“Persephone” by Elizabeth Moller
“I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
We are on the road to recovery.
No more shock therapy, no more round-the-clock supervision, no more being surrounded by other crazies who got pulled naked and homeless off the streets and wrested into hospital gowns that don’t close. And, yet: we aren’t expected to be normal either, which is a great relief. There are those among us who wish we could stay in this state forever, half-sane.
On the outside, they said, “Let your freak flag fly!”
This is what they taught us in kindergarten; but we learned fast that they didn’t mean it.
What they meant was, Let your freak flag fly, but not too much. Just enough so that you are interesting but politically correct. OR Be yourself as long as you don’t make us uncomfortable. OR Let your freak flag fly, but only if you are talented enough, and it will make you famous.
Be polite to your teachers and fit in at school. Avoid provocative comments. Don’t stand out unless your laugh is candy-coated. Say thank-you but graciously deny the potential truth in any compliments you receive. Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t take things so personally. Get over it. Write your thank-you notes. Don’t steal other people’s boyfriends.
Don’t pull your skirt up above your waist, even, especially, if it is lined with silk, and the rub-rub play feels good. Don’t show people your undies. Don’t touch yourself.
But we do.
“Beauty, the world seemed to say…To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper.
– Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Persephone – our Persy – is the first to leave. She is just twenty, and “well enough” to go back to school.
She is not the only one to make it outward onward upward against the rush of the odds. Some of us finish college and find jobs.
We mix with the Normals, and we are convincing in our disguises, sipping martinis and joking about our bosses and sex. On spring days we feel peace.
Other times we must work hard to avoid the dark mole world below, swallowing tequila shots until our nerves have been transfigured into flying dots of light, until we have convinced ourselves that our youth makes us beautiful, and we are titillating and titillated, and we dance dance dance before having Erica Jong sex into the morning.
“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
– Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Persy is the first to get married.
We attend, and cry, while she and her boy-man covenant love and ownership of one another’s sexual organs. We remind ourselves of our good fortune, our light skins and our twenty-first century western freedoms. Isn’t that, after all, how we made it this far?
Old Lady McGee’s grandmother got electroshock therapy back in the 50s, and it broke her back. She died a year later. Life is good, we tell each other.
The wedding is at the botanical gardens. When it rains, we are moved inside.
On the dance floor Persy glides away from us, follows her new husband into a square of Normals who are white hip thrusting to the Macarena.
Water drips down the greenhouse panes.
“But I’ll always have my poetry,” Persy whispers to nobody, unpublished, a writing workshop of one.
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Elizabeth Moller Artist Statement:
Elizabeth Moller’s fiction has been published in Lalitamba 2016. Her work has been
named a finalist in Glimmer Train’s June 2014 Fiction Open contest, and as a finalist and
runner-up in both the fiction and creative nonfiction categories of The Pinch’s 2015
literary contest. She was awarded a scholarship to, and participated in, Pulitzer Prize-
winning author Vijay Seshadri’s August 2014 creative writing workshop at the Mayapple
Center. In addition to writing, Elizabeth works part-time as a Legal Fellow at Tamizdat,
an arts immigration nonprofit. Elizabeth lives with her husband, two young children (ages
4 and 7), and two cats in Harlem.