Bucks County Writers Workshop
Folie à Deux by Jeanette de Richemond
In the winter, he had looked up from his coffee break at work and had seen her. The way she turned, awkward, within her body, convinced his eye of her vulnerability. The silken swing of hair, shot with copper and bronze, slide past her profile and hid the shy manner of eyes that rarely met one's gaze. Sometimes she turned, face averted, and seemed to see him from the corner of her eyes.
He had looked up from aimlessly sketching his own left hand, the frequent activity of his idle moments. The hand he used as a model most often fell into a fist on the drafting table above his sketchpad. He drew his own fist, grasping or clenching, again and again, convinced that in learning to draw the hand he was developing skills necessary to capture the human form, and therefore ultimately animate his feelings.
He studied her in the cold light of the winter months. The chattering girls with whom she worked in the advertising department sometimes sat at coffee breaks with the architects, including him. Seeking their identities, the girls continually tried new fashions, diets, and hairstyles to find the one that would at last express their inner selves.
Unlike the other girls, she never changed the curtain of her china doll haircut, which almost seemed to catch on her shoulder as she turned to look out of the window at what no one else noticed. The muscular wisteria vine grew luxuriantly as it choked a graceful young maple, frozen in a Daphne dance.
She studied the tree as though it would speak. Her tongue, like Daphne's was stilled. A twin to Daphne, she also chose to be mute and inanimate rather than to be touched. If she could find words for Daphne, perhaps she might find her own voice. Staring out the window, feelings she was not able to articulate consumed her. She fell into dreams over her keyboard.
Each day they walked to the train station platform after work. He talked. She watched. Through the spring she wondered at the sap that pulsed the leaf.
In the summer, she changed. He had begun studying art in the city. On the train station platform he showed her his charcoal studies. She looked down into the portfolio and thought she recognized the artist in the self-portraits. She thought she saw a man who wanted to know himself, who was seeking to capture the essence of being in ephemeral charcoal, and would be able to capture the evanescent emotions that drugged her, turning her waking hours into dreams.
He watched her study his drawings, and thought he recognized his muse. He thought he saw a girl who drenched by emotion that flowed like water. If only he could capture the curve of her arm, the mysterious shadow under her eye, then at last he would be able to feel the emotion that suffused the thought behind the gaze. If he could draw her, at last the human body would no longer be another form of architecture, but living breath shot through with poetry. In his barren studio at art school, he had been certain that if he found the right subject, his art would be set free. Yet could never move the charcoal stick beyond the boundary of anatomy. He repetitively traced the structure of bone within the flesh.
She began to go out in the evenings with the group from work as the other young women followed the gigs of the Dixie Dregs in smoky corners along the night street.
He caught her one evening at the edge of the group. Wrapped in a black cotton dress, she suddenly stepped off the curb into the street. He pulled her out of the path of an accelerating car.
She told him she wanted to escape the music. The rhythm of the drum and electric guitars battered her skin. Her curiosity was the magnet that pulled her to accompany the group.
And so he took her down a flight of stairs to an underground jazz club, where although she sat directly across from him, wrapped in black, he lost her again. She followed the intricate sighing, sulking, yearning jazz as it escaped through the window and into the night. She longed to follow the jazz. She listened to learn what engine drove the jazz, what breathed life into the notes, for that was always her search. What is essence? What makes note sing? Fire burn?
When they came out of the club, the night had turned to mist. He found that even though he held her arm, he still could not touch her.
The music, he asked, what had she thought of the music.
"Singing and crying at the same time... " he thought he heard her say before the wind blew the fragments of her words away. "The anguish of seeking to express joy..."
For her birthday, he gave her a book of poetry. She thought he saw her soul. A mute poet, she needed another's words to find expression for her own moments, lived, unlived, and still to be lived.
He also gave her a slave collar of braided bronze, which matched her hair, to cover her own collarbone.
And so they struck a bargain. He would draw what she could only dream and never write. She would give him the emotions to breathe life into the drawings. Each sought self-expression through the other.
She came to his narrow house. She stayed. At his request, she sat silent and motionless for hours so he could sketch her. Unable to capture her feelings, he found skin and shape, but all that lay within her stayed frozen to the charcoal. Like a hunter who believes that if only he could bring down a deer he would be instilled with its spirit, he thought he would be able to draw what he sense he saw in the shine of her eyes at they slide past him to look at the sky. Rarely and only for an instant, he thought he captured the promise of the figure, but never the soul. Yet when he looked at his drawing a second time, he failed to find her fire in the flat form on his roughened page. He worked with such intensity; he tore holes through the surface of the paper.
At night, they slept on a mat on the floor, the room lit by a pillar candle in a saucer. One night, she rolled and kicked the frayed edge of the thrift shop blanket into the frame. It caught fire. He stamped it out. She laughed. He cuffed her forearm so tightly his fingertips left bruises shaped like fingerprints. Hadn't she realized the danger?
The fire is alive, she said. Hypnotized by her light, they repeated these actions for years. She lit fires. He attempted to extinguish them.
Still he stood watch, a guard dog, so she could dream. He continued to believe that she would catch the dream in the net of her fingers and bring it back to him as a child finds sunken treasure in an unbroken shell, holding the entire mystery of the ocean. And he believed that when at last she held the dream in her hand, he would feel the pulse in her charcoal.
She walked the city each day for hours, and tried to find words to tell what she seen: stories of give and take between riders on the bus, harmonious couples in the square, irritable families in the dinner. She tried to tell him the truths behind her observations of the girls at work, who each read their fantasy books. One graphic designer, giggly and blonde with a vanishing chin, studied Apartment Life magazine as she fantasized about moving out of her mother's house. Another, aloof with a café au lait complexion, studied classified advertisements from the New York Times as she imagined working at a fashion magazine, so she could set, rather than chase, the elusive spirit of the month. And the third designer simply spent her time watching the men in the architecture department as they walked down the hall, drank coffee in the lunchroom, and sped out of the parking lot in second-hand sports cars. Each sought a way to brand herself a woman unlike the others.
Deaf to her stories, he began to read the shrug of her shoulder as a dismissal of his talent and not the stretch of a weary muscle. He began to see her unexplored country as a desert when the shape of a cheekbone pressed against a forearm would not yield to his charcoal. He grew angry at the form when it failed to evoke expression and emotion his heart could not feel.
When he could not draw, she began to think the muscles of her upper arm lacked definition, the modeling of her cheekbone lost curve, her soul drowned in her eyes, and her words blew away in the wind without ever being heard.
Without moving, she turned and twisted her entire body away from him like a dancer, so she could look over her shoulder to see him at a distance. Even at a distance, the fire had not gone out.
Yet the passion that burned failed to transmute into expression. It only fed a light that reflected back and forth in a frozen prism that became the fixed gaze between their eyes, never allowing either to look out into the world. They saw only into a kaleidoscope formed by pairs of intertwined hands, an endless reassembly of claustrophobic selves.
It is a malady* of the spirit to believe that two can look through one set of eyes. In time, hollow-eyed, she mourned their lives, crying ceaselessly. Dry-eyed, he burnt his talent, endlessly battering the world. She drowned in both of their tears. He turned to ash in both of their rage.
*Malady ‚ Syn. Illness, sickness, affliction, complaint, ailment, indisposition. See disease.
Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language