Perry, Indigo. Darkfall. Perth: UWA Publishing, 2020. RRP: $27.99, 232pp, ISBN: 9781760801328.
She knows about darkness that falls in through the middle of days, a looming curvature flooding away the bright lines, the squares and rules. Wetting the dry. Inking and blocking out birds, seeping into the cocoon-thickness of sheep until you can put your hands through them and not even discern the feel of air. She knows the taste of when it enters her through her mouth. The black of outer space tips in over her face and turns her inside-out to a cosmic aloneness where nothing but this can touch her. (11)
The darkness in Indigo Perry’s Darkfall is tangible. A living thing. It erases and holds, fills and leaks. Both a cruelty and a cloak. The girl walks through the night-time dark. She learns soundlessness and shadows. She learns to carry the scent of where she’s been and to witness the dome of the stars from the highest granite outcrop in town. She does not fear the dark outside in the way she fears the dark inside. It is a different quality of dark, a dark of disappearance.
Darkfall is a kaleidoscope, a nightmare, and a reality told in fragments. Told in short and poetic vignettes, we are invited to stand with Perry as a girl in a country town. The girl who has visions, the girl who has bad dreams, the girl who walks in the night. The reader follows her perspective from the narrow field of early youth: the behaviour of birds, long stretches of sky, the rivulets of water that gather under the plants when they are watered, and scenes that may be real or imagined. The girl’s connection with the natural world, the moments of belonging in the outdoors, in the water, under the stars are quietly joyful. And it would be well if she could stay there, with the magical and the unreality of her mind’s eye. Because the outside world intrudes and whenever it does, something is taken. Whether it be the hands of a childhood friend grabbing, clutching, taking too much soft moss, or the strip tease of older girls, as a bribe for boys to leave them alone.
I’m going to wake up my daddy.
The red bit of the smoke points at her tummy now and she feels like it’s burning a hole in her. He shakes his head. No.
I’m waking him up now.
And she hears the sliver-slither-snake noise. Her dad is a butcher, and her grandfather, and her uncles. She’s heard that noise lots of times. The snake noise is when they take a long, sharp knife out of the keeper they have strapped like a belt around their waists. This butcher’s knife is white like the moon that’s out there behind him, just out of sight but shining on everything like the bright lights on the ceiling shine at the meatworks while the men work through the nights.
Don’t wake him. (18-19)
She begins to fear being watched. She sleeps with the lights on, she walks late at night and comes back tired, too tired to stay awake. Her dreams are full of violence, and in them she runs, but she is also trapped, implicated and horrified. The waking world is dangerous too, a danger that lurks and strikes unexpectedly: a man at the swimming pool, someone threatening in the park, a murder in the next town. There is no one act of male aggression at the centre of the memoir, it is a film of dust over the world Darkfall inhabits, it is the grit between your teeth as you read. The girl is victimised and shamed in the same breath, and in her dreams she always carries a sense of being responsible for the violence she witnesses. This is living under patriarchy, this is being different, this is being seen. The darkness becomes a weight she must carry, and she avoids making eye contact, fearful it will be recognised.
In her mind, she sees a flock of heavy-bodied birds. Birds of old times. Rumbling the ground as they stomp. Solid flesh. Darkly feathered. She knows these birds. She knows this wind. It’s as though the howling is coming from the ground. It rises rather than falls. Yet it’s also of the sky. Outside the windows, it’s dark, but a shade of darkness she has never seen. An earthen fire dark. It’s just a storm, the teacher says. It’ll be over soon. (63)
This is a dense text, for all its perforations, and the reading is slow, reflective. Boundaries between the real and imagined are undefined. The alternative and post-punk music score listed at the opening of the text offers a way to understand emotionally, almost physically. I was uncertain how to engage with the two, score and text. I decided to play each song while reading its corresponding chapter and by doing so the book becomes a mixtape, spanning years. There’s immense power in Perry’s reconstruction, in the act of recovery of the memories. The truth-telling is poetic and visceral, a reclamation of that girl, standing out on the granite outcrop under the snowdome of stars. A gift, a sadness, and a roar.
Rachel Watts is a writer of literary and speculative fiction. Her work has been published by Westerly, Island, Kill Your Darlings, Tincture and more. Her climate change novella Survival was released in March 2018. You can find her online at www.wattswrites.com or @watts_writes.