MARIGOLD WOMAN: The good doctor can tell you how to climb but he can’t take away your fear of heights

Abba Anthony and the vulture have told me not to speak of the ghul, but how can I speak at all without mentioning him? All my words would be flimsy scaffolding around that gap. Better to build right through it, let it flow through my finger-bones named and acknowledged and laid to rest.

I had believed that the ghul belonged to the red land, and when I met him striding through the black land I was deceived. He looked like the people of the black land. He was sleek and healthy, and he smiled like a cat.

I had believed that the ghul was made from fire, but when I encountered him he smelled of bread and leather and I was confused. He wore layers upon layers of well-made clothes, and all these concealed his animal’s heart.

I had believed that the ghul steals and spoils food, but he was fastidious in his ways when I ate with him and I was led astray. He did not eat children—nor, as so many false men claim, the bodies of the dead. He ate fine words.

I had believed that I would know the ghul when I saw him, and like all my other beliefs this proved a delusion. Now I know differently.

I had believed that the ghul devours with his crooked teeth, but now I know that there is no need for such melodrama.

I had believed that the ghul is above all the wickedest of beasts, but now I know that it does not take great wickedness to be the ghul. It takes small failures, and misunderstandings, and words spoken when there should have been silence, and silences where there should have been words. It takes soft sounds and delicate touches and minor evasions. It takes closing your eyes and humming very loudly while the wind beats on your door begging to be let in.

Above all, to be the ghul requires fear, the fear that turns your eyes inwards on yourself, the fear that hugs your ribcage tightly, the fear that anxiously asks after mine mine mine my part my piece my share my time. The fear that bows to the big bulls in their ivory temples. The fear that sidles up and pierces your eardrums with fine needles.

The ghul is afraid, and he goes running into the woods hugging himself while I stand here on this park-bench and watch him, unable to move or think.

The ghul is afraid.

So am I.

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