On Nothing – Rachel Allen

There was never nothing; nothing never begat nothing. That was my first belief, though. Above all, I believed in the abyss from which I’d emerged. The miraculous product of a void multiplied by another. To divide a limitless field, I set a camera on my shoulder. A doubling device containing nothing became my center. From two zeroes (my camera and the void I set it on) came one two: the image proved the existence of an original something. And the two showed three: the three-ness of two is as inevitable as the two-ness of one.

For years after he died, X appeared in my dreams, always at least twice-removed from his self and mine. Once by the usual warp of sleep, which the living are able to dissolve by wakeful reacquaintance, then again by death, not so easy to overcome. In the dreams he was crisp in color and form, even when he was not himself. (Often the case with dreamed-bodies, which attach to names and personages not by physiognomy but some other principle, as if in dreaming we pare others to their essences, and pair them back to dreamed-forms accordingly.) The picture verged on hyperreality, but without threat of overdrawing or obfuscation, which are axes of the same uncanny: horror, when the putatively inorganic approaches life; recoil, as it encroaches on the illusion of irreplaceability. X, though, came through without error, the essence I understood as his beaming back at me as if unmediated. He was hi-def, I’m sure of it, and yet when I returned to the dreams, later, they were inevitably altered. Whatever recording device turns on overhead to capture the dream as distinct from its making interferes in the process: the dreams came back to me softened, shot with vaseline on the lens where before they’d been crystalline. Tarkovsky dreams, working light through gauze and vapor, displacing the whole experience, and color-correcting it in sepias: my memory and my dreaming mind torn between reviving X and recasting him as memory.

In a manifesto outlining my position, I discovered an obsession with taxonomizing the empty. At first I sought excisions, emptiness after the fact. Dreams of X afforded me access to an otherwise unavailable beloved, but only by distorting X’s person, which I wished not to know was only the detritus of my own. Even within the dreams I found memories implanted, embedded: I would dream a surface dream of dining with X and in the background of my dream-mind would be a memory, not from life or dreamed within the dream, but a visually unrealized backstory.

I wished for the courage of Orpheus, for the will to reunion at the expense of memory, to embrace and live within the unmakeable movie my voided mind suggested, fuck it all, but in truth I was more like Hamlet, mad with grief and misrecognition but only to a point. In addition to the inventions of X’s alternate lived experiences (wherein he was Eusebius or Antinous or some Japanese baseball legend), there were the dreams of dying, the long, liminal state of animal being as well as the exact moment of finitude. The worst of these included a subsequent return to death: X would die, in his bedroom or the dreamed-analogue to that hospital-bed where he really did draw final breath, and I would be both gutted and glib and then shortly thereafter encounter him anew as a guest at his own funeral. His return was not cause for celebration: within the dreams, he was a fellow mourner, not unlively in his carriage, but quite plainly on the verge of a second demise. He is resurrected, only to be dying and then dead all over again.

Waking from such dreams, I experienced sincere pangs of sympathy for the Gospel actors. How much pleasure could there have been in Christ’s return, if it was only going to be followed by another, imminent departure? But then their undead was a poor zombie. The truly undead do not perform for an audience in history, as prophets must. Like X they are too ravenous for life to be anything but undiscriminating in their forms.