ISSUE 4 · SPRING 2010
The Siren's Song
The healer was an ugly old man, ugly to the point that Enna frowned and stopped at the door, wondering whether her visit was a mistake.
She believed that truly spiritual people must be as beautiful outside as their souls were beautiful inside: the wisdom of Tarot cards would make the reader’s eyesight perfect, prayers would lift up a priest’s flabby skin, meditation would burn a Buddhist’s fat, and a healer would not look like a prime candidate for the grave.
He looked weak as a starved monkey. His ever-moving face was plowed with deep asymmetrical wrinkles; he had a ragged beak for a nose, a black crease for a mouth. The healer’s brown suit looked as if it had been salvaged from the seventies, and the room with its old-fashioned wallpaper and lacquered furniture wasn’t much better. Enna couldn’t believe that behind those closed blinds, it still was 21st century spring, dusty and rushed.
So Enna stared at the healer while he stared back, a smile crumpling the left side of his face while the right smoothened out, gaining some serenity. His left eye, deeply sunken, was forest brown, the right sparkled with the unhealthy gleam of absinthe. Enna broke the silence.
“Healer Maurice, I need your help.”
“Who told you I’m a healer?”
Enna drew back at the sound of his voice. It wasn’t ugly at all: a soft young baritone flowing like milk, unfitting to his wrinkles and his claw-like hands.
“Lily Watermeyers did. She said you were very special.”
“Watermeyers. I remember her.”
“You didn’t cure her though.”
“Why? Were you incapable of that?”
“She was incapable.”
“A good answer.” Enna smirked. “A truly good answer for a healer.”
“But I’m not a healer,” Maurice said. “I’m a witch.”
“A witch? Aren’t they supposed to be women?”
“How would you know?” Maurice said. His face suddenly grew steady and calm.
“I don’t,” Enna said. “And I couldn’t care less.”
Maurice kept silent, his features smoothing out slowly, his eyes glazing over.
“All I need is a cure. Can you help me?”
Maurice didn’t reply. His face had assumed a texture of carved stone, rough skin, and deep wrinkles that formed rounded patterns on his cheeks. Enna sat down at the desk, clutched her purse, waited, but the healer didn’t even move.
“I have a brain tumor. The doctor says it’s terminal. I could prolong my life with chemotherapy. I won’t. I’m looking for an alternative.”
Enna held her breath, waiting for a reply that didn’t come. Maurice’s eyes now had glazed over with semi-translucent green.
“Healer? Did you hear what I just said?” Enna leaned closer. “Maurice?”
“What?” his face twitched. “Oh. I think I fell asleep.”
“You think it’s funny?”
“You think waking up is funny?”
“No, I do not,” Enna said. “Nor is your humor. I’ve been told that you can give an alternative cure; now can you or not?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because I want to live!”
“Why do you want to live?” Maurice didn’t flinch.
“What sort of question is that? I just don’t want to die.”
“That’s interesting. Why wouldn’t you want to die?”
Enna took a deep breath, steadying herself. “Look. Either you can cure me or you can’t, and if you can’t, just tell me so that I can go to another healer and another, until I find the one that can!”
“Oh, but it’s not my choice.” Maurice smiled. “It’s yours.”
“Then I choose you to help me.”
“That’s acceptable,” he said.
“Well,” Enna sat back in the chair, breathing hard. “I’m glad we’re agreed.”
“Now,” the witch crumpled his face again, “I want you to go home and sleep.”
“Go home and sleep. Then come back tomorrow, when you have dreamed.”
“Sometimes I don’t remember my dreams,” Enna said.
“Sometimes I don’t remember what I had for breakfast. That doesn’t mean I go hungry.”
“All right. I’ll try it.”
Maurice glanced at her. He looked small and insignificant again.
“Oh. Your payment,” Enna said. “How much?”
“A bucket of fresh piglet blood,” Maurice said.
Enna retched. “A what?”
“A hundred bucks would also do.”
Enna opened her purse and laid the money on the table.
She didn’t have much reason to save up anyway.
Enna came late the next day, her face still wearing the makeup from her last photo session. The job had to be done, if only to get the money for medicine and for Maurice. Besides, if she quit, she would feel dead already, and it wasn’t a sensation she enjoyed.
I’m looking good, she said to herself, stepping in the room that seemed murky after all the flashes of light in her eyes. This time, Enna’s head didn’t hurt, and she considered that a good sign. I’m looking good, she thought, feeling uneasy wearing such bright makeup in the presence of a spiritual man, as weird as he might be. She expected a rebuke or a lame show of affection. What she didn’t expect was the lack of any change of expression in Maurice’s face as he looked in her eyes.
“How are you, my witchling?” he asked.
“I’m good.” Enna sat down, crossing her legs to expose her slender ankles.
“You are tired.”
“I was working,” Enna said. “Hence the makeup.”
“Oh, that,” Maurice raised his eyebrows. “If you want to look like this, why do you paint it on?”
Enna gaped at him.
“I wear makeup because this is what I want to look like.”
Maurice laughed. “You are complicating things, my dear. Shaping yourself would be easier.” His voice sounded soothing, and Enna relaxed.
“You know I don’t get you, don’t you,” she said.
“Well, I got you, Enna. Last night, in a dream.”
Enna blushed violently. “How dare you . . .”
“It wasn’t my fault, actually,” he said. “You came to me yourself, and I—well, I didn’t push you away. That would be impolite.”
Enna laughed. “Well, it’s just a dream. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”
“I enjoyed it,” Maurice said. “I think it’s you who’s beating.”
Enna stared at him for a second.
“Do you think I triggered it?”
“I think you did it,” Maurice said.
“Probably I am provoking those dreams,” she said after a pause. “Some kind of search for approval.”
Maurice smirked but didn’t reply.
“At least that’s what my analyst said.” Enna shrugged. “He wanted to hear all about my dreams, too.”
“Tonight, I saw my face in a dream. I remember looking in the mirror and seeing my face, white and expressionless.”
Maurice didn’t respond. His fingers traced invisible patterns on the desk.
“I suppose that this dream represents my inner fear of illness and death. Death being expressionless, too.”
“Where did you learn that?” Maurice asked so quietly Enna barely heard him.
“My analyst interpreted my dreams a lot. I learned to do it pretty well myself.”
“Fecked your mind, didn’t he?”
“Fecked your mind?” Maurice rolled his right palm and poked in it with his left forefinger. Enna drew back in surprise and disgust.
“He most certainly did not.”
“Well, then tell me your dream.” Maurice hid his face behind his hands that looked so young today. “Tell me your dream.” Only his voice remained, muffled and smooth.
Enna closed her eyes and thought back to the night.
“I was preparing for a photo shoot. The makeup artist was cleaning my face, peeling off the clogged powder, the mascara, the dust. I looked at the cosmetic pad expecting to see it dirty but it was still clean. I remember thinking that I was somehow not real, that the dust didn’t come off because it wasn’t there in the first place. Then, I looked in the mirror. It was as if my expression had been peeled off. I thought, that’s weird, people don’t usually see themselves in mirrors in dreams.
Then, I turned in my chair, queasy from looking in the mirror, from the smell of powder and dust that always hangs about the makeup artists, sick from the electro-blue shadows she was going to apply on my eyelids, sick from having to sit and wait until they made me up. I opened the door, and there was lightning, long and bright.”
Enna opened her eyes. “That was it.”
Maurice sat in the shadows, still hiding his face.
“What does it mean?” Enna asked.
“What do you mean, what does it mean?” Maurice peered through his fingers. His eyes sparkled yellow.
“Am I not supposed to hear some interpretation? Or a prophecy, perhaps?”
“What did you do today?”
“Well, I was working. I’m a model. That’s where the dream stemmed from.”
“It was an autumn collection. A good brand, I like posing for that one. I was supposed to sit on a bike. Felt good, too. The fan blowing in my face to emulate the wind.”
“A make-believe,” the witch said.
“Yea.” She smiled. “And my head felt good. My eyes didn’t hurt, even after all the flashes. My doctor called afterwards. He said that he’d scheduled the treatment. I didn’t say yes.”
“So, what does it mean?”
“Well, perhaps it means I’m healing?”
“No. Your job.”
“Oh,” her voice dropped. “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a job. People want to see beautiful girls in catalogs, that’s all.”
“Why would your dream have a meaning, then?”
“A meaning besides what you saw and what you felt.”
“I don’t know,” she thought about it. “It’s just that . . . Everybody says that the dreams are more than they appear to be.”
“It’s your life.”
Enna winced. “Empty, just like my life?”
“Your life has bikes. And flashes.”
“How can it be empty? If there are bikes?” Maurice leaned forward. He seemed young; his skin glistened in the dusky light that came through the blinds.
He seemed young and in love.
“Maurice,” Enna whispered. “You are making fun of me.”
“I am making nothing of you,” he said. “You are making yourself.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“But you were saying . . .”
“I am saying that you are making yourself all the way,” he said. “Most people, they do themselves in their wake, and undo themselves in their dreams. You go all the way, never stopping.”
Enna blinked, trying to wrap her mind around Maurice’s words, and decided she couldn’t, although they still made sense. “Is this part of the healing?”
“It is what you do, and what you have done for a long time. I am telling you what you already know.”
“And what happens to people like me?”
“They go further.”
“Can you teach me about this . . . going further?”
“You teach it to yourself,” Maurice said.
“But can you help me along?”
“This is what you’re paying me to do,” he said. He looked eighteen, nineteen at most.
“Does this mean we’re finished?”
“Until tomorrow, then.”
“An egg laid by a black rooster would do,” he said.
“I don’t have it.”
“Two hundred bucks, then.”
That she had.
When Enna came the next day, Maurice was sitting in her chair with his back to the door.
“Hi, Maurice,” Enna said.
He didn’t speak.
“I didn’t dream tonight. I don’t remember anything.” She lingered at the door in silence.
“I feel queasy.”
He stood up and turned to her, and suddenly the room became so bright Enna covered her eyes.
Everything was impossibly real, the smell of wax and mold, and dust. She looked in Maurice’s face, old and distorted by life. She examined every crack, every line, the way the light shone from his skin. Tears welled in Enna’s eyes.
“I know what this is,” she whispered.
The doctor had said to expect this—visual hallucinations that meant the tumor was spreading. So Enna wasn’t healing at all. She imagined the tumor claiming more and more space in her brain, spreading in her mind like a black lump.
“I, too, know what this is,” Maurice said. He took her by the hand and led her to the chair. “And you say you don’t remember the dream.”
Then it came back to Enna, a dream where her face was covered with creamy foundation and matted with sparkly powder, layered with shadows and glitter, sprinkled with perfume and water, but her skin sucked it all in, and Enna looked as if she had no makeup at all: staring in the mirror, calm, unsmiling.
Then, her image in the mirror turned her head and watched something approach, something Enna couldn’t yet see from her side of the glass.
“You know it all,” Maurice said and fiddled with the cards spread out on his table. Each of them shone like a polished gem.
“If you don’t stop me . . . If you don’t save me . . . Something horrible will happen.”
Enna frowned, remembering the answer instead of knowing it. “This is why I sought you.”
“This is why you found me.”
“Then save me, if you can.”
“Everything you are, you have made yourself,” Maurice said and picked up a card. Enna squinted but couldn’t see past the light it emitted.
“I have a photo session in an hour,” she said. “And a new contract to sign afterwards.”
Maurice didn’t respond. He piled the cards and shuffled them. The swishing sound made Enna dizzy, and she grasped the edge of the table to steady herself.
“Should I quit my job?” she asked.
“Do you want to?”
“If I decide to go through chemo after all, I have to quit. I can’t sign the contract if I don’t know whether I’ll have my hair for the session or not.”
Enna drew a deep breath and closed her eyes. The carousel of lights spun and stopped.
“Tell me I should quit,” she said.
“You’re thinking that I can’t do anything else,” her voice broke. “You think that I’m no good for anything else. That I’m stupid. All models are, aren’t they? Fancy dolls dressed up for the pleasure of others.”
Enna opened her eyes and looked at her hands, at her feet. She felt distant from herself and still so close. She wasn’t beautiful at all. There was nothing beautiful about her . . . nothing beautiful, only perfect, as perfect as Maurice’s wrinkles and creamy voice, as perfect as autumn foreshadowed in spring, as perfect as a dream remembered in flashes of light in the black.
“This is what I do,” she said. “It’s what I am, what I want to be.”
“You’ve made yourself up,” Maurice said. His voice was quiet, and Enna breathed it in as a drowning man inhales ocean water.
“This is what I dreamed to be since I was a teenager,” Enna said.
“You did yourself,” Maurice said. “You can undo it, too.”
“Are you sad, Maurice?”
“No,” he quickly said. “No. It’s your life.”
“It’s my death, too.”
Maurice sat at the table and took Enna’s hands in his.
“Do you wish it not?” he asked.
Enna shook her head, cold tears trickling down her cheeks.
“You stop dreaming, and then you sleep,” Maurice said. “Then, it’s only darkness.”
She let her tears flow; she let them stop.
“Your eyes will be puffy,” he said.
“Then my lips will be, too. Besides, there’s nothing makeup can’t cure.”
“Your time is up.”
“It is,” she said and freed her hands. “How much will it be today?”
“Three hundred bucks,” he said. “Or a siren’s song, sung at the break of day.”
“I’ll find it,” she said.
An ugly old man wipes the rainwater off the steel counter of a newspaper stand. He picks a magazine, and the lady smirks, she knows all about these old men, buying fashion magazines, drooling at those pretty underdressed things sitting with their legs spread wider than a lady should.
Maurice opens the magazine and skims an article by Lily Watermeyers, concerning the untimely death of her dear friend and colleague, Enna, and the tragedy of Enna not fully grasping the seriousness of her illness, even until the day of her premature death. “She just kept posing,” the lead says. On the next page, Enna laughs, her eyes closed, a stray lock of hair crossing her beautiful face.
He makes a neat crease and tears the picture out, then throws the rest of the magazine in the trash.