There are days when the shadows at water’s edge corral nothing but a chiaroscuro stippling of the pond’s murky surface; on other days, they gather curious creatures, some predatory. Today, the shadows cache a twelve-year-old girl, crouched beneath a willow behind the cabin this season’s uncle rents for visits with her mother. Moving amidst the willow’s veils, a rake of autumn light illuminates a flutter of Mourning Cloaks as it seeks her out. Watching its advance, the girl finally stands, shaking off the shade as she steps into the bright.
No matter the season, there is always winter in her eyes; today, they glint like virgin snow. The ragged curl of her lip twitches, her nose filling with the heady mix of honeysuckle and clematis as her pale gaze is drawn to a squadron of dragonflies skimming the pond. She wonders if they see all the rusty crayfish settled in the silt below, like copper pennies emptied of their wishes.
When a coarse sound floats adrift of the breeze, she pricks up an ear: from the meadow, the sottish warbling of her mother and her courtier cuts through the wind-tipped grass. With an abalone sky teasing a burst of twilight rain, she sniffs at the air, squinting against the sun. Turning, she drops to her knees and lifts a pewter mallet over her head — a gift from an uncle of summers past, meant to preoccupy her as he went about collecting every pearl her mother cast drunkenly before him.
Bringing her cudgel down on a great bronze toad basking in the muck, she watches it twitch and wonders whether it’s possible to collect pain. Whether it can be gathered up in jars like the sleek black beetles and smooth river stones she keeps on the shelf above her bed with all the other relics she’s arranged as sentinels to guard what she keeps behind: her coded diaries and the encyclopedias of scribbled glyphs and runes that comprise the maps of her consciousness — a hidden library chronicling her every foray into a world she has always found too harsh, too frore, to acclimate.
Watching the toad linger as their crude voices draw near, she wonders if pain, left to fossilize into amber, becomes a prism — a distorted lens through which suffering’s ultraviolet light might chart for her a way out of this place, its jagged refractions illuminating some primal warren connecting this world to another less malign, less precise, in its savagery.
Cor de Wulf divides their life between the Pacific Northwest, Normandy, and the Zuud-Limburg region of the Netherlands — that idiosyncratic Dutch province De Wulf’s home port for decades.