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Image by Larisa Lauber
By Marijka Bright
Mali could always tell when it was the time of the Glooms. The shoulders of everyone she met drooped forward with the sheer weight of them and peoples’ faces showed their struggles with the immensity of it all. Deep furrowed frowns, directed at the world around and at no one in particular. They were so invasive that everyone took exception to them and each projected their very own snarly version of it back at one other. They bounced off all the other faces and surfaces until they pointed directly back at themselves.
The Glooms grew exponentially, feeding off disdain and hopelessness, causing a despairing darkness to fall over the city. Grey clouds sagged, like gargantuan, sodden cotton balls, which threatened to fall from the sky and suffocate all of us at any minute. The leaves, long gone from the trees, a faded memory, squashed into the pavement under the heavy boots of winter. Green, replaced by an underwhelming drabness, permeating every corner, of every inch, of every part, of anything that could have been touched by light, but was instead strangled by shadow.
At that time of the year—the ‘Gloomszeit’, as it had become known—the city broke off into three distinct groups. There were the Hibernators, who embraced their Gloom and set about preparing their winter’s den; Netflix, crates of wine, firewood, and enough plätzchen and nuts to see out the icy siege. Mali knew that she wouldn’t see the Hibernators for at least three months—but she also knew that those people would be safe. It was well known that Glooms would not harm those who gave in to their demands for lethargy, isolation and overeating.
Then there were the Fighters, who fought against their Gloom; an endless battle of freezing nights out and copious amounts of alcohol, drugs, dancing—Glooms are renowned for their hatred of loud noises and activity, it was common knowledge. All the freedom fighters together, facing off against their Glooms in their own natural habitat of icy, cold darkness, punctuated by disco balls and flashing lights.
One of Mali’s oldest friends, Hapus—an avid Gloom warrior—swore to her that he had defeated his Gloom on the dancefloor of Berghain. They had had a particularly vigorous, old-school dance-off and his Gloom had surrendered right there and then. Apparently, Hapus had overwhelmed it with his extraordinary pop and lock, in combination with his supreme hyperactivity. Hapus had concluded that his Gloom had obviously left to feed off one of the Hibernators and he was free as a bird and as light as a feather to enjoy the winter as he pleased.
Mali had her doubts about Hapus’ account however, given that since his so-called legendary Gloom dance-off destruction, he hadn’t seemed to be any happier than anybody else.
Mali never knew if it was the influx of Glooms which caused the changing of the seasons or if it was winter itself which brought about these effects, because what she never told anyone was that her Gloom followed her all the time. Hers didn’t sit on her shoulders or stand directly behind her as everyone else’s seemed to do however, her Gloom always sat in the corner of her eye, always just out of her reach.
Once, when Mali was carrying an over full cup of tea into the room of her sick grandfather, she was certain that she had seen the flash of a razorblade, glint in her Gloom’s shadowy hand. But by the time she had unburdened herself of the cup and swung her head to face it, it had vanished, blade and all.
Mali was a member of the third group, the most dangerous group. A group which was full of unassuming members, who never crossed each other’s paths and even if they did, they didn’t acknowledge their membership. The members of this group neither accepted their fate, nor did they fight it, they just tried their utmost to ignore it. The Oblivions, as they were referred to in all the literature on the topic, were burdened with the Glooms all year round and they tried their best to carry on through the winter as though all was usual.
And for Mali, all was usual. Whether it be Gloomszeit or summer or any other time of the year, her Gloom was a permanent fixture in her life, doing its best to thwart her every attempt at achieving anything. The advent of Gloomszeit made no difference to her and all she could do was try her best to ignore the ever invasive tentacles of her Gloom and continue to wade through the thickness of everything, just like everyone else and hope that her Gloom would leave her alone enough just to get through the tasks that needed to be done each day.
Mali’s approach, although tiring, had worked for her since the Gloom had attached itself to her after the unexpected death of her mother during summertime three years before. At the time, Mali had figured that her mother must have been an Oblivion and that her mother’s Gloom had become lost and had attached itself to her after the burial, in the interim, until it figured out that its host had left this earth and the Gloom was free to go wherever it is that the Glooms go after their hosts die.
But the Gloomszeit came and went that year and the Gloom didn’t. It held on all the way through the next summer. She had spent the entire time in bed and when her friend, Hapus, had finally convinced her to come out to a lake, the Gloom had stood so firmly on her head when she had tried to surface from a dive, that she had almost drowned. It was only when Hapus had come and true to his Gloom fighting ways, had punched it in the face with his energy, that Mali had been able to come up for air. She didn’t come out again for the rest of that summer or autumn and by then Gloomszeit had returned and she just carried on like everybody else.
Mali wasn’t special—everybody had their own Gloom to deal with. But when it didn’t disappear again, she realised that she was stuck with it and it was time to ignore it—maybe the Gloom would just go away. But it hadn’t, not yet and after three years, she was beginning to wonder if it would ever leave her alone again. It was so hard to continue to ignore something that was always trying to get her attention, right in the corner of her eye. Being an Oblivion was not as easy as it seemed, but Mali didn’t want to admit to anyone—especially Hapus or even herself, that she was afraid of what she would find if she truly turned to face her Gloom and so she avoided it.
Mali sat, looking out of her window at all the Fighters skipping past her house. Some wearing all Berghain-cool black—and others choosing a more colourful kind of combat—golden platform shoes, pink tube skirts, fluoro-green tights. All of them with one common goal—waging their nightly war on their Glooms. In the windows of the other buildings in the street, she could see the flicker of fire lights and the white light of screens dancing on the walls. Hibernators—warm and cosy, Netflix, wine and a little bit of chill.
Mali scanned the neighbourhood one last time. Her eye was drawn to a window, black as the darkest night, directly across the way. A figure stood there, shrouded in shadow, barely perceptible to the naked eye. She considered the figure for a moment and then she closed her blind remembering the code of the Oblivion—even if we recognise another, there will be no acknowledgment.
The next evening Mali stood at the window once more. This time she wasn’t scanning the streets or the neighbourhood. Her focus was purely on the window across from her. She had spent part of her day imagining who the figure could be. Whether it was a man or a woman, whether they were lonely too. The window in question had always had its curtain drawn; purple with a pinkish hue. It had been the blackness which had drawn her attention the evening before because it had never been so.
She took a sip of tea from her tea cup and as she went to place the cup back onto its saucer the figure appeared back in the window. This time, before she had the chance to shut her blind, the figure waved. This was beyond the protocol of the Oblivion, and although there was no real punishment for straying from the rules, Mali panicked and knocked her cup onto the ground in her haste to escape from the window. She had ducked. She knew that the figure had seen her duck and the cord to close her blind was just out of her reach.
Mali was used to awkwardness. She had written a handbook on it. But even she had to admit that this was on another level of awkward that she herself had yet to encounter. She slowly peered over the window sill, hoping that the figure had received her message and left. Instead the figure held up a sign. Mali had to strain her eyes to read it. She could only just make it out. It said, “Invite your Gloom to tea.”
She wondered exactly what that could possibly mean, but by the time she had found a piece of paper large enough and a marker to write a corresponding sign with a question mark, the figure had vanished, replaced by the familiar purple curtain, with the pinkish hue.
The next morning—well to be honest, she got out of bed at 1pm—Mali set her table for two. She used her grandmother’s recipe for scones and she used smoked salmon for some sandwiches. She boiled the kettle and then said in her most polite voice, “My dear Gloom, would you do me the honour of joining me for tea?”
There was a rustle in the corner of the room and she could see a dark presence approach her from the side. Mali turned to look directly at her Gloom, at the thing that had been causing her so many difficulties, but as she did, her Gloom disappeared. She turned back and there was her Gloom sitting at the table, right in front of her. It said in a heavy, muffled version of her own voice, “Sorry, that’s just a habit—staying out of the way.”
Mali considered the entity which was now nibbling around the edges of one of the scones. It was a distorted, shadowy, if not a little puffy, version of herself. She could see that it had been crying.
“What’s wrong?” Mali asked offering her Gloom a handkerchief to wipe her tears.
“That’s a very broad question,” the Gloom replied slowly. “Do you want to know what’s wrong with me, or with the world in general?”
“We can start with you. Why are you crying?”
“Because I’m alone and every time I try to do anything I feel as though there is a weight pulling me down. I feel as though I’m drowning in mud and there is nobody there to help me and even if there were people there, no one would care enough to help me anyway.” The Gloom put the scone back down and added, “And I’m fat.”
Mali didn’t know what to say. The Gloom had just told her how she felt herself most of the time. They sat in silence and eventually the Gloom just faded away—back into the corner of Mali’s vision.
That night Mali waited at the window for the figure. This time she was armed with a message of her own. When the figure appeared, she held up her sign. It read,
“The Gloom got sad and went back to its corner.”
The figure leaned forward and wrote a response, “Pay it a compliment.”
The next afternoon, Mali set the table for two once again, and invited her Gloom for tea. The Gloom sat, fresh tears glimmering on its cheeks.
Mali offered it a sandwich, smiled and said, “Your hair has the loveliest texture.”
“Oh, you’re just saying that,” the Gloom replied.
“No, I mean it. And your teeth, they are exceptionally straight and clean.”
“Thank you Mali,” the Gloom answered, returning her smile.
As the Gloom smiled, something unexpected happened. Some colour slowly returned to its face and it became slightly less distorted.
“You have a nice smile,” Mali continued. “Why did you have the razor in your hands that time, in my grandfather’s room? Why did you try and drown me at the lake?”
The Gloom looked up from her sandwich and said, “That wasn’t me—I was just a reflection of you. You held the razorblade, it was you who didn’t resurface from the lake, but it was also you who put the razorblade back down and who chose not to carry on with any of it.”
“You don’t have to hide anymore, you don’t have to be alone,” Mali said.
“Neither do you,” the Gloom replied and it pointed to the window across the way.
Later, Mali stood at the window, waiting with anticipation. She had already written her message and she was just waiting for the figure to appear. When it did, she held her sign aloft.
“Meet me. Come to apartment 23.”
Five minutes later there was a knock at her door. Mali and her Gloom raced to answer it. Standing there was a woman, about the same age as Mali, holding a bottle of red wine. She said, “You got Netflix?”
“I do,” she replied. “My name’s Mali and this is my Gloom.”
“Nice to finally meet you. I’m Golau and my Gloom is already over there.”
She pointed to the corner, where her Gloom was talking to Mali’s Gloom apparently in deep conversation.
Mali and Golau spent the winter together with their Glooms watching Netflix and drinking wine. They had officially become Hibernators.
At the first melting of the snow Mali awoke to find her Gloom standing over her.
“It is time to bid you farewell,” the Gloom said with a smile.
“What will you do? Where will you go?” Mali asked.
“We’re heading south of the equator for the summer—we’ll find somewhere nice and wintery to go.”
Mali looked and saw Golau’s Gloom already standing there, bags packed, ready to leave.
“But we haven’t finished watching the new season of Black Mirror yet,” Mali said.
Mali’s Gloom replied as it faded slowly through the door, “Don’t worry, we’ll see each other again.”
Marijka Bright is originally from Australia; however, she has been living in Berlin for the past 4.5 years. She has obtained Bachelor degrees in Biomedical science, Psychology and a Masters in Accounting. Upon her bones being slowly ground into dust and being scattered unceremoniously throughout the corporate wasteland, she relinquished a very secure job at a large firm, to pursue her dream of becoming an author. Her debut novel, Underneath the Killing Tree was released in May 2017, followed closely by her short story collection, The Monsters in my Mind, Beat Their Chests. Her second novel, The Never After is in the final stages of editing and will be released in early 2018.
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I knew not where this story was taking me, but I was so glad when I arrived…liberated with Mali!!