In the dream I am a woman without teeth or fingernails--Im made up of smooth surfaces. My hair takes on a dark sheen like oil floating on water. Im in a world where I cannot bite into anything, cling to anything. I slip and slide like an unreliable skater.
I witness Freud cleaning his throat--scraping with a spoon the dead cancer cells each day--the puncture, the tube, the matter-of-fact way in which he saves his own life. I have an aerial view of all this so I cant see if he too is without teeth or fingernails.
* * *
Its the fourth day of the voyeur, a new neighbor. In order for me to know Im being watched, I must watch him. He struggles with one of the window screens of this old apartment house. I cant figure out if he wants it in or out. I never get the whole picture. The building is u-shaped, the apartments look out onto an echoing courtyard, sound rises entering rooms like strangers.
* * *
There is something about the black-on-black squares of the tablecloth that remind me of secrets, the dark patches of the soul. Mieks is moving his food around the white plate. He needs the greens to be near the edge, the chicken centered, the potatoes in a hump. His plate of food looks like food Ive seen in the movies--steaming, mysterious mounds being eaten by cowboys.
Mieks hands are long, thin with exquisite tinted veins like little maps. I watch his lashes close down as he forks potato into his mouth. His back is to the window, and I wonder if the voyeur is seated in the dark watching us. If Mieks has noticed our new neighbor he hasnt said so. Would he be jealous if he thought a man in the next apartment was watching his wife? I fill his glass with wine.
* * *
There is a taste of woods in the bedroom at midnight. Mieks is asleep, his arm resting across my stomach. Someone is walking in the apartment overhead--a rhythmic pacing. Down the hall, Miranda, Mieks daughter, a nocturnal creature, plays music on her stereo, her room filled with symbols of menace and foreboding.
Our bedroom is in shadow. I can see the outline of Mieks drawing above the dresser. With the lights out order prevails, but I sense that the room may be moving toward chaos. In childhood, my walls were bare, and the mirror I looked into hung above the bathroom sink and was opaque. What is there to say about empty walls and a clouded reflection? I think of Freud in his cluttered surroundings of books, papers, tapestries and artifacts.
What would Freud say if I told him that in the floating world I abandon myself to the shadows and remember the flowing hair of my Aunt as she danced nude in a garden the night a fever washed over me, the end of my tongue crimson and the room smelled of burned potatoes, and in my dream I was sewing a doll that spoke my name. I saw my brother fly over our house, his camera slung around his neck, his mouth singing to our mother.
Mieks turns on his side, his long, silken back half draped in the purple sheet. His voice of sleep rises and falls in the soft night. I remember our boat drifting on the lake. Reflections of stars spread across the dark water, and we would watch for a shooting star (to name a dead poet), its bright, delicate tail melting into the full moon.
In his sleep, Mieks sits up on one elbow and whispers..."It will never stick. It will never stick." He lies down again, his arms folded across his chest like a dead man.
* * *
On Mondays, the high school where I work is always damp, a kind of used cold left over from places that never dry or get warm in the large building. My basement office tells me who I am and tells the students I counsel who they are. The fluorescent light in my office is blinking and Yaritza, a pregnant freshman, is sitting sullenly before me, as if pregnancy has made her mute. Shes crumpling a tissue that she places on my desk creating a white mound. Its a sculpture of fear and indecision. But I take heart that it can be so easily reshaped or blown away. Ive counseled her about abortion and adoption. Ive had dreams of being pregnant, but somehow a baby never materializes. Yaritza is Mirandas age and has the same thick dark hair. I wait for a dialogue with Yaritza, but when the bell rings, she gets up and leaves. I understand that feeling of safety that comes with silence.
Yaritzas crumpled tissue sits on my desk like a little cloud.
* * *
The voyeur sits in the dark, the outline of his head and shoulders barely visible. A television flashes in the background--bursts of fire fill the screen. It could be anywhere--Bosnia, Belfast, Los Angeles.
He sits in a room removed from the disaster flickering near him, and I imagine that the sound is off.
But Ive turned the light off as well and perhaps have become the dominant voyeur since Im in deeper darkness.
At the moment, I think of him as the dwarf--the one who shared an infirmary room with Freud as he lay bleeding--the one who scuttled down the hall to alert a nurse--the one who saved Freuds life. Im able to make the voyeur into anybody--dead or alive.
* * *
Although I vacuum the room often, I feel myself a visitor in Mieks study. Im thumbing through a book while Mieks works. He draws many owls in the childrens books he writes. Except for their feathery markings, their faces are alike in their intensity and innocence. His books glow with pastoral health--lush greenery that can be sensed even in night scenes. The trees have great movement within their stillness, and the childs story is told with urgency and importance. Its Mieks voice telling the stories he would like to have lived.
Hes surrounded by his paints and brushes and fine pens. Lately, when he works, he becomes mildly feverish, a thin sprinkling of perspiration delicately forms on the sides of his nose and just above his brows. I envy his intensity, his heat.
Hes immersed in line and shape and composition. And Im immersed in him.
From time to time, he hesitates, his pen in the air as if listening. Miranda walks past without looking in and slams the door to her room. I feel the vibration of the blasting music. Mieks pauses a moment before reaching across his worktable and carefully places plugs in both ears.
I get up to close the door but walk to Mirandas room instead. I knock and wait. She comes tearing past me to the bathroom. I hear her retching and stand transfixed once again before a picture hanging inside her door. Its a picture of her mother--a woman with wild, dark hair holding a very tall stick close to her as if its a person. At the bottom of the photograph it says "Bali" in large print. Such an exotic place to be.
Miranda is on her knees as if praying to the toilet--I lean over to hold her head, and I smell the beer on her breath. Without looking up she tries to push me away with her elbow. But I work in a high school, and my reflexes are honed. I soak the thin, green washcloth hanging on the side of the sink in cold water, wring it out and place it across her arm.
From her room, a male voice is singing "Bridge of Sorrow."
* * *
In the faculty cafeteria Leonard is reading palms. His yellow lesson-plan book and pens and pencils are encased in a zippered bag of clear plastic. He had been a monk and a singer. Hes immersed himself in Natalies palm and trails his finger along the emotion route. I expect Natalie to speak in her high-pitched frenetic voice unable to curb the onslaught of her own chatter. But now she says nothing.
"I see great depth of feeling that sometimes gets in the way of rational and more cerebral function of this line," he says. I imagine Natalie wants some reassurance that she wont end up in a mental institution like her sister.
Natalies face moves closer to the cerebral line. She once told me that her mother advised her to marry a cripple because then hed always be grateful. Leonard tells her of a future with a husband and children and snowmobiles in the garage. He looks up at her and smiles. Natalie looks mildly pleased as if she had tried on a dress that didnt look quite as bad as shed thought it would. Leonard takes a sip of his coffee--a signal that the reading is over.
I look at my palms that are smooth and flat, the lines barely visible. I cup both my hands to force the lines, but all I see are little mounds of flesh. It looks as if Im carrying something precious. Although I would never extend my palm to Leonard, I sit day after day watching him--perhaps to learn to become my own reader. For a moment, Im Freuds daughter just back from a first trip to Rome with him. Its Rome I carry in my palms, and its dreams that will take me to places Im afraid to reach.
* * *
Miranda is suspended from school--a large forbidding and careless place. For three days shes been in her room. For hours she plays the guitar I bought for her birthday. Mieks keeps his door closed patiently cleaning the sable brushes and labeling in large purple print each pile of papers. The life inside his workroom goes on. When Miranda was caught in the stairwell smoking and was asked to put out the cigarette, she blew smoke in the teachers face. She got slapped, and now she wants to sue the teacher. I urge Mieks to change her school--perhaps a smaller school that emphasizes music. Mieks is working on a story that takes place in the Alps. Theres a lot of snow and silence and small, kind animals.
* * *
I caught a glimpse of the voyeurs tweed sleeve and half a shoulder. In daylight I was standing on a chair putting up a sheer curtain and saw him move perhaps to pick up something or to look at my legs sheathed in dark blue mesh stockings. Now when I walk along the boat basin across the street from our building, I imagine I pass him in the tweed jacket looking out at the boats moored, the sunset, the seagulls. Its possible he wears glasses because of a flash of light I saw above the shoulder but perhaps not.
The boat basin calms me with its expanse of sea and horizon. My childhood always places me alone on a train going to a place with unfriendly dogs.
* * *
Miranda sleeps fitfully, and Im concerned with the general health of her dreams. Shes probably upset by her dreams vocabulary, their danger, their emotional violence. Mieks has pulled her out of the public high school, a place of intense restlessness and disarray, as he describes it. He enrolled her in a private neighborhood school--a small white brick building that she can walk to.
Miranda is in her room, her body being filled with the deep notes of her music. Although shes not been sleeping well, the dark shadows under her eyes are gone, and she no longer bites her nails down, breaking the skin.
* * *
Its nearing the end of the term, and my school is steamy. Theres very little ventilation. The stuntmans mother sits in my office patting her forehead, neck, and arms with a red bandana. Shes beside herself over her sons truancy and grieves for his safety as he spends each day riding on top of subway trains practicing to be a Hollywoood stuntman. He leaps from train to train as it speeds along miles of track. She has seen him light a match to his body sheathed in an aluminum suit and watched his burning shape roll on the ground of the courtyard below, the smoke rising toward her like a ghost. I offer to send a family assistant to the house, but its the end of the term, and theres not much we can do now. It would be the third visit. This womans son, so far, has accumulated four high school credits in three years.
Actually, Freud and this boy have something in common. They both have a consuming passion--Freud would say that they both had found their "tyrant."
* * *
Mieks is at his desk working on a drawing of startled deer. Hes lost in their glistening eyes, their stunned bodies. I go back to the photo album on the dining room table. This time I open it from the center. There he is looking into the camera much like his deer. His wife and daughter are on either side of him, and his arms are around them. His thick, dark hair falls a bit onto his forehead, and hes looking directly into the sun without squinting. My peripheral vision takes in the photo to the left: Mieks down on one knee, his wife sitting on his other knee. Shes shading her eyes and keeping her mass of hair from covering her face. Although shes smiling, its the look of someone who has a secret. Again Im the ultimate voyeur. I close the album.
* * *
Were kissing in the hallway, a location impenetrable to the eyes of the voyeur. I feel Mieks chipped tooth with my tongue, the softness of his heavy lower lip. Hes going to a conference for two days and always leaves as if well never see each other again. I sink deeper into him, I float on his breath entering my body. Within my closed eyes, theres a long shimmering star. My throat is soft, and Im without a voice. I am amazed at the depth to
which I can lose myself in a kiss.
* * *
Mirandas mother is visiting from Bali for the funeral of her first husband who died of food poisoning.
Miranda has taken to wearing shades of gray and sits in front of her mirror trying different hairstyles. I left a pair of silver earrings in the shape of guitars on her dresser, and I wonder if shell be pleased or think theyre corny. She told Mieks that shes written a song. Her mothers photo is now in Mirandas mirror, and I wonder if the song is for her.
* * *
Is it the voyeurs birthday or just a party in his now brightly lit apartment filled with what seems like very tall people? I didnt expect his walls to be as bare as the walls of my childhood. I focus on finding him among the crowd. I look for a tweed jacket with patches at the elbows. I fix on the tallest man with a thick mustache and wearing very clean glasses that glimmer periodically obliterating his eyes.
Im tempted to slip into my purple silk dress and ring the bell, and the birthday boy will appear and take the large bouquet of irises from my hands. But I sit in the dim light, the full-length mirror reflecting the vague configuration of a woman.
* * *
Miranda is taken with a guy named Barney. She secretly snapped a photo of him and has slipped it into the mirror next to her mothers photograph. Barney and her mother resemble each other--the atmosphere of the face, the body type, the wild hair. Mieks, when he saw the photo, stepped back as if it was too large to see close up. I wonder how Barney amd mother would react if they met each other.
* * *
Its the day of the award ceremonies held on the lawn at Mirandas small white school. She has excelled in music and has taken apart the corsage her father gave her. A flower is lodged behind her ear, her hair flowing out like a garden. Mirandas mother sits in the front row arranging and rearranging her leopard-print skirt. Although its nearly 90 degrees, she wears a scarf tied back under her heavy dark hair. Her red jacket has a pattern of piano keys, perhaps for the occasion of her daughters musical achievement.
This woman is an exotic, a prophetess. I picture her in the faculty cafeteria reading Leonards palm. The tall stick she is never without must be her totem.
Miranda, seated on the stage, is watching her mother who squints up at her and smiles. I try to imagine this woman sitting in the dark, her eyes following the movements of a man she cant touch.
I keep an eye out for Mirandas beloved, Barney. I want confirmation that he and Mom are lookalikes. Mieks is holding my hand. Hes drinking in his daughter like wine. I lean toward him and whisper that Miranda is getting his thoughtful look, his artistic bent and expressive hands.
Barney slips into an end seat in the row in front of us. He leans his guitar case between his knees. I wonder how he feels not receiving an award in music when Miranda, a beginner by comparison, is getting one. He stands and waves; when Miranda waves back he throws her a kiss. I suddenly like him. I squeeze Mieks fingers, and it no longer matters that Barney may look like the mother-priestess sitting in the front row.
* * *
Im behind the voyeur on the staircase. I know the shape of his head, the curve of his shoulder. He has a walking stick tucked under his arm. The staircase is poorly lit, and Im taken with the nostalgia of seeing this man in the dark. At the landing, I pause and watch him fumble for his keys. He turns his head toward me, his dark glasses too small for his face. Hes looking at the space just above my head, a little to the left, the way a blind person would.
Suddenly, I long for my fathers face looking for me, wiping his glasses clean, seeking me out as I sit on a trunk in a train station. I was six.
It is like a little death as this man turns away without seeing me, gropes for the lock, inserts a key and disappears behind the heavy door.
* * *
I dream myself on water. A man in dark glasses wants to cut my hair. I escape in a rowboat and Im rowing hard with one oar shorter than the other. The boat drifts on a rippling lake as if there had been a thunderstorm except there was no thunderstorm. I lean over and watch my reflection undulate, my watery eyes gaze back at me.
"It is commonly said that sleep is disturbed by dreams...On the contrary, we must regard dreams as the guardians of sleep."
* * *
Its night in the boat basin. Theres a full moon and crowds of people are waiting for the July 4th fireworks to begin. Mieks squeezes my upper arm as we lean against the railing. Its a unique gesture of affection--that, and his caressing the nape of my neck. I like them both almost equally, although under other circumstances I have a fear of any pressure on my spinal cord or neck.
I turn in response to laughter from a woman who is seated on the top part of a bench so she is raised above the crowd...Although its a warm night, shes dressed in black like a member of the Noh theater almost invisible yet drawing eyes to her with the sound of her voice.
I move closer to Mieks and slip my arm around his waist. Hes looking into the sky, his lower lip moist, childlike. This anticipation of a happening is in the movement around us--the motion of heads turning toward the uneventful sky, then away. A few seconds later the motion is repeated.
I move my arm from around his waist and slip my hand into his pants pocket, a habit I have that still startles him. I take candy wrapped in red foil from his pocket and offer it to him. He peels the wrapper, places the candy in my mouth, then looks away as I start to suck on it. I touch my throat as if to trace the path the sticky sweetness will take.
Suddenly the sky explodes. Heads turn upwards toward the bursts of fireworks. Its as if we are all birds being fed by thousands of melting stars in a rhythmic and random arrangement.