Beneath the skin
Call it a Difficult Night by Mishka Hoosen Deep South Publishing (UKZN Press) 160 pages R120
Some time last year after I suffered an overwhelming disappointment, the world began to overflow. It forgot to keep to its neatly defined boxes – one realm leaking into the other. There were voices building themselves into shadows in the corner of my room. A little girl in white dress, wearing a crown of paper humans on her Afro. And everything spoke loudly, even the silences. And everything was full and alive, especially the emptiness. The world began to blur its edges, and all lines became smudged. And cosmos and chromosome, chimera and chronology were one. And all I had were my words, but they did not trust me with them. So the world overflowed and my veins exploded, and everything was awash with blood within.
“On the underside of the skin we are so much redness and richness.”
These are the words of the narrator in Mishka Hoosen’s debut novel, Call it a Difficult Night. It reminded me of this time in my life. Hoosen’s narrator remains unnamed, but never unknown. She invites us under her skin as she battles with an illness – schizophrenia? – that might not be.
She counts down the seconds left in her life, living as though she had no skin, leaving blood stains in the beds of lovers, on blankets in the snow, on sterile white sheets in mental institutions.
We meet her when she’s meeting a little girl who no one can see but her. She attempts to crown this girl with a ring of flowers, but the halo falls to the floor. She invites the child into her home and offers her a saucer of honey. “I’d heard somewhere that honey was the food of other worlds as well. The sun streamed over the wood and pooled in front of her, leaf shadow moving over her. It was hard keeping her in focus. She moved under the skin of things.”
The book is peppered with the idea of skin and the things underneath it. Skin as a membrane, porous and thin. “You draw the blade across your arm again and again till you think it’s deep enough. You light a match, hold the knife to it. Soot spreads along the bright blade and mars it. You push the hot blade between the parted ridges of skin. Blood streams.”
Skin is a conduit for tactile communication but also for the blockage in the synapses. Skin is the barrier and the portal. “Long ago they might have said it was God we heard. Long ago they would have said we have seen the next place, the ghost world. What a long way, and now the glass. And then the skin. We are all such strangers to each other.”
Skin and blanket sheeting, worlds underneath it, things that crawl and rub up against each other. Things that scream and make you scream. “She moved under the skin of things.” And through this brave, naked missive, we move with Hoosen.
Call it a Difficult Night is a jigsaw of poetry, prose, magic and realism linked together by a desperation to touch and be touched without skin, to speak without language, to invent a new one.
It is sentimental and romantic, but written with such earnestness that it never tumbles over into the insincere. Published by the small, independent Deep South, it may not receive much attention. Yet it deserves more than I can put here into words.