I follow the magician up the narrow spiral staircase with a cautious gait: I have to keep my eyes down to make sure I don’t stand on the deep red cloak that sweeps the steps behind him. Then, when we reach our destination, I have to hold on to an iron ring attached to the wall to steady myself as he carefully selects the right mortise key from his pocket. How ancient his slender fingers appear, with their painfully long pointed nails. I don’t wonder he could pick the lock of the door we now enter with those alone.
The room is surprisingly well lit, and I have to shield my eyes at first as I adjust from the near darkness of the staircase. There is a huge red circle painted on the floor with strange markings and candles around the perimeter. But by far the most striking things here are the bottles. I am hesitant at first, but the magician glares at me with his piercing yellow eyes and I know at once that I am expected to examine them.
There are some delicate shelves immediately beside me which hold beautifully ornate designs. Bright, shimmering liquids are trapped within, and each one is labelled with words like Alexander and Preservation. “Those are your obsessions” the magician remarks; the first thing he has said to me aloud since we arrived at the castle. He says it in a matter-of-fact kind of way, and although he looks as if to gauge my reaction, I sense he already knows. “The ones on the lower levels are your neuroses.”
There are so many!
I look away; I need to process this.
“The vials on the far wall”, he gestures with a flick of the wrist, “contain the tears you didn’t cry.”
Well, I had thought the neuroses were in great quantity, but these outnumbered them to the power of a hundred. Pale greens and blues, all apparently identical and yet subtly different in hue. I smile awkwardly as I remember what my mother used to tell me ‘it’s no use bottling it all up!’.
There is a rumble
I can feel at my core
And the floor
And the vials
Begin to shake
Begin to make
And then there is water everywhere. The magician and I are quickly up to our necks in blues and greens, in reds and purples and pinks. The coloured spirits swirl around us as we struggle to tread water like dogs and take gasps of the now tainted air that tastes like I am swallowing broken glass.
The candles (as if by magic) come to the surface with me, and bob by my head. The magician gives out an almighty blow, and fire is lit in them. They illuminate the room – it had gone dark and I barely noticed.
How long was I here?
The water has turned to indigo by now, and is the most mesmerising sight I ever beheld. Indigo feels easier on my muscles: I am no longer saturated but carried, embraced, floating. At last, I am renewed.