Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte by Ruth Brandt

Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte

Ruth Brandt


  1. It’s dark when the sun goes down. Occasionally it’s dark when the sun is up, but when it’s down it’s impermeably black. The dark doesn’t stop me moving or humming.
  2. You can’t dry out a cave. The tail end of rain from a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand years ago swooshes subterranean slashes through the ground, and tra laa, a cave is formed. Water dribbles, stripes the defeated earth down the walls, constructs mineral pillars. Maybe you know all that, but this is my list of things I have learned – caves are wet.
  3. People are intrigued and frightened of the dark and damp where they can’t see the end, if indeed an end exists. They are intrigued and frightened of the tail-off of wet stone into a tiny stream. They are intrigued and frightened of bats, of invisible insects, of caves. 
  4. When I sit near the mouth of my cave and light a fire and sing, people join me, facing the landscape to watch swallows flit across treetops. They point out the new building to the left, the fishing lake on the right, the pub, the hospital. Only when they think I’m not looking do they steal a glance behind. 
  5. There is confusion about troglodytes. Are we creatures crawling from the modern-day primordial swamp? From heaven, here to show others the purposelessness of their worries? A holy halo? Shit on a boot? A marvel? This uncertainty engenders oodles of respect, it engenders repugnance. 
  6. The ground in a cave is hard. My back has bent to fit the crevasses in rocks. My collar bone curves round to my throat. My head hunches. I sleep well on the uneven floor. Give me a mattress and I would toss and turn.
  7. One man wanted me enough to come to me. He brought a sleeping bag and a bin liner to lay it on. He brought orange waterproof bags for his clothes. He brought a phone power bank and a wind-up torch, a warm chest and a gentle kiss. And the lust. Dear God, the lust! He brought it all.
  8. Now, here’s this thing – however much you love someone, however much you are prepared to live to their routines, rise to the clock instead of the light, eat regularly, drink boiled liquids, the cave dwelling thing is a show stopper. Full stop.
  9. When his back cricked out of shape he walked away, leaving his torch – not something he needed – a half-finished KitKat and a tin of tomato soup. He left his ‘I love you’ words drawn into the sediment.
  10. But he couldn’t remove the formative trickle at the back of the cave, or the way it shapes my body so I can embrace myself with my own shoulders. This last thing I have learned from being a troglodyte, no one can stop me humming in the dark.



About the author: Ruth Brandt’s short fiction has appeared in publications including Litro, the Bridport Prize Anthology 2018 and Neon. She won the Kingston University MFA Creative Writing Prize 2016 and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions. She lives in Surrey with her husband and has two sons.


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