Dance of the Moth
From the diaries of HQ,
I've found it, Diary---I've glimpsed it at last.
Secreted in a cage beside her alien heart: a moth
He used to watch them from the window: the butterflies, how they would howl in the night, forms studded and polished like precious stone, hair wild in the living wind.
Sometimes when his sisters were out dancing and his father had fallen beneath a thick and yellow haze, with trembling fingers he would take up the skins they had left strewn about the floor---slippery and half-alive---things made of gossamer and stars, or water that lapped coolly at his skin and shimmered in the light. At first he dared only hold them, afraid lest they dissolve like fairy-gold in his hands---or worse, lest some mark left by his human filth betray him, if not the garments themselves. Despising his mortality, might they not relay his infractions back to their proper masters? For surely they were endowed with some sentience, and how much further would it be to speculate that they could manage communication, through a subtle manipulation of the elements---through the hissing of silks or the play of the wind---intelligible only to the elite?
Night after night he held them, caught between a terror and a want.
And perhaps one night there was a wind through the window; perhaps there was a flickering of a lamp. Something turned behind the fabric in his hands, and something spoke.
Yes, it whispered---he saw it now, a mermaid in blue and gold---Yes. But those you fear are not our proper masters.
He buried his face in the glossy folds, breathing in sweat and perfume.
The power lay not in those who wore them, but the things themselves: demigods, beholden to no human will. His sisters, knowing nothing of that power, never dreamed that if their gods spoke to any of this world, it was to him. Or rather, not to Matthew, but to the face he hid: Alice, who herself was far too proud to hide for long.
But Matthew and Alice are two sides of a weighted coin: Matthew, barred by circumstance, and Alice, the phantasm supreme. I can't say whether she was more important to the child for her gender or as an all-purpose avatar, but I do know that everything about her was absolutely preferred. Nonetheless Matthew remained necessary, as a kind of shield. That way, nothing on earth could suppress her. No measure of fear or degradation on his part: where he despaired, she dreamed; where he hid, she built a home.
I do not know, Diary, how far I actually credit the supremacy of love over hatred---or death, for that matter. (I'm afraid this has everything to do with a wariness of the argument and very little to do with anything so sensational as cosmic pessimism.)
Rigour aside, however, I like to imagine that if one can meaningfully claim the ascendency of love, then one might also posit that a wish---however stifled---is always far more potent than a fear.
Thus for all that she was unnatural (because she was unnatural), Alice---an entity of pure desire---was beloved of the gods. Alike in unreality, they gifted her with images and fragments of stories. These she stitched together through the abandoned corners of the house: a swath of dreams overlying the grime of unchallenged decay, mingling with cobwebs and befriending small creatures that moved in the dust. She was Cinderella, with a second family of rustling, blinking friends who could neither sing nor sew. She could tell when the moths were dying, and made them death-beds from the rubble on the windowsills. There, she would hold tender vigils, murmuring softly as each life flickered to a halt.
Unlike butterflies, moths were only insects. They lived in the dark and the filth and made themselves pests. But their wings told a different story: if you looked closely, you could see that when they died, they were reborn as angels.
The first gown she took was the green of new leaves, in riot with a gash of violent pink.
For months Matthew had eyed it, and stroked its slippery form, but only Alice at last had courage enough carry it off---away and up the stairs to her secret kingdom.
Alone in the dust, she slipped it on.
The neckline cut a sharp triangle down the length of her torso, and the excess, long and snake-bodied, pooled around her feet. A nervous laugh escaped her, and she jumped. Remembering that she was alone in the house, she laughed again, and spun. A thin layer of dust shook itself from the floor: assuming a spectral form, it extended a hand to greet her.
May I have this dance?
No stranger to ghosts, the girl accepted with a voracious smile.
She curtsied, and gathered her dress. The spectre bowed. Cold hands guided her through series of gliding steps, drawing her like a paintbrush---dress trailing---through the dust. Once she had mastered the geometry of the dance, the teeth in her smile glinted.
The spectre complied, and the music (there was music now, it had leaked in from behind) leapt to match them. Alice took the lead, pulling her fragile partner around the room, spinning out new and bolder forms until the wind got into him and he began to crumble at the edges. She laughed and quickened the pace, and danced and danced, scattering his remains throughout the room. Then she spun in place, and stamped one foot hard on the floor. The music stopped.
She stamped again, and jumped at once into a reckless whirling. Her movement called up spectres in her wake, all of whom wanted to dance with the girl in the snake-green dress---the beautiful one---hair wild in the living wind. Those she picked out lasted no more than a minute. She flew from hand to hand around the room in a wide circle, faster and faster until the walls ceased to be fixtures and the air ceased to be fixed: it wavered and bent backwards, and in places seemed stretched to its limit---translucent and paper-thin---as if with one hand she might tear it away. If only she could! But no matter where she chased, the thickness of reality poured in before her fingers, and her grasp fell ever short.
Even after she had stopped the room spun on. The walls reeled, fumbling for their places, and the floorboards tilted out from beneath to drop her back into herself---again and again---back to where her corpse lay fixed and breathless on the floor, surrounded by a cloud of spectres danced to death.
This was only a test-wish: a preview of a gift more permanent. It did not matter that the spell would dissolve.
Frances Kimpel is a resident of Waltham MA, hails from the Pacific Northwest and works in a variety of creative media spanning written, visual, and performance genres. In addition to producing works of poetry, drama, and narrative prose, she has recently founded Tools of Enchantment, an original line of hand-crafted jewelry and art-objects. She is also a director, actor, and member of the steering committee for the fledgling theatre troupe, Chameleon's Dish. For her, art is a vital means of negotiating the relationship between reality and imagination. To this end, her work is seldom either realism or fantasy, but aims instead to function as a kind of bridge between two, if not an outright deconstruction of the dichotomy.
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