People love my city for its brasseries like hothouses, ardent and perverse, its breezes that smell of coffee and of the sea. But when I am in my blue funk I see nothing of all this. Which is why I did not notice the dress shop sooner, although it is on a street familiar to me. For one thing there is the tavern. Its décor recalls my city’s imperialist past. One sips rum late in felted spaces. Or dips one’s bread in a purple sauce, a sauce my city is famous for, made of shallots and red wine. The tavern has rooms to let, and once when my lover and I had drunk far too much, we took a bed upstairs. Our room was ruled by shadows and rumors of the lovemaking of strangers.
The streets of my city are named for things that have vanished: Mirror Street, Jew Street, The Street of Cakes. Because it rains often, the cobbles appear to be greased. Each afternoon the sky uncoils with a hiss. The darkness of the street enters into the houses, and everywhere you can hear the window shutters slam shut.
When I saw the shop suspended in the blue haze of autumn, I was attracted by its windows of bubbled glass, its spills of silk the color of sour milk. The shop’s witch beckoned me, her smile like a gate. She was uncommonly pale and thin, and like a beached fish, had lost her sheen. Yet I was spellbound.
Such is the perverseness of my temperament. I can go for days in limbo, a sleepwalker devoid of desire, and then tumble into therapeutic forms of terror. I allow myself to be mesmerized by the unscrupulous. I have paid strangers to break my fingers. I have attempted to swallow the sea. Determinisms my therapist (who is, in fact, a puzzle even to himself ) is unable to fathom.
Inside the shop the witch was steaming the creases from a new shipment of silk dresses with her wand. The air was humid and smelled of silk and the mirrors fogged over. Already I felt better, cleaner—although I’d been on my feet for hours, maybe days, trying to shake off the blue funk. My feet were grey with dust; I had tracked the dust of the city into the shop. I had tracked in my black confusion.
Vitreous things in cases beckoned me and suddenly I wanted to be beautiful again, to everywhere be followed by eyes. I saw a heavy choker of transparent spheres seeded with what looked like black caviar. I wanted it as much as I had wanted my fingers broken, or to be fucked in a dangerous part of town. And there were coral rings burning with tangerine flames, and soft leather gloves as green as new money.
The witch handed me a scarf like smoke weighted down with shards of glass. Although I held it against me with caution, its fabric shredded easily. Torn fabric has always caused my heart to ache, a heavy sphere to rise within my throat. A feeling I would kill for, because when it is not choking me, my blue funk conceals me like a cloak. Outside, the city darkened and stilled and I could hear the rain thrashing on the roof. The witch gave me a dress the color of dusk. It was a marvelous color, like the dreaming iris of an eye, shifting from spangled vermillion to green. I took it from her gratefully, and for a time forgot everything: the city and its misfortunes, the tavern and its shadows, my blue funk, and faded beauty, my eternal loneliness, everything.
The witch’s dressing room was very narrow with a high ceiling. Outside the air was panting, and the street, flooding. Already the water roiled at my ankles. And the dress! The dress spilled over my body like water except for the pin that, caught to a seam, pricked me, causing me to shiver with longing. As the water nipped my breasts, a bracelet toothed towards me. When it snapped at my wrist, my hand swam into it.
“Go to the mirrors!” the witch cried from behind her counter, and I did. From mirror to mirror, scaled in the flames of youth, those treacherous flames. The witch’s mirrors awakened a forgotten hunger for the world, an imperious, an insatiable, a devastating hunger that I knew could never be shaken.
In the past, contagion and death ravaged my city, assuring silence in the streets. But now affluence assures that when it rains, the streets are empty. People are in the shops, trying on blonde and silver furs. Or they are eating pastries in the many teashops that line the central square, or enjoying a late afternoon movie, or taking an early supper in one of the magnificent boats moored at the water’s edge.