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.