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Camille’s Tale (Excerpt)

Fiction
Cassidy Grady

Camille’s Tale

PRELUDE

A lover once said to her, “I’m not sure if I believe in God, but I believe in the Muses.” He asked her if she knew about the Greek Muses.

“Not really, no.”

“They’re all daughters of Zeus.”

“Hot.”

“You remind me most of Erato.” She liked that he said that.

“Who’s Erato?”

“The Goddess of erotic and romantic poetry.”

Now she liked it even more. Although when she thought back to how the conversation started she didn’t like it as much. She didn’t like the idea of choosing between God and the Muses. They fell asleep in each other’s arms. He slipped into sleep a moment before she did, because she was saying a silent prayer. She doesn’t remember much about her dream from that night except that she was wrapped in white linen.

His name was Andrew. She met Andrew soon after she started acting, and acting on a stage feels a lot like entertaining the Gods on Mount Olympus. Andrew is a filmmaker who came to one of the plays she was in, who knew of Michael, but didn’t know him. Michael was the director that Camille worked very closely with. She spent most of the summer shifting between the beds of Michael and Andrew, and having each of them take turns in hers, breaking her own rule: the rule of threes. According to the rule of threes, three lovers is the proper amount of lovers to have. Having one lover is too real, but having two lovers makes you too likely to compare them to one another. Having three lovers is perfect. But against her better judgment, she had two lovers, and she did compare her two lovers more often than she should have, which wasn’t fair to either of them. Sometimes she would be nervous they would pass each other in the hallway of her apartment building, but she liked it that way.

All of the flowers in her room are as dry as dry could be, except one. There’s one flower on her nightstand that’s wilted but not quite dry, because she picked it the previous night out of a pot on the sidewalk. She looked around carefully as if she were about to commit the most risky of crimes, and then, mimicking the swift snatching motion of a pick-pocket, plucked the flower from the soil. She always does that. She stuck it behind his ear and then kissed him on the mouth. “You look pretty,” she remembered saying to him. He was in her bathroom, and she stared at the flower, and she knew how much she likes to be held. She picked up the flower and held it in her hand. Flowers are wilted between being alive and being dry, but they sit in the hand more similarly when they are alive and when they are dry than they do when they are wilted. The wilted flower had an almost liquid-like quality. She felt like it could slip between her fingers. All she could think about was being liquid-like dead weight in somebody’s arms. She didn’t even notice when Andrew came back into her room.

“Hey.”

“You scared me.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“What do you have there?”

“The flower I picked last night. I love flowers.”

I love flowers too; not for a young girl’s reason, but because these brief visitors to us rise yearly from the neighborhood of the dead to show us how far fairer and more lovely their world is.

“Wow. Poetic.”

“The words aren’t mine. I stole them. From a play.”

“What play?”

“It’s called Death Jest’s Book. By Thomas Beddoes.”

“I wish they were your words. ”

“Ouch. You’re not turned on by me quoting 19th century plays?”

“I guess I am.”

“Good.”

“Tell me more about the Greek Muses.”

“I don’t really know much about them, honestly.”

“Another strike…”

“How about this? I’ll learn about them, and each time we hang out, I’ll teach you about one of them.” She smiled.

“I guess that means we need to hang out at least nine more times.” He smiled.

“I guess you’re right.”

After he left, she resisted the urge to Google ‘Erato’, understanding that it would be more narratively interesting to learn about the Greek Muses from him than from Google. Instead she masturbated thinking about the incredible morning sex she just had.

After a while, she wanted to do something to keep herself from just repetitively masturbating, so she considered writing a book. About herself. More masturbation, is it not? There aren’t sheets on her bed anymore, she had given up. She stared around her messy room littered with beer cans, condom wrappers, and empty little drug baggies ripped and gummed, and she no longer noticed the stacks of books : if I narrativize this, it will be over. That’s surely a way to end things, to tell it as a story, because once a story is told, a new one can begin. But she wasn’t thinking about the next story, no, she was still thinking about this one, and she realized she was in between stories, in the liminal place that only exists if you write about something right after you experience it. It’s funny to think about your current life as if it were an old wive’s tale. She fantasized about a group of teenagers at summer camp gathering around the campfire and telling the tale of Camille. Is this going to be a book, or a suicide note? It would be much more narratively interesting if it were a suicide note–because you see, Camille didn’t just want to make something, she wanted to be something, and make it, too. She always wanted to live on the precipice. She was more comfortable being unsure if she was really ever anywhere. Anywhere she ever was she was convinced that she was there simply to contribute to the narrative of a story, maybe somebody else’s story, maybe her own story (which she liked to think of as somebody else’s story that she was a character in). Whose story? Maybe God’s story. How vain.

It’s funny, she thought, maybe after Michael reads this, he will write a play about a girl who writes about being in his plays. And maybe I’ll be in that play and the sequel to my book can be about being in a play about me writing about being in the plays. But it’s so self-referential, and she hates that–she hates it but she can’t help but enjoy it at the same time, because it’s flattering and solipsistic. Though, she didn’t consider herself solipsistic. I can’t be in the sequel if it’s a suicide note. She tried to decide which would be more romantic.

Michael always got mad at her for romanticizing everything. He told her to “stop inventing personas and love affairs and lives” to which she would always say “I don’t invent, I cultivate.” And what is life if not the cultivation of beauty? She strongly believed this. Unlike flowers and sunsets and women, life itself is not naturally beautiful.

Therefore, it is our duty to make it so. After one of these arguments, she said to him with tears welling in her eyes, “but sometimes it feels like creating beautiful things in life is all we have.” He replied with an unchanged expression. “Your fantasies contradict each other.” She thought about this now, about the contradiction of fantasies–about how in one world, fantasies necessarily contradict each other.

Once upon a time, Sleeping Beauty met Prince Charming at a bar and went back to his apartment for a night cap. They had what they thought would be a one night stand. When his crazy ex-girlfriend found out, she cast a spell on Sleeping Beauty’s Spinning Wheel. When Sleeping Beauty touched the Spinning Wheel she pricked her finger and fell fast asleep, the only thing that could wake her being true love’s kiss.

The very next night he met Snow White, and wanted to bring her back to his apartment for a night cap, but she had a boyfriend. But she did let him walk her home. Meanwhile, Snow White’s boyfriend was busy at a ball that Snow White couldn’t come to because he didn’t have a plus one. He, despite his relationship with Snow White, was galvanized by a beautiful woman in a blue dress, who, when the clock struck midnight, ran out of the ball losing a shoe made of glass.

He was going to pick up this glass shoe, intending to use the shoe to find the girl. But the shoe made of glass was picked up by a woman who just got her feet, you see, she used to live in the water. But her feet were too tiny for this shoe made of glass, so she threw it against the wall in frustration. His heart shattered with the shoe as he realized that all hope of finding the beautiful woman who wore the blue dress was lost.

But the woman who smashed the shoe had the loveliest red hair, and her red hair drew the attention of the man, so he followed her around the ball. He realized that she was also quite beautiful. It was an oddity to be at a ball in bare feet—he didn’t know she just came from the water. Meanwhile his girlfriend Snow White had just gotten home, and decided to kiss Prince Charming goodbye as a gesture to show her gratitude, and also because her boyfriend who she thought would be home was not home. They planned to be home from the ball and the bar around midnight and spend the night together. She figured him not having been home meant he was with another woman, so she kissed Prince Charming out of spite.

And she wasn’t incorrect, he lingered at the ball fawning over the woman in the blue dress, and then the woman with red hair and bare feet. He wanted to talk to the woman with red hair and bare feet, but she was weaving through the crowd chasing a sailor she saw on the shore, because he was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Snow White’s boyfriend managed to catch up to her despite her creating a labyrinth of the crowd. He put his hand on her shoulder, and she turned around.

The sailor was the most beautiful man she had ever seen until she turned around after feeling a hand on her shoulder. It only took but a moment of staring into this man’s eyes for the red headed barefooted woman to become smitten. They tried to dance together, and she danced like a fish out of water, but he found it charming. To help her learn how to dance, he swept her off her bare feet, instructing her to place them on top of his. She did as she was told, and they danced the night away.

Here’s why it all went wrong:

The woman with the red hair and bare feet smashed Cinderella’s glass slipper and distracted the Prince. Poor Cinderella never found her lost slipper and lived her whole life locked away with her step mother. She never went to a ball again, living in the shadow of her three wealthy step sisters. They were not nearly as beautiful.

When he went to speak to the woman with red hair and bare feet, nothing came out of her mouth. She was a mute, and he could never love a mute. He loved to have long, deep conversations with intelligent women. When he thought about having long, deep conversations with intelligent women, he felt intense guilt, remembering his girlfriend Snow White who was home all alone. Little did he know, Snow White had by this time sent a text to Prince Charming, asking him to come back and fuck her. It was now three in the morning, she was pissed, tipsy, and a little bit hangry. They were supposed to order a pizza.

Right before he arrived, an old woman knocked on the door. She answered thinking it was Prince Charming, but the old woman was none other than his crazy ex-girlfriend under her own spell of disguise. She offered Snow White an apple, an apple that would put her under the same spell under which the Spinning Wheel put Sleeping Beauty. Snow White excitedly accepted the apple, too drunk and frustrated and hungry to concern herself with how odd it was that she was being offered an apple by an elderly woman at three in the morning. By the time Prince Charming arrived, she was already fast asleep. He instantly knew that his ex-girlfriend was to blame, and he gave her a kiss in an attempt to break the spell, but this wasn’t true love’s kiss, you see, she simply wanted Prince Charming to come over to spite her boyfriend.

Speaking of her boyfriend, he happened to be getting home just as Prince Charming was kissing her. Both angry and ashamed, he gathered his things and fled the apartment, never to return. Shaken by Snow White’s fate and his confrontation with her boyfriend, Prince Charming failed to consider that his ex-girlfriend may have put Sleeping Beauty under the same spell.

And as for the woman with the red hair and bare feet, she was smitten by a man who could never love her. She was so smitten that she ignored the calls of the sailor, the sailor who loved her, and who she once loved. Little did she realize that learning to love the sailor was the only way she could regain her voice, her voice that was ever so beautiful, which she traded for feet with which she could chase him. If only she would have known that once on land, there would be plenty of fish in the sea.

And they all lived unhappily ever after.

So maybe contradiction and fantasy go hand in hand. But Camille was a woman who would take a ruined, contradiction riddled fantasy over a banal reality any day. While fantasizing about fantasies, she had lost track of time and was now running late to rehearsal for Michael’s play, a play in which she played the role of a painter’s muse. She enjoys the fact that she was cast in this role.

She begins the play frozen on the set, neither saying a single word nor moving a single muscle until about twenty minutes into the show. In rehearsal that day she, without closing her eyes, imagined herself as a marble statue of a Greek muse, a marble statue of Erato. Since she hadn’t Googled Erato, she didn’t know exactly what a marble statue of Erato looked like, giving her both the duty and freedom to carve the statue in her head before mimicking it. The rehearsal room was dark but in her mind it was incredibly bright. In her mind, she was perched on a pillar in the light flooded room in the Met where the Greek Statues live.

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