Suddenly, Desnos reappeared. “Hey, everyone,” he interjected, in a snotty tone of false enthusiasm. He gave me a shriveling look. He was so unforgiving! Angered now, I slumped in my chair, shaking my head at him. “Let’s revive an old Surrealist tradition. In honor of our uninitiated guests.” His glare was definitely for me.
Kiki yanked at her torn stocking and straightened up. “No, I’ll never do it again. It’s scary.”
“Yes!” Justine bounded forward.
Louis shook his head. “No!”
“No,” Roger said, with an aghast look at Justine. “Have you forgotten, Justine?”
Lee Miller turned to Man. “What is it? What are they talking about?”
“Remember the last time, Rob,” Louis warned, “at Breton’s studio.”
“Oh, I’m not going to throw myself into the Seine,” Desnos retorted haughtily. “Getting dragged along a narrow ledge with rocks thrown at me while pursued by les keufs is quite enough for one day. And I’m not going to lock anyone into a closet—it is time for someone to come out of it, as it were!” Surely they could not have understood his smile at me. “Besides, Geoff has never tried it, and it’s not fair for him to miss out. We need to do this for Geoff.” Desnos looked triumphant.
I stepped forward. “Forget it, Rob.”
“Geoff is chicken,” Desnos announced to the group. “He’s only brave when it comes to doing the things I can’t do. At least I try to keep up with him, but will he try to match me?”
“What is your problem, Desnos?” Louis demanded.
Justine waved her hands to get our attention. “I don’t even care about your stupid little-boys’ squabble. I want to try it. I’ve never done it. If the rest of you guys won’t, fine—you don’t have to.”
“You saw it at the Loire; wasn’t that bad enough?” Roger demanded.
“Do what?” Lee asked. Man spoke to her in a low voice.
“But we have you to baby-sit us, Thurmon,” Desnos quacked importantly. “Drag your chairs into a circle around this table,” he instructed and set his own chair in front of it. Louis and Roger stood back and watched while everyone else obeyed. Desnos himself pulled another chair into the group, smiling at me over the back of it. He patted the seat and mouthed at me, Coward.
I came forward and sat in that chair. Justine was on my left, Lee Miller to my right. Sitting directly across from me, seemingly having appeared from nowhere, was Benjamin Péret, his elfish ears and round face mouthing Coward too. Man joined us but Kiki hesitated. I expected Artaud to protest, but he was nowhere to be seen. Probably he had slipped out at the first suggestion of waking dreams. I envied him.
There was a scuffle to my right, and I looked over to see Louis pulling up a chair. He wedged himself between me and Lee Miller.
After another pouting glare my way, Desnos sat in his own chair and reached out his hands to the people on either side of him. All of us joined hands, closing the circle. Louis gripped my fingers with a chortle and I cast a jealous glance at him as he held onto Lee. “Meet your eyes with those of your partner,” Desnos instructed, and I gazed deeply into Justine’s brown iris. Her pupil shrank into a shy pinpoint, shot through with reflections, then widened and darkened like the shutter of Man Ray’s camera. In a low, resonant voice, Desnos recited the opening invocation.
The candles were blown out. We were left in darkness as Desnos kept intoning his weird words. Eventually the blackness of this place shifted into twilight as the window, the mantelpiece, and the ghostly outlines of the chairs and the people became visible. Roger, a silhouette himself, hovered over the group like a ghost.
When Desnos was finished we dropped hands and sat in our chairs, waiting for it to happen. I wondered if the others felt as ridiculous as I did just sitting there in the dark. I could hear Desnos breathe. His head fell heavily onto the table, and people stifled laughter at the melodramatic thunk. He began to groan and sigh. No one joined in, so he kept snoring all alone, and after a while he began to actually snort with the effort, like an old dog shuddering from some animal nightmare. Someone suppressed a giggle as Desnos sawed the air.
“We appeal to the automatic muse,” Louis prompted, trying to restore some dignity. His voice sounded overly loud and strained.
“Our muse is not amused,” Justine chimed in, and several people laughed outright. One of them sounded like Desnos, but valiantly he covered it with more gasps. “Hrrrmm….
“Oh Desnos, stop it,” Louis commanded.
“Herrr-UMMMMM!” Desnos replied, cutting him off. “Weidmannnnn. Geoffrey WEIDmannn…”
“Woo-oooh!” yodeled Benjamin Péret. “Stick that prick schtick.” There were more giggles.
Justine made a shushing sound, and I could see her in her chair leaning toward the moving mass that was Desnos. “Who are you?” she asked in a tone that was lightly serious. In reply Desnos grunted and slobbered, and this time even Justine couldn’t suppress a chuckle and laughter spilled around the group again. “Will you tell us who you are?”
“I am—” began Desnos.
“—That I am,” finished Péret. “In the beginning was the Turd.” There was more laughter.
“I am,” Desnos sounded impatient. “I am the ghost of Geoffrey Weidmann.”
“All right, we’re going to stop, everyone,” Louis grunted. “Those seriously interested in the sleeping fits don’t appreciate this farce. Desnos will have to play-act all by himself.” He stood up. So did I.
“I am dead, dead!” Desnos went on, waving his arms around while his cheek flopped on the wood. “I’ve been murdered!” He let out a long, drawn-out moan that raised the hair on my neck. No one was laughing now. “I’m both dead and alive. I was murdered by myself! What would my mother say?”
“Shut up, you bastard,” I snapped. I staggered in the darkness and leaned my cheek against the wall, feeling like I was burning up. The cool wood of the wall was comforting against my cheek. The room was reeling about me and my hands felt numb.
“We’ve had enough of this,” Roger said.
“Sit down, Mary,” ordered Péret. “You never stick your cock in. Wham-bam-thanky-sham.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Roger told him.
Louis bent over to yell in his ear, “Everyone’s leaving, Desnos! Goodbye!”
“No,” retorted Kiki. “Let him go on.”
“What the hell, Kiki?” Louis asked.
I felt myself sway on my feet. I closed my eyes. My cut had opened again. The hearth was cold; a draft came from the flue. No wood, I had no wood. No food, except a few potatoes. No one close by and I was sick. “Marianne,” I said, softly, sadly. What difference did it make to feel sorry now? Why say her name again? My bed was three strides away but I couldn’t reach it so far away. My feet could not lift themselves; my legs could not hold me up.
“It’s drowning me,” Justine’s voice spoke up, sounding as if she were oceans away.
Drowning. Waves of hot and cold air hit me. Yes, I am drowning, that’s what it’s like. Drowning in sweat and saliva and sorrow. I stood at my fireplace as on a stage set. What was Artaud’s word for me—detached?
There I was, on the bed; and there I was, on the floor, and here I was, at the fireplace. There were two of me—three, for I watched the other two. It was like my dream except I watched twins of the lost soul who stalked me. He on the bed was clothed; he on the floor lay naked. But he on the bed fell back helplessly, his pale hand slipping from the tattered curtain. The drapes fell together, rippled, and were still. I applauded. “Bravo!” I yelled. “Bravo,” I said to Artaud who was backing up, pulling me somewhere. “I have a scenario for you.” I stumbled in the direction he dragged me; his hands on my arms were commanding. “Where are we going? To the Dôme? Rehearsal? The cinema? You were born to play Marat!” He on the floor writhed slowly, as if in pain, then lay still. Then he, on the floor, opened his eyes. Their blueness stared at the ceiling. He, on the floor, sat up. “Nosferau!” I crowed to Artaud. “A new version, we’ll write it—you, me, Vitrac.” He sat up unnaturally without bracing himself on his hands or rolling onto one elbow. He bent upward at the waist like that cinematic ghoul and sat on the cold, hard floor. My mind replayed the gesture of him sitting up—I saw it over and over again, that weird effortless movement. He sat up on that barren wood floor; again he sat up; and again, he sat up to sit. And he sat up in the dusty road while a man checked his arm with a lantern. Then I saw myself, the way I awoke every morning and sat up in my bed. I watched how I sat up—bolting upright as if jerked by marionette strings. He moved like a puppet and not like a human being. “Because I’m not!” I insisted to Artaud. Where was my friend pulling me in slow motion? What if Artaud and I drowned where he took us?
Pain shot through my belly. “What are these flowers?” I heard myself say. Their cloying scent made me choke. My arms folded over the ache. “Why are they strewn all over?” Louis and Roger looked over at me in the bright room and I blinked in confusion at the all flowers here, pile and piles of white blooms stacked on the chairs and at the windows and strewn on the floor so thick they reached Roger’s knees. I gagged at their smell. Artaud’s hands tried to hold me as I thrashed. “Is this a joke? I can’t stand incense. Saying rosaries over a woman’s body, it’s rape I tell you. I hate funerals. They’re repulsive!”
Artaud opened a window and made me stick my head out for a few breaths of cool, fresh air. It cleared my mind immediately. The world stopped cutting me on every limb. Everything blurred and the sickening waft of flowers, of incense, and of long-rotted flesh lifted away like a departing spirit.
I turned around. I wanted to embrace Artaud but he stepped back and over his shoulder I saw Desnos and Louis bent over Justine. The room was bright; someone had turned on the lights. My heart was beating so fast it filled me with panic. Stupidly I turned and shut the window against the night’s cold. I was aware of my heart, of having a heart in my chest, beating away in there, I am alive by virtue of this heart of meat Artaud had once written—and there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t stop beating, just suddenly stop on its own. What kept it going, every second without fail, without urging, without even a reminder? Suddenly I felt trapped in this machine of my body. “I’m not an essence separate from it,” I informed Artaud. He stood very still, looking and listening; only he ever listened to me. My God, his eyes! “I am my heart, my eyeballs, my guts, my brain, and all so fragile.” I felt his hands on my shoulders, giving me a shake, once, twice, but he nodded. Organs stitched together by an idea, the idea of self, he knew this. Anything that happened to these throbbing organs happened to us.
Desnos held Justine’s hand in both of his. She was moaning and rolling her head back and forth against the back of the chair, her mouth working convulsively. “She’s in deep,” I heard Desnos say. Everyone was standing and staring at her.
“The clear sweat of my father!” sobbed Justine.
“I don’t believe this,” Artaud said in absolute disgust as he watched from my side. His hand squeezed my shoulder, then dropped from it and he called out, “Desnos, what have you done?”
“How can she be under?” Louis snapped. “She was perfectly lucid two seconds ago—”
Desnos spoke over Justine who babbled, rolling her head back and forth. “She may have been under the whole time. I’ve seen this before. Some people act perfectly normal when they’re in a light trance, and when they go deeper, they change like—” Desnos snapped his fingers, “—that.” He leaned forward and spoke in Justine’s ear in a calm, reassuring voice. Louis stood by and watched, both hands scrubbing at his scraggly hair. Justine quieted.