a girl who gathers dark and silence from the cave she inhabits.
Or the cave that inhabits her.
She sits, stock-still, a fugitive Buddha quietly gathering dark.
Quietly, but not always serenely. Still waters not only run deep, but also harbor swirls of turbulence. Sometimes, when she appears most calm, or is projecting composure, she is roiling inside.
She carries the dark and silence with her wherever she goes.
There are onyx pools in her cave.
From the bottom of these shallow pools she derives silt, and then converts the silt into a salve. This salve helps her to expand and adjust her perception.
When she leaves the cave at night, she does so to engage the Onyx Priestess, a goddess-wraith that moves like dark charged wind over the landscape.
The Onyx Priestess is the patron-goddess of women psychically disfigured and internally scarred. She casts down stubby luminous tendrils,
like so much spiritual confetti,
like candied benedictions,
and women in need swallow and digest this medicine.
This is how the healing begins. It is a slow healing.
It is the hands of the Onyx Priestess growing inside them,
massaging their core wounds.
The presence of the Onyx Priestess is vitalizing for the girl, a spiritual source from which she draws nourishment.
In this respect the girl’s night-time pilgrimages, abbreviated though they are, are very important to her.
From the cave she gathers dark and silence.
From the Onyx Priestess she gathers the strength and fortitude to ably contain that dark and silence.
My relationship, if you could call it that, with her was brief.
I wanted it to be longer, wanted more, yet she wouldn’t allow me to come between her and her solitary ritual of gathering dark and silence.
The consistent intake of dark and silence was part of her spiritual diet, and necessary to her existence as a Nocturne.
Several times we left the cave for excursions into the daybright world.
As much as she luxuriated in sunlight she knew there was only so much of it she could bear, so much she was able to take in, lest she put the dark and silence at risk. There was a calculated negotiation, a conscientious balancing that went into not only being but remaining a Nocturne. If that balance wasn’t maintained, she would dissolve and fade, as if she had never been there at all. Many other Nocturnes has gone the way of oblivion. In a sense, they were an endangered species, or a breed that operated from a place of lingering peril.
There was even a reminder scrawled in pulsing neon-lime (the ink drawn from a mysterious source in the cave, which she never revealed to me) which read:
I am a Nocturne,
and it is my sacred vocation
to gather dark and silence
I asked her why she wrote that, was she afraid of forgetting?
Yes, she said.
Have you ever forgotten it?
Yes, many times. And I came close to fading. Without rituals, without mantras, it is easy to forget. The world outside is mostly made up of Those Who Have Forgotten.
When I asked her what it was they had forgotten, she said she didn’t know as she was not them.
I wondered if she considered me one of Those Who Have Forgotten, yet decided not to ask. Perhaps I was afraid of being lumped in with everyone else, a tagged collective.
During our excursions into the daybright world she seemed happy. Yet it wasn’t a complete or thorough or full-on happy, it was checked by a reserve, creased with vexation. It was happy underscored darkly. I tried to ignore it. It was like admiring the surface beauty of the sea, enjoying the rhythmical symmetry of its waves, while a part of you remained aware of a malignant undertow. Measureless beauty and mystery, coupled with spells of violence and death, that was her.
It was like dating someone who was the eternal understudy for the role of pall-bearer. Or a widow waiting to happen.
An ending was born after nine months. That’s how much time we got to spend together. Most of it was spent inside her cave. I would bring candles with me and light them.
Sometimes I would hold a candle near her face. The light not only brought her features to life but made them dance.
She didn’t smile often, but when she did, a wordless joy, a luminous underscore.
I fell in love with her even though I knew she’d never leave her cave for me. Or that the cave would leave her. The two were inseparable, a union born out of a sacred bond that I couldn’t fully understand. What I did understand: I was the third wheel, the extra part, which didn’t fit in with the long-term vision. She never said what that long-term vision was. She wasn’t much for explanations or words piled on top of words. She specialized in silences and epitaphs.
Sometimes we slow-danced in the cave.
We’d slow-dance to no music. We slow-danced to the memory of music, to the possibility of music. Occasionaly, she’d hum softly, vibrate subtly, while we slow-danced. When she hummed it was almost as if the sound wasn’t coming from her but from somewhere inside the cave, a measureless echo, a distance trying to reach itself.
A part of me wanted to stay in the cave with her forever, yet I knew this wasn’t possible. It was not my cave. It belonged to her. She enjoyed my visits, maybe even entertained notions of what it would be like if I stayed there a long long time, but in taking directions from the cave itself, she knew that could never be. The gathering of the dark and the silence was a solitary affair.
The cave was not a habitat intended for two.
Daytime was a flight of fancy, a sweet brief escape, a temporal shift . . . it was all of these things, but it was not a way of life. Not for a Nocturne.
The only ones who could ever truly understand this, she told me, were other Nocturnes.
That’s why she no longer wasted time with explanations, or tried to make herself understood through words. It didn’t work. It was an impoverished form of shorthand. Other Nocturnes understood, implicitly.
I was not a Nocturne. I fell in love with a Nocturne, and therefore indentified, experiencing deep-down resonances with certain hidden qualities. What wasn’t brought out into the light, I felt and could relate to with barbed intimacy. Yet this didn’t make me a Nocturne.
To fall in love with a Nocturne, meant sacrificing a piece of your heart to her cave. Perhaps that piece functions like a stray candle, giving the Nocturne a little more light, or at least the memory of light, in which she could revive and watch old movies to pass the time.
When I found her in the cave I was unfinished. As was she. Nine months later, when we parted, we remained unfinished.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag.
His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.