Psyche in a Dress

Psyche in a Dress

by Francesca Lia Block

ISBN: 9780060763725

Publisher HarperTeen

Published in Teens/General, Literature & Fiction/World Literature, Self-Help/Relationships, Teens/Literature & Fiction, Teens/Authors, A-Z

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Sample Chapter


I am not a goddess
I am my father's

My father had me mutilated twice
He had my mother and sisters murdered more than once
but he has never killed me off
sometimes I think he only gave me life
so I could be his muse, his actress

They say he does things with me
to work through issues he had with my mother
I look just like her in the early films but
now she is gone

In the first film I had to take off my top
I stood there, shivering
with my hands covering my breasts
as the cameras were rolling
A million caterpillars crawled over my bones
and my stomach was filled with the wings of dying moths
But I knew what I had to do

I am an actress
I am my father's
I do my job

It was easier after that
I got used to all the crew watching
My father watching
People said that I was odd-looking
not the typical face you see
but my father tells me I am perfect, just what he wants
My father says
"These actors, they try to do too much
You know how to just be
Don't try to do anything else
You are an actress
My princess"

I live with my father
in a dirty-white mansion
made of the bones and teeth of actors
It has been the scene of many atrocities
in my father's films
There are crumbling columns in front
and a dining room we never use
with a giant chandelier from which
one of my father's characters hung herself
There is a huge tiled pool
surrounded by crumbling, headless, limbless statues
ficus trees entwined with morning glories
beds of calla lilies
and oleander bushes
I can see the pool from my window empty
my father rarely fills it with water
It was used for a drowning in another film
I have a large room
with a large bed draped in diaphanous fabrics
I have my own bathroom with a sunken tub and a view
through glass walls
of my private, somewhat overgrown rose garden
peeling white iron chairs and mossy fountains
I have a walk-in closet of my mother's designer clothes
In one interview I read
my mother said that she sold her soul for that wardrobe
A black satin-trimmed smoking jacket and trousers
a white satin-trimmed smoking jacket and matching satin skirt, a golden pleated
chiffon Grecian gown, a golden sweater covered with gemstones, a white silk
wrap dress covered with giant red peonies, a pink suit with a short jacket
and skirt, shift dresses in white, black, red sapphire, emerald and
tangerine silk or satin, some with large bows in back, piles of cashmere
sweaters in lipstick colors, some with silk flowers from obis appliquéd on
them, and many, many shoes

When my mother left us, she took only a black suit
a pair of jeans, a red silk blouse
her jewels and five pairs of the shoes
Sometimes I lie awake at night
wondering how she chose them
I knew which ones they were
because I knew her wardrobe better than she did:
black leather riding boots
black lizard pumps
strappy golden sandals
ruby red flats
emerald green satin dancing shoes with ankle straps
I was so jealous of those shoes
Sometimes I put on one of the dresses
light candles
and dance with my mother's shadow
Most of the time, at night, I use only candles in my room
waiting for her to come back
Even a wraith is better than nothing
even a silhouette on the wall

My father's new girlfriend, Aphrodite
wanted to be the star of his film
and he wouldn't replace me
Once I heard him saying to her, "She's seventeen!
She's seventeen!
What do you expect?"
Enraging her even more
They screamed at each other all night
Until the chandelier shattered
And a thousand swallows flew through the open window
whirring their wings
In the morning she was gone
but she was not finished

One night I was lying in my bed
wearing an antique cotton nightgown
white as a bride
My father was out drinking with his producer
It was completely dark
Not even the candles were lit
I could have been abandoned
on a mountaintop—
the wind in my chest
was that cold
That was when you came
Through the open window
with the night-blooming jasmine
that grows up the old stone garden wall
You knelt beside my bed and put your head near mine
You whispered, "I just want to lie beside you tonight
I won't hurt you"

I was afraid at first
Lay very still, waiting for pain
It felt like a scene from one of my father's movies
The killer with the beautiful voice
For a moment I wondered
if my father had staged the whole thing
If he had a camera somewhere?
I wouldn't put it past him

You only talked to me
You said, "Tell me"
You asked, "Do you think Love and Soul are the same?
If not, how does the Soul earn Love?
How does Love find his Soul?
Can one exist without the other?
If Love and the Soul had a child
what would her name be?"

"Tell me your name," I said
"You already know
If you are Soul
I am the other one"

I heard the sea in your voice—
sheer waves breaking on pale powdered sand
I heard the glossy rustlings of the cypress and olive trees—
the footsteps of maenads and panpipes playing
echoing caves in the mountains—
cloven hooves striking the rock
At their approach birds took flight into the white skies
After a long time I fell asleep

In the morning you were gone

But you came
again and again
I asked to see you but you said
that was the one rule
I couldn't put on
the light
Even so, I asked you to lie beside me
After a while I reached out
and held your hand
"I'm so crazy," I said
"What's wrong with me?
You come through my window at night
I haven't seen your face
And I want you"

Excerpted from "Psyche in a Dress" by Francesca Lia Block. Copyright © 2006 by Francesca Lia Block. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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