The following extract is reproduced with permission from Seraphina Madsen’s Aurora. A surreal, speculative, read-in-one-sitting, feminist literary fiction inspired by The Master and Margarita and narrated by a djinn who is obsessed with the young American woman who has released him from a bottle. To order a copy, visit Dodo Ink.
The lynx are arguing and mating out there in the dark wood again, under the waxing moon and starlight. I can feel their shrill, guttural sounds, almost comical, a chaos of contours — blood-chilling, drunken shrieks of old women; of demons incarnate — coming from deep inside me, scratching in my throat. I want to scream, but nothing comes out. Horrifying. Such beautiful creatures with such hideous voices. The chandelier throws out a blue, red, and yellow fire that leaps around the room. Stacks of books with well-worn bindings, some newer than others, alive with silverfish, sitting on tables, on bookshelves, musky with mold spores, go to my head. The desk is covered in empty and partially–filled bottles of fizzy pop, the exact recipe of which is held in a secret vault in Waco, Texas. The bottle says it was invented by a doctor, presumably to make it sound healthy. Fortified with medicinal qualities, it’s making my head drip like a urinal. Still, I can’t get enough of it. There is no end to the thirst or the cigarettes I chain–smoke. There is a staunch mineral taste in my mouth.
And now to the point. This girl. A coincidence. An absence of contradiction. A link between contradictory terms. Perhaps this girl will always elude me. But I am compelled to write her down in an attempt to capture at least a part of her. The girl I want to understand was made with clay. As are all the daughters of Adam and Eve, she was molded into shape. I, myself, was created out of a volatile, shifting material — the fire of a scorching wind — as are all the jinn. Fabricated by the same maker, she and I are different and similar, or in any case, connected.
I’ve always held a fascination for the clay people. I admire their literature. None of my kind has ever written anything substantial in the language of the humans, which is odd because they have written so much about us. I, for one, feel the need to, so, here I am, word by word, forging chain lengths of sentences I sculpt with the scorching wind into form. I must remind myself that writing is not sculpture. But I aim to create a dynamic representation. I cannot tap away, step back and marvel at the hard marble transformed into the texture of skin, the fleshy thighs of Proserpina and the liquidity of her tears. Also, I am not Bernini. I want you to know she is like a thousand other girls, but she is also ancient, pre-biblical. A Pandora. She makes me shake and vibrate. I cannot contain myself. I want you to imagine you can smell her warm, earthy flesh and feel the little downy hairs on her arms because she really does have lovely limbs. She is as beautiful as the original Persephone. The moon is alive under her skin.
This is the how and the why of my encounter at the hands of the young woman. A meeting, which was also a liberation. A liberation with which I am at odds. Her very existence exacerbates my sketchy hold on the absolute and makes me want to scream. I am filled with venom. I am also in love with her. My nails are bitten to stubs; they are bleeding down my pencil and all over the page…
She was born in a trailer park across the river from Laughlin, Arizona — a glittering metropolis in the firmament of shining, sleepless cities where people gamble, consume drugs and alcohol, and cook illegal substances in sheds at all hours of the day and night, as her father did before he was shot and killed in a drug-related incident.
The child’s mother gave birth to her outside, under the stars. Inside, the trailer was overheated, cramped, and sticky, with everyone smoking cigarettes and cooking drugs in tablespoons to make little crystal rocks.
Her mother had to get out of there. Passing through heavy veils of smoke spilt into the cool night air, wrapped in a bedsheet, naked underneath, unsure of how she had gotten that way, she walked down the steps and onto the dirt path. Something hard and muscly armed with a knife was on the inside of her belly, trying to push its way out. She needed to breathe. She felt like she was going to be sick.
Her body told her to squat in the dirt. She obeyed, screaming silently (no sound would come out). The water broke, gushing down her legs. Her uterus contracted with the stars overhead (stars which made no sense) as a black cat looked on from the top of one of the trailers. This went on for what seemed like a very long time. She felt herself tear. Finally, a warm, wet mush slid out. She couldn’t help but think of a gigantic leech, slippery all down her legs. The baby squirmed in the dirt with a fleshy cord that grew from its belly, attached to something gelatinous.
In a moment of panic, the mother thought it might be her intestines, uterus, or bladder that had come out with the mewling form. She bent down. On her hands and knees, she inspected the blob attached to the cord. Everything was hazy and, at the same time, sharp, hyperreal. Straw and little rocks were stuck to the placenta. The baby was covered in a waxy substance and felt gritty to the touch.
In a state of shock, or something like sleepwalking, the mother took the wailing child from the ground and held it to her body, wrapping it in the folds of the bedsheet, the umbilical cord draped over her arm, the placenta hanging down. Looking upward, she was taken by the dome of sky and stars — a cathedral.
When she got to her mother’s door she banged as hard as she could, leaving bloody handprints all over the glass and aluminium. Frantically, she pressed the doorbell — a small, illuminated rectangle smudged with dirt. Her mother emerged from a trapezoid of light, half asleep, behind the door in a polyester nightdress, her bouffant tied in a protective scarf, thinking perhaps this was a nightmare, her daughter wrapped in a sheet behind the bloodied glass carrying a blue, screaming infant. She didn’t even know her daughter was pregnant.
The mother assured her daughter she had not lost her uterus, that all they needed to do was cut the umbilical cord, wash the baby, and everything would be alright. She would do everything. The grandmother took the wailing child in the sheet with the placenta hanging from it into her arms and told her daughter to get into the shower.
The grandmother filled a tub used for foot baths with warm soapy water in the kitchen. Carefully, she slid the hiccupping, shrieking infant into the water, where she managed to cut the umbilical cord. The thing oozed jelly that flew through the air as she tossed it with the placenta into the garbage disposal.
Finally clean and swaddled in a towel, snug against her grandmother’s ample breast, the baby was red and rigid and would not stop screeching like a wild animal, fists clenched. The grandmother needed to put on something clean; her nightgown had gotten afterbirth on it.
In the shower, the child’s mother did her best to clean off the blood and gore, rubbing floral-scented shower gel between her legs, over her face, her chest; watching the pink, bloodied water and dark red, gelatinous globs disappear down the drain. She wanted to stay in the warm, crystal water, the drops sparkling in the artificial light of the bathroom, perhaps forever.
Grandmother sat on the couch with the infant pressed to her chest, red, rigid, fists clenched, mewling. She tried to soothe the child with a finger that might be mistaken for a nipple, but this act offered no comfort. On the wall opposite, Jesus in a golden frame looked at them, bathed in golden light, a white lamb in his arms, head tilted in an attitude of grace and love. She kissed her grandchild’s soft head. A little lamb. A child of God.
Through the baby’s constant, feral wailing, Grandmother called again to her daughter, urging her to get out of the shower and come to the living room. After ten minutes by the shellacked Jesus face wall clock, she called out to her daughter again. Another five minutes. Grandmother got up, the baby still stiff, shrieking in her arms.
The bathroom was warm and thick, with white steam that poured over her upon entering. Sharply, Grandmother pulled back the shower curtain to find her daughter sitting on the tub floor — legs pressed to her chest through the white clouds, water pounding down, neck bent, face pressed to her knees. The daughter raised her head — eyes remote, like an alien. No light came from them; they were pure black. After seeing her daughter’s eyes, it was obvious — there would be no shaking her out of that spine-chilling stupor to try and breastfeed the child.
Grandmother pulled out of the trailer park, kicking up dust, and navigated onto the main road under the yellow explosions of streetlights. The infant strapped to her chest with the seatbelt and pillow reinforcement, she drove to the nearest drugstore for baby formula.
Walking the aisles, Grandmother clutched the stiff, shrieking baby under the too-bright fluorescent lights, her whole body vibrating with the pain the child was in. Other shoppers and the check-out attendant looked at Grandmother like she was a murderer. If you’ve ever heard the screams of a newborn in withdrawal, they will haunt you for the rest of your life.
Seraphina Madsen was born in San Rafael, California and grew up in Northern California and Maine. She attended Bates College and Kingston University in London. She became a French citizen in 2019 and now resides in the U.K. Her first novel, Dodge and Burn, was published by Dodo Ink in 2016 to critical acclaim and was longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize.
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