Exercises in Exercising Surreality

(July 4, 2004)

She slips a finger through a rift in the universe - one of those spaces between the eye and the nearest object which prove so hard to see, a location in the air itself, tied to nothing tangible - and pulls it back toward herself ever so slightly. A cool sensation, like that of water whose ice cubes have just melted away, wraps about her flesh down to her second knuckle, soft but unyielding; she expects to see vines of frost etched down her wrist, but there is nothing. A touch of panic twists her stomach and sends her heart racing as if to flee, but she narrows her eyes and forces a wave of calm through herself, the carefully-honed mantra of breathe in, heart beats, blood flows, breathe out pushing her thoughts aside.

Pressing her thumb against the vanished finger - felt but not seen, though the other three curl out behind the emptiness where it ought to be - she feels the texture of reality, smooth and connected on its surface but shivering back and forth in innumerable disjointed bits underneath, like microwaved particles or frantic blood vessels. With the mantra on her lips, she bends her elbow in a beckoning gesture, opening the rift into a window.

Her reality peels back in sheets, falling layer upon layer to her feet; the soft chill replaces the warmth in the air around her, and she feels for a moment as though she has settled like an anchor on the bottom of the sea. Where the edges have frayed, a hole appears, still invisible to the focused eye but gapingly obvious to her - its scene is transposed over the rest of the room in a fashion at once dizzying and perfectly understandable. She sees the parts of her hand on the near side of existence still, but they have grown less clear with this shift in awareness, the delicate shadings of colour less carefully saturated; the index finger absorbs her attention, each vein as vivid and crisp as a river drawn on a map, and this is but the smallest detail in the tableau. Flitting between herself and her world is another herself - she sees her own face, hovering like a mirror image suspended in nothingness and driving all substance away, but it is not the same.

The eyes peering at her with the the utmost curiosity are the colour hers might be if the pigment of her irises were mixed with runoff from a freshwater stream and left to dry beneath the jungle sun; they are blue and golden and green in equal measure, the three shades blended evenly but each distinct as itself. They take up much of her face, pushing the tip of her nose out over her lips and sending her ears curving backward and up, and even their shallows are depths. Her skin is half in light, half in shadow, but not in solid expanses; chains of darkness are cast over an expanse that glows of its own accord, spreading out from her cheekbones and along the curve of her jaw, each piece interlocked but unique like pieces of a puzzle. She is amazed by her own beauty, an appearance so close to herself but so obviously full of different potential, and does nothing but stare, transfixed by this vision of she-who-is-not-her.

As they sum each other up, the other self shudders and backs away, raising a short-fingered hand with long nails to her mouth as she waves the other in a warding gesture. The spools of missing oxygen, colour, light and sound uncoil themselves from her floor, winding back into place across the expanse of space - she feels the cold retract and her own breath return, and sees the layers of pink, beige and white spiral back across her washed-out flesh, as the other world vanishes. She returns to her mantra, but this time it is to hold back the tears and the confusion, the inevitable question -

What did she see, then?