The Alexandra Role

by Sydney Weinberg


Dear Ms. Neumann,


I have already drafted this letter many times. I think, when I write it now, that I am no longer writing to you but to myself, or Alexandra. If I were a religious or a romantic man I might propose God, but you have usurped his claim to omniscience, and He could never forgive me better than you.  

          When I finished that paragraph, the one above, I decided it was perfect. I got up, fixed myself a drink, returned to my chair, and reread it. Then I could see at once that it was melodramatic. But never mind—that’s the mood I’m in tonight. Dozens of the other letters were only one or two paragraphs long before self-loathing obliged me to abort them. The thing to do is just to write without pause, without doubt . . .

          You’d think that after so many drafts I would’ve hit upon the supreme phrase—how exactly to launch my subject. I did it very well two or three times, but transcribing those polished sentences night after night in draft after draft—they stood out on the page like wooden teeth in a cat’s mouth. Tonight’s letter began as an apologia, but I’ve done sensational versions, sober versions, grief-stricken versions, even comedic versions. The first letter I wrote was a fiction, and in it I caricatured myself grotesquely. But that one wasn’t for you. I was bitter, and I thought that when I finished it, I could fling it at Víctor Vargas and take comfort in this trifling revenge. It didn’t work out that way, of course. I can see now even without rereading that I’ve ruined tonight’s letter. I meant to begin with Víctor—all the letters now begin with him.

          Naturally, I assume that you already know Víctor . . . ? I’m not privy to the specifics of your relationship—he only suggested that I write you, and then gave me your contact information. Since September he’s been on sabbatical, and we have not kept in touch. Perhaps you already know this, but Víctor is a novelist. For the entirety of his career he’s written in Spanish, which partially explains why he’s so little known in the United States, although much of his work has been translated by now. When my wife Alexandra died last year, Víctor’s compassion exceeded most, and he began inviting me over for dinner once or twice a week. He lives alone and is a good cook. Over the course of one of these dinners, he told me that he’d begun a new book, and that the protagonist was based on Alexandra.

          When Víctor first joined the faculty here, he did his best to keep to himself. At meetings, he looked bored or superior, and rarely voiced opinions. He made people slightly uncomfortable, suspicious even, although he settled in eventually. I used to think he didn’t care what people thought of him, or what they thought of his novels, but then I made the mistake of telling him I’d read a couple. Silently, he waited for me to go on, and a wan, horrible smile spread across his face like an unfurling sea urchin. Then I couldn’t stop talking, I praised his novels to the skies, congratulated him on his unique achievements—forgive me if I’m being imprecise, afterwards I couldn’t even recall what I’d said. Víctor’s smile had burnt through my gut.

          We were already on friendly terms at the time of this incident—otherwise I can’t imagine that I would have sought him out much afterward. Our college is small though reputable, located in an Appalachian town as secluded as it is beautiful. We professors are in close quarters with each other, and of course the students, so the backstabbing and lechery that so often characterizes literature departments is somewhat magnified here. I don’t mean to be disparaging, I have tenure and overall I’m satisfied with my position—I merely intended to illustrate why a person with Víctor’s subtle, slow-acting cynicism was so welcome to me. You could say that we became each other’s allies. He also taught Alexandra the year she and I met, and, anxious as I was to behave honorably through what at the time was a sticky situation, I often found a second opinion in him.

          When Víctor told me about his new book, I wanted to read it at once. But he refused, insisting that he hates for anyone to read his unfinished work. Months passed, and Víctor put me off repeatedly. For whatever reason, I became fixated on his interpretation of Alexandra, and finally I went to him with a prepared but passionate speech, demanding some paltry snippet, a mere character sketch, anything. He relented. The next night, I was given an envelope containing a single page. But first he intoned a caveat: when he conceived of the Alexandra character, the wretched professor who pursued her arrived in tow. This, Víctor explained, was not a depiction of me. Embarrassed, I tried to interrupt him, but he continued. He had not wanted to excerpt his novel for me, and was concerned that I might not read the piece objectively. As I remember, I smiled bitterly and muttered something about resenting his condescension.

          In none of the other letters have I included Víctor’s excerpt, (the novel’s English title is Relentless Winter) but I’m tired of describing it. The translation below is mine. Judge for yourself.


Alexa was embryonic as any of her generation, her convictions half-forged and often subject to caprice. Was she remarkable? I couldn’t say. Perhaps not. She had an insatiable desire to please, and her eyes were black and bottomless, a compelling abyss. Or so Invierno explained those agonizing afternoons when she failed to visit his office as she’d promised to, and he stormed mine.

          By November, he had bedded her. It was a harsh season and snow lay like cream over the courtyard below my office window. Alexa was a fanatic student, and Invierno and I both taught her in our quiet and separate ways. I would not have thought of her so much if Invierno had thought of her less. Twice or thrice a week, inevitably, he interrupted my research to bare his blanched and quivering soul to one who, he believed, maintained the demeanor and secrecy of a priest. It was an unasked for privilege I came, regretfully, to relish.   

          Many other evenings and afternoons Dr. Invierno did not visit, and on these occasions I sometimes strolled down the carpeted halls of our department, past dozen of doors papered with witty cartoons, only to find myself slowing before his closed door. Was she inside? I pressed my ear against the wood. What transformations was he effecting on her mind and body, to the ignorance of the faculty entire, myself exempted?

          I had to fabricate Alexa from the scraps Invierno so willingly provided, in his innocence. They drove, I knew, separately to a hotel on the outskirts of town, their assignations usually taking place in the middle of the day. This was to evade the suspicion of Invierno’s wife, a colleague of ours. To soothe Alexa’s jangled nerves and allay her guilt (Invierno himself felt none) he plied his young tutee with alcohol—chablis at four o’clock, mimosas for a festive noon. She confessed she was oblivious to the particularities of good wine. Thus their affair progressed to yet another level of instruction as Invierno schooled Alexa on the subtleties between French, Californian, and Chilean grapes.

          I imagine Alexa in her apartment, which I never saw, cohabitating with housemates that Invierno avoided like toxins. Relaxing in the kitchen-cum-living room with these companions on an Invierno-free day, her delicate hands shaking, Alexa struggles to uncork a bottle of indiscriminate red, which then languishes on the counter over the next couple of days, steadily depleting and steadily converting into vinegar, a process Alexa is not adverse to. I imagine an awkward, pre-teen Alexa developing a keen passion for green olives, the kind that can be bought stuffed with pimentos by a mother and by the jar. Throughout her teenage years, she ate them the way her friends ate popcorn or chocolate, and sometimes even drank the pickling juice. It is precisely this taste that acidic wine recalls to her palate. I imagine Alexa telling this story to Invierno as she sits on the edge of their rented bed, choking down her hotel tumbler of pristine chardonnay, Invierno all the while feasting his eyes upon her, barely able to contain his anticipation of the rapidly approaching moment when she will reach down and place the glass on the floor, so delivering to her lover the cue that he may, at last, spring upon her . . .


Now ask yourself—as I did—why when I begged Víctor for a passage from the book, this was the one he chose? Could it be, as I fear, the least offensive? And furthermore why go to all the trouble of assuring me that I am not Invierno, unless he had in some way used me as the model? You can imagine how the passage disturbed me. I am not a naive or unpracticed reader, I have taught Barthes to sophomores and no one is more vocal than I in declaiming the irrelevance of authorial biography, but since my first reading of the excerpt I have recalled departmental gossip I’d previously dismissed about Víctor’s books: the murderous heroine of his third novel was supposedly based upon his ex-wife, whom, it is alleged, recognized herself and filed for divorce. And in his fifth book, the narrator makes an oblique reference to a personal detail which had not previously appeared on those pages at all, but had been ascribed to the narrator of his first book. As the first book is historical fiction and the latter contemporary, I cannot assume that the two narrators are the same person, although they are, like the narrators of his second, third, fourth, and sixth book, all aging and neurotic professors. If I can take any consolation from all this, it’s that Víctor’s prose style has not improved on that of his last novel, and the book is as unlikely to attract success as his previous efforts.

          Needless to say, my friendship with Víctor cooled. In the beginning he would accost me in my office—first would come the unmistakable, tender knock, the door would creak ajar, and then his fat, anxious face would slide through and bob above the crack, disembodied, until I approved the admission of his remainder. The lumpy body would settle heavily into the chair before my desk, and then we’d talk around the excerpt for twenty minutes until Víctor felt himself capable of a stab at directness (“I suspect that giving you that sketch was a bad idea,” or, “you’ve been avoiding me, I believe”) which I would parry; I was grieving, and he knew nothing about grief.

          I could’ve thrown him out, removed him from my life, but one thought disturbed me. A week or two before Víctor gave me the excerpt, he and I stayed up rather late watching Vertigo and drinking a good deal more than was customary for us. At some point, I began to explain in lavish detail a fantastical plan I’d admittedly concocted but never dreamt of implementing. I shouldn’t have told him, but Víctor was my friend and—it’s really so banal—I trusted him. I told him how, in the months after Alexandra’s death, I used to have dreams of kidnapping strange women and subjecting them to radical surgeries and brainwashing sessions, until I had converted them into legions of clones, freakish facsimiles who, instead of satisfying me, ultimately unnerved me with their subtle incongruities. If, I continued, I were to transform one woman into my wife, I’d prefer her not to resemble Alexandra at all.  Why, I moaned, was this not possible? Why couldn’t I simply pay some young, aspiring actress to impersonate Alexandra? It would be a business arrangement; the actress and I would sign a contract.

          Víctor got very excited then; he has a fondness for gallows humor, and was glad to see me emerging from my depression. At least that’s how it seemed to me then. We talked for hours about the Alexandra role—how to find the young actress, how to persuade her, what the conditions would be—and in the morning I was disgusted with myself and would’ve never considered the episode again if I hadn’t read Víctor’s excerpt soon after. I would never mistake Víctor Vargas for an imaginative man, and for a time I was very much afraid that Dr. Invierno of Relentless Winter marries his Alexa, hounds her to death, and then resurrects her.


I had to stop last night—all the other letters I wrote without stopping. It’s eight pm and I’m seated in the dining room, which I use in lieu of a home office. It’s the only room in the house that doesn’t contain some artifact of Alexandra’s. Windowless, the air is limp and I often get headaches from sitting in here too long. Along the far wall is an antique cabinet, bought at a flea market nearly a decade ago, where the plates and glasses intended for special occasions are kept. In the middle drawer, designed for expensive silverware but left empty by us, is a short story of approximately eight pages, written by me.

          The short story is that first letter I mentioned before, and it’s addressed to you, Ms. Neumann, but it was written before I knew your name. The header simply reads “Dear Applicant”. The narrator is a delusional and bereaved English professor who, in epistolary form, attempts to secure the services of a young actress in the way I have previously described. I am the narrator, and I mimic Víctor Vargas’s style.

          I wrote that story in a fit of vicious inspiration. I thought that if Víctor saw it, he might recognize himself as a hack. He wouldn’t be able to finish Relentless Winter; I might even palsy his writer’s impulse permanently, earning widespread gratitude from the critical establishment. When I finished the story, I folded it twice and left it on the dining table.

          Now I digress, but relevantly: once Alexandra and I discussed horror. It was before we married, before anything. When and how, I asked her, had a book first terrified her? Right away, she told me she had read “The Monkey’s Paw” at eight—found it on a bookshelf in her parents’ house. Did I remember the premise? she asked. There’s this older couple who acquire a desiccated paw with the magic power to grant wishes. Although they’re advised to burn it at once, they disregard the warning and wish for wealth. They get it—their son dies in a factory accident and they receive his life insurance money. Devastated, they wish him back to life, and before they know it a gruesome monster stumbles down the path to their house, knocking at the door, rattling the lock—so that, frantic, they wish their son away and throw the paw into the fire.

          I told her it was a good choice, naturally that Jacobs story would horrify an eight year old, but she interrupted. It scared me, of course, she said. So I put it in a drawer in a desk in the hall, so I wouldn’t have to look at it. It was a yellow paperback, I remember, and there were other stories in it that I never read. A month or two later, I forgot that the book was there and, rifling through the desk, I opened the drawer and saw it. That was the real moment of horror! And from then on, I avoided the desk. I wouldn’t even look at it when I went down the hall. It was as if the monkey’s paw itself were inside, or some bloody relic of the Frankensteinian son.

          So you see, in a week or two, the story I’d intended as a vengeful joke, a prank on Víctor, assumed the horrific proportions of Alexandra’s book in its drawer. I threw it amongst the nonexistent silverware, and whenever I glanced in that direction, the entire cabinet seemed to pulse with a pregnant evil.

          Ms. Neumann, life went on. I remained terrified of the drawer, but the overwhelming presence of Alexandra exuded by every other room in the house kept me hemmed into the dining room. I went to the college and taught classes; I skipped faculty meetings and nobody chastised me. One day, Víctor poked his head into my office and, exasperated, I was rude—“Oh, what do you want?” I said. He came in, a piece of paper in his hand. As you can imagine, the sight of Víctor bearing paper is an unwelcome one. Before I had a chance to speak, he dropped the paper on my desk with a portentous air and announced, “Emma Neumann. She’s twenty-six. I think she’d do it.

          I understood instantly.

          Víctor,” I thundered, “are you out of your mind?”

          He was speechless. Speechless! He actually believed I’d be pleased.

          Shortly after, Víctor Vargas went on sabbatical in order to finish his awful book. I no longer suspect that Invierno will hire a replacement Alexa, because Víctor is too poor a craftsman to make such a preposterous arrangement believable. In his fiction, the proposal cannot come to fruition because the elasticity of its author’s imagination is comparable to petrified brick. But life, I’ve realized, is another matter entirely. Imagination is only resourcefulness in fantastic dress, and I am nothing if not resourceful. I have thought about this with trepidation.

          I suspect that Víctor has already talked to you himself. I suspect that he told you all about Alexandra and me. I suspect that you have been waiting, for months now, for me to contact you.


I meant to end there, Ms. Neumann, and start another letter. But when I finished, I didn’t fold it up and wedge it into the shoebox containing the others. Three days have passed since I began, and yesterday as I was falling asleep it occurred to me that this might be the letter I could send. Already I’ve made more progress than in any other letter, and even if I don’t send this one, I’m sharpening my virtuosity, preparing for that future missive which is perfect and irrefutable. I don’t claim to be a writer—in my life I’d never written a piece of fiction until the story in the drawer—and that my one and only attempt horrifies me so completely is perhaps not encouraging. But, Ms. Neumann, I’m better off because I’m not a writer. I can be honest with you.

          Last night, I took the story out of the drawer by my fingertips, and read it on the porch with Alexandra’s cat asleep in my lap. Because I had tried deliberately to drive its contents out of my mind, I could read it like a stranger wrote it, or like Víctor wrote it, except that I knew it was me, and parts of it even pleased me. Take the second paragraph:


In other words, my expectations are high but they have limits. I hope this comforts you in some small way. I am fully aware of the unorthodox nature of my proposal, and I want to assure you before continuing that what I have envisioned is a.) not impossible, given the proven ingenuity of the human race, and b.) not to be dismissed out of hand. I will elucidate. Were we to automatically reject all manifest desire failing to accord with what is perceived, contemporarily, as within the suffocating hallway of normality, we would dramatically impoverish our grasp of human nature in its infinite and colorful variety. (Not to mention “normality” is hardly a fixed virtue, and as such deserves no allegiance from the truly liberated mind—as I’ve heard yours described.)


          Thats not too bad, wouldn’t you say? I could probably ghostwrite for that hack bastard. Maybe the effect isn’t as strong out of context, but I felt, reading that paragraph, the tug of persuasion. As if I were “Applicant,” and contrary to my initial impulse, I haven’t torched the letter. He—my narrator—has a point. And the allusion to Applicant’s liberated mind is meant to suggest that she’s a prostitute. (Well, a young actress reduced to prostitution; I’m sure she calls it something else, but the reader is meant to infer that she makes certain time-honored sacrifices for her art.) I have no idea whether any of that’s true of you, Ms. Neumann—remember, I wrote this before Víctor gave me your name.

          In the story I also include Víctor’s excerpt, but in his self-deluding solipsism, my narrator fails to perceive that he himself may be the inspiration for Invierno. From this, the reader will infer that the narrator, a third-rate Humbert Humbert, almost certainly is Invierno. The narrator then goes on to summarize Alexandra’s life history, (more or less accurate) promising to supply Applicant with exhaustive biographical information further down the line—including Alexandra’s childhood diaries, which I actually have in this house, although I’ve never read them—should she choose to accept the role. It’s the severest kind of method acting Applicant is signing up for, but she is to be amply rewarded:


Preamble aside, you shall be compensated to the tune of $7,000 biweekly. It is a little known fact that my paternal grandfather was the inventor of the wheeled suitcase. Unfortunately his vision exceeded the requirements of his era, and he did not live to sample the monetary fruits of his labor. As a harmless tribute to the old man my father regularly renewed the patent, and was handsomely rewarded for this whimsical homage. Being a prudent investor, my father left me very well provided for. As you shall see, I live modestly and well within the stipend I receive as a tenured professor. I tell you this history merely to assure you that your salary is neither a false nor flimsy lure. You will also have one week (paid) every two month period to do whatever you like, and you won’t need to see me or your adopted home during that time. I also guarantee you a sum total of twenty-five “sick days” in the year, which you may choose without giving prior notice, and which also exempt you from my company. The only exception is if we have fixed plans, aka a departmental dinner, an island vacation package, what have you.


          (Incidentally, this ludicrous passage concerning wheeled suitcases happens to be true!)

          Subtle clues in the story lead the reader to assume that Alexandra shot herself in the conjugal bedroom, driven to desperation by the narrator’s manic fastidiousness. Why she married him at all is, admittedly, a weak point in its conception. In reality, Alexandra died of meningitis in the hospital. I watched her suffer for ten days.

          Below is the most hideous paragraph:


Are you willing to agree to a two-year contract, with a three month trial period terminable by either party? I think that’s fair. It may seem long, but I will require consistency. After two years, you can either continue or depart upon training your replacement. I know that despite your best efforts you will never wholly succeed in mimicking my beloved wife, but here’s a secret: I hope these minor discrepancies will wean me off my admittedly childish conviction that any chance I have of happiness rests with her. There are other men who love countless women, either in sequence or simultaneously, but even Alexandra’s faults were perfections in so far as they formed the whole that was so utterly unique among women. I do not care if others disagree, because in the theatre of my own heart I am the only audience of any consequence. Will you allow me a little solipsistic indulgence? I loved her unbearably! Women who express themselves differently from Alexandra, who laugh differently or expose opposing tastes embarrass me with their vulgarity. Even the thought of past relationships, in which I once believed myself content, fill me with the most nauseating revulsion. Perhaps if Alexandra and I had had more time together, I would’ve grown disillusioned with her. Unfortunately, she perished at the apex of my worship and I remain helplessly suspended in that state. It is through you, and through this project, that I seek relief.


          Disillusioned with her! I wrote that! And then, “in the theatre of my own heart”—the worst part is, it’s not untrue. I’m in hell, Emma, but a devilish logic gnaws on me. Do you agree with me, Emma? In a way, we’re in the same boat. We’re both victims of Víctor and Víctor’s imitator. We scratch out their eyes and lick our dignity—but would we be happier if we just gave in?

          I feel compelled to go on. The narrator reminds Applicant that while she need not resemble Alexandra, she better fit into the original’s shoes and clothes. Eventually, he allows, Applicant may be permitted to purchase new clothing, always selecting garments within the parameters of Alexandra’s style, which, knowing nothing of fashion, he fails to discern. It’s a comedic moment.

          But the largest dose of concentrated comedy (I mean that blackly, of course) comes in the next piece, when the narrator describes, “certain specifics of conjugality that might make a conventional woman squeamish.” Applicant is no conventional woman.


Víctor (forgive him) has told me a little about your present circumstances, and this knowledge leads me to assume that you will not object to fulfilling all of Alexandra’s wifely duties. I’ve already told you frankly that I adored her—we made love every single night. I can hardly contain myself now at the collective memory of all those nights (and days, and afternoons) we spent together. Expect me to lavish the utmost attention upon your body, even though it will differ from Alexandra’s—at least in this way I can express additional gratitude for the much larger service you will be performing for me by taking on the Alexandra role. If, however, in the confines of our bed, you are moved to perform smaller and more immediate services for me out of your own volition, I wouldn’t object. Many times I suggested such services to Alexandra, and she was usually good enough to oblige me. Can I hope that your lips, your tongue, will be as soft and nubile as hers? I know this aspect of our arrangement might cause you some trepidation, given that it is in terms of the physical that you will most baldly fail to be Alexandra. But I assure you, I am not without compassion. I will adjust myself and my expectations to the reality of your figure, which, in reality, I shall be very grateful for. Given time, my memory may even blur the distinction between you and the original—at least, I have read a series of scientific articles detailing the surprising fickleness of memory, so I am apprised that such a conflation may at some point occur, despite the vehement denial of my heart.


          If you were to come here, Emma, you would sleep in the guest bedroom, and I would never make unwelcome advances on you. This would be stipulated in the contract. If we were ever to spend the night together, it would be your decision. The narrator envisions converting Applicant into his dead wife, totally and completely. His concessions are only illusions. Do you see that? What I want approaches companionship, only I miss what I once had. I haven’t got the heart or the energy to go out into the world and forge something like it again, the way other people do. I don’t have any peace. If I could have this, it would be a kind of peace.

          The story ends with another excerpt, except this time its Alexandras. It’s the only time in the story when her voice is heard, and it’s gasping but vital, like an injection of adrenaline straight to the heart: now, the story breathes. The narrator claims that the fragment came from Víctor, who taught Alexandra’s writing workshops, although he “unwittingly recycled the rest of it.”  The truth is, I picked up one of her notebooks and the paper slipped out. The notebook had been left, slightly askew, on the hall table. She rarely left her notebooks around, had intended to collect it and return it to her room, which I have left perfect and untouched, like an exhibition in a museum. I work in the dining room as I said before; Alexandra, who was completing her PhD, worked upstairs, down the hall from our bedroom. It’s a bright, white room, lent color by myriad books and binders. There’s an old daybed under the window, covered in mangy orange blankets, and I used to find her napping there. Sometimes, not very often, I go up to this room and sit on the bed and pretend that she is pouring juice in the kitchen, and sometimes I think I hear her footsteps on the stairs, and even my cells have hushed themselves, listening for the next, impossible sound. When I’m up there, I start remembering conversations she and I had, in which numerous anecdotes were begun, but, sidetracked by tangents, never finished. I remember these half-finished stories, such promising beginnings, and I hear her voice in my head again, repeating the words as I first heard them. When she comes back upstairs with the glass of juice, I tell myself, she’ll reveal the rest. She is only taking a long time; I only have to wait.

          I haven’t been able to read her notebooks, her fiction. The fragment is all I have, although there’s almost certainly more. You could go through them, if you wanted to. Your official title could be Personal Assistant or Housekeeper or Secretary, God knows—whatever you want. The fragment comes from a story called “Fabulous Mother” which I remember her describing to me before we married, which dates it six years. It was about a little girl who discovers that her dead mother literally had eyes in the back of her head. (She had been reading Poe, Kafka, Gilman at the time . . . do you like to read, Emma?) Anyway, the fragment can you give you a better sense of Alexandra than I can.


That night I had a vivid dream about Fabulous Mother. I’d loved her so much before the aneurysm, when everything changed. She’d been brilliant with me, leading me through French conjugations and teaching me to cook. I used to beg her to tell me stories of what she was like as a little girl. She couldn’t remember many, but I didn’t mind hearing the same ones over and over—there was an impossible magic to the idea of her as a little girl that I wanted to get as close to as possible. But all those happy memories I had of Fabulous Mother could not withstand the vortex power of that one dreadful recollection, when she lay slumped beneath the silk tree in the living room, that radius of beady eyes exposed and horrific.

          In the dream we were baking a cake, both of us dusty with flour. She kept sending me into the pantry to retrieve ingredients, although I was very hesitant to turn my back on her and go off. But Fabulous Mother insisted, laughing, swatting me on my behind. I set off, my spine tingling with every step. I was halfway back from the pantry when she said, not even turning around, Not the powdered sugar, Darling, the granulated. So I switched the sugar, and while I was hidden in the pantry I licked some, and her muffled scolding soared in after me—Stop licking the sugar, everyone uses it! When I emerged, trembling, I saw her unconscious on the floor, the red hair I’d inherited upside-down like a waterfall of fire, and the eyes, those chilling eyes, like glistening shrapnel motionless and fixed on me.

          I woke up screaming, and within seconds my father arrived, so worried—he specialized in excessive displays of worry that were embarrassing to me instead of comforting. Was he like that before, years ago? I don’t remember. He was so nervous to be raising a daughter on his own. When he threw open my bedroom door the hall light illuminated him in his robe—he slept naked—and the front flap flew open from the force of his entrance, like the page of a book peeling back in the wind. And in that second I forgot my melodramatic terror—

          “Oh God, Father, your robe!” I cried, but he didn’t understand, he mumbled, “What? what?” and stumbled towards the bed, taking my hand.

          Im fine, I’m cured,” I said dryly, mortified, and he stared at me in innocent confusion. Through the haze of retreating dreams I understood very clearly that he would ask no more questions, that already he accepted I was an irrational, if beloved thing, and this would be my


          What happens next? Your guess is as good as mine. The rest is probably in her computer, or perhaps in the same notebook that emitted the above text. I think, now, that I would like to read it all. I hope you can find it. Nevertheless, it’s really quite amazing—chilling, even—how well the excerpt fits into my short story. The ridiculous, oblivious Father character, exposed and thus neutered, is an obvious stand-in for the narrator, who again fails to recognize himself.

          Including it now, in my letter to you, makes me suddenly nervous. What if you think that I am the Father? What if you conclude that Alexandra loathed me? I’ve made a heroic effort to be completely honest with you, Emma Neumann, but I’m not convinced that unfettered honesty exists. (Are you familiar with Dostoevsky? Alexandra once said that men like me believe we have discovered ourselves in the Prince, when really we are Ippolito.) I don’t think I can—or should—interpret myself, although God knows I’ve tried. What are your opinions, Emma? Whatever you tell me, I’ll believe. I want you to be merciful but I don’t think I have the right to ask it of you.

          Emma, I stopped writing after the last paragraph, and then I ran upstairs and burst into Alexandra’s room. It’s the lightest room in the house; it’s almost holy. Hours passed, and I sat blankly in the center of the floor until this thought struck me: the best thing I can do now is become my narrator. Then when you come (and you will come!) we’ll be two actors in the house, but we won’t need to wink in the hallway to recall the wings. After all, you can’t drown in delusion if delusion is the raft keeping you afloat! And I promise you we’ll never ask each other which of us is the monster.


Sincerely yours,

Howard Zima 

Sydney Weinberg is a freelance writer and editor. Though originally from the US, she's lived in Europe for the past five years, and now makes her home in Dublin. Having edited for Dalkey Archive Press and Galaxia Gutenberg, her writing has appeared in Minor Literature(s), issues two and three of Colony, and is forthcoming in the 2015 fiction anthology The New Irelanders. More fiction by Sydney Weinberg in Minor Literature(s).

Jillian Lukiwski is a Canadian photographer, artist, silversmith and writer. View more of her artistry at The Noisy Plume.