The Lady In The Gray Cloak
Who is she? The tall lady in the gray cloak, with the steel blue eyes, who comes at the frightening hour of the night that is between life and death? There is something cold about her, and regal, something unforgiving and elegant. The woman I sleep with’s back is turned, she is like a wall of company waiting for the dawn to revive her. The one who comes before the cock crows seems to drift across the floor as though she does not walk, as though she is fog that has taken a human form and moves through the earth as fog moves. She comes to the side of my bed and looks down at me. I shudder and pray for her to go away, because I want to live well within my limits, not at the edge, not so close to failure and victory.
Who are you? I ask her, but her expression does not change. Is she a nurse, and am I one of the dying on a cot, one of the thousands maimed at Gettysburg, or felled by typhoid in the Crimea? I do not see the tenderness of a nurse; she does not have the look of one who comes with bandages.
Is she some aristocratic flower who I ruined come back to take revenge on me, am I an old and heartless robber baron lying helpless in my bed? A cripple handed to her by Fate? Did I destroy her family and cast her to the street, does she come in the last of her splendid garments, from the gutter, to slay me before she vanishes forever into the hovel I condemned her to? Was there a child never seen by the world, that we hurled together off a pier, because I danced one night with her loneliness outside the house I could not leave? But I see no weapon in her hand, only her eyes…
Perhaps she is a mad woman, and lived here once, painting masterpieces lost between her mind and hand in the garret of parents utterly ashamed. Perhaps she hung herself as the birds sang, or perhaps they merely sent her away to a white and condescending place built for the complicated. But free of body, she returns to the place she loved, where the sound of a brush on canvas soothes her with dreams that blossomed in her brokenness.
Yes, she could be mad, the intensity of those eyes, the persistence of the stare. Sane people move on to other things!
And still, she stands beside my bed, commanding me with her presence to sweat profusely, to beg for mercy. Dear God, why can’t my eyelids send her back where she came from? They close and open and she is still there!
Now I see that she is wearing a hat, there is a feather in it from some bird shot dead from the sky, and yet, even if it was the last of its kind, extinguished by human vanity, there is no sin in the hat, she wears it with perfect innocence: not with childish innocence, but with impervious maturity, with grandeur not demeaned. Her dress fits her body tightly, there must be a corset underneath, she endures the terrible lack of air for the sake of her pride, yet no trace of superficiality accrues to the deed. She is shapely, yet untouchable. I see her long dress, stylish for a generation in its grave, flowing down towards the floor without reaching it. I see no feet; her face is so overwhelming she does not need feet. And I do not need to give her any.
Who is she? What does she want? Her eyes, I must look more deeply into her eyes. What is behind that coldness? There is reproach, and a trace of mirth held tightly in check like a carriage horse as a lady climbs up to ride, helped in by a gentleman. Am I the gentleman, with a top hat and a cloak, standing in the rain? Something about me is amusing, but something ten times stronger is disappointing.
What do you want? I ask again. I demand!
She smiles without giving comfort, like a prophetess pleased when her prediction comes true; her prediction of what?
Again I ask: Who are you? What do you want?
Slowly her hand reaches out to me, there is a piece of paper in my hand, and then a pen. "You didn’t finish," she tells me in a voice that is like the sound of pure crystal, struck by silver: a perfect tone for pushing a man off a cliff.
I awaken, fearful and disturbed.
The one I sleep with objects, without waking up.
I get up and sit at my desk, under a little lamp, killing myself with a mission I don’t understand. Writing for one who eludes me.
Tomorrow, when the one I know in the day seeks a hug, she will feel, from my arms, that there is someone else. Her sparkling eyes, hungering for love, will be answered by my tired eyes, red and worn from staring at things that are not of this world. Slowly, we will become like every other couple, nothing more than a habit. My heart is ruled by the lady in the gray cloak.
I can say no to the rest of the world, but not to her.
I do not know anything more about her, except that she has this power.
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