Reflections From A Time Of Solitude by Jay Merill

The temptation of the c

Imagine the letter c. If you are lying awake at night say and turn restlessly in your bed. Or sometimes in the late afternoon. Maybe you will be drowsing on your couch and feeling isolated. And are missing company. Whatever. It’s the opening to a quirky reverie in which you picture yourself sliding round the enticing contour. On the outside, or the inside, depending on your mood. Either way, this is a comfort thing. Your breathing, which might have started off as troubled will become easy. You may be conscious of a sudden warmth and sense of safety. But then inevitably, you’ll come to the gap in the curve. The shock of it. Just when things seemed positive. You will feel exposed and try your best to leap away. But outside the c is just emptiness. This perception will be too much for you to handle. The thought of diving into a vacant universe. Too hard to take.    

You will try to head back in to the centre of the letter. That’s understandable. But also, hopeless of course because the gap is still present and now you’ll be aware it’s there before you even reach it. So that all your moments will be tainted with anxiety. At this point you will decide just how much you hate the structure of the c and what it’s led to. It’s lulled you and drawn you to it with the offer of security. Only to let you down. Which, oddly enough, and horrifyingly, is a replication of what can often happen in actual life. A question worth asking is, why do you keep on travelling the unsettling route of the c?

The letter c is deceptive. You keep repeating this in the hope it will console you. What you’re experiencing is a wish for vengeance. The deceptive c has opened your eyes to what you really want then thrown you out into air. Where you could get infected. In the scary world out there. And now you can’t help wondering if you are some pathetic victim who will keep on obsessively going back for more. Could it be you’d even get some sort of twisted pleasure from doing this, you ask yourself? It doesn’t feel that way. Or does it mean you haven’t given up on hope?  Are you really looking for something else? But then, why keep returning to the identical shape? You shake your head knowing it is impossible to alter the structure of the c in order to make it acceptable.

You’re acutely in need of something better. By the time you arrive at this realization you will probably have fallen asleep. Then, next minute, most likely triggered by your last thought, the letter o comes to mind. Either in dream or waking fantasy.  Doesn’t matter which. The o exemplifies the route of the c. You sit up abruptly on seeing what the c has led you to: The wholeness of the o. And you will definitely feel appeased; ecstatic, even.  It’s a blessing. You have come full circle.

Crowd scene

Picture yourself in a wide open space. A communal garden, say.  It is hot. And very crowded. Groups of people lounge about on the grass. You cannot see the green for the sunbathers. And many more surge raggedly along the paths. Every bit of space is taken up. Plus it’s far too noisy for anyone who wants to do some thinking. In this environment your thoughts won’t be able to form themselves let alone reach a further point of focus. Your mind will go leaping from blank to blur. Also you’ll have become aware that some members of the crowd have spotted you. They will be pointing in your direction and passing the word to others, till the whole lot is submerged in fits of giggling, or annoyance. You’re someone who has never been that popular because you won’t give up on raising questions about the way the world is. So you’re used to this. But the main cause of the laughter now, will be that you are wearing a mask, of course. You sigh.

Recognizing you need to get out of the place, you head towards some of the props set at the far side of the garden: A hedge where there is a stile placed for climbing over. You see a gateway too but it’s slightly further off and the route is currently blocked by lolling bodies. You climb the stile. On reaching the little platform at the top you stop moving and look about. On one side of the hedge are all the groups and the sound of raucous music and chat.  Ok, it is a convivial atmosphere, but anyone in the midst of it, you reflect, would be unable to hear themselves think. And that could pose a major threat to their self-identity. Nobody present is wearing a mask either, so in today’s scary time it could be dangerous in other ways too.  After a while you will jump to the ground on the other side of the hedge and make for a little copse which is some distance away. The closer you get to the trees the more distant the noise from the garden will get. As you go, your mind will be clearing.

You walk along, the sole character now, and begin to consider the way the people in the garden were acting. They were yapping, and from the snippets that came to you, you could detect it was just empty crap with bites of malice about absent friends. The usual. Your main observation however was that those present seemed to desperately need the buzz of the chit-chat to keep them going. But this guarantee of perpetuation may not be for anyone who considers they’d get more out of being alone. Then a funny thought strikes you: How Covid-19 would love people to be in a crowd so it could pass easily from one to another. And coincidentally, a bunch of people yapping has a behaviour pattern which bears a close resemblance to the survivalist pattern of the virus itself. An avid darting, guaranteeing continued existence is essential. From breath to breath.

Stars not scars

Leave the crowd for the solace of two. Two’s company. This thought is a comfort thing. Because people are brought up to believe the best way forward is to be a two in your life. It’s having a life-partner; a relationship. And those who are just the one can be made to feel they haven’t achieved the best that life can offer. But the reality of two can get more than a little rough. Because it might start off with heat – as of an oven suddenly switched to full on. But this doesn’t last; it can’t last. Goes up to burn, down to ice.  Burnout to Fast-freeze.  And where are you when that happens? You are back to square one. Plus you are bloody wounded. Finally, you’ve got scars or blisters which you didn’t need to have. 

Anyway, Scars. Most would definitely say scars are ugly. Though it is a good exercise to try and see them as attractive things; as useful things. As patterns, and positive outcomes. Which they are in a way, because here you are fresh in the new moment. They are still visible of course, but just as reminders. And the you that is present will have moved on. Above all else these scars give a continuity. They are proof you’ve survived something and have gone on to be wherever you now are. Not only this but they’re a precious opportunity. Because you have entered a creative realm. Which is bliss.

You reflect on the importance of feeling free to interpret all scars as you wish. They can be outlines of ships, or houses, or tiny continents. Or gemstones or a group of stars or galaxies. Start from the shape and you’ll discover you can be resourceful, imaginative. It’s your choice, because you’ve gone solo and aren’t part of a duo anymore. So you take your pick. You can cover the scars up if you want to; if you feel like being private, or even secretive. Though should they be on your face that might be harder to arrange. Unless you wear a mask, which quite a few are doing anyway these days. But either way, you are the inventor of what these faded patterns represent. You are the artist; the One.


Go over each step of your journey. What happened when you first looked at the c was that you felt a surge of happiness. This was a semi-dreamworld take and it could not last. Because moments later, as you snuggled into your bed or couch you noticed the gap in the curve which left you unprotected. And you felt worse about it because the c had been a temptation, making you recognise the desire for a full circle. The c had opened your eyes to what you needed and then thrown you out into the air. Which was menacing in the extreme. Times being what they were. Next you’d experienced the totally encircling function of the o. (Ironically, this is the letter at the centre of crowd.). You imagined yourself safely ensconced within its orbit. And felt the door closing behind you as you entered a secluded and richer world.

The word cocoon had come into your head at some point. Maybe it was the two c‘s which had first attracted you. But then there followed the inevitable pain of exposure. Now doubled. However, were motivated to begin your circling of the 3 o’s which were also on offer. That felt exciting. After  a while though you’d intuited there was more to come. A word is not reducible to its letters of construction. It’s necessary to engage with meaning.

You construct your mask, and, for the sake of protection, put it on. Now cocooned, you have arrived at the end of your search and feel serene. But a startling awareness has hit you. A cocoon isn’t just a retreat. You have spun this covering yourself and have come to see that it’s not to enable sleeping. Because there inside this isolated zone your growth of self is reaching its maturity. You needed to change and the letters you fantasized about were significant steps on the way to understanding that. The letter c was beguiling and the o was enveloping. Yet there was an emptiness. But you reflect now that the c and then the o, were little invented pictures which you’d formed for the purpose of getting you to where you needed to be. The epiphany was in perceiving the emptiness you’d detected, lay within yourself. A personal protected space is good, yes, and this is what you were seeking. But the real saviour is the creativity which you develop there.

The cocoon is not a shelter where you rest in peace. It isn’t a vacuum where you hide away. It provides you with a shield, yes. And behind the shield you are flourishing. For you’re an intrinsically dynamic vehicle: for advancement, for change, for completion. For arrival.

As you skip off onto your own flightpath, you are conscious of the process of becoming. Of empowering a fresh mental space. With distinct chosen colours; with wings.  For it’s you yourself who is at the heart of everything. And here you are now, busily constructing a vital airway.

For sure, all this creativity is taking place inside the cocoon. The mask that sets you apart. At one level you’re aware you could not have accomplished this brightly shiny self without one. But you are now starting to see clearly that when you fling it away at the end of your developmental journey, you will bring your newly evolved self out into the open world. Yes, this is finally going to happen. You sense it. You will fly.

About the contributor

Jay Merill is an award winning writer with 2 short-story collections published by Salt: 'Astral Bodies' and 'God of the Pigeons'. New work is forthcoming from A-Minor, Del Sol Review, FRIGG, Hobart, The London Magazine and Sublunary Editions. She is published in 3: AM Magazine, The Bohemyth, Entropy and elsewhere.

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  1. How marvelous, these reflections and insights into contemplative solitude. I have a couple of new scars, small and ordinary, roundish… suddenly they are harvest moons and wishes, oranges from a piece of flash fiction I wrote a few years ago. Thank you.

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