I have an advent treat for you today – an extract from the very wonderful Twice The Speed Of Dark. I met the author, Lulu Allison, when we were both crowdfunding our books through Unbound Publishing and realised we both lived in Brighton. We met for a coffee and she has been a great support ever since. Here we both are, after many months of campaigning, with real books in our hands! I picked up a copy of Twice The Speed Of Dark at the book launch last week and was instantly hooked. The writing is beautiful, the subject moving and life-affirming. Lulu is currently on a blog tour featuring interviews, reviews and extracts. Buy this book!
Twice The Speed Of Dark by Lulu Allison
Caitlin, killed by violent boyfriend Ryan, tells her story from the perplexing realms of death. Ten years on, her mother Anna is still burdened by suppressed grief. Dismayed by the indifference in the news to people who die in distant war and terror, Anna writes portraits of the victims, trying to understand the real impact of their deaths. It is only through these acts of love for strangers that she can allow herself an emotional connection to the world. Anna’s uneasy equilibrium is disrupted when Ryan is released from prison. As her anger rises will Anna act on her desire for revenge, or will she find freedom at last from the terrible weight of grief? And will Caitlin reclaim herself from the brutality that killed her?
This is an excerpt from chapter four. Caitlin, trying to remember and rebuild her own story is thinking about her mother.
Sometimes I have felt Mum’s grief pulling me, pulling me into her. I am on the end of a rope; she is the post to which I am tied. She is so firmly set, so deeply anchored in that place that however far I am, I start to circle, circle, circle, at first with a carelessness that seems to have no direction or destination, but as the circle winds in, as the rope shortens, I speed up, I feel the pull, I feel the reducing arc of my movement. I feel the dizzying rush as I am pulled and pulled until I move so fast and so tightly pulled that even without weight or body I am eviscerated by it. I become lost in a tunnel, a funnel, a wind-sucked shrinking spin that ends suddenly at my mother’s feet. I look up and see that she is as still as rock. Bound tight from head to foot by a million miles of grief.
Mum – I feel it spooling out from her even here – is reshaped by sorrow. When I died it broke her heart. Her heart has stayed broken; that break has handicapped the rest of her. It is terrible to see that pain-filled vastness inside her. She has pulled tight around herself to keep it all hidden, the sorrow that marbles her bones, coats her organs, decides her fate. She is diseased with sorrow. Yet I see her smile, talk, laugh. I have seen her with the usual group of old friends, laughing and having fun. It felt as comforting to me as if I were a child going to sleep in her lap. Those adult faces that accompanied my childhood, contributed guidance and steps and gifts to my growing up. And my darling mum, loved by them and laughing happily in their company. But I could still see her disease. It glittered through her skin like the darkness waiting. Sophie knows her so well; I think she sees it too. She is such a gentle worrier, such a kind and loving friend, she would know what is plain to see. I wish I knew what to do, to pull that blackness out. The blackness is for me. Not for Mum.
There. I catch, suddenly, a thread. A time when I was younger, sullen in that ordinary way of a teenager, but not opposed to walking in the woods with Mum. As we walked through the part of the woods where the bluebells were thickest, Mum suddenly turned off the path and walked into the middle of them.
‘I can’t see anything.’
‘No, I mean just the colour, look at it! It’s wonderful.’ She stood with her arms vaguely lifted outwards to encompass the yearly manifestation of colour that billowed across the woodland floor, buzzing in an ecstatic hover between purple and blue. Her face held a blissful half-smile of idiot pleasure, and for once I could see what she meant. The colour was wonderful. For the rest of the walk and when we got home, eating our pizzas and cheesecake that Dad went out to buy specially, Mum was in a happy, almost elated mood. It was easy to absorb her joyfulness, and soon Dad and I were as elevated as she. It was a very happy evening. Today’s happy evening was brought to you by the colour purple.
She would do that quite often. She would stop to absorb the sight of something that she suddenly found irresistible. She would always offer up what she was seeing for us to share, but I knew that in those moments she was expressing part of herself that didn’t need company. As an art history lecturer, she spent her life looking at paintings, artworks, filling her eyes with arrangements that had been created, if not inevitably to please the eye, to fill it. To be made sense-full by the cast of a human eye. She was serious about her work, absorbed, critical, excited often, irritated or angry at least as often. But it was only with scenes that happened by accident, or without the human view in mind, that she seemed to have this welling-up of wonder. She rarely articulated any thoughts about what she was looking at, certainly never subjected it to the dismantling analysis that in her work life she applied like a knife to various artworks, both to revere and revile. But she did offer the chance to share in her looking. Look, Caitlin, how beautiful it is! It might be a distant view, the accidental coincidence of building materials in an old part of a town, a decaying leaf. It might be something I couldn’t spot at all.
It tears at me. To see my mum like this, to know how unhappy she still is. As weak as he is, as ineffectual in life as he is, he remade my mum. He tore her inside out and remade her. She is remade by the consequences of his acts. She is battered by my death. My death, my death, my death. Not even my absence, but my death. My death has killed something in her. As death has caused me to cede all of myself to hurtling and rushing, it has caused her to be bound in rigid stillness, held immobile under weighted coils of grief.