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The Funeral of the White Queen « back

The light streaming through the curtains is pale, and what glitters through the gaps in the fabric is crisp and undiluted. I lean over, swaying in time with the motion of the carriage, and peek through the curtain on my right.

The forest has been bleached white—the trees like bones, the leaves like snowflakes. The ground is undefined, that empty color of a world not yet finished, and the trees poke through this blankness as if their roots lie in another variant of the dream. A layer where the bark and the leaves and the moss may be verdant and vibrant. But not here, not at this level.

I am wearing a suit made of paper, single sheets layered and pressed together. I peel a page off the edge of my lapel and scan it. "Mom, tell Dad that I'm sorry. I know he wanted more from me, but I just can't face it anymore. I just can't do it." I pull up another one. "What has this world ever done for me? Why should I let it shit on me for another thirty years?"

I'm covered with suicide notes.

The light on my left changes, a slow burn into gold. I peek through the curtain, and see that we've left the forest. While the ground beneath the carriage has become the granulated surface of the desert sea, there is a field abutting the razor edge of the forest. Yellow wheat, and the stalks sway with the undersea motion of currents. A single tree, as twisted and bent as the white line of the forest is straight, points behind itself.

The carriage lurches and turns to the right, and we move away from the field. Soon, a dune eclipses the yellow field and, eventually, the white line of the forest is lost as well. My horse, a heavy draft beast with ribbons—stained with the blood of his memories, like wearing memorial medals from wars no one remembers—tied in its mane and tail, plods relentlessly onward. My guide, though the form may shift, ever my guide.

None of us is innocent . . .

The Oneiroi is fraying. I'm not anchored. This is my dream, but it is . . . falling star . . . unraveling. TH3ir poison is now the grease that oils my gears. The twist of that strand is the key. I know how TH3y infected us with their living poison; I know how long it has been in my—in all of our—blood, and I know what it is doing. I just don't know why.

Their intent, yes, that is what escapes me. One can forestall the spread of a growth—of a cancer—if one is a skilled enough physician, but to actually cure the infestation, to eradicate the invasion, one must understand the motivation. Is that not what we do? We crawl into the broken minds of our patients and discern the true cause of their psychoses. When we know, truly know, then we can heal. What has this world ever done for me? Until such . . . gnosis, we can only slow— remember her touch, her kiss, her—the decay.

I'm falling . . . apart.

The horse snorts, and looks back. Every break is worse than the last, I imagine it says to me, every fracture is harder to heal. Is your strength so boundless that you can fight them off forever?

"I don't know."

A toss of its mane is the only acknowledgment of 1325 815145192025

Fuck. I am losing my mind.

"Are you? Or is it your identity that is slipping away?"

She is beautiful: her flesh dark with black star radiance, her dress a Pop Art pointillization of snow flurries, her hair a coiled flame. I can barely look at her, even though I have wanted nothing else since she left. My hand creeps across the carriage seat, reaching for something that wasn't there a moment ago, reaching for something that isn't there now. My arm is cold, growing colder, yet my fingertips burn as if I was gradually inserting them into a fire.

"What are we?" I ask. Safer to touch with words than with flesh. "If we do not know ourselves, are we not just zombies? Just ambulatory flesh that serves, what? Some phantasmal echo of reptilian need?"

"We all hide, Harry. Mostly from ourselves." She smiles, a flexing of the event horizon. "Is that not how the oneironauts came to be? Mystics too afraid to face reality?"

"I wanted to help." I wanted to help you.

Why? The horse snorts.

"Who were you trying to save?" she asks.

There are no good answers to that question. None that I want to face, none that I want to give life, none that I want.

Her hand crosses that last infinitesimal space between us, and I gasp at her touch.

"We're almost there," she says.

As the twilight bruised the sky, the scattered crumb trail became a glittering track of diamonds. The horse pulls the carriage deep into the shadows beneath the dunes, where the shifting swells of the sand hold fractal constellations of the flickering stones. The horse, navigating like a Norse sailor who guided himself by the stars, unerringly finds his way through the maze of dunes.

There, in the center of the desert, lit by a profusion of polished gems that held reflections and refractions of the vanished sun, is a quiet hollow, undisturbed by the wind. The valley is flat, and the dunes curve around this open space as if they have been spun and molded by a potter's hand.

Four poles have been raised over a blankness in the center of the valley. Each pole is topped with a tiny satellite dish, each oriented along a different cardinal axis. Who invented time? Who invented the passion for the future, while turning their back on the past? Who made us so small? The poles are covered with white numeric script. 9t 9s the on1225 5c8o.

"Everything falls apart, Harry," Nora says, pressing her palm against my check. The spreading disjunction in my head falters for a moment, reticulated fractures frozen in a white light overexposure. "Fighting it just gives it strength."

I lean into her hand, and my cheek is cold and brittle. I am a piece of antique porcelain—so fragile, so delicate. "I'm sorry, Nora. I wish you had told me . . ."

"Would you have let me go?"

"No, but I would have tried harder."

Her lips curl into a hint of a smile, like the horizon glowing with the suggestion of dawn.

The horse shakes free of the carriage's harness, and vomits itself inside out. Wiping off the gooey film clinging to his naked flesh—so clean, so pink, so new—the Ribbon Man approaches the carriage. He offers his hand to Nora. "We must prepare you for your final passage." His palm is shiny and unlined.

She clutches my hand for a moment, pressing something into my palm and then, with a rustle of wind in ice-rimed trees, she leaves the carriage. A tiny snow storm trails after her, a particulate echo of her presence.

For a moment, all of my memories of Nora become compressed into this localized snowstorm. Each flake is another reminder of dark closets, of the yawning pit that exhales a stench of history and mistakes of her absence.

How many times can our hearts break before the structural integrity fails, and we can't put the pieces back together again?

Tattooed on my palm, in a fading henna pattern everything is made of dots, everything comes apart as the gaps expand, is a flower with twenty-three petals. I cup my hand as above, and make my own valley. I raise my hand to smell the flower, and the pattern so below disintegrates. The world becomes like dust, like fine sand, and I inhale this tiny universe. Nora, Nora, Nora. We chose our mantras; we chose our secret phrases that lock and unlock our hidden hearts. Om. Om. Om.

The Ribbon Man leads Nora towards the blankness in the desert floor, and the trailing snowstorm of her wake coalesces into a retinue of attendants. Some of them cluster closely behind the pair like eager sycophants, dying for an opportunity to please. Others spin and wander like thrice-removed cousins abandoned at family barbecues. One becomes two becomes three approaches the carriage and begins to disassemble the frame and the yoke.

I scramble out as the roof is separated from the walls, reaching back for my hat before it is lost beneath a cascade of falling curtains. Standing a safe distance away, I watch as the three (we are always dividing, our oneness splitting into dualities; our genetic imperative is schizophrenic) multiply into a host of white-suited waiters. Thus armed, they convert the carriage into a reception tent. The yoke becomes a table; the wheels are bent into punch bowls; the pillows become flower arrangements; and the bench splits open like a cornucopia, spilling an array of petits fours, fruit tarts, miniature cakes, chocolate-covered berries, sugar-dusted cookies, and herb-scented sticks of coppery honey.

An older man, his face a brittle mask of ice, comes up beside me. I look at him, and see right through him to a tiny shard of diamond stuck in the dune. The light glints and hardens. He is a holographic projection, a reflection generated by the light trapped in the diamond, an image given depth by the swirling snow. "I shouldn't have any sweets," he says, his voice—like his face, like his shape (like his identity)—an echo in my head. "They'll mess with my blood sugar." He sighs, a gust of snow from his frozen lips. "But maybe just one. Or two. They look awfully good."

Nora's father. Never very good at self-control.

"Hello, Martin," I say.

"Hello, Harry. How's the psychotic break coming along?"

"Nicely," I admit.

"Good. Will you have the despair that blossoms in the night?"

"Cake?" I nod, ignoring the other voice, the one that speaks to another in a different time and place. "Sure."

A waiter approaches, aware of our intent and our need. He offers a tray of arranged cakes, tiny squares of tinted sugar. Martin takes one, raises it to his phantasmal lips, and lets go as the cake passes through the ephemeral layer of his expression. It falls to the sandy ground behind him, transformed into a frozen cube. It lies on the sand, canted at a glittering angle, and begins where does love go when it fails? Where does that passion flee? to melt.

I gingerly take a tiny piece of cake, and bite into it with all the enthusiasm of a short-term royal food taster. The cake is cloying ash in my mouth. Not sweet. Deepdark, the flesh failing and the spirit freezing. Not cold. Just the taste of rotten bark and moldering leaf.

I spit the cake out, and the gob of flour and sugar becomes a green and yellow lizard that scuttles across the shoe and up the pant leg of the waiter, who doesn't seem to notice.

"You remember Jasper and Sylvia?" Martin indicates a couple who have been together so long they have exchanged faces. His has the pinched desiccation of her perpetual dissatisfaction while her cheeks and lips are permanently depressed by his terminal cynicism. Martin's in-laws. Nora's grandparents. Her parents.

"How could I forget you two?" I don't bother offering my hand, and it isn't just because they're holograms. "Back to haunt me one last time?"

"Let me touch him," Sylvia begs, the muscles in her narrow neck straining. "Just once." Her teeth are transparent icicles, and her smile makes her sagging face seem even more like a slur of wax.

Jasper shakes his head. "He's wearing his hat," he says, managing to make the observation seem like an indictment of both the fervid superstition of the lower class and my fashion sense.

"Make the rational architecture of its existence blow it off, Jasper. Why can't you ever tattooed on that skin—"

I squint through my headache, and focus on the stone projecting the shrewish memory of Nora's grandmother. The diamond darkens, filling with ink, and then cracks. Sylvia's mouth curls first and last in an expression that surprises all of us before she scatters into ambient snow. The diamond bleeds oil on the sand for a moment before the djinn have already started to blow them away sand swallows the broken gem.

"Why don't we get some punch?" Martin steers me away from his remaining in-law.

"Think we're lucky enough that it is spiked with AMT?" I nod at Jasper who, before we pass beyond the range of his illusionary expression, manages to eke out a not entirely pained smile.

"AMT?" Martin asks. "I'm sorry, Harry. Is that a special brand of alcohol?"

"I always appreciated your ignorance—willful or not—about what I did with Nora. Still do. Maybe that's why you got the job of babysitting me at this function."

"Well . . . since Noreen can't be here, maybe I get to be the one who stabs you first." His face churns, and the light sparkles off his cheeks and forehead. He gazes toward the bent wheel of the carriage and the punch sloshing within. "Yes, a little alpha-methyltryptamine might take the edge off."

I'm eighteen again, squashed in the bathroom at Derrick Monson's house with D and Leeza and Cameron. The room is thick with our desire to get naked, and she knows it, and the lure of the AMT is what keeps her considering it. I've got the shakes from—God, I haven't thought about that evening for a long time; the rest of it is a blur—something, and my fingertips are numb. I couldn't manage the necessary physical dexterity to jack off if she even asked me to, not to mention the lack of responsiveness from down there as well. But I'm fascinated with the way the light spills across her collarbone, how it sneaks under the casual disarray of her shirt, how it hints at what hides down there, past that still-bound third button. Yes, she says, making eye contact with each of us simultaneously through some chemical magic, yes, a little alpha-methyltryptamine might take the edge off. Yes, we all wanted to fuck her because she never used an acronym when she could wrap her tongue around many many syllables.

When Martin sees I am incapable of knowing where (and when) I am, he fetches two glasses of punch. "Isn't it strange," he muses as he returns, laden with two cups, "how and what we store as memories?"

"Not nearly as strange as having you in my head." I down the offered glass, ignoring the bitter taste of wormwood and decay, and swap my empty for the other one he still carries.

"But we're all in your head, Harry. You should be used to that by now."

"It's the way my past is being hijacked that's causing me a little distress."

Martin shrugs. "Recontextualization is all we have, ever since the tower fell."

"Ah, Derrida via Möbius. Life was easier as single-celled organisms, wasn't it?"

He gives me that smile, the one his daughter inherited. The one that . . .

"How much of my psyche do you have access to?" I ask Martin after two more glasses of the punch, which is spiked with something. Martin's face is starting to glow, and the sand of the desert is starting to vanish, leaving behind the diamond stars.

Nora's father smiles at me, teeth silver in the dead light reflection the door is closed the door is—like Chinese characters painted on a grain of rice. "We prefer to consider it more of a unified psychological matrix."


"Yes. What you think of as God. We don't refer to Ourselves in the Third person. That would imply . . ."



"Ah, a difference of semantics."

"Much of existence is."

"So, you're in everyone? Or, rather—" His mouth opens, but I beat him to it. "—everyone is part of you."

"Yes, Harry." He seems pleased that I've figured it out for myself. A difference of semantics, indeed. How much of all psychological reconstruction is just that? Putting a new label on something so that your brain can assimilate it differently? Spin-doctoring your own psyche.

"What about TH3m? TH3y seem intent on a grand unification as well."

"TH3ir poison is very tenacious. It has a singular intent."

"So unlike the rest of us."

He concedes that point with a slight inclination of his head. His hair is falling out, wisping away from his scalp like smoke teased away by the wing buffet of hummingbirds. "TH3y believe there is power to be harnessed from the collective. TH3y think they can put a leash on us."

At first, I think his anger is fueled by indignation, by TH3ir audacity to bottle the infinite; but then, I recognize that emotion as my own, and beneath that is a deepdark pool of sorrow that does not belong to me. Even though I've been hoarding it for years.

"Is there a cure? Can I stop it?"

"Can U?" he asks in return.

You. Harry Potemkin. Oneironaut. Son. Of. Man.


"U," I say. "Not you."

The skin of his skull is dissolving now, dripping like wax on the shoulders of his suit. It's not the most pleasant thing to watch, mainly because Martin—like most I've met in the Oneiroi—is just a mirror. Most.

"U is the 21st letter of the alphabet," I say as I offer him my hat. "That would make W—double you—the 23rd."

"That it would." His smile is filled with teeth, and the motion tears the fragile film of his cheeks. "Are you ready then?" he asks as he puts my hat—my favorite hat—on his naked head.

"9 20891411 1915." My psychic nakedness is immediately apparent. The distant pressure of the poison becomes a heady wave of tidal motion now, a throbbing sensation that seems to come from every corner of my body, bouncing and churning in distortion waves through my cells.

"Yes," he nods, his fingers starting to crumble, his smile starting to slip. "I think you are."

It is difficult to focus on the ceremony at graveside. The sands are gone, the world nothing but a maze of starlight, and all the ghosts have become tricks of my fragmenting memory. Black crows are eating my peripheral vision, their beaks peaking away at the frame.

Nora's ebony skin is invisible against the landscape, and her is this dress mine? do I belong in this ceremony? is this life—this failure, this closure, this hand, this ring, this this this this key—is a collection of stars and snowflakes, a frozen nebula drifting through the midnight void. The poles surrounding her grave have lost their depth, (what happened to your—? where did those children—? who drew these—) reduced to two-dimensional line drawings. Flat architecture for a flattened world.

The rhythm of the starlight is a synaesthetic symphony of telegraph signals. As I drift toward Nora's supine body, the holographic faces of the mourners move in and out of focus. Their mouths—opening and closing like fish gasping for breath—are the long and the short of the light show. My hands are covered with spots of weak light, as if I was slowly turning into a fish too. Some speckled bottom feeder—eyeless, who only senses the bioluminescent illusion of other denizens of the deepdark sea.

The Ribbon Man is behind me, a dozen feet tall and diaphanous in a celestial wind. His voice is a bioacoustic reverberation, felt more than heard, and his eulogy is a patchwork of motivational noises, religious aggression, and the soapbox delirium of street corner prophets.

"Just a minute," I beg, "I can't find my feathers."

Leeza shows me her palm, shows me the damp pattern of sugar stains from stolen pills. I lick her palm, and I feel her other hand fumbling against my crotch. Father, absent like the owls in winter, is an old sea god groaning. Angelfish nibble at the streaks of flesh still clinging to the sea-bound bones. Take two, they're small; Casper giggles as the first rush of the DMT blows through his brain. The rest of us aren't far behind, solar bats winging toward an inverse sun.

We are just organizational schema hung over memory arrays. When our index decays, when it slips, memory becomes equally unhinged. All that we used to be becomes what we are in a fulsome implosion of infinity. I am now, then, and nowhere, falling apart under the aggressive un-indexing of the oneiromantic poison. I have forgotten number theory I never understood, my language centers are being overrun with squids and squirrels and other creatures whose names I can no longer remember.

The stars are going out, personality echoes blinking off as they finish their respects to the fallen. Goodbye, sweet child. Goodbye, little mouse. Goodbye, Nora. Goodbye, dear friend. Goodbye, princess. Goodbye, NeeNee. Goodbye, lover. Goodbye goodbye goodbye . . . Each farewell is another facet, another face, going out. Silence and darkness, hand in hand, dancing toward eternity.

Through it all, Nora's face remains still, her mouth curving in a line that is neither a smile nor a frown, but suggestive of both a secret and a sorrow. The face of my mother as that last spike of heroin hits, the joy of that merciful release from the pain of her skin mingling with the sad realization that she will not see me grow old. The mask Noreen puts on as she realizes her daughter will never wake again. The crow-headed God kneeling before sons wearing the skins of their fathers the bloody-handed jackal acolyte. All these faces, all these masks. All the lives I never lived. I lose track of which this one knows the way, this one has the key one I am.

The Ribbon Man, solar flares roaring electromagnetic fluxion look at the lights! Have you ever seen such a display? says the breaking words, and the last strand of my personality web tears. I try to say my name, and realize it is but another mask, another disguise that we monkeys have learned to fabricate. We come down from the trees, hide our bodies with leaves, hide our faces with painted bark. I am not who I am. I am not Harry still sweet. I am not Nora. I am not Martin, Noreen, Charles, roll call! stand and be counted! Lindsay, Leeza, who's in? Who wants to get high? Doug, Rasputin, Michael, aching, pulling away, hold me tight Miranda, Samantha, Shirley, I do Judas forgive me, Jasper, Clint, Julio, Francis, Philip. I am Legion not. I love you.

Nora the sweet fruit of that first kiss opens her radial starfish arms, and I take her hand her heart her life her love her eyes her face her mouth her her her her fall into her embrace. She holds empty stars me tight, and we fall into her how could you have abandoned me? sonless grave. We fall the delicate spiral of smoke becomes a writhing DNA chain as the drugs kick in into the a post-modern excuse for ennui, don't you think? afterlife of the deepdark. Put a little bit here, yes, can you feel how it tingles? Can you feel how it makes your flesh feel like it belongs to someone else? Can you feel . . .

falling star falling star o babylon how i have missed thee I can't see, I can't see! o abaddon how i love thee falling star now we are falling—

0 = 0

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