she is ready.

The curtains pull back and she steps onto the runway, drawing collective gasps. “Isn’t she beautiful?” “What a darling little thing.” “Only five years old, you say? Well I never.” “Adorable.”

In the glare of the studio lights nobody notices the single tear that slides unbidden down her painted face, dropping from her chin into obscurity.

This gorgeous little girl was at a centre for disabled children that I visited in southern India. She’s quite the opposite of the girl in my story – naturally beautiful and enjoying her childhood, just as she should be.

You had me at first click – Part Five

In truth she had been tempted to tell John about her plan, but at the last minute Jen had hesitated. Not because she didn’t trust him – she trusted him with her life – but because she didn’t want him to feel like he had to come. Before the attack she had been fairly confident he would come of his own volition, but afterwards there was a nagging doubt that he would feel an obligation to act as her protector rather than her friend, and she didn’t want to be responsible for that. So she left. Alone and in the dead of night, with only a small rucksack of belongings.

She’d dreamed of being free for so long, yet now it was happening she felt apprehensive. How would she survive once her meagre savings had been used up? What would she do? Where would she live? But, frightened as she was, the overriding emotion she felt as she slipped out of the front door and heard it softly click behind her was relief. Sure, she would miss her mother, but to save herself – her body and her mind – she had to get as far away from that place as possible.

Because there was one thing that nobody knew but Jen, and it was a secret so terrible that she feared she’d have to take it to her grave. The day that John had found her lying face down in the mud she had indeed been attacked, but not, as he thought and she had subsequently let him believe, by a stranger. The attack had been the culmination of years of abuse. That day, on a bed of autumn leaves and within earshot of her childhood best friend, she had been raped by her own father.

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I took this picture at Singapore Zoo. It’s one of my favourite nature shots from my travels.