What follows in an illusion.

What follows is a dance.

A secret.

A dream.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it only prompted an upset stomach, strands of wet grass spewed onto the porch left to dry powder-yellow in pollen, and just like all the other messes I’ll be the one to clean it up, or to ignore it, and pretend I am proving a point when in fact all I am doing is pretending to disappear. I wait for the mail to arrive and when none of what I collect is addressed to my name I begin to wonder.

My first fascination was Amelia Earhart—tethered ghost-sister, cross-generational friend. I didn’t give a damn about aviation. I only cared that the truth of the end of her life was shaky, only cared about the chorus of words spread through every book: woman, disappeared, died. Most likely her bones were laid to rest somewhere deep in the ocean, lungs filled with enough water the fish could swim around in them, so much salt and wetness swallowed her throat decided to never swallow again. Most likely the end was fast and simple, bang, rattle, spiral, crash, and there was never enough of a body left to find. There remains the chance, however, Amelia went swimming, or landed on an island, or took her plane to another destination, fled the scene, changed her name. My admiration bloomed out of these seeds of possibility, a romantic notion: perhaps she had discovered how to become a ghost while she was still alive.

An illusion. A dance. A secret. A dream. An echo a promise a misunderstanding an undoing a tearing apart an art a prayer a scream.

Special Agent Dale Cooper and a woman who is or is not Laura Palmer, who looks like Laura but is alive into her forties, with another name in another town, are walking across the street, back from what had been, perhaps in another decade or another dimension, the Palmer house. The sky is dark, the street they are crossing is quiet and empty. They do not speak to one another until Cooper pauses, turns back to face the house, bewildered, asks, what year is this? And for a moment Laura/Not-Laura stands still, as if thinking, as if searching, and then, suddenly, she screams, piercing, the blade of a knife carving out shape in the quiet, the sound of breaking glass, the lights on in the windows of the house looming behind them go black. What year is this? She screams. What year, and who is she, and which version of life has she dreamed?

Sanity is found at the centre of convulsion, where madness is scorched from the bisected soul.

I dream of finding a black feather and assume this must mean I am dying, another stray warning meant to symbolize the clock ticking closer to midnight, the ink fading, another reminder of my impending demise. When my head hurts I keep it to myself, call it a tumor, an aneurysm, prepare for the worst, accept it, go quiet and convince myself there is nothing left to hope for. Two days after the dream I find another feather in the yard, though this one is neither as black nor as crescent-shaped; it is scrawny and matted from the rain. Two days after that I find another, in the grass along the sidewalk a few blocks from home, and this one is straighter, more beautiful, deep grey; I place it on a windowsill altar perpendicular to my desk, next to shards of colored glass, amber and lavender, I found buried in the dirt—I must be getting closer.

An echo, the bones of a ghost, the dust and the honey and the song and the throat, wrapped in plastic, a trick of the eye, an open window, an illusion a woman a ghost.

I am driving my grandfather’s truck on a familiar road in Missouri, home but not home, an impulsive trip ending this afternoon, a flight back to Georgia, mustard-colored backpack carrying all I had needed to bring. I am thinking disconnected thoughts, and then I am thinking nothing, but in my head I am screaming, I am visualizing a woman’s face, my own face, screaming, I am hearing the scream, and I look up and do not recognize the houses do not recognize the landscape do not recognize even the steering wheel, I am not screaming, am I. I pull over in the parking lot of an old barn-turned-theatre, and as I breathe into the return to reality of self/body/situation, I shake from the disorientation of the removal from it, the question of how did I get here less frightening than the knowledge that I have been here all along.

Could be anywhere. Shhhh. (She screams.)

What David Lynch’s oeuvre teaches us: everything is an illusion. And even—especially—when we wake up, we catch ourselves questioning how much of the night was a dream. His work is best digested when left partially unchewed, meant to remain on the tongue without being able to determine just, exactly, why one recognizes the taste. (Is it anise? Elderflower?) Lynch reckons with the unfamiliar familiar of parallel universes, alternate realities, psychic visions, dreams; perhaps he does not reckon so much as he manipulates, dissects, unravels.

Illusion shapes and shelters us, as necessary as oxygen and water. Illusions won’t die, they are not delusions, and seem part of a human being’s hard-wiring.

Audrey Horne at the Roadhouse, revisiting an old haunt, dances the way she did twenty-five years ago in her red high-heeled shoes, dances, eyes closed, to the same music she used to dance to—I love this music, isn’t it too dreamy? Now, when she dances it does feel dreamlike, her first moment of peace in too long, and it makes me wonder if her dancing had always been a drift into dream, a drift toward the edges of reality, or a removal from it completely. When the music stops and the club goes sour—a yell, a crash, a fight breaks out, bodies fill once again the dance floor—she runs to her companion, pleading, get me out of here. Get me out of here—this is the last thing she says before the scene cuts to Audrey looking in a mirror in a white-walled room, her reflection shocked, horrified, profoundly confused—where is she now and where was she then? When she says, get me out of here, does she mean the Roadhouse, the dream, the dance, or does she mean the version of her life we see her in in that final moment, staring broken into the mirror? The episode ends as she is touching her face, on the verge of releasing a scream: get me out of here. Bright white shock cuts to emptiness, finality, black.

A body an echo an illusion a dream a ghost a ghost a ghost a ghost.

I dream a series of attempted home invasions, all occurring in what would be considered real time, the time in which my body is sleeping, and the place, this bed, the yellow blanket, the streetlight just beyond the window, and the stop sign, the sound of wind, or car engine, or dog barking, or rain. What I know is there in the darkness—the bed, the ceiling fan, the walls, the window—is there, too, behind my closed eyes. In every vision, someone is coming toward the bedroom window; in every version, they are sinister. In one of the dreams, the wind is scattering leaves and pieces of trash around the yard, funneling its own warning of all that could be coming to call for me. I wake up convinced I should be sleeping with the yellow-handled kitchen knife we don’t use tucked into my nightstand drawer, now that my partner leaves for work in the hours of the morning most people still consider night; I wake with a plan to call a trusted male co-worker should anything happen to me, establishing a plan that feels rational, a plan for protection. My partner tells me if I keep a knife in my nightstand, he will no longer sleep with me, because we are both unreliable in our unconscious states, too much venom and agitation stirred up in dreams, edging us into awakened confusions. I get up to check that the door is locked every morning after he leaves.

I wonder, if Amelia’s plane did crash after all, if it plummeted downward from sky to sea-blue, I wonder if the engine crackled and roared, if she knew what was coming, if she tried to fight for more breath, if she considered an exit strategy, jumping, riding some piece of busted aircraft miles to the nearest shore, or if instead she leaned into the current, arched her back with the dive, I wonder if she closed her eyes or if she watched the water coming. I wonder, did she take in all the air she could and in that final moment did she scream?

You are twenty. You are not dead, although you were dead. The girl who died. And was resurrected. Children. Witches. Magic. Symbols. Remember the illogic of fantasy.

The greatest trick of Mulholland Drive: the illusion of illusion. The parallels: Diane as Betty, Rita in a blond wig to look like Diane, faces pressed together as if against a reflection, watching as a woman singing collapses, the song continuing after she’s dragged away, voice with no body, llorando por tu amor. An illusion. The performance is the illusion of both a body and what exists beyond it. The song exists beyond the woman; the song does not need the woman to sing it in order to exist. She is a vessel, a showpiece, a dream. The experience is like looking into a mirror and not seeing anyone there.

An art, a becoming, trapped in frames on the wall. Tomorrow, tomorrow, no such thing. Hell. Nowhere. No such thing. An illusion, a mystery, a dream.

I get distracted one morning taking notes on Mulholland Drive, and write out the stages of death in my journal instead: pallor mortis, algor mortis, rigor mortis, livor mortis, putrefaction, decomposition, skeletonization, fossilization. (Often, later, I will begin to misread the word purify as putrefy.)

What I am attempting to discern is a balance between woman and ghost, the distinction these Lynchian women are searching for when they scream, the move toward an acceptance of a reality, whether this reality winds up being physical, actual, or contained within a mirror or dream, my face when I see it and notice my hair, is, in fact, red. A reflection shows what is tangible, though the reflection itself is not; a woman bleeds into the experience of another, dizzies herself in the early morning hours asking, Am I real? Am I alive? It is the possibility of otherness, of disappearing into a dream or going to ghost, that the transformation could occur without our compliance or even without our noticing—this possibility is what haunts me when I see these women scream, when I am the one screaming, when all I can see behind my eyes is white and do not recognize what lies in front of me, what should be irrevocable, familiar, concrete.

Amelia, too, coming in over the radio: Am I real? Am I alive? All that’s heard at the other end is static, perhaps, the roar of the ocean, the waves cloaking her story in silence.

Suspended in disbelief, the song after the song. The dead wear roses, wrapped in plastic, wrapped in smoke, and the moon grows full, and her hair goes red, a dream a secret. No such thing.

The mirror is feminine, aligned with the moon. A reflection magic, that which is illuminated at night. She whispers in the darkness, this other, the one who haunts me, the one whose hair is red even though I cannot recognize this fire when I see her in the mirror. I am looking because I am afraid of not seeing. I am looking because the more I keep looking, the more I continue to find. We rinse and repeat as we wake, from blackness to blue, splash the face with cool water over the sink, fleck the mirror with the wetness, good morning, I see you, she says, there you are, she stands and she feels her face, my face, as it prepares to turn toward the light of the day, the sun, good morning, and at night, be seeing you again, sweet dreams. The phantom; the flower. The unwavering parallels: she is/she isn’t, asleep/awake, Laura/Not-Laura, woman/ghost, disappeared/died, mirror/moon. I concentrate on my reflection and if I am awake or asleep; it is unclear, and she begins to blur. The faucet drips out black feathers, see you soon.


The title is borrowed from a line in The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

The following italicized lines, in conversation with my own, are borrowed:

Sanity is found at the centre of convulsion, where madness is scorched from the bisected soul. (Sarah Kane “4.48 Psychosis”)

Illusion shapes and shelters us, as necessary as oxygen and water. Illusions won’t die, they are not delusions, and seem part of a human being’s hard-wiring. (Lynne Tillman, Men and Apparitions)

You are twenty. You are not dead, although you were dead. The girl who died. And was resurrected. Children. Witches. Magic. Symbols. Remember the illogic of fantasy. (The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath)

HEATHER BARTEL is founder and co-editor of the literary journal and community, The Champagne Room. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Qu, MAYDAY, Fence, Heavy Feather Review, and Grimoire.