isobel

I found her in one of the bigger blanket boxes. When I opened the lid a strange smell–compounded of blood & beeswax, pot pourri, vomit & whisky–filled the room. To fit herself in, Isobel had curled up, scrawny and foetal, with her head pillowed on one hand, in the pained attitude of a thirteenth century peat-burial. Beneath her was a litter of brochures, Polaroid snapshots & sodden tissues. The Polaroids were all of Isobel. She was clutching an empty Jameson’s bottle. She had torn the waxy machine-varnished covers off the brochures and then thrown up on them. She had discarded two cans of Gillette shaving foam, an old fashioned safety razor of mine & some spare blades. She had slit her wrists. But first she had tried to shave the nascent feathers from her scalp, upper arms and breasts, hacking at the keratin until her skin was a mess of bruises and abrasions, indescribable soft ruby scabs, ragged and broken feather sheaths like cracked and bloody fingernails. In a confused attempt to placate me, she had tried to get out of the dream the way you get out of a coat. When she moved, the down of twenty different birds puffed up out of the blanket box into the air around us like grey smoke. It fell back into her wounds & clung there turning red. For a second I was breathing it. It was as if a quilt had burst in my face & I was breathing feathers. They had a strange odour, musty yet exotic, dry but full of musk. I heard wings. They were soft & distant. They were close and panicky. They seemed to circle the room, then fade. [From Signs of Life, Gollancz, 1997.]

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3 Comments

Filed under predicting the present

3 responses to “isobel

  1. One of the great memorable scenes of your work (although there are many in that novel). My favourite single sentence, as I remember it : ‘There were signs of a struggle, not necessarily with someone else.’ (Apologies if the memory varies slightly from the actual).

  2. uzwi

    A careful sentence, that.

    I was reminded of Isobel by some extraordinary images of Lucy Glendinning’s– tinyurl.com/cea2u85

  3. Simon

    Oof. That has punch. Lovely stuff. It’s the tenderness…