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Florida Pier, Darkness
The New Adelphi vol. 3 (September 1929 / August 1930) : 18-22

      Rachel Lynn tip-toed across the vestibule, the muscles of her shoulders and thighs rigid. She imagined that a hand was about to be laid on the small of her back. When she reached the sitting-room her face was drawn with the relief of being again in the lamp-lit room and slowly she began to close the door; putting her hand on the jamb so as to avoid the slightest sound, she drew it after her anxiously as though only perfect silence could complete her escape. In spite of her care there as a final faint jar as the door shut, and it made her heart race.
      A coal dropped suddenly to the hearth, and fear gripped her like steel fingers closing tightly into her flesh. Now all the menace of the night was directed at her, its waiting had been rewarded, the sharp sound had disclosed her, and she waited breathless for any move that might come. There was nothing, and her breathing grew calmer, but the panic of her nerves would not be stilled, and she had to tell herself that there was nothing outside, nothing but darkness covering the fields and trees she knew by day. Why should anyone be waiting outside her house, who even knew that she was there alone, and if the darkness did not hid a human being, what then could it hold?
      Still aware as quarry, she sat and listened in case something on soft feet circled round and round, peering and waiting for her by an inattentive movement to disclose herself. She listened until she could hear the vast confusion of her pulses and the clamour of her breath. Fighting the darkness alone was wearing her out. She was tired of waiting for the menace of night to take shape. She tried to remember that many people lived as isolated lives as she, and lived them unmolested. She must think of them, homely and secure, people going freely in and out of their doors. Trying to dwell on them, she prepared her supper on the small table drawn up to the fire. Each thing was lifted and put down with the utmost caution so that not a sound was made. The salt had been left by the door as she [19] came in; to rise and get it would mean moving her chair, perhaps disturbing something that would fall — she would do without the salt.
      All evening she eyed the clock. There were so many hours before ten. The strain of the evenings wearied her and she would gladly have slept, but when she went to bed something within her still listened and would not relax its attentiveness. It magnified the cry of the Peesweep, the tap of a branch, the creak of wood, until they cracked loudly in her ears and shot through her body. She longed for light to bring the blessed commonness of day, but the listening never left her, so that all night long she scarcely dozed.
      When morning came she rose early, excited at being released from the dim past that darkness led to, and happy because of the solid look everything wore. All day no one came to the lonely cottage, and she kept remembering the night that gad gone and feeling the approach of the one that was to come. Even the day was so silent that it was like a mirage, its unrealness oppressing her until she craved sound, wanting to call and be answered, and to answer back. Yet the day was good. She clung to it feeling how loving a thing the light was, only its shortness rousing a panic in her heart. Its stay was so fleeting that it hardly gave her time to take a deep breath before the next night broke over her. The darkness was like a great wave that approached slowly, and as each afternoon faded she knew she must be engulfed again.
      Standing in the doorway of her cottage she watched the day go. A haze of wasting loveliness lay below her, then it greyed and the world seemed to age before her eyes. If light were vanquished, who could she hold out? She locked the front door, shooting the bolt just as darkness fell, not wanting to shut out the day while a gleam of it remained, and only clanging the two doors together when the last heaviness of twilight began to steal into the room.
      She sat close to the fire, the light from the lamp full on her, but her thoughts she could not draw in from the darkness outside. For out there the night had washed out the hills, and who could say whether they existed or not? They had been the last to go, but even they had melted finally. First the colour, then the small buds and twigs, and then the hills had flattened and turned into lines against [20] the sky. All that far-extending world gone and only this square of pulsing light left, left for her to maintain, that the darkness might not press in the walls of her cottage, and put her out, her lamp and her fire, as it had put out all the rest.
      She sat with idle hands, for how could she busy them when she had so much to struggle with? The stillness that lay so knowingly on the loch, the trees hiding in their own shadows, darkness leaning on the roof with all its weight and hugging at the walls, laughing that she thought to be motionless was to be safe — could she fight any longer? It was a dreadful task to have to hold on to actuality for fear if it slipped from her there would be none. She peered about the room, and already the furniture seemed to have lost some of its substance and wore a faded, vanquished look. The jerking flames and glowing coal alone fought for her, helping to contest the darkness that nibbled at the edge of her being.
      Sitting immobile, she stared at life. So one could be alive and yet be outside life, that noisy, warm place where other people were. She knew no door through which she might enter, and so she had strayed here where there was nothing but recurring night with days as too brief respites from the night.
      Darkness threatened yet hid her from darkness. Light brought safety yet revealed her to darkness. Light brought safety yet revealed her to darkness. Now she did not know of which she was most afraid, since one seemed but the opposite of the other. She began to know that she must hide, hide to fight fear, and hide more carefully as her fear increased. But how hide enough? She would be very wary while she planned, very secret, for perhaps she was to be defeated. The day might become too short to help her. The night might win.
      Later she knew that she must prevent people from seeing how afraid she was. That was the first thing to hide. That was the first thing to hide. When she came to the cottage she had bought food from various vans, glad to chat with the drivers, but after a while she knew that they were sources of possible danger. The men might see how isolated she was, they might tell others; she could hear them talking to a group at the shop when they got back in the evening, telling before ragged wanderers of the woman who lived alone by the loch and whose eyes [21] looked as though she ws scared out of her wits. It would be safer if no one ever looked into her eyes.
      Winter drew in and the world seemed to shrink with cold. The days shortened and sometimes weeks went by with no gleam of the sun. In November the days were so short and dark that each day was like an eye that tried to open and could not. The blinds were often left down through the day now in the collage, and if any passing pedlar knocked no one answered his summons.
      The summer came wet and inclement, the grass grew high about the house burying the rose bushes and reaching half-way up into the gooseberry bushes.
      Once or twice that summer cars found their way up the unfrequented road and stopped to ask if they might have their kettle filled for tea. After knocking they stood and listened until they could hear so much silence that they hurried away exclaiming, “Let’s picnic further on; that cottage makes me afraid.”
      The farmer’s boy hit the cows sharply to hurry them past that bit of the road, and once towards the end of the summer the farmer’s wife said to her husband: “I can’t tell whether there’s smoke coming out of Miss Lynn’s chimneys or not. I been watching for days and I can’t be sure.” The sky was grey that summer and it was difficult to know whether there was a little smoke or none at all.
      Next summer more cars passed that way, and people began to ask if Miss Lynn’s cottage was empty. When they heard that a woman lived in it who never came out, they shivered and asked: “But how does she get food?” And the farmer explained that the grocer from the village left a basked on her doorstep once a week. They gazed at the cottage and their questions were hushed. They left glancing back nervously over their shoulders.
      The cottage became more shrouded in its ivy until finally one window was completely overgrown and the dark leaves massed so heavily above the front door that it would soon be impossible to open it. After a time the basket was left [22] at the back door. This gave the grocer’s boy a moment longer of terror and made his heart pound harder and his legs run faster once he had set the basket down.
      The colour gradually faded out of the cottage, the blinds grew darker, the wood weathered, and the cottage looked black inside. For a while the surounding hedge was cut by the farmer on the outside that it might not protrude too far into his fields and on to the road. As the inside of the hedge was never cut this left it neat and trim outside while inside it flung up long affrighted shoots as though to ward off what was approaching. Then gradually the new ploughman took a shorter turn when he neared the cottage, letting the tangle of nettles and briar outside the hedge broaden until the weeds grew up into the hedge, the hedge grew half as high as the cottage, and the cottage cowered under the ivy.
      The winters and summers went by and people used to pass that way so that their friends might get out and see the cottage where the woman was hiding. As they neared it the would go on tip-toe, and they would listen so hard that the could hear the beat of their pulses and the panic of their breath. Then they would shudder and run back to the car whispering: “There’s so much fear in that cottage that you’d think it would burst out the walls. Let's get away quickly.”

7 January 2023