The room is square and almost bare. It has no windows and no door. Crude smells seep through the floorboards. I lie on the plastic sheet, trawling colours from the bulb to splash across the plastered ceiling. My room is square but not quite bare; I have an icon on the wall.
My Madonna, black and once with child. I know you from knees aching on wood cold as marble. Do you wonder what brought me here? Or how I came to dance with shadows? Perhaps my resolve could have been firmer, maybe my struggle longer. Silent and smiling Madonna, worlds bubble in your eye.
I am eight years old and with the other children. We carry nets, swing jars and laugh. The air smells summer pond green. We are running through grass. We belong to the world.
Pop. A matchbox strikes. Grandad stands hands out on the door step. My hair is blond and we are going to feed the geese. I hold a bag of bread. The geese are noisy, quick and sharp. I am wearing a shiny red coat. I am loved.
I am ten years old, standing on a swing. Knees bend and straighten. Higher, faster. Over the top. Send it over. Higher. Faster. Jump. Pop!
A rowing boat, a canal and a sunset. I hold a green bottle. An oar slips over the side. My throat is thick with wine. Her breath is hot on my ear.
I am staring into black water, staring at something that shouldn’t be there. They wriggle and turn on feathered wings. Saucer eyes swirl. Scales ripple gold. They are hungry. Pop, please.
Silent and smiling, you remain. You know the location of my heart and the secrets I buried there. You know my failures and my betrayals, but you remain.
The walls are thin. There are other rooms, other steps, other scratches, other voices. Together we kneel and together now we pray.
“We will not die. We can break but they will come. They will patch together flesh, and brain and bone. We will not be the same but we cannot die.”
Madonna, in your eye, a river flows.