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Hot Desk Extract: In the Dorm

Read Friday, 9 Dec 2016

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Fury has been working on a gothic suite of narrative poetry, the pearls around their necks. The suite will tell the story of a girl’s experience of bullying at an all-girls high school. Here Fury discusses the context of the project and shares an extract from the work.

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Illustration of a spooky boarding house
Illustration: Fury Telford

From Mary Shelley exploring science and birth in Frankenstein to Irena Dubrovna’s dangerous sexuality in Cat People, women have always had a strong presence in the gothic. Perhaps this is because repressed things rise in the gothic imagination; they come back stronger, twisted and angry.

My suite of narrative poetry, the pearls around their necks, is an exploration of an all-woman space, something that’s largely absent in the gothic, which generally prefers to examine the pressurising patriarchal forces on women. Women are often overlooked as perpetrators of violence against other women because usually their violence is not physical. The marks it leaves are on the psyche and this makes this violence abstract; theoretical for everyone who isn’t directly involved. 

These experiences play tricks on the mind, like seeing a shape in a shadow from the corner of the eye. This, more than anywhere else, is where the gothic lives. 

Below is an excerpt from early on in the piece. The excerpt draws out themes of uncanniness, mother-daughter likeness, identity, tradition, propriety and expectation.

in the dorm

there are bodies in the basement

of Gardenia House

Rose says

laid out on stone slabs
with ivory white linen cloths over them

it is late
lights out have been called
all the other girls are already asleep 

young girls, your age, my age

okay i don’t get it

the bodies
are us, or will be

              this chilled me like
              ice-water on unsuspecting


so Sarita doesn’t have a body in the crypt

because her mother didn’t go to the school

i’m listening.

it happens when your mother gives you
her pearls 

when what will happen

they say once you wear the pearls
you start sleepwalking

the deans would have a field day
at girls wandering the halls at night

oh my god, how dense are you
the deans are all old girls

what are you saying

the sleepwalking is part of it
it’s your body
it knows something you don’t
it draws you down
                                        and it opens

what opens

                                       the crypt

this is stupid

                                       this is tradition. it’s heritage, it’s our inheritance

okay so what happens when i’m in the crypt

                                     there on one of the slabs
                                     will be the body of your mother
                                     when she was your age

                                    and for the first time since then
                      her body will stir

are you kidding me

                                she will slowly strip you naked
                               lie you down under the linen cloth
                                              then she will come up
                                              and take your place at school

my breathing quivered in my chest

                        that is fucking ridiculous

well Jessica
said she’d seen them

                        well that makes it believable

you are such a bitch

                       jess told me her great grandmother
                       was Anastasia Nikolaevna

it made me wonder about
why my mother pushed so hard
for me to come here

the branches rapped on the window

because she was angry, because her mother tricked her into it
because now it was her time

i thought about the urgency in my mother’s voice
            before i went into the admissions exam

how vice-like her grip
            on my arm before our interview

how she greeted the Head of Admissions
            like old friends

                                         sounds like bullshit to me.

Read more about the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme here.

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