By Chantelle Gray van Heerden
I am smoking, half-running to make the bus, when I first see her. I think for a moment she is moving towards the window but, when I stop, she is a mannequin like any other. Except for that humanoid face and the monocle covering her left eye. That night I dream of her. I dream I walk into the shop and press my cunt hard against her leg. I can feel the coldness of her body through my dress, wet coming down my legs. Laurie Anderson is playing a giant organ in one of the fitting rooms, dressed up like a clown. An old couple waltzes in circles. Around and around and around and around. It makes me dizzy. I wake up with vomit in my mouth, still violently rubbing my clit.
At work I tell Jenna about the dream. “You’re a fucking weirdo,” she says. I leave early, sneaking out the backdoor. This time I walk slowly. She’s still in the shop window, wearing a different outfit this time. Someone thought it would be hip to dress her in nothing but a black and pink faux fur coat. I walk into the shop, right up to her, and slip my hand beneath the coat like I am feeling the material, resting my fingers on her plastic-fiberglass cunt. I take a coat exactly like the one she’s wearing and go to the fitting room, put it on, and masturbate against the mirror, the cold against my skin almost exactly like it felt in my dream.
At home I put myself on a new dating site. I chat to three women. None of them hold my attention. I run for an hour and a half on the treadmill. I drink red wine and listen to a new album I bought. Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angels. I eat some chocolate and read. I’m restless. I’m hot. I’m sweaty. I’m tired. Finally I take a sleeping pill. I dream she comes to me, left eye monocled, right arm a black swan wing. The feathers smell like damp. I wrap them around my breasts, hold them to my face. I turn around, look at her, then push my thumb into her right eye. It gives way. I scoop out the blue jelly and eat it until my tongue changes colour. She smiles and hits me in the face. I wake up, my cheek burning, a black feather in my hand.
Jenna shakes her head. “You probably had the feather somewhere in your apartment,” she says. “I bet you sleepwalked and found it in a drawer or something. You know, led by your subconscious or whatever.” I smile at her, thinking to myself how absurdly her face is arranged.
When I walk past the shop late in the afternoon, the mannequin has been moved. I go in, looking for her. She’s been placed in the middle of the front room, wearing high heel shoes, a leopard print cocktail dress, and a black feather jacket. You look like a whore, I whisper to her. She doesn’t blink, but I can feel that monocled eye staring at me. I take out my red lipstick and put it on her lips. I look around and kiss her when I think no one sees, smearing the lipstick onto our faces.
At home I run for two hours on the treadmill, watching a documentary about swans. Cygnus atratus, the voice-over announces, is a large water bird with black plumage and a red beak. I imagine putting lipstick on the swan’s beak and kissing it. It tastes like rusted metallic. I take a shower, make myself nettle soup, and put the Laurie Anderson album on again, trying to recall something. I get up, stare out the window. I walk to the bedroom, get the black feather, and stand at the window again. I pull up my dress and pull down my panties to just above my knees. I stroke my cunt with the feather, then push it hard inside me, making myself bleed.
When, finally, I fall asleep, I dream we are stuffing our faces with herbs and berries, staining our lips. Vervain, mullein, borage, garlic. We consume unceasingly, but she can’t swallow, still mannequin from the neck down. She chews and chews, then spits it all out while I drone some sacred spell. We are being led to the stake, but really the joke is on them: our bodies are already on fire.
I wake up, sweating and delirious. I tell Jenna I think I’m cursed. “Don’t be daft,” she says, “you’re overworked is all. You probably need some iron. Maybe some vitamin B12. Or,” she says laughing viciously, “most likely all’s you need is to get your brains fucked out. That’s never done anyone any harm.” I sit in my office, rubbing my right arm. My fingers feel swollen and stuck to each other. I contact one of the women on the dating site, ask her out for a drink.
We meet at a bar on the other side of town. The music’s too loud, too grindhouse, too much like the woman I’m trying to seduce. I excuse myself, go to the bathroom, pat my face down with cold water. Back at the table, I tell her let’s get out of here, let’s go to your place, let’s not talk anymore and just fuck.
Her flat smells musty. We go to her bedroom, the bed still unmade. I lie down on it, watch her undress. She takes off all her clothes, dancing for me like a stripper would. She pulls out a black feather boa from her closet and wraps it around her neck. She moves closer and kisses me. The feathers scratch my face. I push her away and run out of the apartment into the rain. I run all the way home.
I dream I’m lying on the bed with my sister. I’m twelve and she’s nine. We’re giggling, talking about boys. I pull her closer and kiss her. I put my finger inside her cunt. She pulls away, but I press her down on the bed, cover her mouth with my free hand, and finger her until she comes. After I’m done, she curls up on her side and turns away from me. When we wake up, she’s a mute, black swan.
I go to work, but I can’t concentrate. The computer keyboard hurts my ears. The sun catches my left eye through the window. It burns into my head. My clothes stick to my body, melting into my skin. I leave early without telling anyone.
When I stop walking, I’m inside the shop already, looking for the mannequin. She’s been moved again, this time to the underwear section. She’s wearing lacy black panties and a red bra. Her legs are covered with stickers, announcing a sale. I walk up to her, take her hand. I’m sorry, I say, I’m sorry. I just wanted to show you how much I love you.
She bends down and kisses me, the monocle falling from her face. I know, she says, I have always known. Then she takes my hand and leads me to the stake.
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