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Distant Flash

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Dear Esther,

The morning after I was washed ashore, sand in every crevice, salt burning my eyes, all my thoughts remained on you. Ordinarily, my mind would be consumed with the memories of water, the weight of my clothes, the stones in my boots, but, this time, you were all I could remember, the memory dragging me underneath the deep sea of lucidity.

Donnelly reported the legend of the hermit, an ascetic who made his home within the caves. He travelled here to be alone, away from the needs of the people on the mainland. He sought solitude in its purest form, so that he, too, could live without being perceived by those that were less accepting of him. From what little Donnelly wrote, I can surmise that the mainlanders derived a sense of terror from his true form, something purer than they could attain themselves. The shepherds would leave him gifts, thankful for the courage that he showed. They never perceived him. I can assume that he considered them unworthy of his solitude.

I was wearing women’s clothes, and a friend of mine invited me to his house. He had recently taken a new lover, a person much like the hermit of this cursed island, someone who commanded the same respect as the holy man’s otherworldly, solitary charms. I remember walking over the sands of Portishead, making my way to his house. As I walked along the side of the road, I watched as a jet carved twin lines in the clouds. The trails stopped over his house, and as I stopped to observe the aeroplane for one last time, I saw my first glimpse of you.

No longer nerves, neurons, axons, synapses, chemical or electrical reactions in my mind, I entered the house as if by divine chance. I found each step harder, heavier, more poignant than before. The wooden steps caused a hollow reverberation through my body as I coursed my way up them, merely an observer outside of my body. I spent ages by the side of the house, evaluating myself.

I entered. I slid the door open, and it seemed that the features in the sky that I had admired on my way there descended into my palms to guide me. The hermit’s view – an addiction – remained my one true constant, and I knew that whatever awaited me would fulfil the urges that this brought upon me.

The yellowed lights overhead, the television in your retinas, I strode into the house, proclaiming my adherence to the cause, preparing myself for the internal reconstruction that the night would bring. I folded my mind into a paper boat, and consigned it to the Atlantic.

 


 

Dear Esther,

I find every step strangely easy as I ascend to the summit of the isle. Donnelly encourages me, hanging off my back like the devil himself. His whispers react with the chemicals in my mind as I climb these endless steps.

There were chemical diagrams painted on his cup when I met him, his hands shaking, his eyes welling with tears. They were painted on the walls of the waiting room after you’d left us. They flowed through my mind during all of these times, changing me, warping me with electrical impulses.

Those same impulses were present as I entered the house, and saw your face for the first time. You were entirely distracted from the world. Radio signals, entirely separated from the chemical metamorphoses occurring simultaneously, poured through your eyes as the red light of the television screen consumed you. There were chemicals glowing in those retinas, absent from the outside world just as the hermit was inside his caves. Your face was chiselled, contoured with the endless impulses of the hormones that had been forced upon you. Your body was elven, angular, transient.

We sat in silence for hours as the same reactions occurred. It was strange to expect so much change to occur, but to receive none of it, to feel static in the midst of a great shift. Every so often, you took your eyes off the screen and eyed me with a certain regard, half-expecting me to let out my secrets, but the other half already knowing that I was like you. When it was just the two of us, we retired to a quiet room, and you asked me who I was, and who I was becoming.

I cried on your shoulder as you held me in your otherworldly arms, reassuring me of my existence. You told me that to explore this aspect of myself was to subvert everyone’s expectations, to become the man that nobody told me I could be. To explore there was to become active, to externalise my journey and to break the confines of the gender that had been forced on me. To explore the caves of my mind was to become closer to the hermit, and to become pure and terrible just as he was.

I wept sea-water as you allowed my mind to unfold into an ocean of chemicals.

 


 

Dear Esther,

Donnelly wrote of those shepherds who lived on this island centuries ago. They were a God-fearing people. When they were convinced that someone was dying, they cried aloud, and cut deep lines into the cliffs with knives and lancets, till the white chalk and the red rocks gushed out upon them. If you knew the islanders well enough, and knew where to look, you could see the lines from the mainland or a passing ship. People knew to send aid, but most obeyed the Bible – there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.

I felt no particular need to turn back when you saw my lines. I’d taken off the women’s clothes I’d been wearing and tossed them aside as you provided me with something more fitting, and you saw the gashes that I’d carved into my thighs. The white scar tissue and the red scabs that covered my leg turned my body into this island, and you into a clipper ship sailing by. You covered them with patches and creams, trying to make the lines heal into something even more beautiful than I could have imagined. I put on the clothes you’d given me, and you held me down and painted designs onto my face. Through my drying tears, I stared into the mirror at my new features, and I smiled for the first time in years.

I had entered the cave and come out a new man. You had tied yourself to my jetty, and I welcomed you like you were bringing aid to this quarantined island. You had convinced me that I deserved to feel as holy as the hermit, and that I was destined to be just as gentle and terrifying as him.

You took me to an abandoned playground in the centre of the village. We drank together, practised speaking in our new voices, and tried to come up with new names for ourselves after we had metamorphosed together. After hours – though they seemed like minutes – I called my parents to take me home, half an hour down the M5 as they ferried me to and from this island of salvation.

I was not alone anymore. This was no delusion. I remember every second of you lighting those candles and guiding me through the caves. I did not take it upon myself to light this pathway, Esther. It was made by you, for those who were bound to follow.

 


 

Dear Esther,

I have lived after the flesh. Through my own spirit, I have mortified the deeds of my body. You have painted me, carved, hewn, scored into this space all that you could draw from the interminable chemical reactions in my mind. I am your work of art, another mariner upon your shores to be remembered as an agent of change.

And I cried aloud, and changed myself after my manner with knives and lancets, till the ocean gushed out upon me. And it will come to pass that, after I abandon this body and take to the air, I will see you flying next to me. Someone will write of us, just as Donnelly wrote of the hermit, just as I wrote of him, just as you shaped me. We will leave lines, dripping with chemicals, a distant flash carved into the night sky.