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Psyche in a Dress

Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block
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But this is what
I could not give up:
I could not give up myself

Psyche has known Love—scented with jasmine and tasting of fresh oranges. Yet he is fleeting and fragile, lost to her too quickly. Punished by self-doubt, Psyche yearns to be transformed, like the beautiful and brutal figures in the myths her lover once spoke of. Attempting to uncover beauty in the darkness, she is challenged, tested, and changed by the gods and demons who tempt her. Her faith must be found again, for if she is to love, she must never look back.

HarperCollins; October 2009
127 pages; ISBN 9780061658570
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Psyche in a Dress
Author: Francesca Lia Block


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"