Friday, 27 September 2013

My Geppetto by Polly Dee


Puppet or not ?

He cuts a strange figure. Is too hard and too fast, deliberate, dark eyes and a mechanical grin. I am soft and white next to him, thin-skinned, fungal. I’m picking at a scab on my wrist.
I want to make a puppet, he says, too loudly. He looks at me with those wrenching eyes of his.
Okay, I say, and I try to make myself vacuous. I try to feel the hollow sphere of my stomach, growing and swelling, merging with the bubble of my lungs, ballooning up against the inside edges of my skin.
I roll a little away from him, crushing buttercups under my back. The scab has come off in my fingers and my skin begins to bleed. It looks raw and a little tired of this ritual – scabbing, peeling, bleeding, scabbing. Sorry, skin, I think, and watch the blood ooze.
It’s festival day, and we’re lying on the grass, facing each other, a little apart from the group. I’m wearing a strapless dress, loose hair. Perfume, Marc Jacobs. Maybe too much. My face is painted. I am painted as a nothing in particular. I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted the face-painting girl to make me into, so she made me a smudge of blues and greens, a disintegrated floral thing, a nautical thing, maybe, a magical newt, sunning itself. I am a little hungover, and I am not in the mood.
Even without facepaint he looks like some kind of blackened crawling creature. I want to make puppets, he says, marionnettes. You know? Puppets on strings. I want to model them on you, he says.
Okay, I say, and it’s not the first of his ideas I’ve blandly swallowed down, because he’s the king of all the procrastinating artists of this city, and I really don’t care, and I roll back onto my front and rest my chin on my hands and I close my eyes. Colours splash and wilt on the backs of my eyelids. The inside layer of my skin has begun to heat up.
I keep my eyes closed but I can smell that he’s lit up a cigarette.
It’s raining, he murmurs, and his voice is louder than it should be. It tickles the nape of my neck and drips down onto my eardrums where it quivers into droplets and shatters into nothing.
I feel pricking drops of rain on my exposed back. As they get harder I open my eyes. It is a ferment, long lines of rain fingering downwards and steadily building, as if the world has decided to change around the positions of the sky and the ground. Water hisses. There is a roar of dismay from the fairgoers. Water is everywhere at once and in everybody’s faces. The facepainting stall descends in a wet mist of colour. We pick ourselves up, shambolically, gathering our things together, putting them in bags. Umbrellas sprout up in all directions but we’re thinly clad and already drenched, and running for home.
In the melt his arm is around me, wiry and grounding. We have broken off from the group and he pulls over a taxi. We get in and he gives directions. The driver is a dry weasel of a man and his taxi stinks of smoke. We drive in silence. I focus on the hollow of my stomach, the hollow space in my lungs. I breathe in and let it swell up inside me. I am a bubble, I am a vacuum, I am full to burst with nothing at all.
We get out at my street. He pays. Just as I’m re-anchoring myself in the world – it takes me a moment to turn the streets the right way round in my head – we’re haphazardly mixed up in one another there on the pavement, tasting each other’s mouths in the rain. I can taste beer, and cigarettes, and rainwater. Hair clings stickily to my face and tangles in my eyes. Abashed and floral and damp, I want to be polite. Graceful. I pull away from him and fumble for the key and once I have got the big entrance door open we climb the six floors without saying a word. We race each other up the steps, blindly, two steps, three at a time.
I let us in, and leave him in the hallway, and lock myself in the bathroom for a while, towelling my hair, pacing around.
In the mirror above the browning sink, my face doesn’t look like my own. It looks pained, and drained, and too young, a painted toy dissolving. My eyes squint out at themselves from a vast smudge of rainy makeup. I drop the towel and my still dampened hair falls slowly back around my cheeks, bouncing in little loose curls. I do not want this.
When I go back out he falls all over me like a flood, tentative but secure, in all places at once, and rushing. It strikes me that he is drunk, and I am still licking beer from his mouth. We shed our skins, and I laugh too loudly, too nervous, and he bites my neck, and I do not want this, and I do not want to give him this, but I am abashed, still fungal and too small, and I cannot help but think, I am too ungraceful, for all of this.
His body is bigger than all of me. It veers, and crests, and surrounds, like jagged mountains. I come to life in a grove, cowed beneath those leering rocks. Am a digging thing, a furrowing burrowing thing, a roaming thing. I stare outwards like a deer. Graze, am hunted, shot through, fall onto the earth amidst these mountains. And those hard, slick fingers, winding through the threads of my hair, grinding into my scalp.
Curled in an arm, up against the warm edifice of a body, unyielding, staring out at nothing.
You’re beautiful to me, he breathes, slippery into my ear. His fingers keep coiling through my hair. Slick, hard, puppeteer fingers. His long lifeless sleeping body drenched around me.
All I mean to say is that I lie there, for hours, not sleeping, not saying a thing.
He begins, in the low waft of days that follows this, to articulate me in his materials. He stays in my apartment, leaving just once to fetch bulging plastic bags of materials and clothes and tools, and then he nests, all oil and miniature limbs, at the kitchen table. He spreads stuff about the place, a wet idiom of grime. At first these pieces are amorphous and inorganic. They are rainbow coloured, technological, bright and jigsaw-like, nothing like human, nothing like a body. Some are pieces of plastic, others metal, others wood, I think. Bits and pieces from other dismantled things.
On the day after this I stop going to work. I have been working, unblinking at a desk in a grey street at a window, waiting for something to happen. And he’s happening, now, my Geppetto, he fills all my space with his happening, so I stay at home with him, sleeping long into the daytime and passive for the time I am awake, sitting very still in bed reading books, magazines, anything I can find, forgetting to dress. I sit very still at the table and watch him work. We smoke endlessly, eat irregular meals. We drink beer. We talk – about the rain, about Berlin, about friends – but mostly we sit and I watch him. My phone rings, of course. After a while I stop charging it and it stops ringing.
I don’t pose for him. He watches me around corners, from the bed, watches me sidelong and fleeting. He draws, and cuts, fastens, screws, tightens. Then looks. He watches especially hard when I am asleep and I have the suspicion he touches too, grazing his fingers over my eyelids, collarbones, my creases, dimples, finding out these little things about me, reading into me, reading my clockwork self. Sometimes he is like a crawling dark creature, something which mews and grabs, with great black viscous eyes, something hungry and infantile. At other times he is that monolith of stone. I don’t know if I really want him here but I don’t have the energy to make him leave, or the energy to be alone. We both pretend I am asleep.
The strangest thing about it all is the rain. After the first festival downpour the rain doesn’t stop. It varies in intensity from day to day. It changes from speckled and misty to furious and tidal to warm and cloying. I have never seen such a spectrum of rain. It leaves itself in pools and stains the windows, making the outside world aqueous and blurred, like a world behind a broken screen.
When the first puppet is finished it’s four o’clock in the afternoon and I am in bed reading a newspaper. It has been raining for two weeks. He brings it in to me in the bedroom. I raise wary eyes. He makes the thing dance. Eerily, I can see that she has my face. A pale moony face, painted white and pink and flushing. My wiry brown hair. Big big eyes and a big open mouth, Aua Aua or Oh Oh Oh, as if she’s hungry, as if she’s looking for food, dancing for food, or something. She has a strapless cloth dress on and tiny little fingers, and she bends at the elbows and the knees and the wrists and the ankles.
He’s a crazy capering Gepetto, transfixed by her. Wrenching eyes and a Cheshire grin. They dance together, big and little. Isn’t she great, he says, and I grin right back at him, and then he gets into bed and kisses me wildly and takes off our clothes.
That night I dream that I bleed, from between my legs, and that the blood is black.
I wake to white pustules on my cheeks, hardened little lumps of flesh just beneath my eyes. I have always thought of my skin as something smooth and whole. Now it is illegible. The shy sentences that my face should make are broken up by this cancer, this acne, a little line of sour diamonds jewelling my cheekbones. My eyes are sallow and sore.
This isn’t all.
I wake, and my face is puffy. I’m bloated. My cheeks are pale, my stomach is stretched out like a balloon. Every part of me aches. My feet are twice their normal size, my hands have become great fumbling paws.
This isn’t all.
I wake and I am faint, dizzy, and when I peer at my body under the covers, I have shrunk down into the littlest person I have ever seen. I am all skin and bone and great big eyes. A slip of a thing. I could slip down the space between the bed and the wall by accident, like a stray comma with my big eyes all aghast over my tapering little body.
I wake up and I am something like a mushroom. My skin is hard and rancid, it smells, and it feels crustaceous like a scab, with bits that ooze puss where it should fold, between my arms and my knees. I am disgusting, am a pile of stinking flesh.
What happens is that I start to sleep more and more, and each time I wake he’s dancing with a new one, a new balking simulacrum of me, a new and fluid articulation of my body. My lovely crazed dark-haired Geppetto, who occasionally asks why I won’t get out of bed and why I won’t eat but who mostly just shows off those beautiful contraptions of his, all eyes and hair and mouths and joints, calling silent Oh, Oh, Oh. Feed me, feed me.

Their gaudy gaping mouths are like his eyes, darkish and wet and brilliantly empty. I tumble into them full-bodied and reeling, a hopeless Alice at the mercy of his endless gravity, and I re-emerge jointed and clacking at my Geppetto’s wrists in a plastic dance. 

About the author: Polly is working on a PhD in literature at the University of Cambridge. She spends her time writing, reading, and exploring new places -- and has a particular fascination for the uncanny, and for the effects of obsession.

Image: (c) Justine Majeune