If Hannah Cowley heard the word chiaroscuro one more time, she would scream. She had told her therapist about her picture, about the way she saw her life, about the balance of light and darkness. That darkness can clarify the light. They hadn’t seen her darkness. Churchill called his depression ‘The Black Dog’. Hers looks like an Alpha Wolf, and leads his pack of anxiety, sleeplessness, tears and a dozen dark lupine shadows. Somedays, at least. Those are the worst days.


Most days, there was a scrap of light. A battle between her little hopes and the clouds that stood between her and ever reaching them. The contact between was gentle, almost teasing, two fencers approaching, circling, and only rarely touching. It was enough to know, beneath the surface of the physical world, that there was a part that fought on. But it fought by the rules. And defeated, it would withdraw. The darkness would swell up from that single masked swordsman to consume all things – streets, pavements, shops, darkness swelling out of every gap, every hole, every crevice.


When the darkness had consumed everything, she saw a shadow within the shadow. The darkness shone out, but something still darker obstructed the general darkness. There was something there, a figure. It was not the dark swordsman. No light matched it, no light faced it, and yet, in its contrast to the darkness, it was almost akin to light. But then reality would ripple through, and she would be back, bewildered, terrified. The anxiety would be ripping hot wounds in her chest. This had happened before. She knew she had to get home. Home was safer.


It used to be safe. Safety from the anxiety, safety from the despair. But slowly the taint had crept in. The little leaking shadows. The wolves at the door. All she had to hold onto was that clichéd comfort – the return of the light, the return of the struggler. The silent swordsman who would defend her even if he was doomed to fail. She knew that it was a part of her, that this was her who fought. But feeling as if it were some external force playing out in a battlefield within helped her.


But that damned therapist. She was trying to express the good days and the bad, the way she visualised things. She wasn’t here to talk about Caravaggio. She was here to strengthen the fencer, to broaden his foil, to remesh his mask. To find sources of light to sustain him. For each day was indeed a travail, a moment in wartime, and she had to, had to, do whatever she could.

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