Chapter 1 : The Cloud Dancer
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Also, this is a sort of companion peice to The Star Listener. There are a few references to that and you'll understand Hannah more if you read it, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary.
She stared at the ceiling for the umpteenth time that week, her mind barely able to see through the fog that grew in her mind like mould. She lay there, feeling the fog move in, and she saw the cold stones above opening up into the heavens to reveal their glorious eternity. It was never far from her mind, of what it would feel like to be up there and to take a cloud by its hand and spin round and round till all she could see was a watercolour world bursting around her.
She wondered what it would be like, or if she’d like to simply be a mist, a slave to the whims of the wind, always shifting - a thing that blocked the sun.
She twirled the end of her long blonde braid and felt the cold stones from beneath seep into her skin, but she wasn’t sure if she minded or if it felt any different than what she felt before. It felt like ice, like the ice that coursed through her veins like liquid gold. She wished she could be in those heavens, free to dance and move – being captivated by the ghostly beauty, without all this. She could have had her freedom. She would not be disturbed by the looks of those glassy eyes of their frozen slumber. She wouldn’t wish to give them life.
The room felt like it was tilting to the side as she watched the heavens and how they moved, so free from the care and the hurt. But perhaps that’s why it rained so much here; that it was their way of mourning, of reaching down and touching the lives of the mere mortals who had lost so much. Who would always lose so much.
She tried to push the thought away as she used to be able to do, before it all, but her mind grasped onto it with desperate and hungry hands and pulled it closer so it wrapped around her soul like a carnivorous animal. She reckoned she had spent too much time with Susan, or, perhaps they had been more alike than she had ever known. She thought sometimes that they had even switched places - that when Susan grew bold, she grew weaker.
It had been hard - too hard - barely eighteen and having to be that strong for so long. Even now, she could never be sure she hadn’t felt an unconscious sadistic pleasure from being able to pass the torch on. Had she always hated carrying it? She couldn’t be sure anymore; the feelings she used to feel didn’t feel real to her anymore. It was as if they had turned into a badly constructed eulogy that someone said only because there wasn’t anything better to say, but everyone knew that it had all been fake.
She heard someone come into her small, destitute flat; she could hear their calm voice calling out, to her, no doubt. But she couldn’t move; she felt too tired to move from her place on the cold stones, or even to speak. What had made her think that buying a flat made of stone would help her survive? It had seemed almost whimsical once, to sleep as if she was still back there. As if she had needed the reminder of everything that had been lost.
The beauty of the end of the war had caused this elation that she didn’t know existed inside of herself. She thought it was over. She should have been sceptical, should have known that the stone walls would become her incarceration instead of her sanctuary. How they cried out to her every day and how the stones morphed into faces of days past, have you forgotten, dear Hannah, have you forgotten us? They’d call and dance and scream against the stones themselves as if imprisoned by the coldness.
She was left to lay motionlessly on the ground, unable for move for hours, her body betraying her at last. The door to her bedroom opened slowly, and the creak that had been there since she moved in, the one she said gave the place character, creaked in its ordinary fashion, but this time grating on her ears and sounding more like a shriek of terror.
She heard the deep breathing of the person as they stood in the doorway, letting light seep into the darkened room. She cringed at the light and pulled herself into a ball as the ceiling suddenly turned back into just a ceiling and she felt herself choke on some kind of emotion that she couldn’t define. She thought it must be misery and she deeply wished for that watercoloured world.
They didn’t say anything, but she felt their warm body lay next to hers, and she burrowed into their skin and breathed in their scent. Hoping that their warmth could somehow transfer to her as well, so as to leech off the light they must have found, the light that evaded her after the war. The light that danced among the clouds, but always just out of her reach.
The silence stretched on, but she couldn’t find the voice that had grown so hoarse from disuse, nor could she open her eyes to see him. For she knew what she’d really see, and she hated it. Hated that she needed him so much, and yet the mere sight of him made her remember. She could still hear Colin’s cry or Waynes’s gasp as a jet of green shot into their hearts. They had all known what they had signed up for, but they never really expected to die for it.
“Hannah...” he said. His voice floated into air, husky and alive, begging that she be let free. She tried reaching for his voice, a voice so much like the ones that haunted her dreams. She forced her eyes open, her brown eyes foggy and unclear as she looked at him to see his lined face. Ernie. Her Ernie. “It’s over,” he whispered, grabbing tightly to one of her hands, and tried to stop its shaking.
Her eyes met his, a clash of blue and brown, and she wondered how the gap between them had widened so much, how he could have believed it over.
“The end might have happened,” she said slowly, finding her voice. It was rusty and croaked, but she forced the words that kept tumbling around in her brain out. “But that doesn’t mean it’s ever really over.” He didn’t answer, but there was nothing else that could be said.
She continued to stare into his eyes, and she wondered if the hollowness she felt inside showed, and that maybe through her eyes he could understand what the words between them could never quite explain and heal all the things that she couldn’t say. Things don’t simply just end; they fall one after another and come as a package deal. She couldn’t just box up the war and put it on its shelf and be glad it was over. Because it wasn’t. As they had lived and breathed but now they were dead and it was impossible to forget that. She wasn’t sure she wanted to, and perhaps through her she could give them the chance to live again - if only if it was to dance among the clouds