Ophelia indulged in anger and in grief. Those emotions were sublime and transcended beyond sorrow into morbid delight. It was important to her to enjoy distress. Plant your feet, her girlfriend said, but she never said what to plant them on. Ophelia was a small happenstance surrounded by other happenstances buffeted by chaos, rocked to sleep. Whenever people wanted to hurt her, what better way could she possibly experience the interpersonal exchange than by absorbing the pain they inflicted like an ocean absorbs a sinking ship? Solitude and solidarity bound her to her enemies. They all failed to matter, together.
She went looking for her place in the world when she began to realize what she was, and when she found no place, she set about trying to make one. It never occurred to her in the beginning that the torture was borne out of this very idea of a place. She pictured herself squirming out of a cocoon into some entirely imagined realm. It was not enough just to exist, back then. She needed an excuse.
Ophelia’s brother, who told his friends he was an only child, told Ophelia she should have stayed in the closet until their mother died. Ophelia’s girlfriend called it ‘cutting the apron strings with a chainsaw’. Ophelia envisioned those strings, a tight harness trailing a snipped line, and the ship of her mother sailing away with her childhood and much of the family on board.
Free to swim. But first she had to learn to float without assistance or a barrier between herself and the risk of the deep, and make peace with her skin as her only armour.
A man yanked Ophelia’s head back by her hair and yelled that if he fucked her it would fix her perversion. When she turned to look at him she could see strands of her hair caught under his nails. At his sides were his people, cardboard panels painted with crosses, the symbol her mother wore around her neck to mean Love. Ophelia’s girlfriend had just dumped her.
She’d pictured her very first Mardi Gras to be a giant impenetrable glittering shark winding unstoppably through the streets on a sea of neon. No-one warned her about the harpoons positioned on either side of the shark, or how close they could get if you happened to be positioned on a fin or a tail.
The ecstasy of the march, the cacophonous noise and electric angry charge all came together like hot air in a balloon and she was in the basket, looking down at him.
“Set me on fire if you want to,” she said to him. “I can roast marshmallows on my tits.”
She wondered if that man felt anything like what she felt. Her anger and her joy ate each other in layers. Her scalp stung. She imagined her long hairs burrowing into this stranger’s flesh like larvae, and she marched, not with pride but with relief. We are all so small, and made of such small things.
This man’s influence was limited to how far his voice carried, and there were so many voices. His fingers were grabby but his reach was short. He could never reach Ophelia like She had, and he could never change her.
And She would not be the last person to change Ophelia.
“You and I live on a precipice,” Ophelia’s first love, her worst love, was fond of saying. “Take a step too far and we fall.”
For a woman so keen on planting herself like a rosebush, she was always shy of blooming. Her terror was contagious and Ophelia lived in fear until the woman left her for someone else. Turning in the air, Ophelia saw behind her all the precipices she had fallen from. The kaleidoscope spiralled out behind her, ledges of innumerable sizes and shapes. She landed near another precipice, and there she met Lily surrounded by cliffs. The falling scared her less. The trick was in knowing she lived forever at the bottom of one abyss and atop another, and only the mountains themselves ever changed.
At their wedding, Lily said in her vows that she loved Ophelia because Ophelia was fearless.
“I’m not fearless,” Ophelia corrected her that night.
“I meant you’re brave. You know the wolves are there, but you still open the door.”
The finiteness of her happiness kept Ophelia clinging to it. Terrible things filled a world over which she had no control. She lashed her happiness to her misery, because she would rather have them measured together than apart. She left dishes of raw meat for the wolves, and her door wide open.
Cat Cotsell is a current Honours student at UC. Their short fiction has previously appeared in First, FIVE:2:ONE and Ricky’s Back Yard. They also illustrate under the pseudonym Aibne Hesarose.