Every night I dreamt of the dead. In dreams those who have been lost can be found, gliding on fragments of memory through the dark veil of sleep to ensnare themselves within the remains of the day, to pretend for a moment like a lifetime that they might still be alive and well, waiting by the bedside when the dream is done. They never were, but I could not stop myself from wishing for the possibility that everything I remembered was a mistake, a nightmare taken too literally by the imagination. But morning always came, and with it the startling realization that the dead continued to be so, and that I remained alone.
That night the pleasant rest of black, unthinking oblivion gave way to a dimly lit ballroom without any ceiling or walls, a place lost in the bleak abyss of time. Crystal chandeliers hung above the marble flooring untethered to any surface, threatening to crash down upon the guests, who were dressed in moldering finery that would have been out of fashion decades before. The dance began with a slow, melodious waltz that felt akin to a waking sleep, and I let it wash over me, swaying with the rhythm until someone from behind took me into his arms. I did not need to see his face; I knew who it was. My late husband, Jonathan, turned with me across the ballroom, faster and faster, never reaching any wall or barrier, never colliding with another couple, until he dipped me deeply. My mother and father were next to us, warm and whole, younger than I ever remembered them being. This was the dance of the dead.
The music stopped. My husband let go of me and bowed before retreating into the dark place beyond the ballroom. The room began to fill with people I did not recognize—leering strangers with faces that were really masks, ready to slip at any moment. My parents disappeared into the crowd. I tried to find them, but the crowd was too large and the music began again, this time an eerie, cruel sound, a broken music box filled with regret. A man appeared before me dressed all in black, his features cloaked in shadow. As he took my hand I knew with a certainty that only dreams can provide that he was not a stranger; we had met before. His hands were cold and his lips, though I could not see them, were smiling. The other dancers spun around us until they blurred together. He pulled me close against his body, into the darkness that surrounded him until I was falling, the chandeliers trailing away as I spun through the void, screaming into nothingness.
I woke upon the realization that the screams were not my own. A woman was shrieking in the night. At first I was deeply annoyed, for anyone blessed with the company of another could at least have the decency to keep their nocturnal enjoyments to themselves. But then I wondered at the length of the cry, and the tone. Whatever was happening didn’t sound very pleasurable, and if it was meant to be, then both parties involved had failed. There was something primal and finite in it, and when it stopped it did not begin again. The sound had come from outside my window, and for a moment I thought to tell my father, but then I remembered that he was dead and my heart fell as I lost him all over again.
From the book CHARLOTTE MARKHAM AND THE HOUSE OF DARKLING: A Novel by Michael Boccacino. Copyright C 2012 by Michael Boccacino. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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