Death must be like this: trapped within a nightmare and unable to wake.
And a nightmare must be like this: images from Un Chien Andalou
taut like suffocating membrane stretched over her head. They assault her, hold her hypnotised by the visceral bombardment of slit eyeballs and slivered moons and dead babies crawling beneath her skin.
War amputees often report the sensation of a phantom limb, as though their body remembers what no longer physically exists. The old limb lives in the catacomb of nerves and whispers gently to the brain; the operation of two nostalgic lovers. This same phantom sensation clings to her nerves: the sensation of a razor incising into her iris. The blind dark seizes her until she is trapped in pain’s flesh. She falls into a black-blooded womb and thrashes in agony, unborn.
There in the womb she will lie shivering, for Karina is terrified of the dark. Her dread of blindness arises from this consuming fear. Darkness for Karina is not an abstract quality, not merely the absorption of all light. Darkness has weight; it is a heavy, solid thing that sits upon her ribcage and holds her down. It forms her shackles and pulls her into subterranean depths; it moulds her stark, naked flesh into ebony, motionless and dead.
This fear lies at the centre of all things. It is the greatest motivator; it is what propels Karina into the light like a frantic moth searching for the moon. It is what pushed her out of her mother’s arms into the bare air, madly euphoric as she tore free. When she escaped she felt air entering her lungs as though for the first time. The oxygen combusted in her lungs and she burned, first with elation, then with fever and finally with guilt. Her elation, her emancipation, her desire to burn through the air necessitated the guilt. It hangs about her neck, weighing her down. Its solidity multiplied by gravity keeps her from vaporising due to supreme lightness.
Karina slips through the crowds unnoticed. She walks the grey pavement with her collar pushing up against her hair. She stops to buy a ticket before descending the stairs. Her train will come at 5.47 and she pulls out Anna Karenina
from her coat, finding a space close to the platform’s yellow line. The peak hour crowd pushes against her and she watches congested trains pull away from the station. Her finger slides down the page, following a progression of words:
The candle, by which she had been reading that book filled with anxieties, deceptions, grief, and evil, flared up with a brighter light, lit up for her all that had been before been dark, crackled, began to flicker, and went out for ever.
Karina turns the page and lifts her eyes to read the time. Two portly women in loud floral frocks trundle past with their luggage on wheels, laughing. A boy with a mohawk jostles past her. The time changes to 5.47 and the train appears in the distance. The crowd shifts and begins to inch forward and Karina slips the book back within the warmth of her coat. She takes a step, breaking out of the line formed along the edge of the platform. With sudden force she is propelled beyond that strip of yellow. The voices dim. The train roars its presence. The air shudders and whines. Her toes push off.
If that one microscopic second were to be frozen and repeated eternally, the sensation of death would intensify exponentially. She would be able to taste the adrenaline in her veins surging, pulsing in her skin, oozing out of her tastebuds. She would be mid-flight, a soaring drop of salt-water breaking from the wave and flung toward the sky; both light and heavy, both flying and falling. But time cannot be frozen.
One of the women in red hibiscus print turns and screams.