The House of Illusion

She’d say, Someday you’ll go on without me. She worked the back of the box. From underneath. Where the saw couldn’t reach. Her name was Ruby. We had nothing in common but our long skinny feet. She was down there in the dark like Nijinsky’s faun, in a cream-colored body suit, little goat horns that nobody could see, bobby-pinned in hair that nobody could see, red-streaked and kinked. And of course the silver shoes, same size as mine, at the end of the box—that everybody could see. She was always talking down there—I’m inside Nijinsky’s dead brain. She’d get louder when Jack started with the saw. Inside the cloven soul. The whole box thumping like a séance. Jack sawing away, Shut her the hell up. But how?—that voice splitting me like a headache. It got so I didn’t know who I was. She was—I don’t know—a sprite. Dressed like a man dressed as a goat. She’d say, It’s magic. And I’d think, I’m not real either, up here now with my own skinny feet out the end of a box—and a lipstick smile like the all-American prom queen. After the show, she’d perch on the bar in her faun leotard and  hold up her drink—always something tall and purple or blue, with maraschinos and crushed ice—and she’d say, It’s art.


They were red, with silver heels, and she took them off before she drowned so she could wear them to the wake. Her name was Ruby. Baudelaire said color thinks by itself. Ruby said red ignites the spine. Her skirt was heavy. The night was warm, almost cloudless, the kind of night where you turn down a side street and suddenly the sky is red, streaked with red, and you’re not sure what time it is, if it’s night or day—somebody’s singing I will always love you and you know this time it’s true.

Sue Burton
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