A Terrible Fluidity
AUTHOR: The Grynne (lj: the_grynne)
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
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
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
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
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
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 cafÃ© 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
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
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
"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
"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.