fiction

Matrykosha Dreams

24 March 2020

One

The tiger awakens as you grip the bars and use them to propel you into a 360-degree jump.

Beads of sweat nestle on your neck and your heart swells in its cage. He rises slowly and turns his head towards you, as if he’s heard your ribs begin to creak with the imagined pressure.

He plods around the edge of his enclosure, angled towards the bars so that their shadows overlap his stripes. It’s as if he’s decreeing the cage’s boundaries, marking the shape to which his desires must conform. You stretch yourself out, no walls to compress your ligaments, dangling your freedom in front of him like a necklace of pearls. A snarl splits through his eyes.

His head follows you as you drop to the ground, feigning death. It rises with your crumpled limbs, which tighten and arrange themselves into a careful arabesque.

Then you are flying.

You trace stencils on the tiger’s eye, your tiny canvas, with the silhouette of your body. His stare thickens and cloaks you in honey. You dwell inside his frontal lobe and your body is a piece of no man’s land.

Two

You dance, bathing deep in your fame, long after your muscles have grown tired. You dance until your skin and bones are turned to cardboard, your flesh and thoughts squeezed up and out through your ear. Kicked out, your brain hangs sheepishly in the air above you.

Watching from outside yourself, a kernel of laughter rises in you, but when you try for a wry smile your lips are nailed in place. Your song sticks in your throat. When you curl your hand in a fist, you cannot feel your nails digging into your palm.

The tiger catches your every movement before it is fully formed. He lays claim to it, so that he can choose to free it from his grip when the time is right. It is by these means that he takes your attempt to flee and twists it into a piece of choreography that’s perched somewhere between the erotic and the absurd.

Your limbs collapse inward, drawn towards your skin in a sickly caress. He senses the tug of your heel and you feel his arms close around you, invisible. Moving his hands to your waist, he supports you in a pirouette.

Spinning towards drunkenness, you realise the cage wall has no end but is wrapped around you. When his invisible grip loosens and you keel over the dusty stone, the bars continue to churn. The observer becomes observed. He’s been watching through the bars since before you were born.

He’s allowed the shame to creep onto your face as you notice a gathering crowd, which erupts into laughter, a jerk reflex.

They jeer at you and make strange sounds. You’ve forgotten how to speak their language: your tongue is a lump of meat, a dead mound lounging unwelcome on the roof of your mouth.

Rooted to the cage floor, you cock your head to the side and narrow your eyes. Your face has the texture of linen and rests contorted, its features stiffened as if they’ve been strung out for centuries.

Three

The voices which had seemed to threaten you, auction you off, no longer press their noses against yours and sneer. They transform, mid-somersault, into applause, circling you from above and below. Families squirm in their seats and dot your vision, clusters magnetising to form a pattern. A man in a tiger suit stalks away through the curtains. The pantomime is over.

Your brain, which had been suspended in mid-air, re-enters without a sound. It comes to rest at the back of your tongue, then spreads outward. Your heartbeat dangles from the tip of each inhalation and your cheeks sting with relief.

Your acting was good. You inhabited your character completely, efficiently, careful to smooth out any pockets of idleness. You possessed—or were possessed by—two entities, maybe even more, within a small minute. You swelled to house predator, prey, and an audience reeled in by a belief it chose to hook around your waist.

Four

Something lands on the stage and comes to rest at your toes. A five-pound note, a posy, or a slab of meat.

With a bashful smile, you scan the audience for the culprit, but your mission is diverted by a pair of amber eyes. It manifests between the shoulder pads of two coats, projecting an alien light. Perhaps, dreams can be impregnated with daughter dreams, burrowing deeper into your waking hours until day is indistinguishable from night.

You shiver, a motion which sends a small shockwave through the audience. It seems your performance, the unzipping of your pride, has softened them to you. Prompted them, somnambulant, to tie a knot between your nervous system and theirs.

You become sensitive to your power over them; there are strings running downward from the tips of your fingers to their mouths. Even so, when you think of the amber eyes in the crowd, you realise the current goes both ways. One tug, you could kill them. One tug, they could drag you into their hovel.

The strings are neither real nor unreal. Dreams breed inside dreams. A hiccough crawls spiderlike up and down the theatre.


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