Saturday, 16 April 2016

a short story on femininity and freedom

Isabella blew out the gas-lamp by her side, and undivided darkness prevailed. The only fracture in the night sky was the ethereal gleam of white light emancipated from the moon.

The indifferent silence perplexed her, and she began to reflect upon how all life was indeed far removed. She could hear only the bleating of elk in the distance and in the thinned, elastic air she dismissed her light-headedness. Inhaling deeply, she longed to feel the optimistic rush of oxygen to her brain, mistaking the onset of faintness for strength, and thus lulling her mind into a false sense of vitality.

Around 4,500 feet from the foot of Long’s Peak, part of the Rocky Mountain range discovered in 1820, 
53 years ago, her memories and her dreams seemed apparent to another existence. Two evenings ago alongside her travelling companions, Jim Nugent and Mrs Chalmers, she had reached the base at the foot of the mountain. Upon their arrival, with the sun dutifully descending down over the glorious, desolate mountain range, she had excused herself in order to admire the native Indian settlements visible upon the horizon. She had, however, split from her acquaintances instead, and began to ascend the mountain alone as darkness fell. Her reasoning for doing so was an irrational streak to escape her peers - feeling that they were confining her successes, and that in order to truly succeed, she must be alone. Her mission was therefore a mission of self-discovery, and a subconscious effort to prove herself capable of the highest personal achievement: refusing to allow others to influence her successes.

After escaping from her companions and fleeing up the treacherous mountain path, she was forced to stop a few hundred feet up as night had fallen and she could no longer configure a safe path. The next day, she climbed further, and from the vantage point at which she paused to rest upon, she watched Jim Nugent and Mrs Chalmers frantically trawl the landscape below in search for her. As they trawled the area in close proximity to the base, their figures on horseback became toy-like. They would assume her dead, her mountaineer skills concluded feminine - inept. A search party would be sent out on request of her family, but she estimated she still had a few days yet.

But now, once again sitting alone in the darkness, though without the adrenaline of spontaneous escape, the dense silence created no distractions from her thoughts. The night seemed opaque to her. Exhausted, she lay out on the rock, still warm from the day’s heat. Her body felt as though it were detached from her mind. The cold shawl of the wind pummelling her body and the skin of her lips, fractured from the heat, did not feel genuine in existence.

Struggling against these thoughts of existence, past reality appeared obscure and fantasised. She questioned whether the reality she was experiencing was all but a trick of the mind. Her watch told her of the time, but she did not see for she became lost in the darkness of late evening.

Her mind, a morass of questions; her body, feeble and weak, collapsed into a state of heavy sleep. She slept deeply, and her body drifted into a state of unfrequented unconsciousness. She dreamt of her youth, and the stigma of these images haunted her. She awoke startled; though determined and refreshed, despite the palpitant heat of the morning.

She grasped with her surroundings. The distant callings of birds rang with splintered hope and the bleak shrubbery sat still.

Her future appeared to loom upon the horizon, stained with the tumbling colours of dawn and antipathy of her past. Her mouth was arid with dehydration but her mind was drenched in astringent memories, heavy with questions and the embittered taste of harrowing mistakes. In empty daylight, the once glorious mountain range that had seemed to reassure her with its heights and intangible power, became ghastly: an imposing, desolate landscape, dry of reassurance.

Again, delirious thoughts forced their way back.

The wild, intangible colours of the morning sky seemed to prove to her that her life was simply an extension of a dream, that she was stuck inside a painting of her own mind.

The skies looked like a paisley patterned wallpaper: a wonderful mixed cauldron of purple hues and emerging blues, passionate pinks and flaming oranges: electric, wild clashing colours that chased after each other in kaleidoscopic curls. It was almost illusionary, appearing in a different combination of colours and patterns at every tilt of her head. In the first few minutes of sunrise as the moon had secreted itself into the gashed pores of the universe, the skies were murky underfoot seaweed. As the sun rose, a burning sphere of orange white light, the skies were a hundred chameleons crawling over these colourful wallpapered walls of the atmosphere. In her mind it was her thoughts: chaotic, tumbling with unrestricted emotion and laughter and light: physical freedom and haunting wilderness, colliding together at dawn and bursting through dotted pin-pricks when absolute darkness prevailed at dusk, for that was when she was left alone to be with her thoughts.

She laughed instinctively, and the echoes of the unknown joke ricocheted down the face of the mountain, breaking the stone-silence. Her mind seemed to be as free as the unruly positioned masses of rock stretching out around her, and as wild as the shrubbery lining her way.

Dazed and drawn back sharply into reality, her laughter cut itself short. She was here, alive: a young woman on her way to the summit of her own mind. Her mother had taught her well in her youth: knowledge of the universe; maths and physics, subjects deemed abhorrent taught to a girl; and knowledge of literature and geography, subjects deemed more suitable. She had always been equal to her male counter-parts in child-hood, despite the ill-health that had plagued her. In her view, she thoroughly believed that varying biological attributes should define you no more than the colour of your eyes or the length of your nose. In her journey, that happened to occur as both a physical and mental challenge to herself, she felt she should be considered no less equally than Stephan Harriman Long, the male explorer who had once discovered this very rock. Everything was relative, she thought again, and how she took solace in the illusion that her existence may as well be fabricated!

But such lucid thinking had impoverished her mind. She needed water to quench her thirst and oxygen to replenish her brain. Delirious, she had drank the remains of her water supplies in the heat of the day before, and now without a stream in sight, she was feeling the onset of severe dehydration. Her skin was rough, her throat rattled dry and her eyes looked on dulled, exhausted after having glittered with the prospects of the souls offerings.

Her thoughts had reached their ultimate peak, and inevitably now suffered the soaring downfall, cursing down from esteemed heights along a sharp gradient of self-ridicule. She deemed her own earlier notions on existence as abhorrently childish, though this confusion only heightened her severe altitude sickness.

It was fear of the unknown that had brought her to concur a false reality made of her own illusions of existence. Was that all fear was, a mechanism of escaping death? Had she felt such intimidation by the universe that her existence had seemed false?

She yearned for proof. Proof that she did exist, that physical existence was all, and that there was indeed a society out there beyond this mission of self-discovery.

Desperate, she pleaded with the rocks to spare her the energy in regaining motivation for life. For her lips to be softened with the dewiness of filtered water, her throat to smooth like a snake shredding its skin, her mind to replenish itself, for then perhaps her derisory views on existence would cease. What it would be to be awake, truly, after this lull in existence!

The sun had risen now, and she could feel convention diffusing out of her body in the bitter sweat that glistened on her face. In the new light, she could see plants hanging precariously from the rock face above her, anchored into cracks that spread out like individual pathways into the rock-face.

“Plants!” She exclaimed, and then paused, thinking. “Plants!” She exclaimed again, though with more assurance in her tone. For in her first spoken words since her departure from civilisation, she had reached an epiphany: plants relied on water, and if not sudden relief from this altitude, she needed water to mitigate her dehydration.

Tormented but eager, she used her nails to claw at the cracks in the rock nearest to her. Her nails tore and broke, unfamiliar to such drudgery. But it was no use, for the water did not appear. Her mouth was dry, and her thoughts were draining of enthusiasm. She had reached a point where social etiquette was abolished and fear of others other than herself was ridiculed more than her own thoughts. Her mission in escaping her companions was to prove to the doctors, the nurses and the specialists involved in her childhood that challenges, even as a woman, do not make you incapable. Her ill health in her youth was not a barrier, but an obstacle to overcome, one that she was only now truly defeating in her travels. If she could be at one with herself by proving all others wrong and herself right, then she could find ease of mind. But these thoughts were ignored as she realised that despite her reverence for life, in these moments, existence only mattered because she had found water and it would only continue to matter if she could consume it.

Her mouth filled with bile that tasted like the dirt of society she had come to acknowledge, and she spat it out with distaste.

For she was both the water in the rocks and the woman clawing the rocks, in search of herself, the water. The rock: societies hard-faced orders of conformity, needed to be cracked and broken apart, and only then would the water appear: a mirror of her true self. She came to realise that she was not lost to the wilderness of her surroundings, but to herself. In realising this, her mind became unsaturated, and purity prevailed.

She heaved with the weight of realisation upon her chest, and fainted, on an uneven patch of rock, around 4,548 feet above sea level, at 6:32AM, at one with herself, finally.


This short story was submitted as part of my English Literature and Language coursework in the summer of 2015. The title was 'Women and Fiction', and needed to be influenced by at least two other texts. The primary textual sources that inspired this short story were The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, A Lady’s Life in The Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

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