Roger looked around in disgust as we sagged over our food. Génica rested her elbows on the table, holding her sloshing cup in one hand and leaning her cheek in the other, her lashes trembling then jerking upward, only to flutter again. Desnos rubbed his eyes, then put on his glasses and scribbled on his list while forking food into his mouth. Artaud, glancing at his mistress, wolfed down his food and coughed. Dark circles stood out under his eyes. I shoved my plate aside and folded my arms on the table, leaning my forehead on them. “I’m too tired to chew!” Louis complained.
“I thought you were hungry,” I said again.
“What a fun lot you are,” Roger said. “Don’t everyone fall asleep on me. I was hoping we could try some planchette or something—”
I lifted my head and saw Artaud take the cup out of Génica’s hand and pull her upright again. She leaned against his shoulder. “You need to give things like that some time in a new place, Thurmon,” he said. “It doesn’t work otherwise. Besides, people are tired.”
“Some of us didn’t nap on the trip,” Desnos added, yawning himself. “And what ghost wants to talk to you, anyway?”
I lifted my head to Louis for an explanation. “Planchette is a way of contacting spirits,” he replied, “without a full-blown séance.”
“The spirits knock on wood,” Desnos added, hitting the table three times with his knuckles. The sound of it made me feel strange—hollowed, emptied of will. Artaud closed his eyes. Desnos smiled as if he had just pulled a rabbit from a hat. “Or, they write with pen and paper while we talk of other things.”
I shoved a piece of bread in my mouth and let my head rest on my arms again. Still chewing, I closed my eyes. “Oh my,” said Desnos, but he sounded pleased, “three down, three survivors. Génica and Antonin and Geoff! Are you with us? There’s still tons of food.”
I groaned in unison with the other two, and heard the remaining men laugh. A grumble, then a thud, came from Louis’s place. “Did you spike the omelette?” Roger asked laughingly.
“Of course!” Desnos cried. “Now we have them in our power. Plus, you and I can split the rest of the wine. Did you hear that, everyone?”
There was another chorus of groans, and more laughter.
I dozed, plunging into light every time my lids slid upward, then lifting into pure black stillness when I closed them again. Desnos and Roger kept talking, their voices speeding up and then slowing down, swimming in and out of the mumbling patter of my dreams. My neck became dreadfully stiff, and then I didn’t feel any pain at all. At some time I was painfully aware that my cheek lay on arms as hard and cold as metal tubes, and then I was asking myself where I was and felt myself on my bed, my head on a pillow so soft I seemed to be suspended in space. I was numbly aware of walking. Then my head was on someone’s lap with fingers moving tenderly through my hair. I clutched those hands; they were large and cold with a rapid pulse.
Then I sat up in my chair at the table. The windows were black when I opened my eyes again. From the light of the single lamp I saw Artaud sitting straight up in his chair also with his eyes closed, his long fingers laced about his cup, and his face so still I reached out a hand to feel for his breath. “Devils!” he wailed clearly in a tormented voice, full of agony and fright.
“Angel,” I teased him, “Ganymede.” Such fear, such pale skin; I longed to touch his lips. The voice of Robert Desnos lulled me to sleep again with his poetry that I loved so much.
I saw, no dream nor any daydream it was,
The daydream’s a mist and the dream is lead,
I saw, beneath a roof of clouds, women’s birth-barring swabs
creeping without sound toward the flaxen-haired night
I saw, beneath blue skies, candles marching
with a sabre in the fist
And their flames in drifting seemed magically
the wave in the wind of a helmet’s plume….
O sisters, who caressed my brow so close by
where the mermaid joins the star and the diamond
and the star the ice and the diamond the page
where your names are carved by your no-longer lover.*
* All translations are mine.