I am a woman who no longer understands anything. This doesn’t matter, nothing matters to me any more. I am wrapped in silence, as a wave on non-reason, quiet and opaque, flows over me, leaving a trail of memories in sepia, photographs of my grandmother, my grandfather, photographs displayed on the chest of drawers here, in my bedroom. Like beer spilt on hot asphalt, words dissolve even as they emerge from my lips, from my mind. I am no longer the real protagonist of my own story, the story you are reading, for I have become a mask, a discoloured puppet, articulated by worn-out strings, moved by a superior and anonymous force. Introvert woman, femme fatale, chaste girl, witch. Masked? None of these. I am the mask.
I love the mask game, for life is a Greek tragi-comedy on Mount Olympus, a luxurious Venetian ball on the Grand Canal. I see in the bedroom mirror that my true face is a new mask. Am I nothing but the golden nightingale? Artificial? Am I a radiant being? Inside, I am infested with starving moths. I say I do not understand, and yet I do remember. What is the present if not an archeological dig? Stones of the past. But of what is the future made? An inkling of life – or a rotten seed, unfertilised?
I remember the fool I made of myself at Mass. I ran to the haven of Christ’s tabernacle to try to escape from the black hole of my regret and remorse, but it only served me to contemplate my own loss of faith, the death of my last hope. ‘My friends, we must submit to the will of our Father in Heaven. As Mary our mother submitted when she said: be it unto me according to Thy word.’ Those words of the priest, incandescent swords, stabbed my soul. Did I wish to be the sacrificial lamb? In one single moment I forsook the heavenly Father, and, astounded, I gazed into the void that had been my faith. I abandoned Christ and became myself the Messiah of a new brown age of half-truth as I walk over the winged waves of a mirage. Across the dream of a whole life, my life. While time and reality drifted from me I stood up, and the eyes of the faithful flew open wide at the sight of my madwoman disguise. Tears, screams, vertigo, convulsion. I crashed to the cold chessboard of the tiles, crumpling, a pawn in a game I was never meant to win. I sobbed, I stamped, and I heard the guffaws of the sceptics, saw the contorted faces of the faithful congregation wrapped by a belief in the truths of appearances and deceit.
In the silence of my bedroom, now a cell, I smashed one by one the CDs that my father had given me. Leonard Cohen, Keith Jarrett, Marisa Monte, Maria Bethânia. And Kylie, when I trod the world with Titan feet. Part of the past. And then an icy, soaking sweat flooded every pore of my skin. Suddenly.
All life is a dream to all, and dreams themselves are but a dream.*
On blurry summer nights my mother used to tell me: ‘Sleep, my darling, sleep. I will be here to watch your dream.’ And I thought I heard her speak as a rusty bell was tolling nine o’clock. Which day was this? It seems that it was yesterday, or even a few seconds ago. Time is as slippery as an oily fish. Then I heard the threatening creak as he unlocked the door, familiar, too familiar. His rough creased hands slid lasciviously over my skin, white, I know, as ermine. A sudden shock. A stifled shout. A marshy anguish cloistered among the pink flannel sheets of a child’s bed always glowing with soft coral dreams. This nightmare came even as I heard my mother’s voice: ‘Sleep, my darling, sleep. I will be here to watch your dream.’ I longed to tell my mother, to break forever the balance that existed —mother, father. I could not break that balance, could not disturb my mother’s innocence. His blunt firm steps always gradually coming closer, chasing me around the house, his hoarse voice that could paralyse me from head to toe. The gin on the breath of the night vampire. I offered him my rosy neck in a double act of sacrilege. I have been desecrated and destroyed. Naked I came into the world and naked will I leave it.
I greet my audience. And you my reader, will invade my mind. The dream is real. Tick tock. I open my eyes. What time is it? Have I been dreaming? There are traces of violence on my skin, and I smell the mingled perfumes of gin and lust and desire. I am lonely, like a star rising without direction in the immensity of space. But I am not alone, not alone in my pink flannel sheets. At my bedside I find my father and he will care for me. ‘Sleep, my darling, sleep. I will be here to watch your dream.’
* Pedro Calderón de la Barca
** First published in 2006 in issue 4 of the journal Meanjin (Victoria, Australia), pages 63-65. This story is the basis for my short story ‘Espejismo’, included in my book Hijas de un sueño (Daughters of the Dream, 2017).