I. Monet’s Nightmare
I close my eyes; the light shifts.
I’m fast asleep but awake in the dreamscape, painting the cathedral over and over and over, the ocean of colors, the sea so intense and bright I don’t know how to contain it, this ocean, this cathedral, this church collapsing, this dull pain of bricks burying me alive.
I’m in the lingerie shop across the street from the cathedral. I scrape the canvas to start again. The light will shift soon.
My eye slithers off the canvas, through a hole in the screen around the scantily-clad women; now I’m lace and string threading my way up their spines, around their shoulders, spreading over them like nightfall, a spider web suckling at their breasts, and then, like water, I fall.
I’m the cascade of bricks. I’m the rubble. The stained glass, the pallet of jewels. I crash upon myself.
I’m swept into the Seine, and the Seine rushes toward La Havre, where the delta vomits me into the sea; through the rushing froth of tide, Boudin rises, dripping foam and soap and happenstance rainbows in the curves of bubbles; Boudin is a black-grey outline, his head grotesque and swollen, barely balanced atop a skeletal frame; his mouth spits fine black dust as he speaks:
you blink; the light shifts.
II. Magician Among Spirits
A halo hangs on the heads of blurry ghosts, pacing the room, broken by the grey veil of cigarette smoke. Why do they fret? Don’t they know? I am Harry Handcuff Houdini. Death-defying.
We have to get you to a hospital, one says. You’re going to die.
I love you more than I can tell. Rosabelle. My stomach is radiating some kind of heat, a new type of pain I can’t even process, my bones are so cold (am I going into some kind of shock?). The threads of this couch are so nice against my skin, coated in sweat (am I dying?). The skeletal men standing above me seem to think so, they want me to quit the show, want to take me to some lily-white hospital, but I can’t.
I have to keep going, I say. I have to do the show.
Rosabelle believe. Though there’s nothing to believe, only conmen and kind words and gullible minds willing to latch on to anything they can, because the world is fleeting, and empty, and we drift into this sea of eternity alone.
Don’t be stupid, another says. You can’t keep going.
I cough. It rattles like fire over my ribcage. Rosabelle believe, I think, because I can’t think of anything else. How lovely it was to find a hand to hold while I drifted, someone to pull me from the buried life I led, I’m so sick to death, dear god how the show must go on and the water and the chains and I remember the time I buried myself in dirt, and I didn’t know if I would get out, and all the darkness and pressure, and I thought, Surely death is no worse than this. Surely if there was a ghost inside of me it would be squeezed out. Surely this is proof of something. This means something.
This is insanity, a ghost says.
This is all I have, I say. Believe. Believe. Believe.
III. For a Loaf of Black Bread
Bruno Schulz walked the streets of the Aryan Quarter. Only afternoon clouds hung above him, stained with the waning sun like cotton on a wound. The odor of rotten meat was so heavy that it coated his mouth; it mingled with the scent of the black bread in his jacket. He coughed and cleared his throat.
Night would come soon and reveal the endless mass of stars. Bruno loved to look up at the sky and try to imagine how it would feel to be free among all that space and what kinds of things he might see. If he were to guess, he would say that the swirl of stars that made up the universe probably looked something like the particles of paint dissolved in the water he used to clean his brush when working on the murals in Landau’s nursery. Or maybe it looked like snowfall over St. Yuriy’s: a slow, fluid twisting, a haphazard and unpredictable pattern in the air.
On a side street, a mangy dog picked at some garbage. As he neared the corner of Czacki and Mickiewicz street, he averted his eyes from the shop windows. The windows contained half-dressed mannequins, chains of cured meat, things he couldn’t afford. Though Landau promised him protection, he still felt nervous. He carried his body like a burden, his very identity an inexplicable curse.
When he reached the corner, a Nazi officer stopped him. He pulled out a gun and pressed the barrel to Bruno’s forehead. If the officer said something, Bruno wasn’t aware; he only felt the sudden shock of adrenaline as it pulsed through his heart, the hideous constriction of his muscles, and a fleeting but deepest despair.
IV. Recurring Dream
The sun moved, allowing the light to climb over a branch and break into the dusty window of Carl Jung’s office. He leaned back into his chair, the stiff leather making a creaking noise as he shifted. He did not like the sound.
“It’s been going on for a while now. Maybe I’ve had it four or five times,” the woman on the couch said. She was not looking at him. Instead, she looked at her skirt and rubbed its fine threads between her fingers incessantly. She was not aware she was doing this. “Every time, it’s the same. A man hands me a golden scarab.”
Outside a bird chirped and thought about nothing; the tree it stood upon took in the sunlight and grew. A squirrel was frightened by a passing motorist.
Carl rubbed his thumb along the smooth outer surface of his pen and tried to think of something that lingered on the edge of his mind, but he was distracted by a tapping at the window. He rose and turned to see an insect desperately trying to get through the glass.
The insect did not know the glass existed, did not know what glass was, did not know how glass was made, did not know the sand or the heat or the man who made the glass or who made the window or who put the window there; this was Carl’s belief.
He opened the window and grabbed at the insect. He missed once, twice, and then felt its legs and wings move with furious passion. It wanted to get away. Carl opened his hand slightly and his stomach tightened.
The woman on the couch did not understand why he stood there, or why he should care about an insect at the window, and she felt impatient.
“What’s going on?” she said.
“Look,” he said, and he held his hand out to her, the beetle still fighting against his grasp.