Thursday, February 11, 2010
This much I do remember: Jebez Jr. and I had gone shopping for costumes for an afternoon tea party where we wanted to dress like people other than ourselves. We were having a great time not taking life too seriously. At one point he grabbed a piece of cardboard off the street and held it to his face like a mask; three people leaned out of a window and waved to us from a party until they were pulled back to the dance floor. I felt a bit like I used to feel in college—like I knew a little something secretive and special about the world and given a chance I would find a way to share it. The shopping proved futile, but we were in such a fine mood that we didn’t want the afternoon to end. We ended up drinking cà phê sữa đá by the bucket in a stuffy shop that sold used books. The iced coffee was strong and invigorating, but also I think tainted with some other toxin, because what happened next was not at all expected.
I got up from my seat and pulled J.J. with me by the front of his jacket. My hearing wrapped around itself and my vision degraded in long blue smears until it turned into the after burn of flash bulbs popping like rain drops in a puddle. My consciousness failed as I passed out. What happened next remains a mystery to me.
I woke up asleep inside of a boat. Not my yacht, but a fishing boat no bigger than a floating coffin, nothing more than a skiff. I tried to piece together what had happened, but found my memory frozen with the shock of self-disapprobation; I do not like to be out of control, even if it is not my fault. My face was against the floor of the boat. My nose was flattened by my own weight. I did not want to get up, but as always, inaction was no recourse; I rolled over and sat up. The boat was floating aimlessly down a river. No one else was in the skiff. I was wearing four thousand dollar shoes, dirty denim trousers and a black fisherman’s sweater. These were not the clothes I remember last wearing. There was a brass key taped to the inside of the boat’s hull but no label attached to the key and no other item in the boat. I did not know if it was dawn or dusk. Floating like Moses in his basket, I knew nothing about my journey. I put the key in my pocket and unlatched the one remaining oar and set the boat towards the bank of the river. I chose the port side bank, if for no other reason than I thought it made for a more cinematic landing, with the low cross light of the sun just hitting my cheek, filling all dimpled hollows and time-worn valleys of my face; etched in golden light, I rowed to the port side shore.
Running aground, I had to hop out of the boat to keep it from turning downstream. The maneuver soaked my shoes and pant legs up to the knee. I pulled the skiff ashore, as I felt some need to secure it for future use if my more or less fortuitous landing spot proved an unfortunate draw. All rivers occupy low ground, so I had to hike upwards a bit to get a sense of where I was.
Waiting for me at the top of the embankment was the vast, thrilling, chasm of nothingness: no idea, no plan, no guide, no reference, only the openness of opportunity. The bank gave way to land, which gave way to a road, which lead to a wood, which I followed like a detective musicologist chasing the sound of a clarinet’s melody in the middle of a rising jazz cacophony. My feet slapped forward with my curiosity alternating between wonder and disorientation like the clapping hands of an enthusiastic listener who can't quite follow the beat.
The road lead to a grand country estate. I felt an uncanny certainty that the key in my pocket would open the front door, and of course, it did.
Inside, the estate was lit only with candles and large fireplaces burning what smelled like a combination of Cedar and Scots Pine. I had seen neither of these trees on my walk to the estate, and wondered if the wood had been brought in just for the wonderful smell. There was a long table set with marzipan and cut fruit that had clearly been arranged within the last few hours. Down the hall I heard music and I followed it not knowing what I would find.
The hall gave way to a grand ballroom. Inside people were dancing and drinking and swinging in each other’s arms. A man ran up to me and clasped me on either shoulder and exclaimed how happy he was that I had made it back. Women were wearing gowns cut across their bodies to both conceal and reveal their inner architecture. Several were wearing pieces that included artisanal lace and embroidery—hallmarks of truly expensive couture. The music was courtly and drifted through the bodies of people dancing, so that it was louder in the gaps and muffled across the shifting masses of people turning and whirling through the open room.
Enlivened by the presence of other people, my senses domed around me forming the fuzz of a personal ecosphere. I was moving through the crowd while still completely in my own world. Glimpsing from across the heads of dancers, I spied Tako turning and leaving the room. My heart leaped and I followed quickly to find her. Did she see me? Where was she going?
Each hallway ended in another room, which lead to another hall or chamber. Although large from the outside, the estate proved enormous when you were in the thick of it. When I caught up to Tako, she was moving quickly, but not running. She took my hand and led me first through the library and then abruptly through a steaming copper kitchen. Out the other side, we crossed a music room, replete with a harpsichord, celesta, and piano (was it only keyboard instruments?) until we arrived at a side entrance to the estate. J.J. pulled around in a matte grey 1962 Jaguar convertible with a right-hand drive. Tako and I climbed in and J.J. wheeled the car around the driveway, nearly clipping a stone statue of Venus. We were about to leave the estate behind when I realized the car wasn’t made of metal, but instead was carved from a single block of ice. It started to crumble and fall apart and the road itself began to loosen and suddenly the three of us were neck deep in a river mud. The river cleansed itself as more water rushed forward and the whole party from the estate was now floating around us with chairs, serving platters, masked patrons, chefs, band members, women in cocktail dresses still swilling their drinks, men in tuxedos playing cards while floating on their backs, dogs with diamond collars and eager young lovers kissing on couches, which were floating half-submerged and collecting frogs and sticks and debris from the river in the cushions; lampshades floated past tables floating past silver trays of salmon canapés; river animals crawled up on chairs and ate straight from the plates; Tako held me close as we watched the deluge churn; J.J. picked up a violin and started playing the birdsongs one would expect in these woods; I saw items from my youth tucked inside little gift bags floating past and treasured designs I had created but forgotten amid the muck and the mud; a photographer from my first collection sailed by on a Louis XVI chair and snapped our picture with a Polaroid, he reached over to give it to me but then took it back at the last second, saying it was a keepsake; snakes slithered past with jewels in their mouths; a woman in courtly dress found a salamander lodged in her décolletage; Tako held onto my side as we floated on, she leaned her mouth close to my ear and whispered in a way that made all other sound disappear, “Après nous?”