Some things can't be spoken about in the light of day; but we can visit our fears at night, in the dark
Things We Say in the Dark a chilling new short story collection from Kirsty Logan
Following the success of her recent novel The Gloaming, Kirsty Logan returns with a new short story collection Things We Say in the Dark, that is sure to get under your skin. Ranging from chilling contemporary fairytales to disturbing supernatural fiction, this is Logan at her most powerful. Often likened to Angela Carter, with this new work, a powerful contemporary collection of feminist stories, ranging from vicious fairy tales to disturbing horror and tender ghost stories, those comparisons are sure to continue. And rightly so.
Kirsty has exclusively allowed Foyles to share one of the stories from the collection, only available online for a short period of time, that oh-so effectively chills while it entertains. Enjoy.
The Only Time I Think of You is All the Time
It was hard for Brigitte to get to me at first. She’d push against the barrier for hours, getting more and more frustrated at me for not being able to see her or hear her. When she finally appeared to me, waking me in the night, she’d have been talking for so long with no one listening that the words had turned to slush and mutter. Before Brigitte, I woke calmly, to the morning sun or birdsong or the natural end of my dreams. Now it’s a sudden fall awake, her hands gripping my shoulders, her face right up close to mine. Her constant tumble of words, an avalanche of scree, falling out in a low mumble, steady as earth.
I know how Brigitte died. She drowned. I don’t know if it was an accident, or she did it to herself, or someone else did it to her. But I know she drowned because she was underwater for so long that her eyes turned milky, and they still look like that now. In our afterlives we’ll all look the way we did at the moment of death, I guess. It’s strange to see her in water; I feel like I should try to save her from it, keep her dry and breathing, though it’s far too late for that.
It’s hard to remember now what baths used to be like. The book, the bubbles, the fizzing glass: it’s like something I saw in a film once. Now Brigitte climbs in after me and chatters in my ear. Once I lost patience and tried to hold her under, just for a moment of silence. But she just laughed at me and then there was a hell of a mess with the water on the floor and I’m the only one who can clean it up, after all.
I don’t know who Brigitte is. Who she was. She seems to be – to have been – in her late thirties, early forties. She has long brown hair and small hands. Her face is bloated from the water and I can’t tell what colour her eyes were, but I’m sure I never met her. She wears a nightgown, ankle-length and white and always drifting around like she’s falling in slow motion, but it’s a timeless design so it’s hard to place it. I think she might be from a long time ago. Decades or centuries, many generations. Perhaps it takes a really, really long time to work your way back to here from wherever you go. I don’t know who she is and I don’t know what she wants, other than to be near me and talk to me always. What kind of monster am I for resenting that? For resenting a love so obsessive, so all- encompassing, so perfect? Most people go their whole lives without being loved like that. I should appreciate it.
She can come to me whenever she wants to, and what she wants is all the time. If I’m asleep or distracted or trying to do something, it’s harder for her to get my attention. Her words are still there but I’ve stopped hearing them. That’s when she gets frustrated. I work from home now; it wasn’t a good look for me to suddenly respond to her in the middle of a meeting or while on the phone. I still don’t know whether other people could see her and were frightened at the sight, or if they couldn’t see her and were shocked by me suddenly shouting shut up shut up please for fuck’s sake shut up at nothing. I don’t know how you ask people something like that.
I still live in the house I grew up in with my mother, which is also the house my mother grew up in with her mother. They’re both dead, so it’s my house now. I had a wonderful childhood here. My mother and I loved each other so much; it was just the two of us, a tiny team, together all the time. My grandmother died when my mother was small so I never met her. My mother died when I was small too. I miss them both. I know it might not make sense that I miss my grandmother when I never met her, but I do. I miss how much I would have loved her.
There’s only one place I can go where Brigitte can’t find me. Behind the house is a long, rambling, overgrown garden, and at the end of the garden is a pond. On top of the pond is a layer of algae, summer-stinking, blanketing the black water. Over it hums a constant shift of black flies. There is nowhere now that she is not – nowhere except here. I have to make sure she won’t find me. It’s not enough to just be beside the pond. I slide into the water, feeling the wet algae slime up my calves, my thighs, my belly, my breasts, my throat. Under the water, invisible things squirm. The water is the colour of stewed tea. I close my eyes and take a big breath and dip my head under the water. Silence. Darkness. I feel my heartbeat pulse in my ears. The water presses on my eyes. I am alone, finally alone, if only for the length of a breath.
I know I shouldn’t go to the pond so often. She will get suspicious. I know she will eventually find me here, and every time under the water is a new risk. But the constancy of her. It drowns me. Here under the algae in the stale water, I have peace. Insects flick along my arms. Weeds tangle around my ankles. I know it’s ridiculous to feel so suffocated by her. It should be nice. Comforting. A middle- aged woman watching over me, keeping me company. It’s not like she’s got yellowed claws or black eyes that drip blood. It’s not like she hides in corners facing the wall or cackles at strange moments or runs her talons through my hair as I’m washing it. She’s just – there. Wherever I go, whatever I do. I walk down the street and I feel her toes stepping on the backs of my heels. I type emails and I feel her fingers on top of mine. I read a book and she bends the cover back so she can read it too. I get in the bath and I see the water rise as she climbs in after me. I go to the toilet and she slides her fingers under the door, calling my name. The constant presence and noise of her. She chatters, chatters, chatters, day and night, never pausing for breath because she doesn’t have to breathe. Her voice fills my head until there’s no space for anything else. I’ve been under the water too long, but I’m not ready to come out. I know, I just know, that she has found me. If I surface, there she will be, ready to reach for me: to stroke my face, to kiss my cheek, to twine her hand in mine. Wanting me, needing me. Bright lights flash inside my eyes. My heart throbs. Just one more second, please. Just one more moment of space and silence. I press my hands hard against the walls of the pond to hold myself under. I think of my mother, and how much I loved her as a child – obsessively, all-encompassingly, perfectly – and how much I love her still, even after she drowned in the pond.
Kirsty Logan is the author of the novels The Gracekeepers and The Gloaming, the short story collections A Portable Shelter and The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales, the flash fiction chapbook The Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive, and the short memoir The Old Asylum in the Woods at the Edge of the Town Where I Grew Up. Her books have won the LAMBDA Literary Award, the Polari First Book Prize, the Saboteur Award, the Scott Prize and the Gavin Wallace Fellowship, and been selected for the Radio 2 Book Club and the Waterstones Book Club. In 2019 she was selected as one of the ten most outstanding LGBTQ British writers for the International Literature Showcase. Her short fiction and poetry has been translated into Japanese and Spanish, recorded for radio and podcasts, exhibited in galleries and distributed from a vintage Wurlitzer cigarette machine. She lives in Glasgow with her wife and their rescue dog.