‘Suite in Dark Matter’ by Erin Frances Fisher


From Granta:

1. Prelude

November, seven p.m.-ish, Celeste pauses, shovel poised, in her garden. A faint glow pulses from the compost, and since rain smashed out any last daylight hours ago, her first impression is bioluminescence – a fungi? She brushes away leaves gone to lace, carrot peel, eggshell, a matt-black beetle. Toes? She slices her shovel into the dirt and peels off wilted lettuce, coffee grounds, a worm. Feet? She uncovers legs, a body, a face. Almost a face. Definitely a head, the place for a face, but no nostrils, mouth, or eyes, only warm white skin. The glow is from the body. Celeste works her fingers under the shoulders and sits it up. The body is light and stays seated when she lets go; the compost where it lay steams, and flat-backed centipedes scuttle to re-bury. The rain that has un-relented for the past month threads down the body’s head and pearls off two full-length wings.

Celeste feels her fingers between layers of feather and is suddenly, unaccountably, warm. ‘Angel angel angel!’ Celeste The rain that has un-relented for the past month threads down the body’s head and pearls off two full-length wings. is drunk and she knows it, but that’s normal. If she was laid open her belly would spill an ocean of red wine and root vegetables: carrot, potato, parsnip, rutabaga, acorn squash, yam – anything the late garden still has to offer. Her yelling has goaded the neighbour’s Labrador retriever into defense. Celeste is too caught up to care. She rubs her hands over the head of the body – the angel – down its shoulders and ribs on to its rump. Her fingers streak the compost and the glow brightens. Automatically Celeste looks up, but what she’s looking for – the orbital scrawl of stars – is blotted out.

She maneuvers the angel into a standing position, bends it over her shoulder, lifts, and carries it up three flights of wet stairs all the way to her attic suite. The angel lights her way and she unlocks the door easily. She carries it through to the bathroom, stands it on the bathmat and lets it drip.

Her phone is ringing, but she ignores it. Water broils up the cream porcelain tub and churns coloured salts into foam. A wine glass and uncorked bottle perch prepped and handy on the vanity. Celeste folds the angel into the tub and lets its head settle gently on the lip. She kneels, scoops bath water with a mug and pours it over the shoulders, then sets to work with a soaped poof. Coffee and scabs of mould slough off. First the legs, then the abdomen and chest, illuminate the froth. She bends the angel’s knees and slides the torso, shoulders and head further into the tub. The phone starts again but she’s dripping wet.

When the dirt has spiraled down the drain she tilts on her heels and wipes her forehead with the back of her arm. She’s warm from the work and wine, and tired. She stands the angel up, towels it off and carries it to her bed. Its skin feels cleaner, but the same: warm, hairless, with a soft babyish down sprouting at the base of the neck and running the length of the spine. She covers the angel with her blanket and sits beside it. When she’s finished the wine she gets in bed too, surprised by how late it seems – it’s only nine – and by how she feels: happy.

Read more