I live in the land of the dead and the land of the living. For six months, my skin grows pale and thin, like the underbelly of a fish. My eyes must become accustomed again to darkness, my nostrils to the acrid scent of decay. And then I am flung into light once more, blinking at the harshness of the sun, marveling at how green, how alive the world above is. For six months I will live among the living again.
Before I can get used to the feeling of sun on my skin and relish the sensory spectacle that is life, I am thrown back into darkness and decay. The vicious cycle continues.
My mother’s grief at my leaving is such that she disrupts the harvest, allows the fields to run to rack and ruin. For six months all life comes to a halt on Earth and all that is green quickly turns brown and withers. The coldness of the ensuing snow mirrors the ice in our hearts, this mother and daughter who are cruelly separated.
All because of his lust, his paltry desire. I do not write his name because the dead need no names.
I write my story down because in the underworld there is no one with whom I can commiserate. The dead do not understand my grief, for I am not one of them – my pulse still beats a steady tattoo at my wrist, and there is breath still in these lungs. I can see their confusion at my state. I am not one of them, and yet I exist here, among them. Flaunting my living at them, they who are beginning to forget what the overworld was like. I can see the fear in their eyes mingled with envy.
I know that I represent everything they have lost. But I have known loss, too. My heart does not break less because it is still beating.
Whatever hatred they might feel towards me, their erstwhile queen, is blunted by fear of their king. My husband.
I can always feel his eyes on me. Watching. Waiting. Eyes that glow red like embers. I do not know what is worse, feeling his coarse hands on me, or those eyes. I shudder before his desire. It disgusts and terrifies me. I know that what he desires most is not my body but my life.
Tomorrow my six months sentence in the underworld is done and I can go up to the overworld again. I can see my mother once more.
I cannot sleep for the excitement. Six months is a long time when you are down here, and yet it seems to pass in a flash when I am with my mother again.
Six hours left till dawn, till I am able to walk up the winding stair and exit the underworld. I sigh and turn over on my side, unable to sleep. My husband has not come to my bed tonight, which is odd. He always visits me the night before I leave. I cannot say I am disappointed.
Just as I am dropping into sleep, I hear a footfall. My breath catches in my throat. I stay perfectly still, my eyes closed. Feigning sleep. A hand on my arm, stroking my skin. I will myself not to move, but I tense anyways, feeling his touch. He slips in beside me, pulling the sheet away from my body.
I open my eyes and see him hanging over me. He stills.
“I wish things were different between us,” he says. His voice is almost tinged with regret.
At dawn I am climbing up the endlessly winding stair. My husband stands at the bottom, watching my progress.
Just as I reach the top and am pushing open the door, something makes me look back. A ray of light illuminates the stair and falls upon my husband’s face. I see the light catch something on his face and I realize he is crying.
But then someone is pulling open the door, pulling me outside into the light, and suddenly I am in my mother’s arms again.
“My darling, my daughter! Oh, but I have missed you…”
I hug my mother back, but inwardly I am still down there, in the underworld. Watching the tears stream down his face.