Use the image provided as a stimulus to craft a central metaphor in a piece of imaginative writing of 700-800 words that evokes a particular emotional response in the reader.
Your chest rises and falls: can you hear me? I will only talk if you can’t hear me.
I had to go to your doctor today to ask him… I had to ask him how I would know. How I would know that you were gone. If you had gone. I can’t tell, you see, and it drives me mad. I’m afraid I’ll miss it, the way I missed the moment you came into being. I can’t miss your last breath. The moment when you leave me and are finally gone.
I don’t know why I need to know. Time, measuring it, marking blocks of it – it’s never really interested me. But I have always like to look at borders. On maps, on streets, in paintings. The borders of your cells, my love, which have multiplied and spilled out of their proper place like an invading army.
When I was your age we went to the sea for holidays. I used to lie in the sandy grass and watch the streams trickle out of the country and empty into the ocean. The faint line of foam where stream and saltwater met. You could stand, ankle deep, with your forefoot in the ocean and your heel in a country stream. But exactly, exactly where it changed – you couldn’t say.
Panta rhei – So it is for all streams.
Marking changes means thinking in pairs: from this to that, from one to the next. Language makes our patterns of thought. This and that, he and she, one and the other, it and them. All with antecedents in real things, with real names.
But now we’ve outgrown this habit of language, as we’ve mastered things, peered at ever-smaller states. Our physics has outgrown our mathematics. Now we know that between this and that, there is such a flux that we cannot even say where it ends and settled states begin. A transition, a becoming, for which there is no name.
Cancer to – what? Remission? Health? Cessation? A mother to… There is no word for a mother whose child is dead. This is why I need to know the moment, the exact moment, when you change, and I change, and all our language becomes useless.
Can you hear me? You can’t go until I know how to say what I am without you.
Once, on those long holidays of my childhood, I floated in a pool in the forest beneath the night sky. The stars reflected in the black water and here was the trick the universe played: you couldn’t tell, floating there, when the pool became space, the trees clouds, and clouds the atmosphere seen from beyond our world. Floating, like a thing unborn, you passed from nature to eternity and back again. You became your own thoughts: that before this world of borders marking off things from things, there was darkness, nothing, no you, and peace.
I fear, I fear. I have packed you into this little skin of suffering, and all I have given you are limits from which you’re breaking out, cell by cell.
Your doctor says it will be impossible to say when you go. We cannot fix when death happens. The transition is infinite, minute, perpetual. There is no death, but deaths. Does this mean that I will never stop being a mother – or never stop being bereaved? Does it mean that, from the moment we formed you, you were dying? Or that, even as you are dying now, you are beginning another life? Wait long enough and the same elements will recohere into another mother and child, of whom you will be the mother, and I the dying daughter.
Can you hear me?
Your chest stops, the darkness enters your eyes, but there is space above you, beneath you, within you, and you float on a pool of stars.