The Honesty of Bodies

My WIP has been a troublesome, tricksy beast. Originally going by the title A Life Drawn Freehand, it started as a tale of a grieving 50-something mother comng to terms with her grief by pursuing the career she put on hold in her 20s. I have struggled and struggled with the voice but I finaly think I have it, in the context of a very different story, but one with the same heart, the relationship of mutual discovery between an older woman and younger man.

This is the new chapter one. The book is now called The Honesty of Bodies, from a line in the beautiful poem of Kirsty Logan’s, Ways of Making Love.

“It’s not like I’m not hungry,” she says. “I just can’t eat. It’s like eating is a memory my body knows it has but can’t reach.”

A distant memory, I think, looking at her. She has so little energy her head’s just lolling back in the pillow and she can’t even look at me. Not that it matters, I guess. I shift in front of the sun coming in the window and her eyes are unresponsive. She’s shutting down.

“And I don’t even know if I want to remember. You know?”


“No you don’t.”

“I guess not.”

“I keep trying to figure it out.” Her speech is slow now, and she’s not looking at me and she’s not looking at the ceiling and she’s not looking anywhere else, so I find it hard to place the words at all. “This thing. This whatever it is that made me forget how to eat. Where did it come from?”

“Who knows,” I say, but the question’s not for me.

“I just don’t know. Am I killing myself? Or is someone, some thing doing this to me? Or did I just get sick?”

Her breathing’s as loud as her words by now. I look at her chest to see the rise and fall but there’s nothing there.

Eventually she says, “Kiss me.”

I bend over and press my lips to hers, leave them there a second, and pull away, half expecting the room to be silent when I do.

“That was nice,” she says. “I always thought it would be.” She runs the tip of her tongue around her mouth and I think I see a movement in her throat.

“You thought about us kissing?”

But she’s already somewhere else.

Lifting her into the chair is so easy, even though I haven’t worked out in months. I fix the drip like I was shown, and wheel her down the ward.

“Just getting some air,” I say to a nurse, who smiles back at us.

I put her in the front of the car, leaving the drip and the chair, pop a couple of warfarin, and take her back to mine. She’s still alive when I place her in the bath, because it’s been an hour now and she feels as warm as the water I’ve run for her. I wash the smell of hospital from her skin, dry her down, and smooth oil on her and in her, leaving it slick on the surface of her sores.

The silk falls over her and she’s so slippery I make sure I have a good hold of her as I carry her downstairs, and back into the car.

We’re driving for half an hour and I haven’t heard anything from her since she left her bed. I don’t carry her far from the car. The trees are tight and the summer growth is thick.

The silk slides off her as easily as it slid on, and in the sun, Bella’s skin, her whole body, is almost transparent. And cool, even in the heat; my hands warm the oil and its scent merges with that of the leaves. The light tricks me and for a moment I think she’s becoming solid, like she’s drawing the sap into her.

I remove my clothes slowly, and lie on top of her, and even when I come the only sound is the grass underneath us.

I lie beside her, reach out, feel the cloth, and take out the blade. I slide it through the skin on each of her arms, leaving lines of red that seem to rise and then hover, the fluid as still as the summer day.

I draw the same lines on my own arms and watch as the warfarin pushes my blood.

I take Bella’s hand and lay my head on the forest floor, and I wonder if the scent of blood will draw foxes or badgers before the insects come, or maybe someone will follow their dog through the undergrowth, or maybe a gamekeeper tracking his gundog after a kill, or maybe Julie.

Maybe Julie.

~ by yearzerowriters on August 3, 2010.

22 Responses to “The Honesty of Bodies”

  1. Wow. That is sooo dark & so arresting.

  2. The novella will run to about 35,000 words, which is about as long as I think the subject matter will take. Ch 1 is the light at the end of the tunnel. That said, I want to present the dark material as redemptive.

  3. Darkness is always redemptive. This is so lovely, Dan.

  4. Thank you. I have a feeling I may write this book and then stop writing. I have a feeling it says everything I want to say. In 35,000 words. Not sure I’ll have anything left after that but to promote other people 🙂

    • This is great Dan and I really mean it. I can’t get hung up on the darkness & redemptive labels as you know, but even without those strains I think this works really well. I do wonder what the narrative timeline will be in subsequent chapters – I don’t believe you would do chronological flashback, but this does read like an endpoint? So I’m curious as to what follows.

      Also, I wasn’t sure about the very first paragraph. I know she’s weak and fumbling for words, but it does read clunky. Not sure if there’s anything you can do about that, but it is the opening of her voice introducing the reader to the world of the book?

    • As much as I want to see you finish this, I hate the thought that you wouldn’t write anymore. I think you might find it harder to stop than you anticipate 😉

  5. Damn, meant to comment on your assertion that this may be your last work. I suspect the narrative voices clamouring for an outlet via your corporeality will not let you off so lightly. do find a fascinating schism between something as in your face as “Skin Book” and your longer, more contemplative pieces such as “Songs” and yes I include the above with “Songs” – I just don’t see it as dark at all.

    • I agree this is more like Songs in terms of the voice and feel – I don’t think I could spit mucus and other bodily fluids for 35,000 words!!! Yes, as in razorblades, I guess by dark I mean in a stereotypical sense. I want to tell this as a straightforward love story on several levels, and a story of gentle nostalgia, that just happens to feature necrophilia, live donation human sushi, and infanticidal rape fantasies. I certainly don’t intend portraying anything as dark – just telling it how it is.

      And I’m a much simpler writer than you give me credit for. Yes, this is the end. I don’t carry on beyond it. Readers may be interested in knowing about Julie, and may read that last line differently second time around, but there’s nothing complex – it’s all story.

      Hmm, yes, the opening line clunks big time. Maybe I’ll just cut after “can’t eat.”

      The schism? I think I always tell the same story (as Cody once said) but I tell it in different ways.


  6. And you leave me hungry for more. Such precisely evocative imagery, almost formal in tone at the end. And, of course, the question burning in my mind . . . who is Julie?

    • I remember when I first came across transgressive fictioon as a genre, I read that it tends to be written in short, very unflowery sentences and I wondered why (I AM determined to give this more of an emotional core than regular transgressive stuff because I’m a soppy old fool). The moment I started writing, I realised it would be impossible to write subject matter like this any other way without it sounding like something from an emo teen zine

  7. I am speechless, touched, upset, fearful, hopeful, mystified sad and happy and how can this mix of emotions co-exist except through the power of your words. Voice? You nailed it.

  8. I didn’t think you were going to pull it off for the first 1/3 or so… it seemed too kind of distant. Then the change of gears and focus and lighting and speed kick in and it ends being a great chapter. And the badgers add an earthy exotic touch at the end. I’m really pleased you are doing this as a novella length, which should allow you to burn at this same rate.

    • I know exactly what you mean – the dialogue is maybe a little “slacker” for the situation, but it makes absolute sense in the context of the book – the question is whethe I can hold it all together.

      And I agree about the novella – thank heavens I’m not looking for a publisher the way they feel aout them – but some stories HAVE to be novellas because if you are trying to achieve a certain intensity there’s a tip point where you go from building it to max to deflating the souffle altogether, and that’s somewhere around the 150 page mark. Imagine Babyon, for example, as a 300 page novel. You can’t! I had a conversation with a publisher about Babylon. They were wild about it. “Maybe we could put it together with another of her stories to make it book length” they said at which point I headed outside for safety in case Daisy had heard…

  9. This is a bit Harold and Maude, though I’ve never actually seen that film.

    The first section might need fixing. The woman’s speech is slow, but it doesn’t read that way. It seems like she’s a bit of a radio. And i’m not sure about the way she talks…the first line, she explains exactly what she’s feeling, way too clearly. It just rings false to me. Kinda like kundera and the way he explains everything. It’s still good to read, but you know it’s not quite right.

    The rest of it is interesting, after the kiss me part. And so macabre that most people would want to read more. Unless they work for the Daily Mail.

  10. This is such an incredibly chapter 1…wowzers. Blown away. Your voice here is just…perfect. Very well done.

  11. This is exciting. As a lover of darkness and redemption, I like how you are drawing darkness solid. I am avidly looking forward to the remaining pieces of this story.

  12. I’m becoming more and more of a fan of short pieces like this, that are maybe loosely linked to one another through a theme, a voice, or a character. It’s how I’m going to continue writing and you are so good at emoting tremendously through your characters and narratives!

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