Nicola Cayless.
Looking for light in words.

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Today I want to be very quiet until I can no longer hear and no longer feel and no longer be.

I would really very much just like to write in Paris, drinking too much coffee and wearing dresses that swirl when I spin. 


Vona learnt what ‘virginity’ meant when she was thirteen years, two months and four days.

The church youth group she attended religiously ran Friday night sessions for the youth of their suburb. Games, chatting, lollies were all a preamble to the sermon that converted through terror. On the last day of the week, youth group began at 7:30pm. Vona estimated that the sermon began at 8:34pm, an average she had estimated after several years of unwavering attendance. They kept a tally next to each name on the register, measuring faith through turnout. Vona had missed six Fridays out of two hundred and eight.

She’d met her closest friend here. Thrown on a team for Bin Ball or Capture the Flag, and one had no real option but to forge the deepest ties on the battlefield, whilst they dodged the enemies. There was true trust between her and Sjón. Sjón was tall, blone, and beautiful, a Scandinavian willow, an Ice-Maiden who had already drank her first beer, even at fourteen.

Vona had spent the night with Sjón at youth group. They’d been playing Bullrush, running through the winter evening, warm sweat dripping over cold flesh. Their arms around each other, their long hair swaying gentle in the night breeze, they ambled inside the church hall.

It was a stuffy old room. If it were alive, Vona imagined that it might be stiff, reluctant, sullen. It looked as if it had been forced into the shape of the cross, governed by tradition and poor Christian architecture. The church smelt of moulding mortar, and an icy draft whistled in through an old stained glass window, with a crack in the windowpane. It was too high up for anyone to reach and fix it, and no one really wanted to spend money that was already scarce.

Vona knew she had no choice but to love this room. It was where she learnt about God. The God who demanded her adoration.

Sitting on straight-backed mahogany pews, Vona felt the rising hysteria, as the youth pastor stood and walked in front of the chattering youth group. She was always petrified that his old, gnarled finger, like an oak’s root, would point unwavering at her.

“You haven’t been reading your Bible!” he would screech, and she would freeze, her joints locking into place like ice, her jaw chattering and no words on the tip of her tongue. “You have not been praying! Heathen! Heathen!” And they would beat her out the hall, throwing hard cover Good News Bibles at her back.

He seemed to creak as he swayed before the youth group. It was rumoured that Pastor Hreint had the entire Bible memorised, save 1 John and Galatians. Vona felt time expand and contract as he began to open his jaw, an impossible feat as his arthritic mandible worked.

The youth group held their breath as one. The asthmatic boy sitting two pews down from Vona seemed to convulse, on the edge of an attack.

Pastor Hreint creaked open his jaw.

Vona waited to hear God speak through him.


Late tonight.

“But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from you.”

His old, husky voice reverberated through the old church hall, spittle flying through the gaps in his teeth. The teenagers watched, their eyes open wide. Some held their palms clasped tight across their laps, as if the words that Pastor Hreint spoke they echoed in their minds, a direct prayer to the holy Lord who crafted them. Others shuddered, disgusted by the words and the concepts and the wrath of God. Her friends beside her had giggled, a gaggle of girls, when Pastor Hreint had said ‘virginity’. Vona, however, sat still, not quite knowing what to think.

“Thus spoke the Lord in Deuteronomy 22:19,” Pastor Hreint whispered his words, a coiling morality around the youths’ minds like a snake. He hoped to ensnare them into godliness, through fear, though of course he himself would name it ‘the Holy Ghost.’

“Girls, take heed. You are temptation. Why, we all know the story of the Fall, and it was a woman – the first woman – who precipitated such. Men, women are dangerous creatures. For that reason,  …”

“Vona.” Someone hissed her name, but Vona was too engrossed in the pastor’s frothing spit at the corner of his mouth, watching it gather as the blame began to heap upon the female sex.

“… to adorn themselves with garments befitting Christian young ladies. Now. The Lord goes on to speak through Moses. This is his last sermon, my children. Once he has laid down the law fully, he will ascend Mt Nebo and die within sight of the Promised Land. The man the Lord chose to lead the people from Egypt to …”


“What?” Vona spat, whipping her neck around. Her gaze was torn from the trainwreck that was Pastor Hreint. Her friend, Sjón, smiled a smug smile. Sjón’s hand pinched the skin of Vona’s thigh furiously, a desperate plea for attention. But when she spoke, it was slow and satisfied, the cat that got the cream.

“Hestur’s looking at you.”

Vona’s entire body tensed, frozen with potential and possibility. Every sound seemed amplified, and Pastor Hreint’s sermon drifted slowly away into the realm where Vona put all the other adult advice she had no intention of listening to. Glacially, she turned, Sjón smirking at her all the while, to see—

“…If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found …”

—Hestur’s midnight gazed fixed upon the smooth, lithe lines of her neck. Vona felt her cheeks heat, shuddering at the warring of heaven and hell (heaven being his gaze, hell being the absence of his touch.)

Time beat infinitely in one moment, within the pulsing ventricle chambers of her heart.

She felt his heart beat in return.

Time unfroze.

“ … he may not put her away all his days.”

Hestur smiled, a lion who sees his prey.

“Amen,” Pastor Hreint shrieked in ecstasy.

“Amen,” echoed Hestur and Vona. 

Perhaps Hestur was worth being stoned for. 


And this is when I will relinquish you
to the darkened question of the night.

And here is where I will leave you
to wander through illusion and false hope.

I will rest here, at this quiet lonely corner,
where nightmares undoubtedly roam.
I will rest here, leaning against sensation
and relying on the dawn to wake me screaming.
You will be kept warm by words that aren’t words,
when I could have whispered you silence.

And this is when I will let you go,
while I still live with the terror of
the real.

and make love to illusion. 

There is always a moment of quiet sadness when you realise that you mean nothing to someone you love.

lune calme

I, the crescent moon,
will curl around your lithe too-cold body,
as a wightwoman frosting your bed
for the night. And I will leave
the whisper of moonshine
on your thighs, your wrists,
your birdcage heart. 
I will hollow out craters
just above your collarbone,
emptying your lungs of your 
gasping eternal breath. 

I, the crescent moon,
will not love you like the stars,
though I, the crescent moon,
will love you too early
and too little. 

I am feeling completely and utterly meaningless to everyone and everything right now. I wish I could fold my heart up very tight and very small. That way I would not have room for feeling obsolete.

Last night, in a bath filled with lavender oil, I finished reading Lolita. My heart ached. I wanted to hold Lolita very very close, as I felt she would be vaguely unhappy, just a little unsettled, for the rest of her life, and I know that feeling very well. I did not feel any sympathy for Humbert Humbert, as some people said I would, but perhaps that is due to my own experiences with captors such as he. I did, however, understand his longing to hold Lolita in immortality. There are some very beautiful people I know that I wish I could capture in perfume bottles, and spray their scent onto my skin daily, just so that I may partake in a little part of their wholesome romance. But to go so far as to mar a little girl for life, well, as a little girl myself, I cannot understand nor sympathise with Humbert the monster, for he undoubtedly is one. Today I will bring Pablo Neruda’s selection of poetry to the theatre with me, along with my own poetry collection to edit. I have letters to write for Emma and Nani, and a birthday card to write for my dear friend whose eighteenth birthday is today. I think Lolita will stay etched in my ventricles forever.


I drew myself a rosewater bath,
and the steam that curled & coiled
smelled of summer flowers,
spring hopebuds. 

I cleansed myself with
crème fraîche and sugar crystals,
silently sweetening my lavender skin.

I kissed my wrists
with strawberry lips,
and still sweetsteam rose.

I am infused with
the perfume of a flowering something.

Taste me with your culinary tongue,
and crack my caramel surface,
your crème brûlée love.

(Letters I adore are ‘a’, ‘c’ when it is with a ‘h’ to make a hardhearted sound, ‘f’ when it is in fragile, frail & fingers, ‘m’ when the sounds are as round as the moon, ‘s’ because of the stars, and ‘y’ because he makes all words move.)

(Words I adore are ‘porcelain’, ‘quiet’, ‘stars' because of the warmth the image brings me, 'wrists' because I feel as though I am about to break when I hear it whispered, 'moon' who lives inside my ribcage, 'ivory' who is my skeleton, 'lace' and I can feel her brush my skin, and 'windowpane, because the sun streams through.)