Author's Note: There is an interesting ambiguity in Charlotte Bronte’s mad woman in the attic, an ambiguity wonderfully explored by Jean Rhys in “Wide Sargasso Sea”. Here I reprise their character as an important figure in the Colquhoun narrative.
The Colquhoun Narrative (continued)
He Named Her Bertha. Was I awake or asleep? All I know is I sat in the cockpit. My hand held the rudder. I saw the small sail I set for night sailing. I saw the boat moving easily through the low swell, white water rippling from the bow. A huge, yellow moon had almost emerged from the sea, when, seemingly out of the moon, she came walking across the waves, wearing a long nightdress, her skin dark and beautiful and her black hair disheveled. Next, she was on my boat, fixing me with a gaze that seemed to stare right into me, and talking. These clothes? This hair? This skin? She gave a little derisive laugh, as if mocking my observations. They are merely stereotypes designed to please some from long ago. A famous writer, a woman too, gave them to me when she locked me in an attic. She also gave a man words of condemnation, another pleasing stereotype. “She’s mad,” she had him say, reluctantly of course, because he was her hero and she had to give him some virtue. But it’s what they all say after they have clutched our backs, drawn us close, pawed us, breathed heavily on our necks, whimpered and moaned in their insistent please-don’t-stop-me way, neglectful of our needs, only thinking of themselves, these baby-men with their self-love and their privileged entitlement. They use us until they are sated. Then they manufacture excuses to discard us. “She’s mad”, they say. That’s what so many of them say. I was not mad. Most of us are not mad. We are angry, or desperate. Some of us are beaten. Some of us are denied friends or money. Some of us have our children taken from us. Some, like me, are locked in the attic. All my freedom was taken. Why should I not have struck out? We are often so abused, denied a voice, objectified, patronized, then cast aside. We must use what weapons we have. Some use tears. Some use hysteria. Some plead for justice. Useless. Such behaviour, born of desperation, only confirms the narrative of our oppressors. I went degree by degree. I resisted. I begged, screamed, cried. Then I used a knife, and fire. Finally, I reclaimed power over my life. I leaped to where they could no longer hold me. “She’s mad,” they said, but I was not mad. I was abused, denied the right to be who I am, denied the right to even use my name. The wind was now so light that my boat was almost stationary in the gentle swell. There was a hint of morning in the air. The sail flapped, then a gust rippled the water and filled the sail. I looked up. High above, I saw migratory short-tailed shearwaters making their flight across the world, perhaps heading to their nesting burrows on my island. For a moment I was flying with them. For a moment I thought of home and my wife. Then, when I looked down, she was gone. I looked over the boat. I stared across the waves. I looked into the moon. She was nowhere to be seen. Was it though in the bird’s call, or the wind or maybe the slap of the waves against the hull, that I thought I heard a voice saying again and again, Remember this. Remember this. My name is Antoinette. My name is Antoinette. Antoinette. Antoinette. Antoinette.
©2022 Neil Creighton
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