Saturday, October 12, 2013

EXTRACT from THE CELL (fiction)

OVERHEARD: an anthology of short stories edited by Jonathan Taylor

Last November, I had a short story called THE CELL published in OVERHEARD, an anthology of fiction intended to be read aloud. The anthology is edited by Jonathan Taylor and was published by Salt. It is available on Amazon UK and direct from Salt Publishing, and can also be ordered from bookshops.

It's a brilliant collection of stories, and I can thoroughly recommend it to everyone who likes short fiction. Other contributors include: Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Louis De Bernières, Adele Parks, Kate Pullinger, Adam Roberts, Michelene Wandor, Vanessa Gebbie, Judith Allnatt, Jo Baker, David Belbin, Panos Karnezis, Gemma Seltzer, Ailsa Cox and Will Buckingham.

I enjoyed writing this short story so much - which is about the interior life of a female Egyptian hermit of the third century - that I'm considering expanding it into a novel. Considering. These things are never certain ...

Here's a short extract from THE CELL, where my female hermit, after 17 years living alone in the desert, dwells on the rare visits from her spiritual father, Macarius, who is the hermits' new Abba after the old one died.

I am never sure if these visits help or hinder my progress. I am glad of them, for sure; my soul leaps for joy at the sound of a human voice, and my foolish vanity enjoys Abba Macarius’ flattering attentions, however fleeting. But afterwards, in the long stillnesses of the night, I recall each word spoken and regret them all. My pride asserts itself after these visits. It presses vicious thorns deep into my flesh, making me imagine, dream, recast each meeting until it shows me to best advantage, the least worldly of our order, the most pious, the Abba’s favourite. Mostly though, peace falls from my mind and I begin to remember how it feels to be alive in the world. My desire increases and pains me. The struggle to cage it becomes harder, almost impossible to bear. Some days the lure of the shimmering, heat-haze horizon burns my eyes like the desert burns my feet through my sandals. It can take weeks for equilibrium to return, for will to exert itself over my dizzying desire. Yet even will can corrupt the unwary. For it is the individual will, not the will of God, to which the body bows.

By speaking I weaken myself. Silence is the narrow way.

The days stretch out in this manner, my conscience knocked this way and that. Following a visit, I keep the cell door closed during the cooler hours when walking outside would be possible, afraid of my own weakness. Gradually, the stirred air of my cell settles. The humble stone walls and floor are my own again. Soon I find myself able to pray without distraction, and begin to follow the prayer cycles and meditations Abba Macarius has recommended for such trials. I sit cross-legged for days on end, examining one solitary word of the Lord’s teaching until it becomes as vast and complex in my understanding as creation itself. At such miraculous times, I feel His presence so near to me, it seems incredible that almost three hundred years have passed since He gave His life for mankind.

Read more of this story in OVERHEARD.

1 comment:

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Jane

You should have been a nun! We are already on our luggage weight limit but will add this intriguing book to our Christmas list when we return.

Warm wishes from Rusty et Simon