Each morning in my blacked-out room, I’d put on my uniform layers: socks, leggings, long-sleeved top, lined velvet jacket, long full skirt. If I was well enough to go for walks at dawn and dusk, I’d add, before I went outside, a long coat, hat, and calf-length boots – summer and winter alike.
But now – I’ve been digging in the backs of cupboards and investigating sacks in the loft. It’s the strangest feeling, as I slip my arms into a short black jacket, and my bare feet into flat pink shoes – as though I’d found my old pre-darkness self in the wardrobe, slightly rumpled, and put her on.
A few months ago I saw my face in the bathroom mirror. Not half-glimpsed in the gloom, or in the deceptive half-light of closed venetian blinds – but in the full glare of the glorious sun streaming in through the window to the side.
I stop, transfixed. Do I dare to look properly? My heart begins to pound. Slowly I walk towards the mirror, and my new friend does the same. I don’t know what I am expecting. I fear something grotesque – the mark of the beast, some hideous imprint of the darkness and the burning. I hope, perhaps, for something beautiful; the enchanted princess ten years in her tower, untouched by time.
My skin is pale, the tone not even. My hair is dark flat brown, devoid of highlights from the sun. A little way in from the forehead there is a silver streak; it could be considered distinguished. My spectacles look knackered – I’ve had the same ones for fourteen years. My eyebrows have gone wild – but this can be corrected.
But this is me. I made it. I didn’t vanish in the darkness. I’m still here.
In May I have further proof. I take off the leggings under my skirt. Sit in the living room and look at my bare legs. Stretch them out in front of me. Turn them from side to side. Hazily recall the necessity of shaving them, if we are to go out together in public.
Legs out only for half an hour at first, but gradually I build up. Bliss, on summer evenings, going for a walk with bare legs under my skirt.