A Terrible Fluidity

AUTHOR: The Grynne (lj: the_grynne)

E-MAIL: the.grynne@gmail.com

RECIPIENT: Betty (lj: brown_betty)

FEATURED CHARACTER: Mina Murray (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)

SUMMARY: "…she was a sustaining symbol – and the wild waters are upon us now." -- Henry James

Illustration provided by Daemontreu [ http://daemontreu.deviantart.com/ ]

It cannot be that you are the rain outside, the inanimate London fog. Even disoriented, you do know that. At the same time you remember vividly, like diagrams inked onto your skin and organs, the unambiguous sensation of falling. Everything that constitutes you is surrendered into those disembodied droplets; and into the moments when consciousness, brother to gravity, penetrates the clouds.

It is a fevered fantasy of the mind: to be freed of form, without distress or desire. The physical melted away and what is left, on the brink of immortality.

A delusion, surely? And delusions will enslave you if you give them that power.

Nor is it to be believed that you are still within a dream, even if you do feel like less than your full, vital self. There is nothing strange or mysterious in lying here, blinking at the dark ceiling. Yes, the bottled scent on the dresser is yours, unmistakeably lavender. Underlying it is a hint of powder, and tobacco from your cigarette case. The Schopenhauer you were reading the night before is on the little lacquered table by your chair, atop a disorderly stack. It is safe to relax. Sounds, quiet and seeping, start to enter into your realm of perception from beyond the curtained window. You are not alone in wakefulness. If this is all a veil, it is an excellent imitation of the mundane.

You wonder about the part of you that is locked in suspicion. Are you being too hard on yourself? Or is it madness, pure and simple? Does not the fact that you are capable of asking that already disprove the notion?

As one transformed, a migrant displaced from her invisible country, perhaps this moment-by-moment uncertainty is only to be expected. And what does it matter that you are seeing the tremulous air and the empty shadows - resonating like a bell in your mind - with new and sharper eyes.


Something has changed.

In a rush of sadness and relief you think, today, today I will leave my husband. Today will be the beginning of something, the gust on the spark of significance. You start to smile but then stop, unsure of where that will lead. The idea that seemed so dreadful and unimaginable before is suddenly so obvious, no longer a hypothetical. Should you doubt this? Or is it not the only solid, indivisible object in your mind. You have expressed the inexpressible. Everything else should now fall into place: matter and its opposite, substance and apparition.

It doesn't happen that way of course.

Jonathan leaves a letter, slipped beneath your bedroom door. It asks in his solicitous, neat handwriting if you would join him for lunch at a café known to you both, near his office.

You cry out, a sound that might just as easily be a laugh or a sob, and you think that he cannot know you at all if he is afraid of you making a scene.


The scarlet strip of velvet at your throat whips like a flustered starling in a wind that otherwise can scarcely be felt. A mark of shame or a vanity: you have been asking yourself which it is, but cannot decide without a sense of irony affecting the seriousness of your answer.

Despite your dwindling income and the rumours that follow you to every parlour and interview, you are reluctant to leave the suffocating cage that is London. The very thought of journeying into the hinterlands gives you pause, filling you with an irrational dread. You have by this time a very developed sense of your own monstrosity; and you are less afraid of what you might encounter in the wild, untouched places, than of what you might become there.


The instructions lead you to the British Museum. It is like entering another world, or the basement where a forgetful creator keeps blueprints of his work - the experiments, freak accidents and mistakes. In the sudden cold beneath its porticos you suppress a shiver.

You hurry through the room with the great stone sarcophagus, but you are drawn to the exhibits in their glass coffins. There is a silk robe emblazoned with gold dragons and twin full moons above the waist, casting a silver glow over the mummified space around them. Over there, a standing forest of idols with carved animal features and tiny, childlike limbs, and none to worship them save for one another.

And in a corner display: a wooden mask with a leonine mane of straw-coloured hair, glittering with mica and flakes of shell and mirrors, the large protruding eyes like billiard balls. Blood-red lips are stretched over the terrible white fangs, bared in an eager grin. You reach out a hand, only to pull back before it can leave a mark on the polished glass.

BARONG, the plaque reads, and the name vibrates underneath your breath: A benevolent demon.

Enemy of Rangda, the witch.

"Miss Murray. I'm pleased to see you."

The debonair voice belongs to a corpulent man who has come to stand next to you. Taking mental note of the dramatically elegant clothes and the small, wet mouth, you immediately dislike him. "Mr. Campion Bond, I presume."


"One should never be surprised at whatever strange and unsightly things one should chance to come across beyond the shores of fair Britannia. Or, for that matter, within it. We live in a prosperous time of science and discovery, Miss Murray, but also one of anxiety. The popular fear of what is new and unknown."

Bond brings out from his desk a box of matches and lights first your cigarette and then his own cigar. You feel almost no resentment at the sly, humouring look he gives you; he has the right, you tell yourself. One cannot not behave differently and expect to be treated just the same.

"Shall we get down to the business at hand, Mr. Bond?" you say. You resist brushing your hand along your scarf as when you are nervous. Bond has not commented on it, but far from being reassured you sense that he is merely saving the remark for a more opportune time. "You wish to employ my services. As a secretary?"

"We've heard some idle gossip of, shall we say, skills... Certain affinities being passed to you from the Count after that incident in Transylvania."

"There is no truth to them," you reply quickly.

"Of course not," Bond says with deliberate, sympathetic dismay. "Gross fabrications, all of it, I'm sure. But nevertheless, this country is very much in need of sensible, capable people. You do understand me, Miss Murray? I'm speaking about people of uncommon experience."

How does he do it? Reduce it all down to one word? With effort, you take a deep breath to calm the quickening rage. You want the words that next come out of your mouth to be natural. You want to sound as if you have been speaking the language continuously all your life, when the truth is that nothing after the experience has meant the same as what it did before.

Remembering the cigarette, you draw on it, half wishing yourself to be somewhere else - the other half yearning for the quickness of claws.