Behind/Charcoal: A Story

During the 2018 Translating Vitalities Lab, Christie Brown and Carla Nappi collaborated to form what you see below. Christie held a workshop for the collective that set up a series of constraints for working with drawing materials. Participants were asked to choose three items from a list, one of which was a drawing material, and make an image with them. Carla chose charcoal and one of Christie’s prepositional drawings (below) as two of her constraints to develop the following story, which will become part of a larger fiction project The Elizabeths. (See also: Underneath/Ink!)



One night on her walk home she bent to the stones and picked up a dark shimmer.

She brought it inside and each night she took it in her fingers and drew it across the walls, the furniture, the corners, only very slightly, as if to mark: tonight, I exist, and then she undressed and she went to bed. That night her dreams seeped out of her sweat while she slept and they illustrated themselves on the sheets. As soon as she woke they began to darken, until she lifted herself out of bed and this shadow came with her.

When she returned to bed the next night, her sweat etched the images of her dreams into the shadow that now slept beneath her, and it mixed with her shadow’s own dreams – darker hazier versions of her own – and the mark of its dreams in turn left itself on the bed, and when the woman got up, her shadow’s shadow now followed as well.

This went on and on as she was followed by the history of her dreaming, always just behind her, always just out of sight, with her but not quite.

She didn’t notice the change from day to day, but over time there was more and more behind her to lift. Until one day the weight was too much, and her shadows split down the middle. She found herself asleep with dark dusty wings. Unable to rise, she closed her eyes and began to dream the dreams of her shadows. And as she dreamt, her wings gently enfolded her.

They lightly crushed the down of her skin, and they covered her cheeks, and as she breathed them in, and the crowd of her shadows (her history, her dreaming) came inside of her (she still couldn’t see them), and eventually her breathing slowed, and her dreaming slowed, and the dreams became her, until, one morning, between her sheets was only a stick of charcoal roughly in the shape of a woman.

When you find a piece of charcoal, and you take it in your fingers, and you press it to paper, know that you are grasping a dark artist, and cradling the chrysalis of the living sinuous path of a dreaming. Be careful to wash it off if you find it smudged on your skin, else you find yourself fogged with another’s dreams and lifting shadows with you when you wake, biding their time until their own metamorphosis.


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