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En abyme (In an abyss)

Claire Hannon

Margaret [origin: Greek] meaning: pearl

Mary [origin: Hebrew, Egyptian] meaning: drop of the sea, bitter, beloved

Mae [diminutive of Mary or Margaret] meaning: bitter, pearl


A Study of Impossibilitie: I will begin at the beginning. I will tell you a story.


I spent a decade believing I knew you, and many more searching for you.

Here is what I found:

Margaret was an elegant young woman. In the evenings she slept with a silk eye mask, and in the mornings she took Earl Grey tea with a drop of fresh milk. She played tennis (for vigour), learnt French (for culture) and volunteered at a local orphanage (it was all she could do). Her prized possession was a mother of pearl comb, which she hoped would one day become a family heirloom. Her many friends craved her approval, and she bestowed it graciously. And although she never had lofty aspirations, she always knew she was destined to be a star.

Mary was lonely and lost. Her parents had died in a shipwreck when she was only three. The aunt who took her in was absent and scattered, so Mary was left to raise herself. She tried to meet the world with love, but found herself misunderstood. By nineteen her lips were chapped and her bones were brittle, so she drifted around, leaking saltwater from every limb. By the time she was found, lying on the footpath in the bitter rain, she had grown so cold and hard that when they broke her open they found nothing but stone.

If I place the pieces in a pot and turn the heat on high, will you melt back into one? When you cool, will you be solid?

Mae was beautiful and proud, but insecure. She meant it when she said she loved me, but still believed herself better than me. When she woke up and buttoned her tailored pants around her tight waist she felt at ease, yet profoundly unsure how to be close to another person.

Have I got it yet?


Stories are enabled by the exclusions that threaten their ruin.


The last time I saw you, it was the day after your birthday. It was cold, so I walked to your house in five minutes instead of six. I unlocked your door with my key and the air was warm with asparagus and bread. You were singing along to that record I gave you, getting the words wrong to your favourite song. I lit the candles and placed them on the dining table, next to the porcelain ducks. While we ate you told me you’d been thinking about him, about how you hadn’t spoken for a year and it was almost his birthday. Two leaves drenched in vinegar were drowning on my plate. I gave you the key to my car so you could use it while I was away.  We hugged and said we’d see one another soon.


You saw things in me I could not see in myself: talent, beauty and an immense capacity for cruelty.

I once thought you were a God, callous and cool — I longed to bathe in your light.
but She told me you’re neither proud nor stubborn: you yield, you yearn for growth.
and He told me that you’re lost and unsettled; you love us, you’ll come home soon.
I envy their certainty.

My picture of you became so full of contradictions it spilled out of my hands. And now your light is but a faraway glow casting ghosts on the wall. You are living underwater: wobbling and warped; magnified, further than ever.


I. Last night I dreamt you were my doll — I cared for you, dressed you, brushed your hair; I made you pretty and perfect.

II. It was our wedding day and I left you at the altar. When I started crying you told me it would be okay.

III. I went back to the only place that makes me happy and realised everyone there hated me. So I walked around the streets of San Francisco, thinking about you. Then you sent me a message, saying you missed me and you wanted to talk, so I walked around the corner to your house. You started telling me how air travel is a scam because I’d just managed to walk from San Francisco to your house in twenty minutes. And isn’t it crazy that it’s daytime over there but nighttime right here. We were both very sad but happy to see one another. That mean girl from school was there, being a total bitch about it all.


I’m starting to believe we died on our very first battlefield. We met, drew our guns, fired and we’ve been ghosts ever since; our own consciousness animating the other’s corpse.


My memories of you are tainted with me —


We’re sitting in a park on the cusp of summer,
the air is full of you and I.
Your tongue, wet with hops and yeast,
mine, heavy…
A stranger in a mourning dress,
you light your first cigarette —
there’s less of you than I remember.
While we speak, no words come out,
until you utter nothingness:
You can have him, you know.

And so I remember us,
perched atop a sun-bleached cliff,
high above the holy waves
which promised truth and salvation.
In that Italian restaurant,
you wore a string of pearls;
the skin of your chest fresh and tight,
unblemished by the years.
But when you removed the bandage,
placed fashionably over your eyes,
you oozed from every wound.
And as you ashed that cigarette,
from all those years ago,
the waiter stuck his tongue in my ear, and said:
The ocean isn’t real, you know.


The last time I saw you I was sitting on the lawn talking with a stranger about how I don’t know you. A beam of light caught my eye and slowly it settled into you. On a distant plane, our eyes met. A lifetime passed. You turned and walked the other way.