‘Things We Say In The Dark – The House – Last One To Leave Please Turn Off The Lights’ by Kirsty Logan

I’ve only read the first few pages of Kirsty Logan’s short story collection, ‘Things We Say In The Dark” and I’m already hooked.

I love the intimacy she offers her readers, telling us the background to her writing as if we’ve known each other forever. I like her humour and how she uses it while talking about what we fear, not to lessen those fears, but to bind them to us, to get us to own them as part of our experience. I admire the boldness of her imagery, taking us into the absurdly exaggerated to help us bring the ordinary into focus. Most of all, I’m hooked by her honesty in confronting the things we don’t talk about. She offered neither solutions nor judgements. Instead, she lets us know that we aren’t alone in our fears and this somehow makes them feel more manageable.

The story collection is divided into three parts: The House, The Child, and The Past. From what I’ve seen so far, these parts aggregate our experience of different sources of fear or worry or regret.

I’ve read the first section in ‘Part 1 The House’ which is called ‘Last One To Leave Please Turn Off The Lights’. This section describes four fears.
Misled, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say ambushed, by the light-hearted language of the ‘First Fear’ story, I started to it read it aloud as sight-read to my wife.. The tone was light and witty and the language was engaging, so it took a while to notice that the content had gone beyond eccentricity and into gruesome absurdity. It took a little longer for me to see that the apparent absurdity was a way of breaking through mundane ways of seeing things so as to focus on what those things mean and why we fear them.

The opening of ‘First Fear’ seemed like it was leading up to a punch line, It started with

‘The first house I gave you was a tooth.’

Followed by a description of how the speaker had carved one of her own teeth, taken out by the dentist. into a house and offered it to her companion. The speaker then says that she understands that being presented with the tooth house was unexpected and says:

‘You seemed pleased at the gesture if a little disgusted. It wasn’t your fault that the tooth got knocked into the toilet and accidentally flushed.

When I read this aloud, my wife and I both laughed so I read on and hearing ‘The second house I braided from my hair.’ I expected another piece of almost nursery thyme humour and that’s what I got, except, along with it, I got the sense that maybe the narrator was playing with more than one card short of a full deck. That impression was strengthened when the narrator, commenting in leaving this house of hair as an unexpected gift next to her beloved’s morning cup of tea, said:

‘As I was falling asleep the night before it had seemed quirky and charming, but I see now that it was a weird thing to do and made you not want to eat your scrambled eggs.’

So when the next part started with:

‘The third house was my fingernails’

I decided to stop reading aloud until I knew where the story was going. The story went through house after house, each one becoming more deranged and requiring the narrator to use more and more of herself and I finally understood that the First Fear was of the madness of obsessive devotion to a person, that eats away at the devotee and attempts to imprison the one they are devoted to.

This is how you take a truism and get your reader to think about it afresh rather than just nod.

‘Second Fear’ looks at the house both as a refuge and a statement of identity. A refuge you invite others into and an identity statement that they feel free to criticise and challenge. The solution that Mary, the woman we follow in the story, comes up with is simultaneously understandable, impossible and insane. The ‘safe space’ she builds is a prison. That she sees it as ‘Dark and safe and cosy’ and tells herself, ‘It’s fine. Everything is fine.’ shows that her fear has triumphed.

‘Third Fear’ looks at being unable to cope with being in the world, at how the urge to protect can become abuse and how co-dependency confines those involved.

‘Fourth Fear’ was the one that resonated most with me, perhaps because it speaks to something I’ve already had to face, clearing out a house after someone you love has died.

This story almost stays within the bounds of normality, with only one small but important change to help us see what it is we fear.

Lydia is clearing out her dead grandfather’s house. At first, I found myself comfortably nodding at her approach when I read:

‘She wandered the house, feeling unhaunted. Yes, she’d learned to play on this piano. Yes, she’d watched Saturday-morning TV on this couch. Yes, she’d eaten porridge off these spoons and speared peas with these forks. Should she take them? But she already had spoons and forks and a crunch and she liked them better than these ones. With her grampa gone, the things were just things.’

Then something happens, something impossible except that is works a symbol for the attachment we feel to the things the people we love left behind.

Lydia’s rationality weakens as her grandfather’s possessions are imbedded with value simply because they were his and that value turns them into a burden that she may not be able to carry.

The emotional content here felt very accurate to me and the structure and content of the story helped me make sense of that emotion.

Now I’m looking forward to the rest of the book.

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