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Luke Lewin Davies: Emma Of The Water

Image: Unsplash, downloaded ( 09.04.2022.


Emma’s two hands support her weight, one on either side. Each of her hands facing outwards, and her two elbows sticking out, and her palms level with her hips. Her mouth opens as her left foot lowers into the water – as if the two are connected, as if her leg is a cord that can be pulled at if ever anyone wants her mouth open, to put something inside, possibly, like a stamp or something. Her big toe now hitting the water and as it does it changes shape and size into a smaller, more angular toe, though still the biggest and the roundest on the entire foot. Meanwhile, her bottom row of teeth are thin and blue around the edges, and have ridges, and towards the base are slightly yellow. Only if imagined up close are they thin and blue and yellow. If imagined from a distance they are white and straight and flat and of no varying depth. And if imagined from here, about two metres, her head about the size of a coin, if it were a little closer, about, and her teeth – perceive their blueness, or their yellowness, or their rigidness, and it is grotesque, and she is no longer. And anyway, earlier that evening she had sat, her two hands placed flat beneath her, on the train. She had sat, and she had stared directly at her own reflection in the opposite window. Her own reflection, co-mingled with the scenery, rising and lowering, and then slowing. The doors had opened and closed, and she had remained seated, sitting on her hands. Beneath her eyes, blues and blacks and purples. Thin, weak veins, solid from the continual movement, on either side of her forehead. Her toenails, yellow and cracked in places. Fine hairs on her legs. Lying now, her feet protruding, and the reflections completing them: two symmetrical objects, suspended, broken in two. White, round pockets of air, beneath the knee, clinging to the sides of each leg, shaking as they rise to the surface. She had accompanied the train to the final stop. At the end of the line, she had left it. She had been alone, momentarily. Train-less, or without train. Then she had been with another train, sitting with it, accompanying it. The palms of her hands, as it were, holding the train. Or the seat of the train, as it were, holding Emma. And now she is in the bath. Emma is capable of anything, in other words. She had been on the train and yet here she is in the bath. The white, round pockets tracing curling strands of hair, about her head, between her legs. The white, gradually forming, pinched formations on her fingertips and then her toes. The white, dry brackets on the corners of her lips. Emma. In the bath. Each arm straight by its side, each palm facing downwards. Each index finger, alternately, gently tapping. Her body sliding downwards. Her head, now, submerged, leaving the mask of her face floating above the water. Her lips, now, slowly parting as she slides. Two hands rising up towards her face. Two thumbs, one for either side of her nose. Fist against fist, knuckle between knuckle. Eyes open. Eyes closed. Emma, once of the train, now of the bath, beneath the water. The light entering the room through the window beside the bath with its four separate panes, the bottom two of frosted glass. Illuminating the far wall. The sun low enough that a pattern is projected: fixed rooftops and the moving arms of trees. Between the two upper windowpanes and the far wall, in the block of sunlight, white specs of dust drifting slowly. Also visible: shampoo, conditioner, cleansing pads, moisturiser, toner, hairbrush, foundation, shower gel, face wash, face wipes, shower curtain, laundry bin, clothes, razors, bath oils, sink, toothbrushes, toothpaste, contact lenses, shelving unit, mouthwash, ibuprofen, nail clippers, tampons, cotton wool buds, tooth floss, bath salts, deodorant stick, coffee mug, jewellery box, magazine, box of tissues, radio, cotton wool, hairdryer, hairspray, rack, towels, shower cap, bra, bath mat, light fittings, toilet, toilet roll, toilet brush, toilet bleach. Emma holding her breath, now: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Emma continuing to hold her breath. Holding it in her lungs. Sixteen. And she stops holding it. She stops holding it and it falls out. Emma’s breath falls out of her lungs. It falls out of her lungs and into her mouth. It falls through the water and into the surrounding air. It either falls, or she pushes it. She pushes it out. The sound of splashing slowly slowing. Slowing to new, pronounced, singular, rising, oval – shapes – breaking the water. And then she pushes out the air. She pushes it out until there is nothing, and so she waits. Seventeen. Eighteen. Emma. Air-less Emma. Emma without air. Nineteen. Emma’s head emerging, now, her body sliding up against the curve of the bath, her lips parting, and her hands lifting her hair from her face. Her chest and shoulders rising, and her eyes open. The water sliding back and forth, up against the two far sides of the bath, meeting each in turn. The water rising and sinking around Emma’s waist. Sinking as Emma exhales. As Emma inhales. As she places her hands on the rim of the bath, lifting herself until seated. Emma of the water. Emma of the air. She had been to lots of places, many of which we could attach some significance to. None of which are present now. Now, the now in which the top of Emma’s forehead is bright from the sun coming in through the window. The now with its clean strip of light across her forehead. The now with the white top of Emma’s forehead and Emma’s eye. And approaching Emma’s left eye, into the right-hand corner, nearest the nose: the lip of the upper lid protruding, where it is flat and pink. Long strands extending from white fleshy craters, thick at the base, bowing in the middle as they curl upwards. The upper lid curving downwards and straightening out before reversing back on itself and dropping down a level. At the space in between, in the bend, at the meeting point of intersecting lines, at the point of dynamism, seeming to have impacted, seeming to have determined the shape of the entire socket, of the nose and brow that curve around it like an outward moving wave, like a concentric shock, at the space in between, in the bend, at the medial canthus: lacus lacrimalis. A red triangle shaped blanket. The corner of Emma’s eye. And lifting the blanket, now, gently. Entering into the eye. Entering beneath its warm cover. Entering into the ovoid. Blank, curving walls, upon which it is impossible to fix a spot, gently rotating. Gently rotating, turning us with it, turning, losing orientation, losing space consciousness, turning on the cambering of an eye, within the warm, hollow ovoid. Turning until the wall of the shell begins to crack. Turning until it begins to crack and as it cracks, the hollow continues to turn. Turning as we watch through the crack: light, and then shade. Light, and then shade. The light from the outside, exposed to its surroundings; the shade from the inside, Emma’s interior. And as the crack begins to open, and as the shell begins to split, we gently slip, and slipping – fall into the shade, into the heavy, warm, open space. It is Emma, collapsing into herself. This is Emma, collapsing into herself. The same Emma, the same frozen exterior, split in two, the second shrinking inwards, falling through the dark, and landing with a soft thud against the slide, the wall of her back, until she slips downwards, until she eventually comes to rest at the base of her spine, a simple distance from the bottom of the bath, only separated by this second shell, this thick shell, with its faint, reddish tinge from the outside, like peering into a closed hand. The split, beginning. Beginning at the centre of her lip, opening upwards and downwards. Her mouth, four corners, the upper crawling, philtrum splitting, and beneath that, chin. From the top of the head to the sternum, over the head and under the body. The nape, the break. Join on join. The sides collapsing into nothing, the inner space dissolving into darkness and warmth. Into the thick, deep, shadow of a mess. Into the thick deep shadow until – from out of nowhere – the water seeming cool. The strip of light on Emma’s forehead and the water seeming cool. Having cooled, we can only guess, and now requiring reheating. And Emma, slowly registering. In turn, registering the need to turn the tap. And so, her toe. And as we sit or lie or stand here and as we watch, it takes three turns – three turns of Emma’s toe – for the tap to complete a full rotation. And then a little more. And then cool ice cool water, drooping like a bed-sheet holding water collapsing in the middle, drooping into the bath beneath. And Emma’s toe – still the biggest and the roundest on the entire foot – now lowered, now resting between the falling place and the landing place as she watches everything that’s happening in front of her in quiet disbelief. Resting there as the water runs – water that had been resting in the pipes – until warmer, and warmer, and finally until too hot, when Emma suddenly retracts, draws back her toe, and watches, just as we watch, watching as the hot water falls.

About the Author: Luke Lewin Davies has published fiction and non-fiction in the Times Literary Supplement, Literary Review, The London Magazine and elsewhere.


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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