THE DREAM PALACE
My mother says that I am vain, but fondly; nobody else says it so lovingly, even Emma, and all her dedications to me stink of greasy adoration. Surely you cannot criticise me for it, when I was raised to covet this beautiful flaw? It is wondrous; and it makes me so too - if only in appearance; because, of course, I am vain.
Nothing rankles vanity so much as a school uniform, but I wear it. Vanity does often lend itself to obedience, I think, even more than it does beauty. I stained rouge lipstick on the collar before I left today. I find it romantic, and interesting. Carmelita says that it looks messy.
Carmelita was the first to arrive in the morning. I am always early, and the rest then trickle in. I do dread the first to arrive being Carmelita, because she seems to summon winds to make me unsteady – her very presence makes the floorboards beneath me weak! I shall tell her so the next time I see her, though I doubt she will mind; I have never known someone so brutishly uncaring. I have told you often, diary, how much I loathe a person lacking in sensitivity. I should hate Carmelita if she looked like my brother: a big brutish face, and a coarse voice: but I have never seen someone prettier than Carmelita, someone so clean and so neat, so perfectly formed. I have already said that I am vain; and perhaps that naturally makes someone shallow; but oh, have you ever seen anyone as beautiful as Carmelita? And as neat? She walked towards me, everything ironed, everything straight, and her hair seemed not out of place at all. It is beautiful hair: the sort of hair that would tumble if Carmelita did not disapprove of tumbling.
She sat very elegantly, and said, ‘what is it?’, of course knowing that I had something to say, because nobody has ever known me more intimately than Carmelita. (Not Emma: never Emma, even though she has known me longest.) It is because she tears. Who said that intimacy was of soft brushes and gentle touches? A fool, and as I say that, I don’t care if that idiot speaker was Aristotle – I am intimate with Carmelita because she rips into me, and puts my soul under harsh lights for examining, and then sneers at what she finds. It is uncomfortable intimacy; it is hellish intimacy; I prefer it, still, to not knowing and not being known.
‘Later,’ I said, because if I told Carmelita alone, she would comment in a way that made me nervous about it, and then I would be nervous telling everyone else.
She waited, reading, her skin all bright and golden in the sunlight, for my letter. She did not know it was a letter, of course, but they were letters – invitations! – and I was nervous about giving them. They were done with care: written carefully and sealed, with wax, the stamp I used of a poppy flower (what is real life but an extended dedication to Morpheus?) Mother is visiting my brother – I wonder if she regrets her obligation to him, I certainly would – and of course Father would never set foot here, much less with me. So I have invited them to stay over summer for company. After all, you know that, I did write after I had made them: and I gave one first to Andy (who is always happy, and I knew would not be unkind) and then Emma (who is desperate for my company) and then Ike (who took it sombrely, as I knew he would, but that never communicates any ill feeling on his part) and then Carmelita. She only smiled – Carmelita! To think she smiled!
They all accepted.
‘It should be fun,’ said Emma, ‘no grown-ups, and no school, all summer.’
I think it shall be fun, but I do wish that I could have not invited Emma. But Mother would have asked questions if I hadn’t, very sorrowfully, because over the years she has come to value Emma’s friendship. The longer I have owned it, the more I have detested it.
Ike arrived first, and he granted me a thank-you letter, written in a silver envelope with a black wax seal. It was a scythe; how fitting, if not very sweet. I like my poppy better (but of course I like my own seal better). Most of all I should like us to write letters to one another.
In my dreams, Ike is a reaper, but he brings me not death but an endless, loving sleep, in which Carmelita and Andy come to visit me in my dreams. Isn’t it funny, that I dream of dreams?
‘You are not real. You are a dream of a dream,’ said Henry Miller. It was written in ‘Love Letters to Dear, Dear Brenda’, but I think, in actual fact, he was writing to my dear, dear Carmelita, because surely she emblematises the romantic muse. Surely, if I love her!
Andy is here! Sweet Andy; she brought cakes. They had too much jam, and I did not want to eat them, and hoped that she would bring a letter. It was a nice gesture still, and I suppose I could not have expected her to do what Ike did. She saw his letter, and commented on it; but she did not think to do one herself.
I feel the pain of having my needs neglected like a stone in my lungs, dear diary. Sweet Andy; so sweet, but so oblivious! A bull flaming through a china shop, and trampling over porcelain figures like myself. I have told you; I have told you. I loathe brutish insensitivity.
And Emma came too. She saw how I liked the wax seal, and I think she will buy one to please me (because if she has another purpose, I have not yet seen it), but I do not want hers over Andy’s. I certainly do not want hers over Carmelita’s.
A package for Emma arrived today. I hope she has bought herself a wax seal.
I mentioned to Ike how much I loved the letter, and I did it cleverly enough that I am sure he will write me another one.
I received Emma’s: the seal is a lipstick mark. A lipstick mark! Oh, how I howled with laughter, and I know she heard me, but if it sends her into one of her fits of sadness, she should remember to not make herself such an object of comedy. How clumsy, and that wax as well: blindingly scarlet. Emma would do well to associate herself with another colour; she does not look nice in red. Her hair is too orange, and it makes her look like a crayon drawing of a fire.
Carmelita is not here. I sent her a text, and I wrote that cleverly too. I know that she will feel guilty for abandoning me to the house. And I mentioned Ike’s letter, and Carmelita is clever enough to know that that means I want one, and that it will make fitting repayment for not arriving yet. She said the beginning of summer; it has been five days; summer is winding away, winding away, like the thread Ariadne gave to the Minotaur. I do not want to find the monster!
In my dreams, Carmelita always changes shape, but she is either a witch or a princess.
Carmelita apologised for hurting me so. She said she had revision; I do not care for her excuses, but I am glad that she did not bring any work here. I am also glad because she brought me a letter, and her symbol is a dove. Of course it is a dove; I cannot think of anything better for Carmelita.
Tonight, I dreamed of her as a princess, with gleaming wings white as paper.
Curse life. Curse it! I am beyond tired, diary, of being a lighthouse; I should rather be the sea, a meadow for white horses, an enemy of rocks, a shimmering, startling, free-as-freedom force that cares not for ships or their comings and goings but drowns them in apathy. Andy still has not given me a letter; did she not see that Carmelita brought me one? Oh, but she saw it, for I made sure to show her. What a lonely lighthouse I am! My light, feeble and flickering … oh, but I shall cross that out! It is not feeble and flickering at all. My light is ferocious. My light may essentially be the Sun, for all they care, it is the boats that do not pay attention. The paint is peeling, the stairs creak, and the wood has been weakened by the relentless water that I long to be. Oh, dear diary, what a weathered soul I have!
I have been unkind to Andy, and I think it upset Ike. I suppose I do not matter! My feelings do not matter. Carmelita was cruel, today. I told you already, diary, of her biting intimacy. Today she tore into my dreams. Dreams are the snow that you do not see, the layer that is never trodden underfoot but remains pristine and white until it melts into the soft meadow it lies upon.
She did not laugh, at least, although I expected her to. I would have struck her if she laughed. Perhaps she guessed so, because it is very unlike Carmelita not to laugh.
A package came for Andy. I think Carmelita told her to buy a seal.
And a package came for Carmelita, too; a big box that she will not tell me of.
Ike wrote another letter, in which he apologised for being surly with me yesterday. I think that Carmelita asked him to write it. Aren’t I blessed by one of Carmelita’s fellow angels to have her?
I lie in an angel’s bed.
Ike took me to the garden, and we lay and spoke there. Ike is very philosophical; we always speak of strange, lovely things, and often in conversation we use metaphors of roses. It was beautiful to speak with him, and he is very beautiful. I am glad that he is my friend; and I think, when we speak in metaphors, he is glad that he is mine. But then, of course, he must be glad to love me.
We spoke until late evening; Ike said conversation would be better in moonlight, and it was cold, but the idea was so romantic I could not bear to dismiss it. And when I entered, he took me to my room, and inside it Carmelita had reinvented herself as she is in my dreams!
None of the others were there. I could not bear it if they were there, if they knew my dreams as intimately as Carmelita. Ike must have known of them, but he does not know them; only me and Carmelita know them, only me and Carmelita! Only me and Carmelita!
I was afraid that the last evening would already have dissipated, like mist melting at the approach of the afternoon. I should not have been so anxious; it seemed like I had entered a mirror, trapped in reflected images of all that Carmelita had done for me. My room was bathed in golden light and silver memories when I woke. I could taste the metal on my tongue. There were two letters on the desk: one is from Emma, so I am sure it is flowing with bad poetry. I didn’t want to laugh at her after what happened, so I opened the journal.
It looked up at me blankly, unwilling. I picked up my pen regardless.
‘Now I see that love is selfish. It makes you a country of two. At war with the rest of the world,’ I write, as Henrik Ibsen wrote, as I know Emma will write too, over and over again in a blissful violence. She luxuriates in misery; she always has.
She asked me if I loved her. Of course not! I said, just like that, with the exclamation point. When we were children, Emma skinned her knees and I cried for her. I think my new country taxes my old sensitivity. I see myself like Briar Rose; sleeping, with a crown of thorns around my throat and trailing lines all around me, and arching up in a protective halo all around my sleeping form. Hers was a country of two, just like I and Carmelita, alone in our room all decorated with roses and thorns and her spinning the spindle I bled over. I am sleeping; dreaming; and I do not want to wake. When you dream, I write, on a new line, you must grip the thorns so that you never want to wake.
I should not have said of course not! But I was so surprised to think that she did not know I only loved Carmelita. I wanted tea so I left my room, and outside it she had left a crushed rose. I pick it up and tear my finger on the thorn.
It bled as I went down the first staircase, and I could hear feeble dripping outside the house. The rain is knocking on the windows as if itching to bring me bandages. I open the window so I can glare at the sky, fling my head back and stare at it. Of course the sky would cry for Emma; of course I am in a country on my own with Carmelita.
Why was I so cruel to Emma? Surely, in my lonely country, I should not think about her.
But she is the prince, the knight, the intruder, and she tried to spell me out of my sleep. I glare all my way down the second staircase. This is where it happened; I left the kitchen, carrying tea and a lamp (Andy bought me a lamp – it was sweet of her - I have the house dark so I can carry it, be the mob holding the pitchfork) and she accosted me here when I tried to go to my room. It is a beautiful part of the house: my grandfather’s favourite picture hangs by the wall: it is of my grandmother, and she is holding some flowers and staring at him very serenely. I shall have to move the picture now that I cannot stand the staircase. It is tainted, weeping the blood of dying dreams.
Briar Rose would not be fretting so. She would be asleep.
The other letter is a thank-you from Andy, at last. Her wax seal is a smiley face. I want her to get another one.
Carmelita was upset, because she read Emma’s letter. It is bad poetry (as I thought) about my cruelty. I do not know if Carmelita is distressed because Emma is distressed, or if she is worried that I could love Emma. Either is intolerable.
I am cross with her.
Andy got a new wax seal, a rainbow. I think that this is Carmelita’s method of apology. It still looks childish but it is better, I suppose.
She somehow burnt her fingers writing me a new letter.
I could hit Emma. Ike said I should not; well, if I can say that Aristotle is talking nonsense, surely I can say the same of him? I could hit Emma; I would hit Emma; but I am not a violent person, diary. You know that.
I think I shall ask her to leave. I do not want her here; I hate her here! To think she came in between me and Carmelita.
My house is breathing deeply. The walls seem brighter; the staircases gleam in brighter wood. When I opened the window, that treacherous sky was bright and blue, the clouds soft and fluffy as if to pacify me.
My heart is triumphant. My mouth is a trumpet of victory. Carmelita, dear Carmelita, has taken well to being my parade. Ike too; Andy is being petulant. That is fine; that can be dealt with.
I had Emma leave. She cried bitterly, and invoked memories of childhood, and said so many cruel things to me! She said I was unkind. She said that she would tell me I was a man with a beast’s heart, if she did not think that telling me that I was a beast with a man’s heart would rankle my vain soul more. And she said that she is glad I do not love her, because of the way I treat Carmelita.
If she does not wish me to love her, why was she crying? I always said she was an idiot; and unkind. Have I not been proved right, diary? And if mother asks, I can simply say that she loved me, and I love Carmelita, and anybody should not think that a strange reason for friends to part.
Yes – us friends have parted!
Megan Baffoe is an emerging freelance writer currently pursuing English Language and Literature at Oxford University. She's keeping track of her published work on her Tumblr.