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from Nothing in the Dark

Sharing a post-coital cigarette with Felice seemed the romantic thing to do, and so I foolishly compromised my hard-won decade of smoke-free lungs when she lit one of her foul, French, unfiltered punks. The red cinder passed eerily between us in the dark while Felice talked about her father. As a young man he had been a magician, Tortueux Le Magnifique, traveling throughout Europe with his ravishing wife — who was also his stage assistant — to seismic applause and wide acclaim. He was regarded as the continent's master of appearances. But the War curtailed his performing career, and he began a second life as a saboteur, assassin, and spy for the Resistance. By the time Felice was born, he was long-settled into government work, leaving home each morning with a briefcase and a smile, returning each evening with slumping shoulders and sunken eyes. He barely spoke to his family. As an adult Felice learned that her father was an interrogator of unmasked Eastern bloc spies and infiltrators of the sort he had once been. The power was on his side now, but for all the righteousness assumed by the postwar, profit-making free world, he felt no moral mission in his work. Felice's brother found him one morning hanging from a beam in their backyard greenhouse, his open briefcase on the ground, the garrote he had removed from it taut around his neck.




For me the phrase to wring one's hands has long held repellent connotations. I visualize my grandmother's ancient washing machine with its crank-operated rollers extruding wet laundry, or I remember the factory worker who once told me how an inattentive moment led to the crushing of his right hand in a similar device. And yet, here was Felice, "wringing her hands" as if to squeeze from them a deadly venom, her face a kabuki nightmare of smudged makeup and emotional dishevelment. My wish to comfort her was overridden by my need for facts — how she had gotten to my apartment at this hour without a car or cab fare, for example — and I could not help but wonder how she had so recently torn her left ear lobe.




I was sleepless with dreams of Felice, the plaintiff at a trial which took place in a room at an unspecified Holiday Inn. The jury — nine human-sized ferrets in pin-stripes — sat or perched on the double bed beneath an oil painting of the Golden Gate Bridge. I sat in a metal folding chair by the window overlooking a parking lot while Felice stood opposite me, much taller than in real life, clothed in a tight but business-like black suit. A cleaning lady read the charges against me in a soft, lisping voice. I was unable to hear her clearly, but I made out the words bubble and insinuate. Felice moved aggressively in my direction, brandishing a scroll. She berated me in German, a language I did not understand. I noticed for the first time a large blue mole on her neck, from which a single thick hair emerged. Somehow I came to realize that my defense attorney had died of a stroke while purchasing a soda from the hall vending machine, and that a suitcase containing several recently-shed snakeskins bore my fingerprints. I appealed to the sisters — just emerged from the bathroom, giggling — for help, but they left with the maid, whose services were needed elsewhere. Guilty, cried the ferrets in unison. So it's true, I thought, fighting my way toward consciousness, which turned out to be the inside of a rental bay densely cluttered with objects I thought I had long ago discarded.





fred muratori