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Artwork by Peter Brown


17 January 2023

'An Invisible Eye' 


Silent control makes the air around you fizz. Crouched low on the fifth step up; pyjama-clad, recently bathed. Hair like thick, wet grass. Skin soft and scrubbed, pale pink made silver by thin darkness. So low you cannot be seen; your little body curled up like a question mark. Knees pulled tight enough that you can put your chin in the concavity that forms between them. Plum toes press flat and down on the carpeted stair, white-knuckled. Do not topple forward. Inhales and exhales sound breathless in your ears. Like urgent whispers.


Look between chipped bannisters at Downstairs. Loving murmurs and fuzzy looks around a spindly wooden table. Pastel blushes. Words skitter across surfaces like unfettered stones. Your parents’ faces unfamiliar apparitions amongst other bodies, friends tucked neatly into spare chairs. Everything contained and cluttered and happy. Weightless and full. They see and hear each other; you, only them. Only see if you keep watching.


Light pools in the stairwell below. You are above it. Outside of it. Can survey it. Not wan yellow but a viscous glow; evening syrup. Past Your Bedtime light. Private: for others and not you. Shadows lope across walls and hide in corners; crepuscular and unnoticed. Look at the exact step where the light stops, and the shade begins. You are in shadow but do not know it. only see that the light is there. Looking at it makes your heart ache with deep good. You can remind yourself just by peering over your knees. Go into it, and you might forget it exists.


Your sister was crouched here with you moments before. You and she shared this distant fear; united in your separation. Both of you wide-eyed and watchful. Bound tightly in rapt fascination. Raindrops full and fragile. She has crept back to the safety of sleep. Now, you alone are here to observe. A single, quivering droplet. Disturb it, and it will fall.


Their conversation sounds less like words if you listen without hearing. Just noise that gets louder and quieter. Muddy at first, but listen longer and you can make out patterns. Rises and falls, voices trickling one by one then rushing all at once like when water babbles. Crackle with silent attention. Everything breathes in and out like you do. This would be forever perfect if it were all just still.


The line of light three steps below separates here from there. Darkness grins around you, holding its breath. Nudges you winking. Makes you look around, sure you are safe in this suspended silence. Sinuous ripples unfurl in here. Exhale as they break upon you. Nothing is heavy or solid or still.


Below is a system of movement. It swells against its boundaries. Always stays within them. Words, clipped into set cadences, trace deep, familiar grooves. Smiles are polite and guarded. Movements ironed and folded. Titters tickle polished glass. Real laughter sounds ugly and just happens, borne unto guilty faces afraid of its force. Madness hovers over those who pretend it does not exist. Your neck prickles, mouth tastes like metal. They are as frightened as you are.


To close your eyes is to surrender. Pitch forward into the deep, gilded caves that bloom open. You have always been breathing in here. Feel for the bannisters. They are far off, bits of driftwood in a churning sea. It is so vast and empty inside. Horizons smile dark orange and sink below tide before you can see what lies beyond them. Float in this lukewarm twilight and watch. Less now that noises come to you than surround you, charged and invisible like jungle critters. Pressing in from all sides. Resist and be bigger. You can hold all this between two fingers like a walnut. Understand it as long as you can see it before you.


You never thought you’d see your reflection in here. Always stared through wide eyes at colours so full and shapely that they wash away before you know you want them to stay. Content to let tender hands stroke your forehead into dreamless sleep. To beam out at the world when your heart fills and spills over. To puzzle idly over the looks of sky-clear love that search your face. Waiting. Something here is imploring you. Benthic: too deep to see. A tremor in its voice you neither like nor know is yours. You’ve never had anything in here to reach out from.


This is not up to you. The hands that close around your shoulders are warm and human, your skin discovers. Open shining eyes onto outside. Your Dad has crept up here. Squatting two steps below so his eyes are level with yours. The darkness is more like half-light, it seems. He is only here for a moment. Is staring something unfathomable into the space where you ought to be. You are what he sees. Hey, you. Affection you know to be yours only. Too much room inside you to well up now. Plunges and swoops in your stomach instead.


Look down past him. Your mother still sat amongst them, already looking back. Meeting her gaze is realising it has always been there for you to find. They saw you here. Were watching you without you knowing. You are hiding in plain sight. Your hands small in his resist being pulled. Hey, hey. Assuring you. You want to stay like this. The two of you one apart. Cannot kneel here forever in unbreakable togetherness.


Hey, you. It is recognition. You are rising as he does to stand face to face. Are alone descending one stair at a time. Toe, ball, heel. Each stair creaks as you sink your weight on it. Pauses peek out between words below. Hesitation is recognition. You are being noticed. Hands let go of you. You have to hold the bannisters to balance yourself. You are looking down blank-faced as light spreads over your body. Be brave. Step into it.


The brightness makes you squint. Shut your eyes again. Deep empty inside feels shallow now. To keep your eyes closed is to remain limitless. Except you can just open them. What do you look like to others?




You. It is a statement. Speak out.




Open your eyes onto theirs. A sigh exhales somewhere until it closes its mouth forever. Feel the heavy weight of your own two feet. Break apart. You have lost your sight. You will be smiling from now on.

Intrusive thoughts

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