They put you in the cellar when you are selfish. That's what they tell you. "The cellar is for the selfish, the women who don't give gratefully." It's meant as a punishment to be down here in the dark, with the damp laying heavy on your skin and the walls and floor all skinned with slick mould and every now and then a rustle as a rat rushes past, a brush of stiff-soft fur.
I like the quiet. It's peaceful after all the talking upstairs, the endless listening and giggling and talking. I screamed for a while just to hear myself scream and that was good. The stone soaks up your screams and they just fade away, like screaming into the ground. Reminded me of that old story of the secret whispered into the ground that grew up as bulrushes. I wondered if I could hear other people's secrets if I listened to the stones, and I spent a while pressed up to them trying to hear and about then, I realised I was possibly, just possibly going slightly mad.
They put food down in a bucket. Water once, scraps another. Buckets that came and went, maybe regularly, maybe not. I tried breaking a bucket off the chain but they were stronger than me and all I got were bloody scrapes on my arms where the bucket dragged me up the wall and a fever a while.
There's a hole. There's several holes. I use one for pissing and shitting, or maybe I use several. In the dark, it's hard to orient at first and there's not enough water for washing. And what's smell if you are the only one? And the rats. But the rats want to eat, and I want to eat, and there's enough sense in me left that I think do I want to be the woman who eats rats?
When a rat bites my leg and it throbs badly, I think I don't want to be the woman eaten by rats more.
I use their bones to mark the walls. The stone is strong, but the plaster crumbles and here I can make marks my fingers trace. Here, I write what I remember from upstairs, from long ago, from before. Song lyrics from when I was a little girl. Before the first war, the second, the war that happened far away, the collapse, the voting, the invasion, the second, the third, the running, the selling, the marches, when we - I stop. That's for the wall over there, where I write in small block capitals, in steady scratches from as high as I can reach, with dates and names and places, and where I leave history(herstory) it takes so long to write it down but they've left me here for so long. My ribs ache, they show so thin I can count them all, fit my fingers in-between and the rats are gone, too afraid to come near.
I draw a windowpane around four blocks of stone and make the view I used to see from my apartment. Not my first, the second. Where I lived alone in a city (rubble) full of people and I had a door I could lock (splinters) and I would go to my window and drink coffee (extinct) and watch people (deaddeadead) go by and think about nothing but the day's work ahead, a book I wanted to read, myself. I draw it slowly because I am scratching with a rat's shin bone sharpened on a stone and from frail trauma-whispened memories and frankly, I am not a good artist - I was an academic, a woman who wrote and footnoted who went to conferences and made presentations and taught. But working in this medium in the dark, by touch alone for an audience of one, I am well satisfied.
My fingers trace the clouds, the passing heads below, the shopfront of the patisserie, the neighbour's cat sunning himself, and I remember the taste of my morning coffee.
There are seventeen women in the house. I am down in the cellar as a lesson. A Lesson to be remembered for the other women. Before me, there was another Lesson only she begged and begged so beautifully when they showed her the cellar with the darkness, the steps that led down into the yawning gaping dark and all the other women (and I, I did it too) we fell on our knees and begged forgiveness and so they tied her to the stocks and beat her instead.
When it was my turn I had already been beaten the night before and it was not for the black eye or the bruises down my sides, it was that I had grown tired of listening and listening and saying yes, oh yes, my yes, that's wonderful, what a wonderful world oh how clever to a man who is stupid who is ugly and stupid and grunts when he fucks and thinks that pinching a nipple makes a woman arch her back in pleasure, that his attention is what I crave more than anything, when all I wanted was to be left alone to finish my fucking book.
So I said yes I will go down to the cellar, and they beat me and pushed me down the stairs and I heard the other women wailing and probably(certainly) they beat them too.
They will bring down lights to carry my body up when the buckets come up untouched after a while. So I will crawl up the stairs and I will lie down on the top step so that when they come down, they go no further. They will not read what I have left in the cellar for the next woman they throw down here.
write, write, write live as long as you want, I love you sister in the dark I love you I love you