Published in Overland Issue Fiction in Lockdown · Uncategorized Gilded Edges Khalilah Okeke Through the wormhole, I am transported to the chambers of the heart to the shadowy doors with impenetrable locks. In these corridors, I seek the rotting seeds. I wake up alone in my bed and feel the cold spot beside me. My hand fumbles for the eyeglasses on the bedside table. Memories are a labyrinth cast in shadows. I recognise the blue velvet chair facing my writing desk, the angel candle spreading her wings, the ceramic ballerina stretching her long pink legs. Outside the fogged-up windows birds speed by and mountains hide the sun. A slip of moon lingers in the morning. My memories are little pricks – nothing too substantial. Legs are numb beneath the blankets. A voice invades the space, a resonance that rings familiar. ‘Lisa,’ it calls from down below. It’s Carla. I reach for the white robe crumpled on the floor beside the bed. On my way through the door, I secure the sashes. At the head of the winding staircase, I rub my eyes into alertness. ‘Just a minute!’ I strain, my voice echoing. There is artwork on the stairwell walls. Those are mine, I think? A fair attempt. ‘Are you there?’ Carla’s voice bells. With stiff ankles, I struggle down the sharp steps. Carla is waiting on the first floor. I spot her leggy fingers bent around the landing post of the balustrade. They are stained red from dyeing fabric – smooth wood in her bright red hand. ‘Lisa, your door was open.’ An apology scrunches her face. I greet her in the Italian way. Her cheeks brushstrokes across my skin, hair is dark and reaching – like a blue-black cloud. Embarrassed by my appearance, I strive to smooth the wrinkles from my dressing gown. ‘You’re losing weight,’ I say. ‘Perhaps you are gaining it,’ she counters. ‘When was the last time you left the house?’ ‘Are you my mother now?’ We may snap like sisters but there is love between us. In this house the air stifles and the tiles are cold on the soles of my feet. I move past the staring photos and unlock the silver cabinet, pull out a drawer, set it on the workbench. I hold the beaded necklace up to the light. ‘It’s beautiful,’ she says. In my studio I face Carla towards the freestanding mirror and drape shimmering moonstones around the stretch of her neck, atop that pulsing blue vein. They rest on her chest like snowflakes on mountains. ‘If the stones are cool on the skin it is likely they are real,’ I say. I lift a strand to my cheek and tremble, her face blooms true, she is my friend. On the far side of the room, crystals spark from my workbench. I am drawn to their streaming lights. I walk over and pick up a Herkimer diamond and glance inside where copper inclusions reside, like golden strands of DNA. In the crystalline structure of an amethyst, I seek the sacred glyphs. I hold it to my forehead and absorb the vibration, it is my meditation. To my right, there is a heavy geode illuminating rainbows. Carla’s abyssal eyes are gazing through the mirror. She turns her pretty face, tall windows behind, her long, tie-dyed skirt swishing towards me – it is her own creation. Our noses bump as we peer into the caverns of the geode, we are searching. ‘It’s the titanium coating that causes the rainbows,’ I say. ‘Beings dwell within and carry sacred templates of information, gifts from the higher dimensions.’ ‘Is that what you believe?’ Carla asks. “Maybe it’s a real place,” I say. ‘I’d like to think so,’ she says. On the floor a scatter of glass catches Carla’s attention. ‘What happened here?’ She picks up the broken picture frame and smooths shards from my husband’s face. ‘Jacob,’ I say, leaning heavily on the workbench, my heart dipping into some unwanted place. He must have knocked it from the wall this morning. ‘This morning?’ Carla asks. ‘And he didn’t think to clean it up? You could have cut yourself.’ I move away from Carla, irritated with her poking. Cutting myself is the least of my worries. I could use a change. The worst part of the day is that it’s always the same – a dotted line leading to nowhere. Today is the last thing I remember and all the days before are upside down, like found bones in the ancient desert – fragments in the storyline. I am suffering now, wondering why Jacob isn’t by my side. The objects in this house dare me to remember, symbols I’m unable to decipher, they stalk me with their haunting questions. Pressure weighs down the atmosphere. ‘Are you alright?’ Carla asks. I feel myself fading out, a malfunction in the system. Sadness tugs at Carla’s face. ‘Well, never mind,’ she says. The following day, before the twilight hours of morning, I arrive at Carla’s house in that state between sleep and wake and wait at the bright white gate, it slides open. Pale Carla is waiting on the other side. She is so thin, a paper doll held up in the moonlight. Into the house I follow her. In and out of many rooms we move, doors leading to more doors, an unending exploration. Through the bending hallways she wisps around corners, I lag behind. Carla leaves flaring fingerprints upon the walls, I pursue its blood-red trail. In her kitchen, angels are carved into the ceiling, they are emerging from clouds. We eat at the marble table beneath their mighty wings. On her counter there are mason jars filled with herbs, a kitchen apothecary. She serves a dose of medicinal tea. I finish my bitter drink and set my cup next to hers, which is still brimming with rust-brown liquid. In a moment’s time, the room begins to waver, I see the shiny cabinets and open ways of windows. There are no screens – everything is flying in. Carla reaches across the table and grabs my wrists. Facial features blur before she flashes out. A holographic glitch – there is nothing but a spangle of dust where her body used to be. She is empty space before me but the pressure on my wrists continues. My hands grow numb. ‘Let go! You’re hurting me!’ I look down at my hands. Carla’s fingertips remain, crimson crests pricking into my skin. I shake them off in disbelief. Carla pulses in again – an ethereal version. ‘Please,’ she says. ‘Don’t be afraid, I’m here to help you.’ I stand up to leave with a pounding head. I feel medicated. Distrust overtakes me, anger builds. ‘What the hell did you put in that tea!’ I demand. With free hands I try to steady myself, fearful of another blackout. Instead of leaving I sludge onto the counter; the solid room begins to swirl. I am no longer in the kitchen. My eyes feel smashed, my body has been dragged here. There is no mattress, only hard wooden boards against my back. I peek through the heaviness of my face. The walls are painted black. This room is not my own. There are ashes on the windowsill, how long I have been sleeping I cannot say. The door creaks open. It is Carla, a soft light pouring in from behind her. ‘Get up,’ she says. Too tired to fight, we travel into the hall. Lanterns light the passageways I trail the sweeping train of her dress into the basement. In the meeting place, the Prophet is already speaking. His voice commanding the room, a magnetic force pulls – words hook in, I am attracted. Something in the way he stands through his feet, the specks of sun in his earth-brown eyes, his voice swaying like a pendulum. Leaving the aid of Carla’s arm, I join the other women sitting on the floor. They sway cross-legged on the mandala rug, entranced, their eyes singing. The Prophet’s mouth is dancing. ‘Can you feel it?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ the women sigh, with arms snaking skyward. ‘You are stardust! It is what your bones are made of.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ they agree. On the stage behind the pedestal, candle flames rise, a pitter-patter of lights playing on the ceiling – bay leaves smoulder in abalone shells. The Prophet is watching me. ‘Are you asleep?’ he asks. I raise my hand to answer. Ready to remember, I follow Carla down a muddy path, where overarching palms crowd over and bamboo stalks attempt to box us in. On the edge of Carla’s property, secluded in the forest, we find the wooden cabin. We tiptoe the wide, shallow steps. Wind rocks a chair, terracotta pots filled with sage and rosemary drowse the air. White pillars hold up a plastic awning draped in cobweb lace last-nights rain pooling over leaves. I turn to Carla. She twitches by the doorway her flaming fingers twined in prayer. I hope he can help me. ‘Your heart is the only compass to rely on,’ Carla says. ‘It will always lead you home.’ ‘My heart belongs to Jacob.’ ‘I know.’ She blows a static kiss then flicks out, bone-dust sparkles in her absence. The Prophet waits inside the worn-down cabin. He wears a lampblack coat with bold gold patches on the elbows, he cocks his head to take me in, his face obscured in the dimly lit room. ‘Is it Jacob you’re looking for?’ the Prophet asks. ‘I am searching for our memories.’ He gestures towards a chair, and I relax into the cool black chaise. He approaches with a smile. His eyes windmill and make me dizzy his words spin. I am carried into the well. ‘Where are you now, Sister?’ the Prophet asks. I pull my breath from root through spine, I am on some other side. ‘There is nothing but this room!’ I cry. Beyond it, a never-ending black. I twist in the lounge, afraid, my breath is heavy. ‘I am all alone’ ‘You are never alone,’ the Prophet says. Jacob’s scent surrounds me as if I missed him jetting out the door. It’s always the same, not even the weather changes. But I sense he lingers in-between the spaces. ‘Where has my husband gone?’ ‘Perhaps you will find him at the root of your pain,’ he says. ‘Uncover the darkness.’ In my mind’s eye I am standing at the edge of the room, watching myself rest in the Prophet’s laidback chair. I have separated myself from the sleeping body. I stretch out my arms and position myself like a cross. Beyond this room there is only the abyss. I fall backwards into nothing. Golden lights swirl around me, galaxies zip by. Time bends and I think it must have always been this way. The shutdown blinds are lifting. ‘Speak to me, Sister. Where are you going?’ I hear the Prophet say. I am travelling fast, quicker than thought, led by a silver cord. A wormhole sucks me in and spits me out. In this parallel realm, the Prophet’s voice bleeds through to guide me. It’s a telepathic communication, like the utterance inside a dream. ‘Enter the scene,’ it says. I am now in a strange country. The underbellies of birds blur the sky. I recognise the gum trees with branches shaped like wishbones, they stretch in the wind. Across the sprawling paddock, I see my nan standing next to her fence where the bougainvilleas grow. They reach across with blinding blooms, petals pulsing vines that spiral towards the stars. Nan waves me over and looks just as I remember, with raven hair that flaps behind her. In this place, everything is brighter. My heart has led me here. Nan is pointing to the ground next to the fence. There are no words but we understand each other. It’s like an emanating light transmuting between us. ‘Where is Jacob?’ I ask. ‘Is he here? Is he with you?’ ‘Dear girl,’ she whispers, with a face tipping toward the ground. ‘Remember here next to this fence there are many ashes spread?’ I feel a fluctuation in my head and reach out to touch Nan, hold her one more time, but she is gone, mist blending with the air. In my stomach a burning pain arises, my heart falls like a slain thing, crumbling to my knees with the wind kicked out. I claw and scream into the earth, searching for Jacob. The soil is the colour of blood mixed with sand. Are you buried in this place? I cry. I hold the red dirt in my hands and I remember. The Prophet’s voice seeps in, closing in around me on every side. ‘Tell me, Sister, have you found what you are looking for?’ ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I believe I have.’ And with these releasing words there is a shift in the reality: colours begin to water, and the trees shake like rattles when the Prophet waves goodbye. *** My memories come flooding in and my heart activates. A portal made of whirling cosmos appears and I journey into its powerful pull. The road bent and wound through the endless Australian Outback. In the rear-view mirror, fires consumed the landscape and the sky smoked black. Our van stole through underslung clouds that swelled as they burned. Embers fell and piled on the windshield. Jacob peered through the ash as he drove, the veins in his eyes striped red. Charred dust penetrated the van. I squinted towards the sky; it dangled like a far-flung tornado. ‘Drive faster,’ I said. ‘I’m going as fast as I can,’ he said. ‘I can only see two metres in front of me.’ I put my hand on Jacob’s thigh. It was hot like my own. Sweat spilled from our skin. The van raged through the gloom. Low gathering storms snarled at our hind like puffed-up hounds pulled tight by the end of their tethers. I was pressed upon the passenger door and could see them screaming outside the windows – a gathering pall darkening the panes. Begging voices steamed the glass. We had to leave them behind. We skirted onto a red-dirt track into the unyielding dry, swerving through heaped shadows of roadkill. Rocks ricocheted off the van’s steel side and flew like punched teeth. Ravens soared above the scattered rot with sharp glinting beaks and feathers that spanned wide. They tore flesh from the bone their wings spread like black umbrellas. The sun had never looked so artificial. ‘We’re almost there,’ Jacob said. The desert grave melted behind us and clouds dipped and slipped into the earth. We passed a string of abandoned houses as we drove through the town. Smoke veiled bushes, and trees disappeared into the horizon’s brown smudge. We pulled up the dusty path to our desert house, it was just as we left it. ‘It is good to be together,’ I said. ‘Fitting. This is where it all began.’ ‘The fire is close,’ he said. I followed Jacob up the sandstone steps, the porch plants filled like ashtrays – they swooned and greyed. I could not save them. In the sealed house we drank wine and thought of good times. Like when hailstones pounded the tin roof and how we shook the bed beneath them. ‘I love you,’ Jacob said. I found comfort in his shoulder as I cried. I added flower petals to the bath and ran it cold in celebration – a welcome home occasion. A strange glow crept through the edge of the door, snuck through the skylight. No need to light the candles, a heady condensation on the mirror. We slid into the bath and wanted to breathe underwater – our lungs begged for clean. I smoothed ashes from my eyes and turned towards Jacob, his eyes wavered like stones under streams. In the encompassing burn we wilted into each other’s arms our vessels cracked open our souls ascending like clouds through the door of the sun – in death we found the rainbow’s pot the treasures beyond the edges. Read the rest of Fiction in Lockdown, edited by Elena Gomez If you enjoyed this special edition, subscribe and receive a year’s worth of print issues, the online magazine, special editions and discounted entry to our literary competitions Khalilah Okeke Khalilah Okeke was raised in the Pacific Northwest and now resides in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two children. Her work has been published in Palooka - Issue #11, Djed Press, Scum Mag, Crack the Spine, CafeLit, The Drabble, The Plum Tree Tavern, Down in the Dirt magazine, Meow Meow Pow Pow and other places. More by Khalilah Okeke › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. 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