Joël Du Bois


Enier al-Sadim (extract)

Two weeks later Enier al-Sadim’s daughter was found lying dead in her crib.

Enier al-Sadim arrived in her daughter’s bedroom at the same time as the physician. She watched as he bustled around the body, lifting its clothes to examine it, lamenting and wringing his hands when he found traces of gangrene in its foot and up its side. She looked down at the body and it seemed too familiar and too vague to be distressing. It looked like her daughter sleeping, and it looked like her husband the first time she saw him, and it looked like the young woman she had seen lying in the street, and it looked like her. The physician bowed his head and stood back from the body, murmuring under his breath. Enier al-Sadim touched the baby’s forehead and its cheek, feeling the coolness of the skin, trying to remember what exact shade it had been before taking on this hint of blue. After a moment she removed her hand, leaving white fingerprints on her daughter’s cheek, and wandered out of the room.

In the play room she picked her way through the silent toys and games left scattered across the floor, and in the corridor walked slowly past the procession of furniture that lined the walls. Wherever she looked there was sandalwood and gilt, tapestry and crystal, marble and silk; heirlooms from forgotten generations and gifts from foreign dignitaries. She started to look for some blank expanse of wall or floor. In her own rooms there were only antique chests and wardrobes, the inherited four-poster bed. As she went downstairs she noticed the white dust on top of the grand display cabinets filled with curios and mementoes; she opened one of them and found all the shelves covered in dust, screwed up her nose and turned her head away in revulsion. She went into every room on the ground floor of the palace, the blue room stacked with porcelain and turquoise, the portrait room full of nameless busts and miniatures, the glass room full of glass, the reading rooms clogged with books, she went into each room looking for some empty closet or corner, becoming more and more desperate of finding some empty patch of floor or wall until she reached the great hall covered with gold where the height of the ceiling made her look upwards, and she saw the bare earth of the vaulted roof stretching away from her, huge and comforting.

For the first time Enier al-Sadim understood the structure of the palace. She sat down on the cluttered floor of the great hall and looked up, imagining the palace turned upside down and following the vaulted roof as it unfolded in perfect symmetry, ceiling by ceiling, each room carefully nestled against the next, and leading like steps up into the city; and she felt the architecture of her own mind as well rotating, inverting itself. For a moment she made perfect sense to herself. She walked through the elegant chambers of herself, sluiced clear finally of their clutter and rubbish, her footsteps ringing clean on its smooth ceilings. But this was a house built for someone else. The doorways were too high for her to step through; the windows too low to look out of. She could not guess the purpose of each bare room. She could not imagine what impossibly long-limbed creature lived here. She looked up at the floor and saw marble, glass, porcelain falling towards her in a blue-white shimmering of dust.

Enier al-Sadim was woken by the alien but unmistakeable sound of rainfall on the roof.