Sotheby’s commissioned this story to showcase a 19th Century carved mahogany bed for its ‘Erotic: Passion & Desire’ sale. Hall’s story is set in a humbler bed, where a girl-child wakes in the night. Her imaginings, and those of her mother, sweep into a dreamlike narration of the making and unmaking of women, past and to come. Though the carved bed is not described, the story works ekphrastically, leaving the mind full of the bed’s dark veneer, the deep glow of its wood, and its finely carved motifs: a siren, swans, wavelets and the crimped edges of cockleshells… The story’s warnings and promises are sensed like those felt on contact with an object that has journeyed through centuries, absorbing countless stories on the way.
First published, in a slightly different version, as ‘The Swan and the Courtesan’ by Sotheby’s on 2 February 2017, and is available to read here. Collected in Sudden Traveller, Faber & Faber, 2019