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Eloquent assassin? Erudite murderer? Cultured killer? Inquiring minds want to know…
BALAFER DE VIE
As in a dream, slippers alighting on the wood like twin butterflies, did she appear dancing around false graves, mounded in grass shredded from ribbons. Again, burdened with gauzy moth like wings, she drifted over waves of blue paper. Then did I sink into ecstasy with a thousand other earthbound creatures, thighs despairing of finding comfort from tapestried seats, like one vast animal yearning to ravish its prey.
Her name, created as was common from harsh syllables, escapes me, as her body escaped me. Stupid, stupid, I should have known her for that eternal desire, half glimpsed beyond our grasping fingers. And I, unlike her other admirers, a febrile hive yearning for its queen, did not swarm the streets, to glimpse her as she ate or shopped.
Still even now, although I could offer proof of her beauty from the discarded crumpled posters I ripped from damp pavement, I do not wish her, old with bent bones, to shuffle to this room. All I wish is to bestow this gift, a chance to dance again in memory at least.
Just as in the past, I gave whatever I could offer her from my treasures. Thus I name them, although no one would raise a ringed hand or nod at auction to grasp them... For, despite my name, coins never spilled from my hands. Hands which perforce-coiled in dirt and dust.
But once, those hands clasped her close. For at some gathering, an angel or perhaps a demon, bent to whisper, that she, fevered by the pace of dance or life itself, lay in her room, too weary to speak, even to favored guests. Only her maid was in attendance. Solitude, solitude, such as surrounded her so often on the stage, had been decreed by her physician. I remembered her, curled beneath a thousand velvet curtains watched by the accustomed devouring eyes. Except, I gloated, on this occasion, it would be only for mine.
From a friend who postured on other stages, I begged the loan of a dress suit, something to cover my shabby clothes. The garments he provided fit me ill, but then darkness cloaked me round and I departed for the cream townhouse, rumored to be a gift from a deposed monarch. All about me loomed like petrified monsters, the city’s bulk of stone, softened by mist and the glow of sidewalk lamps. Almost I could believe the dribble of filth through the gutter echoed the burbling of the purest river. And I, I inhabited a landscape of a jeweled and fabled land.
Arriving at my destination, I rapped with my cane at the gilded door. The maid who flung it open frowned. I do not resemble in the least the more notorious members of my family. “You cannot enter,” she proclaimed. “Madame is too ill for visitors, not even.”
But my need or greed forced my tongue into long unused insolence. “My good woman.” I paused gazing down my thin nose as if her words were a mortal insult. The maid turned pale, and I smiled when her fingers almost clutched her skirts for a curtsey. My voice rang with the stern tones of that evil magician. I was a little ashamed to so frighten her, but the pleading gestures of that weak prince would not have gained me entrance. “She will receive me. And I promise not to mention your discourtesy.”
Thus I set my foot shod in tight patent leather on the first rung of my ascension. The staircase up which she led me was carpeted in rose wool, which swallowed our footsteps. My unwilling Cerebus spoke no word, until at last she stopped before a much-carved door. “She is fatigued. Do not stay long.” Then perhaps remembering who I might be, she said, “Of your love, I ask this. “ More prosaically she added, “ And the doctor has said this also.” Again the carpeting on the stairs swallowed the sound of her departure, almost as if she had been transformed to nothingness.
I pushed the door back bit-by-bit and peered inside. The scent of unfamiliar fruit or leaves rose to choke me. A coverlet twisted with crimson velvet threads caught my eye, and then rising from this cocoon, was a white neck and fair curls framing that serenity of face. No longer could I stand without. Entranced I entered and gazed down at her, tangled for once in her own dreams.
I still remember how her skin shone almost as white as her silken slippers. My fingers clawed, each in turn, as if they drew separate breaths, and brushed her cheek, gently, gently...
“I don’t know you. Leave me”. Yes, those lips would form easily this command were she to awaken. At the thought of those dark eyes actually linking with my own, a curious spasm of heat and trembling wracked my body. I gasped and choked, until my breathing slowed. I murmured, and hated the stupidity of my words. “Adieu, adieu, my darling, my angel, my adored one.” Still, did she lie as one enshrined in marble, or some other stone, for she was not yet dead.
Even were she to awaken, she would view me as some fool who paid for a scrap of paper to watch her feet embroider the pirouette across the famous first act. Truly, this did not anger me. I had breathed a moment in this room, seen a glimpse of her true life, one not overlaid with clouds and lakes and curses.
Already my thoughts urged me toward the door, but like Orpheus I could not resist one final glance backward. Now I saw a rose, its petals barely shadowed by a film of decay. I thought who dared to give her such a banal gift. She who should have clutched only blossoms from the first Garden, Alas she, must suffer even as I, the commonality of life.
Thus, even had she ever consented to lie in my arms, we would only speak the words that slip from all loving lips, like the thousands of raindrops sliding down windows, slick as damp skin. How much better to cherish this memory of glory, like a sunset seen once and never again, or like, more tragically, the chord the pianist stretches for in vain.
But one thing I would possess. Even if she were angry upon discovering it gone, she would never know the thief. Already I longed for that moment when I could, safe in my lodging shred the petals and lose myself in the lingering fragrance of both her and the flower.
But as I grasped the crimson blossom, oddly a white dust seemed to drift upon it from my fingers. The tips looked dulled as if rubbed in chalk. Horrified at what filth I might have stroked upon that skin, I knelt beside her couch. Still heedless of how rapidly my time alone with her might be vanishing; I brushed my fingers more firmly once again down that ivory swath.
Oh how to relate, that now appeared a pinkness, no a redness, as if I were an artist imposing one image on another. Down her cheeks my fingers pressed, sweeping across her brows, even into the curves and crevice of her nose. I even rubbed my fingers against her neck. Oh angels weep, as her skin reddened, and my hands turned white and her pale flesh vanished as if indeed some monstrous dragon’s tongue licked its fill.
Powder, powder, fool, all pretense and powder. I knelt and wept and the dampness only hastened the work of my fingers. But still she slept, and no one came, and now I caught the bitter scent. This was not the sleep bestowed by the ivory gate of Morpheus, but the despairing slumber granted by other kinds of powder.
Now, as if I were in truth her lover, I peeled back the quilt and saw the body, almost skeletal. Gone were the gentle curves like a small violin. Padding in the dress, idiot, my mind screamed and see the feet, those birds fluttering to enchant us, Their muscles were taut as harp strings, with veins blue as lakes in sunshine.
But the toes were bruised with purple coloration and twisted as if trolls had carved them. To me, they resembled misshapen mice you would send a cat to kill. But no cat purred nearby, like the first fatal whisper of the drums.
I lifted her shoulders and she lolled, misshapen doll, head to one side. As I raised her chin, her hair streamed across the pillow, then collapsed into a pale pile of straw. Her head shone brightly like the moon and as bare. Sweet saints, this homunculus—for she resembled no woman—had been set out like rotten cheese to trap me. Let the others keep their illusions; I only wanted this thing, undeserving of any place in my world, to be gone.
As if striking out words with a pen, I slid my knife across her throat. I rejoiced to see blood flow crimson. “I wish you would awaken, my monster, so you could see at last some semblance of reality,”
For an instant I watched the blood drip down and down, a red scarf covering her skin and then soaking into the coverlet. I did not touch her after that one cut and I threw my knife across the room. Let my two treasures be lost to me forever.
I opened the door slowly and as slowly descended the stairs. Again the stout maid appeared and I nodded my thanks and tossed her a coin. “Madame sleeps,” I whispered. She nodded and turned away.
But I dared not linger. Any moment the maid might force her weary legs once more up that narrow staircase and her screams would split the night like the shrill notes of a flute.
I ran and ran until my body pulsed as if I had been dancing lost in the embrace of wings. Then, shadowed by leaves, I ripped off coat and shirt, leaving my torso covered only by a dark coarse tunic. The trousers I had borrowed would pass for workman’s garments. At least in the dark. I tousled my hair into a bird’s nest and smeared dirt on my face and hands. I walked, teetering from side to side.
Everyone would smile at me now, recognizing a laborer solaced by drink. They might call a greeting. I would grin and wave my arms. Suddenly a policeman grasped my shoulder. My mind hummed the melody of chords that vibrate doom. Thankfully, he said only, “A bitter night and you would be more comfortable at your own fireside.”
Stupid, stupid batarde. For I can never again recline anywhere in comfort, especially in the cold air of the theater swarming with the fumes of the diseased mouths and bodies, the cheap perfumes. Never see those arms shimmering like pearls above the legs of glory, and over all the crown of golden hair waiting to be unbound by love. Soaring across the cheap wood, above the raucous melodies of the pit itself, she was my dream’s sweet haven. Lost, all lost, as if an incompetent hack had written my life.
Except, except, under my eyelids again her white arms flutter, wings that too soon faint into stillness. Now as candles shape weird patterns on the wall of my room, narrow as a coffin, ah then do I sink into ecstasy as she, swan creature, sinks slowly, slowly in widening circles to death.