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PART OF THE FESTIVAL CITY ISSUE

‘A room can have disorder or stains in it. But this room does not, will not. All is in order, now. Let’s take one last look, one long breath in and out. A room in a story cannot be a haunted room, unless the writer puts the ghosts in there, or the suggestion of ghosts into it.’

In Mayhem and Death, the anticipated follow-up collection to 2015’s award winning On the Edges of Vision, Helen McClory returns, delving deeper into mythical yet recognisable stories woven from dark and light, human fear and fortune.

Extract from The Inciting Incident
By Helen McClory
Published by 404 Ink

And here is the room: black beams in the ceiling, floor highly polished, baseboards recently washed, the large and handsome bed made up with sheets stretched tightly over the mattress. The eiderdown quilt in white with a red satin stitching, the windows large and with interior shutters pressed against the wall allowing light from outside, allowing too sight of the damp garden, with its large spring-growth yew hedges and drizzle-stained oaks. Off to one side is the writing desk, dainty, it might be said, with a row of books with leather and striped spines held up by their own attainment. A chair is pushed in neatly against the desk, with a blue cushion tied to its seat by blue ribbon in a knot that nothing but a needle could unpick. There are no rugs on the floor, rush or rag or otherwise.

If we talk about the room long enough, then we do not have to talk about it; do not have to discuss what he did (to her – we presume to her), do not have to attempt to parse the motivation behind his actions, murky as that might be as is a silt-laden river driving through low country like the country outside. If we may just indicate the room, and its aspect, layout and furnishings, its position on the third floor of the house, then we do not have to talk about her, expose her bluntly to our scrutinising gaze. We don’t have to move on to record if she survived, or if not. And if she survived, we don’t have to lay judgement on the way she managed this, or anything of how the community magnified and judged her portrayal of her own aftermath, what verdicts they made on her movements before and after the incident – night, no moon – there may be no need for any of those details, though the hunger for them might be irredeemable, now. But here, here is the room.

Here, in this room, let’s be gentle, with our fists at our sides. In this room there is a wardrobe very large against the wall, seeming to conceal a secondary exit perhaps, in dark wood conveying weight enough to be a confessional or a covered sedan chair set at rest with the runners cut off, or any such place that hides a body in dire need to hold itself within an enclosed, darkened space that mutes and shields their activities, their emotions, their body and soul from being an open wound in the open wound of the world. It is perhaps too much to ask us to set aside our needs and visualise only a room, talk around the incident, make its shape obliquely, wring hands or let our eyes glaze over until there is a dog, too, belonging to the house. Something living, at last. Here we can picture as he appears snout-first around the door, a very large wolfhound with no collar and the usual sad expressive eyes like wet coals. Sad demonic eyes.

So now there is in this room, where something happened, at least a dog in it, climbing with his almost human-scaled limbs onto the bed, to inhabit it more fully the way a dog, and only sometimes a person, will do. Be thankful. A dog cannot hate us for our uninspected hungers. There’s an admirablity in the kind of urgency a dog has that is in almost all ways different from our own.

A room can have disorder or stains in it. But this room does not, will not. All is in order, now. Let’s take one last look, one long breath in and out. A room in a story cannot be a haunted room, unless the writer puts the ghosts in there, or the suggestion of ghosts into it. They say the stain reappears. He was haunted the rest of his days. They say there is the reek of smoke around midnight. Everything she ever wrote he burned. There is a white china vase of dried lavender on the desk against the wall. A ghost is the idea of a moral outcome for unjust acts or at least their possibility outwith the usual frames of justice. There might then be the suggestion of the concealing scent of lavender in the still air, or cedar from the wardrobe, but then, there might be nothing. The room has been recently aired, perhaps. The mistress’s imagined dog whines and falls asleep. What have we been given, and what are we desperate, now, to take away? There is a certain mood, but to define it is to put it out. No: a bird flies across the window; there are swifts’ nests tumorous in the eaves. There was a note on the desk, but it has been removed.


Mayhem and Death by Helen McClory is published by 404 Ink and priced £8.99 for the paperback and £4.99 for the e-book.

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