You first came to me one morning long ago, while I was working at the bank. Your voice simply announced, I am not a child of America, and suddenly I felt your presence in my body like a vaporous specter. You were standing where I was standing and performing the same mechanical tasks I was performing but you were not me. You were superimposed over me, like a drawing of a girl overlaying a drawing of a slightly different girl. When I was granted my lunch break I went upstairs into an empty office where I knew there was an abandoned typewriter and spilled out a paragraph or two of your voice.
That year I was the same age as my students are now. That year I fell disastrously in love for the first time. You had a different name then.
You liked to let him paint your face. You liked the feel of the plush brush against your skin; you liked the expectation in his eyes. You laid out your lipsticks for him in a neat row and asked, “what color do you want my mouth?” He picked a plum shade which would shortly be smeared all over him. You didn’t know why it made him hard for you to do this, yet you felt the blood rise to your cheeks to meet the powder blush he was applying there. Pink on pink, impossible to tell the real arousal apart from the cosmetic mimicking it.
When he lined your eyes, your lids didn’t even quiver. Not because you trusted him not to hurt you with the pencil–his hand was, after all, trembling slightly–but because a hurt inflicted by his hand was the best hurt of all.
You came to me again some years later. I wrote a whole novel about you that time. Unfortunately, it was no good. At least, you met him then, the man who liked to paint your face. And you gave me your name, Irina. When I saw how closely it mirrored my own, I laughed, and thought, all right, we’ll go with that then.
My last protagonist, Louise, made mischief with the impish glee one might expect. You are strange; you make mischief with something like grim determination. It must be some kind of Eastern European thing. Whenever I ask you why you do anything, you say, why not? What else is there to do? and I have, of course, nothing to answer.
You are a violinist playing chamber music on the sinking Titanic. You are a thief who steals even when what he pockets has no value. You are a man who still neatly parts his hair and cleans his fingernails on the morning he is to be executed. You are a futile gesture of humanity in the face of oblivion.