‘Don’t tell’

When you get home, if you ever do, all your postcards will be piled like a snowdrift behind the door. You’ll kick them aside, put down your suitcase, then pick them up in a thick handfuls like junk mail. And then, who knows? Perhaps you’ll want to remember what you did all those lonely months in the north; all the things you couldn’t tell anyone while you were gone. You could sort them by date. Make a scrapbook. Steam off the stamps. No. Listen to me Natalie, what you must do is throw them into the fire. Every one.

You were lucky, in a way, to have no family left to tell. There was no-one to tell you no, why would you go so far away, you don’t even speak the language, it’s too dangerous, you’ll never come back. You were a natural. Once you began, keeping secrets was easy. The groceries you bought from the corner shop. The keys and what they unlocked. The men you eyed shyly and left bars with. What you put in those envelopes. The deep red stains on the towels. It was all the same. Not telling, is that the same as not being able to tell?

You realised, after the first month of living there, that it was the telling that made it real. To say a thing in words was to reach around it with your fingertips and hold it out to someone. It gave invisible actions a space in the world; in your mind, in your mouth, in the air between two people. And when you took away language, it was as if the lights turned out, and in the dark, anything could happen, because it would never be told, even to yourself.

One night you woke up sweating, grasping at your naked body. Am I breathing, you panted silently to the mirror, white with fear, am I here? You realised then: without language, you were not just beyond laws, but beyond society; beyond reality. There were no roads, no rails, nothing to hold onto. There was a strong chance you may have ended up not existing at all. And so I prescribed the postcards.