A paintbrush between slim fingers. A heartbeat. A single breath that slips away and curls against the ghost sobbing on the floor. A trickle of sunlight reaches it, almost gently, weaving through the ribs that had once enclosed a gentle red hummingbird. You look at it through the cracks of a kaleidoscope, shattered pieces of it in your reality. You regard it for a silent moment, the paint from the bristles hanging heavy in anticipation. Its edges are frayed, and you inch forward to paint them whole. It brings no words, no purpose, no shape. No skin. No bones. No heart.
Cowering in a corner of a room draped in darkness, smelling faintly of wine and piss, home of shadows that dance in the corner of your eye. Clawing against a door: splutters, screams and desperate pleas that knock against your teeth and rattle against the silent, stoic walls. They regard you with lazy curiosity, waiting for you to get tired of it. You always have and you do so again now. There’s blood on your fingertips, under your nails, but the pain is nothing compared to the agony of breathing, the stab in your ribs. Fear has fingers that press into your chest. It whispers along your sternum before digging its sharp claws into your flesh and tearing you open. The shadows laugh as your skull cracks against the floor. Crying has never helped before, why should it now?
It is gentle tones of green, the ghost. It is tantalizing yellow pages of an old book handed down through generations and households, exchanging hands and ages. It is accents that made vowels roll off tongues, an infectious promise of foreign lands and strange customs. It is long and winding corridors in a maze with doors unlocked and bright lights hanging from endless skies. With fraying edges against all that light, it looks like a Polaroid in reverse - edges fading. Colours receding into a darkness you know they will never come back from. It flickers like a dying flame, not quite gone, not quite there. It is gentle tones of green, the ghost.
The girl pressed against you tastes like lipstick and cigarettes. You can feel her pulse cupped in your palm. Racing, frantic, as if trying to outrun the night. She is red lips and smokey eyes, and wild, full grins that are everything you wanted from this night. She’s close enough for you to see her faint freckles. Little stars dusted underneath her telescopic eyes. She’s pressed against the light in the back. It makes her more human, less ethereal, less of a dream. The music is faint and phantasmal, trickling down the sidewalk and knocking gently against your bones. It reminds you of the promise of a new world beyond the sea, away from the woman made of wrinkled paper and the man who loved the red stain on his cane. The weight of the gun on your shoulder seems nonexistent as your eyes seek the moon arching over the horizon.
Silver starlight and hesitant steps. That’s what you have become: a body full of stories and nightmares. The onset of a tempestuous storm. An unpredictable whip of lightning waiting to crack just around the corner. The shadows seem real, whispering into the cavern of your mouth with sharp teeth digging into your lower lip. The fear you had hoped to escape is always lurking around the corner, approaching you when you’re stiff in your bed, your fingers clawing against your bedsheet, and it rips open your skull to carve in its essence. The screams are lodged in your throat, cold hands that strangle the breath out of your lungs. You could paint the white walls enclosing you in red - bright, unapologetic red that spills from your seams. A cold drop trickles down your calloused finger, tracing a crooked path. It drops gently on the tiles next to the ghost’s feet. Now, there’s no sound either.
You wished to see the world away from the four walls of your home and the winding streets of your town. You wished to see exotic people with tongues that licked up a sense of new excitement up your spine. You wished to set foot on the foreign lands that the books spoke of, with lush fields and pretty women with colourful hair and alluring eyes. Your boots skid along the gravel to see that world painted grey, and women with impeccable blond and red curls buried under the debris of the pillars of houses you had once dreamt of walking into. Your own tongue is foreign in lands where the people have fallen like dolls, lifeless and broken. Where the sea is cruel and black. It licks at your feet and calls you home, carrying away the cruel hope of peace away to some far corner of the world that you will never see.
You paint past the smouldering cities, past the grey skies with ash for snow, past rivers filled with nameless bodies, glass eyes and absent souls. The paint cracks, the brush quivers, the fingers tremble inconspicuously. You paint past nonexistent afternoons and the carved lines of the woman made of crinkled paper. You paint past the old cane that cracked against the ridges of your spine, the tender skin where the bone parted and presented you with blossomed bruises against pale skin. You paint past the faint apologies that had stumbled on the asphalt pathetically, coming to lie at your feet. You paint past it all.
You’re twelve and you’re an awkward mass of bones and limbs that are too long for your body. A stutter is dragged out of your throat, pulled out with tears burning in your eyes and your head bowed Down against the impatience of listeners that come in all sizes, in all years. The mouths of those younger move sometimes, in a taunt, in a truth that packs too much humiliation for you to take. Your knuckles bruise in shades of the sky as the sun slips out of sight. You’re young, into your twenties, and you learn how fragile humans are, how the faint strings holding them together break so easily, just like marionettes. Your knuckles always sting, your fingers always tremble. You frequently run out of bandages.
You don’t choose to go look at the ghost whose fading edges you have just painted - the ghost that brings with it the absence of your own self. Is it because of the fear of facing all that you’ve done and all that has been done to you? Or is it something else? Something that rests in silence in your fluttering fingers, in the quiet tears that trickle down your face in the middle of the night when your eyes open to relieve you of your nightmares. I wonder if you do get a glimpse of the ghost before you choose to face the white walls instead. You must have seen the soul that you let the same oceans that once fascinated you carry away.
Prerna Kaushal is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Zoology from Hansraj College, University Of Delhi which is quite ironic really, since she’s a tad bit afraid of overenthusiastic animals. As a student with a love for books and art journaling, she’s almost always broke by default. Her writing isn’t all flowers and happy endings, but you can see gold scars running through the middle.