12: Oranges on the wall

by Jane Carnall

To sleep, to lie down and close my eyes, to desire only rest. The rest is no more. I lie awake in a small room with an orange-tree painted on one wall: and though the tree is paint on plaster, the fruit is many small pieces of porcelain set into the wall, so that the oranges gleam in the late afternoon sun, almost as if they were real.

The days here are long: twenty hours of daylight, and twenty hours of night, at the equinoxes of the great year: it is autumn now, and the trees in the orchard are in fruit, just like the one on my wall. At the summer solstice we have thirty-six hours of daylight, and at midwinter, barely four. We sleep well during the winter, and I long for that time. The long summer afternoons are dreary with the shining brightness.

I cannot leave my room except in the hours of darkness. I am a widow: my husband died before we could engender children, and therefore -- it is said -- I may not show my face to the sun. If I had died, my husband would have been forbidden to show his face to the moon: he too would have been compelled to keep to this one room, and his name would have been struck off the family records, that are carved on the marble floor of the upper room. I have not seen that room in daylight for close on thirty years, but I remember how the bright noon light used to make the blue walls look like the sea: and during the long afternoons or mornings the shadows would move like a hand writing on the stone.

My husband?s name is carved on a marble block, and mine was carved beside it: now there is only a gash where the chisel struck, scooping out my name from the eternal memory. It is only justice: though I have full sisters, born of one blood, and will therefore be passed on nameless in my own family (and when my name ceases to be a byword for bad luck, in one or two generations my kindred may revive it) my husband had only a half-brother, and he is gone to his outworlder kin: my husband is dead and will be forgotten, and never, never will his family give the name that was his to one of their children. It is justice.

I murdered my husband: I imagine that everyone knows of this, though with courtesy they do not speak of it. They know I hated him: they knew how he treated me. If I had shown myself less vengeful, less reckless, and had waited until we had a child together, they might have treated me more harshly: some widows have the roof of their room broken open, so that they must hide beneath the bed or in a stuffy cupboard all day long. I have my little room, and I can see the bright shadows of the sun, though never his burning face. And I have my porcelain oranges, growing among the painted leaves: the only fruit I shall ever see in daylight again.

529 words

17th February 2000

Feedback: e-mail me (or comment me if you have a livejournal).