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Short story 'When Blue Snowflakes Fall' by Eoin Dolan Lane

The Broken Spiral, an anthology of short stories which will raise funds for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

The Broken Spiral is a collection of short stories by Irish authors, responding to the theme, ‘The long and winding road back’. The collection will raise funds for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. 

If I clench my toes I can hear them say my name.

When I clasp my knuckles tight until the bones protrude, I can sense the name around me. But it is not within me. It is not of me and I cannot say my name. When their faces bend over me, I hear the name on their lips like snowflakes about to fall across the bed. I cannot remember my name. They say my name is Annelise and the sound of my name comes to me as a light flurry of snow settling on my face.

My cheeks are hot and flushed and my name lands and melts on my cheeks. A beautiful name, I think. Annelise. But I do not remember being Annelise. Loose strings fiddle around in my head like notes in the wrong place. I cannot seem to place them in any order. I cannot finish the jigsaw.

The nurse is leaning over me and whispering.
There is a man, with a bald head like an egg smiling at me.
He says he is my husband.

I do not remember having a husband. I remember sometimes a man in the background reading the paper, when I was working.

I am a painter. I do not remember being a painter. I do not remember painting. I know because they have told me so.

There are paintings all around this room. They have brought them here. But I do not know these paintings. They stare at me in the dark when I try to sleep and I wish someone would take away my paintings.

“Take away my paintings,” I want to say.

I do not recognise my own paintings. But in the night, in the small hours when I sail silently through the hours, I sense things. These are my new paintings. Perhaps there is something of me left in me still, if even only in the small hours when I sail through the night.

I sail on waters of blue. There are anemones, sea anemones floating deep down under the water which is cut like crystal, sparkling and splintering as if a shoal of mackerel is flittering through the strong current to the nether regions which only divers and fish can reach. I am sailing in this foil of blue with the sun streaking through my skin; my entire being is infused like a watercolour in shades and tones of blue.

The paintings around the bed are blue. Cerulean and aquamarine and azure with shades of ink and Himalayan poppy blue and they are ringed around the bed like prompt cards urging me to remember. But perhaps I do not want to remember.
They have brought me to this place, to this room and they have brought my paintings here as to a gallery. As if this were some sort of exhibition.

They say I will get better.
The nurse says I was upset. She says I must rest.
The man smiles at me. He comes in the afternoons and brings me flowers.
But I do not know these people and I exist in this bed as on a desert island surrounded by seas of blue paintings.

And I swim in my mind in the sea. I glide and coil like an eel through clear water. My body is weightless and I swim in smooth curving spirals through rainbows of blue, my arms slicing the water without sound, my legs and feet fluttering in my slipstream and I am away for hours like this in my mind, in the water just curling along, like a submarine with no destination, with no land in sight and no need to turn back.

And sometimes I swim through the bones. I am swimming through bundles of bones and they knock and bump against my limbs. And now, I lie in this bed and I sense the grey bones. I am the bundle of bones. My bones are grey and they float as if bobbing in water. I have been trying to swim past my bones, my own remains. What remains of me floats between these sheets, levitates on these sheets, suspended, lifeless, vacant and staring into space and I am reduced to this grey bundle of bones in this room.

The nurse comes and says I was sleeping. She is tucking the sheets around me, burying my bones as in a shroud. She tucks my bones in and the man comes.

The man is smiling. He is bending over the bed and he has brought flowers. I look at the bunch of flowers and I see seaweed. I see the smooth, black stems of seaweed hovering over the bed as if threatening to choke me, entangle me in their slick, slimy fingers.
The man with the head like an egg is smiling at me.

And his smile is like lightning flashing in a rainstorm. There is thunder gathering and the clouds are wrestling in the sky, on the ceiling, collapsing over the bed and the thunder snaps. His smile ignites the room like a serpent spitting venom, like forked lightening striking a dead tree.

The noise is rising now. The volume is turned up full blast. Plates are being smashed, twirling off shelves as if by themselves.

A woman is turning around and each way she turns, she sees plates and cups flying off shelves, smashing to the floor, cracking into jigsaws of blue. The curtains are wrenched from the windows and the blue gauze curtains are draped around her head and she is entwined in a veil of blue and she is storming around, swathed in gauze and she can hear crying, shrieking in every corner, in every room and every where she runs, the screaming greets her, for the screaming is coming from within.

Her fingers are growing; they are growing into branches; they are paintbrushes and she is swirling against the walls, dragging her fingernail brushes in swooping arcs and heaves and she is smearing the walls with anger and with rage and she is painting in vicious stabbing circles of blue.

“I am leaving tonight,” he said.
“I have brought you some roses,” he says.
“I am leaving you for her,” he said.
“They have no scent,” he says.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said.
“I will put them in water,” he says.
“I never meant to hurt you,” he said.
“The nurse says you should sleep now,” he says.

I remember snippets of things. Feelings and moments. I do not remember the rest of him, the rest of us. The bits before this strange room where I lie dulled and confused.

But I can feel him leaving this room now. He is leaving me with his bunch of unscented roses. And he leaves me with my blue paintings and the nurse who will look in on me. I lie alone again. It is like being raped by pirates and held captive in a strange place.

“What does she look like? What does she look like? What does she look like?” I said.
“Where did you meet? Where did you meet? Where did you meet?”
I said.
“What’s her name? What’s her name? What’s her name?”
I said.

A noise grinds. It is his car driving away. It grinds in my head and in my ears and I turn my face to the pillows to block out those tyres from my head.
The sound of him driving away. That night and this afternoon. To that other woman.
A woman, I cannot even name.

The very thought of him touching other limbs such as mine blanks my mind.
I am numb. I am bones and I am locked in this bed.

The nurse is the only other woman I know now and she is more like a nun, or a maiden aunt than a flesh and blood woman. She comes softly in white, speaking quietly and sometimes I even think she cares about me a little. She has no real smell and if she emits any odour it is of antiseptic and medicine and powder.

I yearn for a blue bird to sing while I lie here, inoculated with the noise of his tyres on the gravel outside and I wait in what seems like vain hope for the blue bird to sing.

It is snowing now and I am standing on a frozen beach playing ducks and drakes, skimming the pebbles across the icy waves.

And here comes that sound again. Here comes the sound, the very low, faint hissing sound of cell splitting cell, of hairs cracking away; the sound of skin tearing apart.

A woman is ripping her arms. She is wandering barefoot through the garden, fondling her arms in the thorns of roses. She is breathing deep and fast and she is coming into the house stark naked, her white skin like marble, her veins outlined in tributaries of blue and wandering around like a drunken statue about to topple and crash into smithereens on the floor.

They say they found me on the floor.
They say I had cut myself. The nurse says I had suffered a shock.

But I can hear the blue bird singing.

The blue bird has come now and the snowflakes fall again and I feel them settling on the bed, covering my arms and my cheeks and they are nestling in my hair while the blue bird sings. And the song trembles and quivers and the hairs on my arms shiver with the song and the rush of blue snowflakes falling from the ceiling.

And I am quiet in the song. I am wet through with the moisture of soft snowflakes. I rise quietly and go about my task silently. There is no rage here; there is nothing but the sweet song of the blue bird singing in my ears and I begin to paint again. I paint the patterns of snowflakes on the walls. And I draw from my rivers of blue, from the tributaries of blue down my arms, like mountain springs trickling through snow. I paint patterns of streams on the walls. I paint in swirls and arcs and curves like a swimmer gliding through and all the while hearing nothing but the blue bird trilling from on high and from deep down within.

When the door opens, I carry on.
When the nurse speaks, I do not hear her at first.
When she grabs me in her arms, I notice her like a boat on the river.
“Annelise,” she says. “Annelise.”
I smile at her through the snowflakes. They are falling on her shoulders and she is becoming blurred in the storm. She is fading fast.

“Annelise,” she says. “You are covered in blood. The walls are covered in blood.”
I smile at her. “I wanted to paint the rivers,” I say. “I wanted to paint the rivers in my arms. I wanted to paint the blue rivers.”

She is wrapping fabric around my arms. And I stare at my arms. The rivers are plugged now and the blue waters are stilled.

She bends her face closer to me and she hugs me in her arms.
“Can you tell me your name?” she says softly. “Can you say your own name?”
I look at her and nod. The nurse holds me and waits.
I take a deep breath and the blue snowflakes fall on my hair and on my shoulders and I say “Yes.”

I lean closer to her and I say my name.
I whisper my name into her ear.
“My name,” I say, “is Blue.”

Eoin Dolan Lane was a winner in the 2016 Greenbean Novel Fair for In the Shadow of Hermes. He was also the fourth prize winner in the inaugural year of the RTE Frances Mac Manus Awards 1986, when James Plunkett was the head judge. (The story was later published in the accompanying anthology by Mercier Press). In 2015, Eoin was shortlisted in the same awards for his story, When Blue Snowflakes Fall.  Beyond the Horizon is Eoin’s second novel. 

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