This short is taken from Act II of The Chameleon Mirror, The Thief of Thursday.
A group of men and women in sharp business suits sat in semi-circle round a dusty old computer. All-star black. I sit at the head of the table and a man to my right introduces himself and the rest of the group. There’s a television at the end of the table opposite to me. The eldest man on the left stood beside the AV setup, and ran a clip. Static filled the screen then freckles of white skin appeared then light hair curled, then a white shirt and dress, white socks and shoes. A tennis-racket tea-set popped into view and Willow, sweet Willow, an imaginary friend they said. But kind and her hair was white and stringy. Old Willow miss Willow was with’ring steadfast waving like the others blades of fluff among the mast. She went away, this friend, now renting a spot in my heart and imagination.
There’s no freak genius just some demons that speak English, target evangelical snakeslingers in four seasons for four reasons snapping snakes stealing souls and they say,
I pulled out of the tape. That’s what it was. A media device, a recording, a moment at Moncrief, no was it An’mien? And the old man said, “Accept or take another?” The others looked at me.
I looked up and down and the iron frowns returned like stone.
“You can make a choice to take one moment into the lord’s paradise, or take all memory, all moments, and entire the world of fire.’ “Another,” the man beside the screen said.
I felt him say Amen? Ahm-myeen, his name. I’d never heard a name like that. The screen pans back from the nose of a dog, and my sister is in diapers patting him on the head, old Traveler. A collie with a mane of white, a prize to be sure. And his eyes. The light amber brown touched orange burst into focus like a little sun the size of a ladybug.
Yes Renny, miss bo, what are you doing?
She walked through the TV into the room, in that red kimona.
Let me look at you.
She turned my eyes to hers those almond browns and looked into mine. She smiled. My Wenny, my Lenny, miss bo! My how you’ve grown! You think your hair is short enough? She smiled and thumped me on the head. Then placed her hand on the side of my cheek. I don’t care what your father says. It looks great. You look wonderful miss Bo, Mrs Brisbois!
I snapped out of it realizing that somehow I had been into the screen. They let me know, if I didn’t choose one thought or memory or idea that is meant for me could potentially trap me like a genie in a bottle here, inside that screen, stuck in a memory that happened to keep me from slipping out. Each tape they played, it had a song. Bang bang, you shot me all along! My father played the piano, wrote poems and violins. I sat on his lap and he listen here, this is how we’ll us both, Mama too, we’ll sneak off into heaven and take the thief Lain when we do!
Listen, father said. They may never bring it up. You’re my daughter, a Brisbois like my son. Your mother is difficult, you know. She’s so lovely, so lovely and I love her, but she has a more, strict set of social codes. You know? Don’t keep me here!
I was back in the seat. The tears swelling in my eyes. Surprisingly, I’d been in the rest of that scene, and how hard it was to stay there as I lived to hear him say it. And it dinged off inside the room, making it impossible to flee.
Your mother thinks that since we weren’t married proper, that they’d deny you that theatre. Well, we’re not barbarians, and honor can be here won by women and men, bastards and bastard kings. Don’t ever think that since these Greeks couldn’t claim their daughter she’s put as special as you are my bo, Lenny my star. Don’t believe them, not ever that, you’re less because you’re this or that. I tried to strain to pull away but the glass around me kept me in and for the first time in that world I could tell it was a light-show ran by little men, shaped so roundly paper-thin. The words were falling down the screen, through which those who held me must have seen.
This world is as much yours as mine. Renette, Renette! If you’re ever anyone’s be theirs by your choices. For university to Scottish pubs. Demand and earn respect and it’s yours. Your mother has a different way, you know. Because you’re so so pretty little Bo. But you’re more than pretty. You’re my viking girl. And you’ll be Frey in the Christmas play, and Loki he’ll fall mad for you.
And there was Lain outside the screen. Hundreds of feet tall so it seemed. Looking at me as the words crawled up the wall in waltzing spirals to the beat of an automatic clock set on repeat. I jumped from one word curious, to another frightened, breathless, overwhelmed and rest.
Outside the screen again, the people looked to me,
“Choose,” they said, “One memory. One for heaven, hell for three.”
I asked by impulse, “What about all?” “This room, this here?”
A man with a dignified voice said.
“This place is between two others, you know by the wrong name. One requires you let go, and so pain goes along. The other lets you keep your pain with your forever alone.”
“And if I stayed here?”
The choir gasped, each one except that same man. “Don’t you know where you are, my Bo?” She knew as soon as he called her Bo.
“Brisbois,” he said. “My Joan of Arc. Empress of Arcadia, Queen of the Isles and March.”
The others had left and with that man, the well-dressed older fellow running these scenes he threw on the screen behind his fingers like playing cards. The thought, I thought, that we’ll all die, it vexes us sometimes in life. For some more so than someone else. It’s still more near a nightmare than a dream to realize you’re in Hell, and getting out requires a choice: To take the anguish and the noise, but every photo ever done, every memory, everyone. Lain and Cammy, Russeau and Jon, my mother, Yes! Mme Nanty… It’s time for you to go on.
The second tape
I was pulled into the screen. I was dressed up dressed like Cleopatra. I must’ve been 9. In America, it was fun. That’s where I met Lain. He was a big fish in a small pond and we walked around the neighborhood. It must have been 99, maybe. His half-brother Gilbert, four years younger, had been in an accident and he was at that dumb parade. This was a small town, where Lain came from. Every year they had a carnival. Setup like a cheap and temporary fair. A tilt-a-whirl, and gravity pulled him against me on that ride with Maddie. He was in central park I think it was during lunch. I watched him playing chess as I walked up. Nobody was there. So I asked if I could play when he finished. Yes, he said. I’m done. Do you want to go first?
He looked at me. Lain, god fucking fogasfk. You lose them. We lose them all. What picture do you take then, if to preserve yourself at the expense of all else? Defeat it. Change that. Make them immortal somehow.
The man smiled in a unique way, seeing her self as her body turned grey. I was behind the scene then, lifted up, drained into the background as I watched them in a cup. “Choose one memory, go up; or take all with you down.” Another choice, the voice whose owner I had been.
The man, that demon, that angel, whatever he was, smiled again. He loved her it seemed. And it was unique. He spoke with warmth, while once so cold, distant but now closer.
“A third choice?” he smiled. “Only for you, my Bo. You can stay here with me, and watch the show. You don’t have to take one, not for heaven, nor purgatory with all, stay in hell where you belong.”
But I can watch these tapes? I said. Much more confident was I in death.
“With me, you can watch for eternity. You can go inside that dream machine. I’ll be here by the setup here, as new clients come and finally clear, you can come back into this
little room, I’ll join you in the afternoon. I’ll leave the tapes beside your bed.”
“I want each scene of me and Dad.”
“Okay,” the friendly devil said. He’s not as bad as you’d think.
A moment passed. He saw that then, I wanted to see the screen. My dad again, he threw the card. It stuck to the glassware then a wire brought the sound out of a fiddle. The devil went down to Georgia!” Did you get his soul?
The devil said, “You may not know,
“I may have lost that sole, that one show, But I met him again fifty years on, He chose the banjo and moved on. He took that memory with him, Into the highest highs of H’en.
“Do some take all to purgatory?”
“The poets,” said he, “Romantics that have somehow turned it upside down and made the smiley face a frown. I thought you would, you’d take them all, and suffer with them, forever, just to hold onto a boxful of ghosts.”
Renette had stopped listening to him talk He’s – he’s I came to myself. The devil has a dark side like everyone else. As for Renette’s, she made a gamble on the bet that the devil, if indeed he were, had thought of no such thing as mirth. Each time he laughed he weakened; Renette didn’t need the treats above, with a digital scrapbook and the world; in her way it was the greatest thing she thought a man or anyone could in the most unlikely dreams: she tricked the devil with the magic word and made him say please. And when he realized the lies, the deceit, he laughed to know that he’d been beat.
I heard the snap of fingers. He stood before me then. Behind him was a whirling hurricane, hurrying towards a wall of flame. The devil bellowed (yellow!)
Oh dear, I felt it in my bones. And bones he was and strung along. Whispy, thin as a sheet of paper, and he’d written on it in his blood. Even in hell, misunderstood; he could spell and work but just as good, a suicide floated in the woods and woods he liked; he’d been without them all his life. He floated down and saw me, frowning – more sorrowful than man I’d seen in hell while I’d descend. Leaving the video room again.
I walked into fire expecting flame but found instead more a cool lake, the embers more like little eddys scribbled in and golden, electric to the touch. I could tell however, despite how heavenly my Hell, Lain looked like Hell in his.
Lane said, go into the TV, meet me there. I’ll get you out of here and we’ll go South.
Why not to heaven?
I know a cooler place.
“Where is cooler than heaven?”
“I don’t know, your place?”
“My place is a mess!”
“It’s better than hell.”
The Devil changed the TV channel.
The props rose behind a cabin, a wooden shed. A boat was in there, and a young boy was washing one side of it. It was filthy; he’d covered it in swaths of paint. Hypnosis, madame butterfly was on. Lain, sweet Lain. He’s about 15 hear, and he has that stupid hair-cut but he’s tall. Thinks he’s the smartest man in the world. He crosses his eyes just to make me laugh and ruins such a good photo of him. I can hear him talk, his voice picking different accents. He chewed on words when he got nervous.
I’m Renette! I said.
You are French? He asked. We’d never met. Yes, I say. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Before I could respond he’d asked, ‘What’s your last name, hyphens?’ ‘Renette Brisbois,’ I say.
“Nice to meet you M Brisbois,” in that accent. Articulate devil, even then.
“And you Monsieur …?”
“Alain…” I fidgeted. Fuck!
‘Yes, I go by Lane. Charles is my first name. Charles Pinon.”
“Would you rather me call you Lane or Charles?”
“Whichever you’d like, mademoiselle.”
“Okay then,” squeak squeak. “What do you do for fun?”
“I write too!”
And we were friends. All writers I think are friends, even when they hate each other. ‘Where does Brisbois come from?’ he asked. ‘Is it a family name?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘It was a chosen name my mother used to hide my parentage from her husband.’ I wanted to cry. No bastard’s happy to be one.
‘Did you know your dad?’
‘Just from dreams. You?’
‘From my stories.”
“Oh, these stories again…’ I was out of my mind! ‘Would you like me to tell you a story?’ It’s weird to be intimidated by a child.
‘Sure,’ I said. I felt like an idiot. ‘You’re fine,’ he said. ‘I’d love to.’ ‘Okay,’ so silly.
‘What kind of story would you like to hear?’
‘A true story!’
‘Tell me about the last woman you loved.”
He seemed shocked. Not unawares, but surprised I’d said it. His smile turned into a happier expression. ‘I’d love to,’ he says. ‘Enjoy.’
‘Once in Istanbul a mother named Terrha gave birth to a conjoined set of twins. Siamese twins, some call them. The child was unique and beautiful, two girls—two girl heads, that is. Sersia controlled everything, and Lera felt everything, the prick of needles, the warmth of Sersia’s body, but she could not move, not a single hand, and so her head traveled around Sersia’s body, at the whim of what she chose.
She chose to bash a sailor’s brains in with an old Clam shell. The conjoined head screams for her to stop. The adrenaline shoots through her skin but she can’t make the body stop destroying that sailor’s face. And we were arrested. She asked me to lie, to say he tried to take her by force. But she wouldn’t. So they go to court and Sersia pleaded not guilty, but her sister, though innocent, pleaded guilty. The jury was left to the decide to question: is it worse to let go one murderer to preserve the life of the innocent or punish a crime at the expense of the innocent and by that commit a crime against the innocent? The jury came back unanimous. You are the jury. Work this out.” What a strange child!
“Is there a right answer?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “Ethically?”
He never told me. He said some questions are really answers to an unspoken question posed by the Earth, curious about itself.
“Tell me one of your stories,” he said.
“I don’t write stories,” I said. “Just poems.”
“Can I hear one?”
“Sure,” confident? Nailed it.
Nothing lasts forever
Long live the Queen! or not …
Each daughter did their duty
Raising their siblings, all Cindarellas,
No offspring of their own;
At their core, in every child, Was a desire for the throne.
So when the queen was found,
Dead on her satin pillow,
The Royal Guard was pulled apart,
And Regicide! Declared …
Executed were the guardians Each one that wasn’t there.
And so each dreaming Cindarella,
One by one,
Was prepared for the chair.
The peasants and the people of the kingdom weren’t told
That queen Muriel, beloved by young and old,
Had been found without her crown
Her skin already cold, And each day the same parade The same charade portrayed:
A daughter in disguise was taken by The road most taken by the Queen
By the gardens and the markets
She waved from her dark veil
How sweet it was, thought Elanore,
To be so loved, adored;
Each blessing and each tailored
Warmed her to the thought:
That the veil may fall, it fell;
And so she took the throne.
Seeing this new Queen, her being, So young and before unseen,
The peasants riot in the streets.
Elanore burned in effigy,
From sea to sea,
From caves and towns, The hecklers in the streets demanded Elanore renounce the crown.
So her retinue of guards
And staff of sycophants,
Prepped an announcement disavowing Any desire to remain:
Though Elanore refused, and more,
Had each traitor slain;
First her guards and then her brothers,
Then her sisters, so becoming, More feared than loved but, It’s enough:
More like her mother she’d become. Rebellions rose, and frequently
She made examples in the street: Executions, martyrdom;
Baptizing heathens in their blood.
Each shadow she thought had a plan,
Each whispering servant, each stage-hand, All she thought had the desire,
To see her overthrown:
She’d take them with her,
Would burn like them all
It starts with the smallest town,
And spread without control
Through cities and forests like driftwood
Until Elanore herself went out
Like so many in the flame.