Notes on a Drowning by Laura Woollett

Laura Eliz­a­beth Wool­lett lives in Mel­bourne. Her work has appeared in Con­trary, Mas­cara (#9), Page Sev­en­teen, and Wet Ink, among other pub­li­ca­tions. She stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne and is a fic­tion sube­d­i­tor for Voice­works.

 

 

 

Notes on a Drowning

Death is beau­ti­ful when you are a virgin.

Death is beau­ti­ful when you are aggrieved.

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What does a maiden know about fucking?

What does a maiden know about…anything?

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‘Let me lay my head across your lap’, he said, in the flood­lit the­atre. The show had not yet begun.
My mod­esty was pink as ham, eglan­tine, lady-parts. I caught his mother’s eye.

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Some things are never quite right. Some flow­ers are des­tined to grow the wrong way.

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My dress blazes white. Sun strains behind the clouds. I am liq­uid like white sun, lilt­ing dream songs under pale skies.

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‘She always liked mer­maids! She always smelt of fish! Oho, a ver­i­ta­ble fish­wife!’ (Horatio)

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Under dream skies. In sepia woods. I am sun-bleached, unplucked. Pluck­ing flow­ers like I know what it is all about.

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Art crit­i­cism: ‘Mr. Millais’s Ophelia…makes us think of a dairy­maid in a frolic’ (The Times). ‘Why the mis­chief should you not paint pure nature, and not that ras­cally wirefenced garden-rolled-nursery-maid’s par­adise?’ (John Ruskin).

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Tum­bled like a dairy­maid. My white skirts spread wide. Afloat on a sea of grass, I watch the star­lings skim­ming. In my half-open hand: a tan­gled prize.

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Hug me, Gertrude, I have no Mommy. Kiss me, Gertrude, I love your son.

Air-tide rip­ple. Post-meridian dim. I rise from one dream to plunge into another, watery and willow-swept.

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‘O, my philia! Stars burn in my cod­piece! Hear my celes­tial groan­ing!’ (A let­ter from the dirty prince)

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Poor Lizzie has caught a chill! In the artist’s stu­dio. Look at Lizzie Sid­dal: pale-lipped, wet-browed. Ophe­lia in a claw-foot bathtub.

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‘If I must die, let it be by water, that most poetic of ele­ments’ (The author at nineteen).

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To my eyes, all flow­ers have the look of sea foam. My eyes, swim­ming in sweet salt tears.

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When a vic­tim is sub­merged at the time of death, it is nor­mal for their eyes to main­tain a glis­ten­ing, life­like appear­ance’ (A foren­sic sci­ence manual).

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I fill my lap with float­ing seed, tufted daisies, net­tles, and dead men’s fin­gers. I gather them up in my robe, close to my womb, and sigh for the proximity.

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‘My daugh­ter? She is daisy fresh! My daugh­ter? Blue blood. High rump. Lovely skin. Like porce­lain! You can touch, sonny lord, but don’t you break it’ (Polo­nius, before he is stabbed).

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Famous deaths by drown­ing: Vir­ginia Woolf, L’Inconnue de la Seine, Rasputin (NB: after being poi­soned, shot repeat­edly, cas­trated, and badly beaten, it is water that gets him in the end).

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Brown brook bub­bling. Toil­less. Untrou­bled. Clogged with thick weeds, sum­mer green algal blooms. Here and there: grasp­ing reeds, lily pads, nenuphars. A weak Baby­lon­ian wil­low, grey-leaved in its old age, overhanging.

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Nymphaea, the largest genus of water lilies, is home to the com­mon nenuphar, or Euro­pean White Water Lily, which is said to resem­ble a float­ing vir­gin. More exotic species include Nymphaea pubes­cens (Hairy water lily), named for the pubes­cent fuzz along its under­sides and stem.

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Lizzie Sid­dal is nine­teen when she mod­els for Mil­lais in that bath­tub. A con­sump­tive cop­per­head with widely spaced fea­tures and an antique dress. She has a pen­chant for poppies.

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Bloat­ing and dis­col­oration can be expected. The abdomen becomes green­ish or pur­ple, and dis­tends as the cav­ity fills with gas. Fea­tures may swell to the point of obscur­ing the victim’s iden­tity’ (The same foren­sics manual).

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High­gate ceme­tery. West. Eliz­a­beth Eleanor Ros­setti (née Sid­dal). Tan­gled gravesite. Lep­rous stone angels.

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They call me The Wild Rose. But my name was Elisa Day’ (Kylie Minogue).

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Elsi­nore can­not hold me. I have a yen for the forests of my fore­bears, over­run with bracken, sphag­num moss, black leeches. The blue-black bod­ies of sac­ri­fi­cial vic­tims. In my head, I hear snatches of Old Norse, Viking lullabies.

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AUTOPSY REPORT:

Age: Nine­teen

Race: Nordic

Sex: Fair

Hair: Eliz­a­bethan Red

Lips: Blue as frost­bite, perennials.

Pos­ses­sions: var­i­ous gar­lands, love let­ters, Rasputin’s penis.

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‘Say what you will, she died with a song on her lips’ (The priest).