Juste une fable n° 11
were you there behind the veil? when i awoke i was terrified though i’d just been saved. the image of what was here in the dense world was more shocking in a way than all i’d left behind, so that i’m no longer sure whether i was more frightened by this world or by that. what was the reason for the blood running cold in my veins, the paralysis that made me sit up in bed with both lights on a full five minutes before i could begin to move? the whole theater set of my house, the bookshelves in front of my bed, the pale blue bathtub with the dark blue curtain in front, all that was made out of cardboard. i saw it for what it is, so temporary, so material, so present and confining but unreal, so that, yes, i wondered for a moment whether my spirit had been frightened by this world or by that, the one i had just left where all kinds of extraordinary and evil things can happen.
sleeping by my side, olivier. i tried to wake him, but i knew he was nowhere near where i was. so i peered at him awhile, at his body, which was way thicker than it usually is, and impervious to my little whimperings, my attempts at calling out. i decided to let him be, to deal with my own confusion, my own terror, since i had been traveling through the night in any case by myself and had landed so abruptly, so disoriented and befuddled back here in our bed that i could barely recognize him or anything familiar in this safe haven which by day i call my home.
but where were you? was i entirely by myself or were you or some other spirit of the dead nearby? i no longer remember who was there from beyond, but i’m not too concerned because it is always on that side, as has happened once before, so strongly behind the curtain of my dream, that i think i might truly see you, finally come face to face with my ondine.
all i remember was what i jotted down in the second act, by which i mean that space of time after i returned from the bathroom, where i finally made it, released from my terror, then wobbled back to bed with my shin splints.
what are those?
horrible aching in the lower legs acquired by the madness of my jumping rope two days before (because of the imperative of exercising, even under inches and veritable feet of snow). i had been jump-roping like a child though i’m approaching 55. and my shin splints, which i haven’t known since i was a teenage girl, after rehearsing perhaps, or just jumping up and down too much – changements, entrechats (i almost forgot those french names) – without the right shoes or on a different floor, came upon me a day or two later. when you have shin splints it’s almost impossible to walk. that is why i could barely hobble back to bed. but to feel grounded in this way made every kind of sense after i’d been flying so high, so far in the night. the crux of this nightmare, then, was less perhaps what was happening in that world than my inability to dive back problem-free into this one.
you want to know what was happening out there? of course. you’re as interested in that as in anything from this temporary stage of the flesh, anything arising in the three dimensions from whence i cut you. you were always held in the wings, there, where you’re still lurking. you in your kaibab boots out with the deer, so deep in snow, so covered by a magical sheen that you reign on all creation this morning.
well, what was happening, i can tell you from my notes, scribbled with a pencil at 3 am, was this.
a male dancer. he was scottish. a dark street. and no one could jump high enough to reach him. his name was cheyne. that was known, but no one had any idea how he could have possibly jumped so high. the action was a variation on jack and the beanstalk, because this young man named cheyne, who could jump incredibly high, had made his way up to a level that none of us ordinary people knew was even there. and he had done this partly out of magic, and partly of his own prowess. he had been determined to keep jumping, to keep practicing, and pushing off with his feet, and he was not afraid to latch onto whatever he could find when he was up in the air. generally, that was one tall leafy plant or another. but when he got high enough, he found himself once again on solid ground. and he decided to stay there. he did not forget about us, however, still walking around below and wondering how the heck he got up there. he peered down at us and told us stories.
i was not exactly enamored of him, though i thought he was beautiful. he was pale in skin, with very dark hair, and for once it was more straight than curly. i was completely to the side of any sort of physical connection with this man, and i suspect this is not because my ego was above (or below) desiring him. it was rather because i realized that what he had done to get up there was beyond what any man and any woman can do. it was ethereal and had no future. but the dream turned into a nightmare the moment when i realized that he couldn’t stay up there. he would have to be catapulted below, and that this would happen through a violent encounter with monsters who were waiting, monsters who would tempt him and seize him from behind. yes,i’m talking about sex, threatening sex as punishment. sex as a kind of vengeance.
and once catapulted down, cheyne would not be able to return to us on the mid-earth plane. he was consigned to a beach to jump and try desperately to make it back to our level. and i, because i had been watching him up above me, peered now also down through the clouds to try to figure out what was going on below.
for that, as a kind of retribution against me, in turn, i was lowered over a cliff with a crane and had to watch cheyne, from not too high up, enraged, jumping up at me like a tiger out of the marshes. but those marshes, which grew, no doubt, from green blades surrounding the silk-screen tiger (brought back by my father from the war in japan), those marshes finally subsided to reveal once again nothing more than cheyne’s lonely beach, where he would have to stay forever.
the powers that be had tied a rope around his neck, so that he must have been at the same time hung and drowned. i say drowned because he, the hero, was clearly going to be overcome by the sea, whereas i, though frightened and peevish, was eventually pulled back over the cliff onto firm ground.
and there i was fine, except for the fear, the paralysis, and the grief that came from seeing poor cheyne, like poor you, about to be killed out of vengeance, overcome at last by the waters of the deep
Mary Shaw est professeure de littérature française des dix-neuvième et vingtième siècles à l'Université de Rutgers (New Jersey). Outre ses travaux universitaires, elle a publié deux livres pour enfants ainsi qu'un recueil de poésie intitulé Album Without Pictures (2008).