A Serial Novel

A literary experiment in judicial philosophy and historical fiction, inter alia.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chapter 10: Do You Dream About Me?

Amsterdam and Justice is over twenty:

For a day and a half, Justice was in love with a girl he caught a glimpse of stepping into her carriage. For one sleepless night, he plotted how to find her, how to meet her, how to win her with his words. He was distracted with his current mistress and she just-the-right-charming amount piqued.

The morning after the sleepless night, Just came upon the girl again, descending now from the carriage, and this time he recognized her as the conquest two or three before his current mistress. He remembered that when they slept together she had clutched his arm very tight and also when they fought. The wave of nostalgia that surged in him was not for the girl, for their too-quick-sparked-too-soon-ended affair; it was for sleepless last night when he didn’t yet know her. It was a feeling that he recognized (of course, it was nostalgia), and it fit neatly inside the contours of his chest. He saw the girl herself with her tight grip, floating outside the feeling, and he felt nothing at all about that.


Cards and wine and the talk of both and of women and of duels. Just was sitting out the hand and distracted in thought, maybe he slept. In any case, the story was well in progress when he started listening. He listened idly at first because of the way everyone was laughing as if they already this story well.

“She sat behind the screen and told me to lie down,” said Arnolphe, a genial, pockmarked young man who did not mind a story or a round of drinks at his expense, “Lie down I did. ‘The horizontal position is strictly necessary for the experiment,’ she said. I did not argue, you can be sure. ‘I’m getting undressed now,’ she called. Well, if she must… ‘And now you’re going to sleep.’ Like hell I am, I thought. And then—I did.”

Everyone laughed. Arnolphe looked surprised, then joined them, loudest of all. “I woke up slowly, with a pounding in my head,” he continued, “‘Ah, I thought, those are my footsteps. I’m walking back into my head. Before I’d quite arrived, the woman behind the screen said, “What did you dream about?” Here it is, I thought, and I was determined that I at least wouldn’t fail.
About you, I was about to say, but I then I thought to be more subtle. ‘About a beautiful woman,’ I said. ‘Whose face I could not see.’ And then—well, what next?—‘She was unbuttoning…’

‘You were dreaming about me?’ said the woman, ‘Is that what you are saying?’ Well, yes then, I was. ‘But what else did you dream?’ she said, a touch impatiently, it seemed to me. My subtlety was all spent, so I told the truth, ‘Oh something about trumpets, flowers growing on buttons and making a noise like trumpets. The buttons on a dress of a beautiful woman,’ I added.”

And did you pass the test? asked the listeners. Did the Experiment triumph?

Arnolphe, his face red, transparent, said, “She had another question. First she said, ‘You must love a woman to dream about her.’ Well, yes, I did. ‘And you know that I undressed behind this screen while you dreamed?’ Yes. Here we were—I sat up. ‘And you saw what she was still wearing.’ ‘Yes…?’ ‘In the dream, you saw that she was naked except for…? .’ I took my chances, ‘A veil,’ I said. ‘If you couldn’t see that, you can’t have seen me. And I can’t be the one you love.’ Her servitor reappeared at once and silently me escorted me out, and there I was saying, ‘Shoe?’ ‘Bracelet?’ ‘Garter’ all the way out the door and down the stairs.”

The listeners laughed and said, “Those Isis girls, they’re tres libre, tres”—they’re crazy. Some argued that the Experimenters were not Isis girls at all, but new girls playing at a different mystery cult entirely. They swapped stories. It seemed that Arnolphe wasn’t the only hopeful gallant who had found his dream rejected, his love doubted, his hopes disappointed, his person escorted away by the silent servitor. Some bragged that they had enjoyed the girls’ favors, but no one believed them, or they pretended not to.

Just listened and was jealous of his own attention—who was it he was so in love with, he accused himself, that he had missed this adventure. He didn’t know, he was sure.

Andre, a half-officer, half-philosophe, entire-card player, said, “I bet that I could bring Isis’ garter—or whatever we may conjure it to be—back to you.”

Tomorrow before midnight? Agreed.

The next afternoon, Andre called upon Justice. He was setting about this scientifically, and he couldn’t get around it—he needed a confederate, and Just was his man. Just could feel free to be flattered. Just wasn’t, but he was curious.

Andre had the assignation entirely arranged. He had met—masked—with the girl—veiled, and she had explained the Experiment just as Arnolphe had described. (Or so Just assumed; he had not attended to that part of the story). Andre would meet her between nine and ten in the evening; they would drink and talk like friends, and then (like friends) she would retire behind the screen to get undressed and he retire to the bed. “And then you will dream,” she said, “You can dream for me, can’t you?” Andre and Just noted that, that she said, “for me” and not “about me.”

“But what is my part in this?” Just said. “Since there is only room for one person inside a dream.” (He said that lightly enough, for Andre to admire his wit, but he felt the echo that told him he meant something by it. All prophets prophesy like adolescents whose voices are cracking—nervous or proud that someone else’s voice is in their throat. These days Just tended to be more weary than wary—again, angel voice?)

“And no room at all for me,” said Andre. “I’ll be under the bed holding a mirror.” Andre had long been watching the house (And why long? He is silent in the matter, and Just does not deign to ask) and had a good enough understanding with the landlady to have entrance to the stairs. In short, Andre will secret himself in the room while Just plays at being Andre. Andre pulled out a paper scribbled with measures and curiously delicate angles. “I have not been into the room in question, but I have the one below it, which should be of similar dimensions. The screen, I understand, stands here, and here the bed, and here a mirror on the wall.” Andre’s finger described the angles, curiously, delicately. “And so you will lie in the bed and I beneath and you will dream and I will see what I will see.”

Just took the mask and apartment’s directions, and now, the appointed hour—there the house and there Just. All went as the story said that it must go, although Just hadn’t heard the story: the silent servitor before him on the steps, the lamps covered in rose brocade, the chairs and walls upholstered a la egyptienne, the girl in the straight white robe, straight white veil, the wine (that Andre did not warn him not to drink) that Just did not drink, but poured out secretly, and the retiring (like friends) behind the screen and to the bed.

“And now I am undressing,” said the girl, “and now you are going to sleep.” But Just did not sleep. He lay down and closed his eyes and waited. Beneath him he thought that he perhaps heard a knocking—Andre beneath the bed signaling him, but for what? The knocking passed. Just waited; Andre waited; the girl waited. She was clearly waiting for the effects of the wine to wear off. Now Just regretted being so clever as to not drink the wine because—quite simply—he was bored. He stirred.

”Awake?” said the girl. “What did you dream about?”

“A very sexy angel,” said Just.

“Oh,” said the girl, and he—if not Arnolphe before him—could hear how bored she was. “And was she naked, this angel?”

“She had a silver tongue, very narrow, like sword or a needle.”

“I asked what she was wearing.”

“I was naked and there was a cloth over my eyes. Maybe she had one too. But she came later. First my father—”

“I don’t believe you dreamt this. I want proof.”

Now Just was quite sure that he heard Andre knock lightly. Just said, “She took me to the fountain of youth.”

“Where was it?” asked the girl.

“Far away across the sea.”

On the underside of the bed, Knock, Knock, Knock.

“And you truly dreamt this?” said the girl. “You mentioned your father…”

And if Andre does not burst out from underneath the bed, then—I believe—the next thing Just will say is “Celimene?” And he will mean, What are you doing hunting for my dream?

As for Celimene (poor, lost Celimene who makes me think of being a father, who makes me want play with women’s dreams), it’s easy enough to guess what she will say—“Just?” painfully easy to guess what she will mean—How else can I find the water of youth? The Marquis does not seem care to find it for the Marquis. I guessed it was left to me (when you left me).

The girl’s hand grips the edge of the screen. Bare of rings (too naked pale to show even the trace ones once there), it is all knuckle and vein.


Blogger Phoebe said...

Here’s a poem that I once wrote about clocks:

Fire, Word

The spark of heaven sat in rags.
Child of time, a little instant,
Delivered to a grand moment,
While I lay in darkness waiting,
All my limbs straining ---
Delivered to my ears.

The clock that never stops
Is like a cross.
It sits atop the clock you watch
And holds its hands in check.

But time is heavy and ready to burst.

I don’t know why I think of it now. The context was actually much different. On the one hand, it’s about a time in our lives when Dave and I were actually semi-seriously thinking about having kids. I don’t remember why we decided against it but I’m glad we did. On the other hand, it’s about Heraclitus, who is (I insist) more maternal than people give him credit for, with all his discussion about father logos.

I don’t need to tell you how much the word logos means to me. So I won’t. Its many senses in this context are hopefully obvious to you (you just admitted you paid attention in school, so don’t tell me they’re not).

Anyway, I am putting that in here now because it’s not a story, but hopefully it’ll be a way of showing that I think I get what you mean about clocks.

And, look, we can relax things a bit. Like, look how I’ve given you an excuse to give yourself more time. Let’s slow down a bit (or rather let ourselves go the pass we’re going). Tick-tock. Just don’t go off again, ok?

I do though, need to talk really quickly about that time bomb: And this means I have to go back to one of your stories, to the one that I couldn’t bring myself to talk about until the other side of Italy. Recall, if you will, what you wrote:

“There’s this one time I remember, I think it was the first time you wore make up but I could be wrong. I watched you paint your face and I realized we’d never look the same again, there were things you could do to make us never have looked the same. I’m explaining this badly, what I was thinking was not that you would look different from me (that was in the cards, that was always there), but that you could look different from yourself. And I was afraid that you would hate me for being a picture that you couldn’t force to melt into your current features. You always took it as a betrayal of your current self to admit that you were ever any different. But then you never did hate me, not me.”

We both know this is more than a story. It’s an icon: doesn’t it open onto when I decided to go to an all-girls college, and one which you couldn’t have gotten into anyway since your grades were so shitty? Was I abandoning you? Was I running away from you (which is a different thing altogether?) I never did hate you, but then again maybe I did. If I did, I’m sorry and I probably deserved what you wrote. It’ll take time for me to decide though.

So I guess when I was there applying (let’s be honest) too much rogue to my too pale cheeks, way too cakey a concealer for all my blemishes, and no doubt too bright a lipstick for a fall like me we were being our own Apollo and Artemis. Phoebe could never know she wanted not be Artemisius because it wasn’t decided until a few months ago that that’s what that event met. For me at least, because I guess I just assumed that it meant the same thing to you that it meant to me, which was how exciting it was to be growing up. And I meant that for both of us.
That’s what I’d always assumed: I didn’t know any better, I was blind-folded. I thought I was looking at you, but maybe I was looking at a mirror which I had thought was pointed in your direction. But maybe my calculations are all wrong. So maybe what I’m saying to you is “more stories please.”

But, now, to our story.

I like the change of scene. I’m intrigued by these mystery cults, but I’ve got to warn you that I am way less tolerant for that kind of shit than you, unless it’s all in the name of good fun.

That isn’t a challenge. Let’s keep it all in good fun.

Who are these Experimenters? What’s the answer to their riddle? Or is it a genuine experiment, which is what the interest the one shows in Just would imply. Why is Celimene with them? Oh, I know it has to do with the men she’s lost, but what I mean: how does that fit in? Has she joined something she buys into? Has she invented them? Is she using them? I want to approach these questions obliquely in the next section by talking about another girl, one who is rumored to be one of these Experimenters although no one knows for sure.

Naturally, however, they are the counter-part and the corrective to Just and his circle of friends, who think that reason masters everything and that women are easy prey. Well, I guess they haven’t looked closely enough to recognize a predatory glance in women. If names determine their objects, then maybe you know what I’m talking about. I think Just knows: it’s how he saw Ledoux move Jacques at a distance; maybe it’s what he saw chase Jacques away from Heloise, although about that I can’t be sure. But if he hasn’t forgotten Heaven’s Experiments and Earth’s (analogous) Seductions then I think probably there’s a recognition of kinship there.

In order to apologize for emasculating Just so much before, I think I’m going to effeminize him now. But I want to do that obliquely in the next section by talking about a different boy, one who is in love with a mysterious woman who loves him back by sleeping with everyone but him.

P.S. I noticed that a few times in your last post you said Jacques, when you must have meant Just. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve taken the liberty of changing them.

12:33 PM  

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