By Layla Harding
Layla Harding’s debut novel Cut – the heart-rending story of a girl called Persephone – is officially launched today. In this piece, Layla talks about her relationship with Persephone and the process of telling her story.
I have voices in my head. Lots and lots of voices. Some like to hang out, chat, become a part of my every day world. Others will flit in and out, sharing little pieces of themselves before heading onto what I imagine are more entertaining heads than mine.
There has been one voice that has been with me for years – longer than all the others. She is angry, sullen, hurting and obstinate. She is the master of the silent treatment and can scream for attention louder than any two-year old. Sometimes I want to lock her in a sound-proof closet and other times I want to hug her for hours. My dear little Persephone.
I don’t remember exactly remember when Persephone started trying to tell me her story, but I do remember all the times I got it wrong. I could almost feel her stomping her foot and yelling, “NO!” when a chapter would veer off in a direction she didn’t like. I would get nothing more from her for days, sometimes weeks. Days of sitting in front of my computer, begging her to come out. She’d give me a sentence or two before turning her back again. It was a slow process regaining her trust.
We battled back and forth like this year after year. She would cry, yell, and run away. I coaxed, cajoled, and even yelled back on occasion. I was ready to walk away. I think she was, too.
Then the strangest thing happened. I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize… repeatedly. The person wouldn’t leave a voicemail, and I wouldn’t answer the call. I barely answer the phone for numbers I do know. But the calls kept coming, and at all hours.
One day I answered. The ragged, anxious voice at the other end asked for a gentleman I had never heard of before. I told him he had the wrong number and hung up, thinking that was the end of it. It wasn’t.
Two hours later the same number called. I didn’t answer. Nor did I answer the next three days worth of phone calls.
Finally, on the fourth day, I was at a family gathering when my phone lit up. It was the one year anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s passing. I had had it. Enough was enough. My emotions were raw, I was angry, and I wanted someone else to feel just as awful as I did. I stepped outside and answered the phone, yelling before I really even swiped “accept call.” I’m not sure if the man at the other end actually said anything or not. I didn’t give him a chance.
The next morning, driving to work, my phone was blessedly quiet – giving me all the time in the world to think about just how hateful I had been the day before. I called the number back to apologize for being such a wretched bitch. That’s when I discovered the poor guy had his numbers transposed (my number ends with 3969, the other number ended with 6939). And the two guys had been Marines together in Vietnam. And one of them was sick. And I felt smaller and smaller as the guy told me his story.
That evening, Persephone made one of her, by this point, rare appearances. This time, she had someone in tow with her. His name was Ken, and he thought maybe he could help tell Persephone’s story because he was a part of it, too.
While I still got things wrong, our fights were less frequent and intense. Ken was a reliable peacekeeper and much better at keeping Persephone from running away when she got angry or scared. Finally, between the three of us, we got her story down on paper.
Now there are new voices in my head. Ones that have been patiently waiting while I fought with Persephone. Ones who have stories to tell and lives to share. I have started chatting with them. They are infinitely more pleasant to talk to. There is one in particular I really like. I’m anxious to get to know her better so I can tell you about her.
Late at night though, or driving to the grocery store, or simply standing over the kitchen sink washing dishes, I listen for Persephone. I miss her. I miss Ken. My only hope is that I finally got her story right.