Today’s prompt was to write about depression. I started with the idea of being trapped in a dark cave – a great metaphor, I thought – and then realised several other people had thought of the same idea. Winston Churchill’s “black dog” also sprang to mind – and then I saw that someone else had got there before me with that one too. In the end, I went for an exploration of grief-induced depression, focusing on the protagonist’s deadness inside after the loss of her husband. I’ve entitled it ‘Gone To Earth’ to echo her husband’s funeral but also because the phrase signifies an animal that is hiding away from the rest of the world.
Gone To Earth
November mist was creeping in, shading the sky in a muted grey that was deceptively gentle. She smiled as she lit the candles, thinking the fog romantic. When he arrived home, the two of them would be shrouded in secrecy, their tiny cottage hidden from the rest of the world. That was how they liked it.
When eight o’clock came and he still hadn’t returned, she began to grow anxious; by 9pm, she felt sick with worry; and when the knock sounded at her door, a little after ten, she had already prepared for the worst.
Strange how you think you’re prepared until a kindly policewoman sits you down and tells you that you’re now a widow.
From that moment onwards, she moves through life as if in a dream – keening like a wild animal, unable to understand why, aware only of the intense pain that presses in around her, suffocating her until she cannot breathe. Watching the wooden box being lowered into the ground is almost more than she can bear: each clod of earth that descends onto the coffin is echoed in the lumps of raw grief that gradually smother her heart. When people try to comfort her, telling her that the body placed in the earth was only a shell, she nods wearily, knowing that she too is now only a shell: her life ended at the same time as his.
In the winter months that follow, she wraps grief around herself like a thick, impenetrable blanket, unable to sleep or eat or work or cry. Somehow, she manages to exist from one empty day to another, but her skin is pale, her eyes smudged with dark circles and her figure gaunt.
Looking out of her window at the vast, barren moors that surround her empty house, she feels at one with the desolate landscape. Brontë country – that’s what they used to call it. They joked about him being Heathcliff and her being Cathy; now she’s reminded of Heathcliff’s devastation after Cathy dies, of his determination to climb inside her grave and drag her out. Perhaps she should have had him cremated and then she could have scattered his ashes in the countryside he loved? Her indecision catches on the wind as it howls around the cottage.
She resists her family’s invitations for Christmas, preferring to shiver in draughty solitude rather than expose herself to the painful warmth of others’ sympathy. Her cottage is not as cold as her heart; the icy temperature inside her is reminiscent of the Snow Queen in the children’s story.
It’s only later, when Spring is still shyly waiting to make an appearance, that she notices the hint of green poking through the cold, hard earth in the garden. He planted snowdrops last October, not long before… Anger pricks at her eyes; hot, salty grief leaks down her face. He’ll never see the flowers bloom; but the shoots promise new life – and so do her tears.