Of the Tower - Phoebe Tsao

            There are voices in her head.


            The Tower is enormous from the outside, clad in stone bricks and a tall, pointed roof, but it is even more towering from the inside. There is no ceiling, not for another infinite floors ascending upwards like a helix. From the bottom floor, I stand with my toes curling into the warm dark green silk, holding on. If I let go, I will be thrown out. I look up, where only a hint of the inside of the pointed roof is visible.


            If she focuses hard enough, she can hear them as if they are standing right in front of her. They always sound like her, but at the same time, nothing like her. Sometimes she closes her eyes and she can see them staring back at her, their lips moving, whispering, all so different and so similar. Theirs are the words that follow her wherever she goes, reprimanding her for her actions, advising her, cajoling her, and often, hating her.


            There is a staircase, metal in constituent and charcoal grey in colour, leading upwards to the multitudinous

floors invisible to anyone on the green carpet, leading to galleries where various objects of my past are put

on display, a projector room that plays the video clips of my childhood, unending collections of odds and

ends stretching away into the soaring heights of the edifice… but they are not so important. On the other

side of the room is another staircase, this one instead of stone. It goes to the basement, cold and made with

grey bricks, heated only by the giant incinerator in the centre of the room, the fires within glowing a deep



            It is Self Loathing that makes the most frequent remarks, dark hair and pale, sallow skin, hollow eyes boring into hers. It tells her all her faults and pulls buried memories to the surface as proof of her inadequacy.

Always pitting itself against Self Loathing is Hedonism, wild curls and a gaze bright with passion, rooting

for nothing but her personal happiness, urging her to satisfy herself before all else. It shouts to the heavens

that she deserves anything and everything that brings her pleasure. More and more voices followed by

more and more faces crowd her vision, filling in the blanks so absolutely that nothing remains but her.


            The walls are of panelled dark wood, glowing amber in the torchlight. I am sitting on a squashy leather couch and propping my feet on a sleek coffee table with a wooden frame and a glass top. I take special care to notice the lower left corner of the table – where my foot almost touches is a pot of ink and a quill made with the bluish-black feather of a raven. Around the circular room are bookshelves, stocked with leather and cloth bound books, all filled with blank, yellowing pages, save one faded green and gold journal. Nearly impossible to tell apart from the others judging by its cover alone, that one has pages wrinkled with use, stained black with ink on the ends of quills.


            She gets so sick of herself.


            There is an armchair perpendicular to the couch I am sitting on. Draped over it is a huge maroon, white, and navy blanket, easily accessible during the chilly nights when I curl up in the corner of the couch, swathed in the blanket’s lulling warmth. Across from the couch is a roaring black marble fireplace, nearly my height, flames licking the edges of the wooden panelling but never igniting. The inferno heats up the room by a much-needed, hefty increment.


            To contain those that don’t obey, one must first understand them. To tell them apart, she separated the overwhelming mixture of blended voices and made them separate, grouping them into loose categories: Self Loathing, Aggression, Discipline, Pragmatism, Hedonism, Relationships, Paranoia, and Humour. She gave them form, faces that needed barely any work of imagination; faces that appeared in mind like they had always been there; faces that had been lost and had finally found their way back home. And to contain them, finally executing her mission, she created a place in her mind for them to reside, to talk amongst themselves while she remained on the outside, separate and secluded, a safe haven where she was alone without herself.


            (It is always cold outside)


            She accessed it simply by closing her eyes and sitting very still, focusing on the shifting leather beneath her thighs, the radiant heat of the fireplace, and the oily smell of polished wooden panels. And when she opened her eyes, her haven dissipated into nothing but painful reality. The sounds and sights and feelings of all that weren’t herself rushed through her. All while her eyes were open she projected her consciousness outwards, focusing on the world around her, leaving herself locked in a tower in her head.


            It’s reclining on the armchair when I look up. Its mouth opens and I raise a hand. Blonde brows furrow in discontent, but it does not say anything. I’m only visiting today, and I don’t need to hear myself right now. Someone else materialises beside it, and reaches a hand out to me. I shrink back in fear, avoiding Stygian black eyes, covering my ears. It’s the last person I want to see, but the person I see the most. Arms surround me from behind, and I recognise them immediately, smelling cinnamon in the air. I look up and it is glaring in the direction of the gaunt body murmuring painful words into the room, turning it stale and rank. They’re all coming to life now, some leaning against the bookshelves, some sitting on the stairs, some lying sprawled on the carpet. Their voices are growing in volume. One is arguing against two others. Another is throwing books to the ground in fury. The arms around me tighten. I panic.


            But sometimes they follow her into the world beyond the solid walls of stone.


            Her eyes fly open, and her heart beats fast. People on the street don’t even pause to look in my direction as they pass the bench I am sitting on, but I don’t notice, because I can hear words in my ears in the sound of my own voice. I look around, confused. She isn’t supposed to hear them here. She isn’t supposed to feel them here. I stand up, needing above all else to move, to distract myself from listening. She starts walking at a brisk pace, and I am hoping that concentrating on moving my feet will block out the hiss of voices in my ears. The wind blows in my face, and she makes the mistake of blinking. Accusing, dark eyes are staring back at me.