“Don’t open that door,” Brân said before we cut off his head and brought it back from the war. We’ve been stuck here with it eighty years. It never speaks. Nothing happens anymore.
Life’s an endless party. I drink a can every morn, with a light and breezy head look out the window where the tides ebb and roll, open another one. The days are always the same unspiralling cigarette by cigarette.
We’ve got stores of food and nobody has to do any cooking. Cornflakes for breakfast and microwave meals. It’s curry night every night then every night there’s bawdy jokes and dancing.
When we turned the music up, Brân used to sing along but his baritone got too big for our small pop songs. When Pryderi tried to cheer him up by putting a party hat on his head it shrivelled and fell off as he narrowed his gargantuan eyebrows.
Nothing makes him smile anymore. Not even Taliesin’s rude rhymes and limericks.
We know the Awen’s gone sour like the milk we cannot find sniffing round refrigerators that never hum or leak are never empty or grow mould.
“You’ll never find it,” says Manawydan, always in the background shaking his head. The one who keeps his brother’s orders yet stares with longing at the sea.
There’s only so much beer one can drink. Only so many games of cards and poker and gambling chips. Only so many songs that speak of nothing but the emptiness of bliss.
My life’s become a blur of repetition but for the increasing nagging in my soul.
Remember, remember, what’s behind that door? There’s a reason we have to keep it shut, I’m sure.
That’s the point, if you remembered… but I cannot… I cannot hear my soul. I’m getting edgy. I’m off the beer. Heart racing, clammy handed, I’ve got the shakes. Looking at Brân’s head’s beginning to make me queasy. Something within me small, trembling, winged is trying to escape.
I can’t believe they’re reading the same old newspapers, circling the same Monopoly board, leaving no empties where the ash trays never spill.
Manawydan’s asleep on the slouchy chair dreaming of flying away as a great black seabird. He isn’t going to stop me opening that door.
They’re engulfed in the game. Glifau’s got Regent Street and Oxford Street but Pryderi’s heading for Bond Street on double sixes. Ynog’s on the edge of his seat because he’s stuck in jail. Gruddieu’s counting coloured notes. Something’s telling me to remember…
Still I slip from my seat and round the back of the settee. Try to look inconspicuous, like I’m stretching my legs, trying to get a better view in.
That door. That door. It’s a plain old thing: white painted, brass handled, just like the other ones except for the DO NOT OPEN sign Pryderi made from cardboard and string for a joke.
They haven’t noticed me sliding toward it, reaching out, touching the cold metallic handle. Do you really want to end your time on Gwales? Remember everything that should be shut out?
Brân’s eyes flash open.
Without a doubt. I turn the handle and look out. A sea breeze whips in with plaintive cries of gulls telling of every loss we have ever suffered, every kinsman and companion lost, staccato of gun-shots, crash of bombs. The broken cauldron that birthed the Awen and split the atom.
As I look across to Prydain in eighty years nothing has changed. They’re still birthing warplanes from slick white aerodromes and building glassy universities to teach deadly technologies. Sending young men away and bringing us back useless with headless comrades.
I remember every single thing including why I should not have opened that door. The colour fades from Brân’s cheeks. The colour fades from us all. Not a year has passed. Not a thing has changed. We must face the world again and bear Brân’s head with us.
*This story is based on the Assembly of the Noble Head from the Second Branch of The Mabinogion which can be read HERE.
Lorna Smithers is an awenydd, Brythonic polytheist and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd based in Lancashire. She is the author of Enchanting the Shadowlands and editor of A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire Is Here. She blogs at Signposts in the Mist and is a contributor to Awen ac Awenydd and Dun Brython.