The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2011

All Issues
OCT 2011 Issue

Some Films in Which Kitty Dawson Appears

1.  Clouds gather and clot the clear blue expanse of the sky until it is thick and heavy and threatening to do something: what? As above, so below: a variety of dogs begin to appear in the streets, first singly, then doubly, then, if not already accompanied by a pack, joining up one already on patrol. Mutts nuzzle pedigreeds and mill in the alleys, phalanxes of hounds and shepherds assemble along chain-link fences, and tails of every color, length, and attitude thresh the air into an artificial breeze. So many pink tongues pant that what drips off becomes rivulets running to the gutters. People are not noticing, then wanting not to notice, then pretending not to notice as they hastily form their own alliances: first singly, then doubly, then running towards what feels safe, then just running.  Some people do not run, paralyzed because they cannot believe what they are seeing, or they cannot understand why it is happening: and they each are overcome by the dogs, they are the first casualties.  But then fall even some who run, and then succumb even some who have taken shelter and fortified it: a bungalow has its doors and windows barred with the slats of dismantled crates nailed into the sills and frames, but the jaws and teeth deployed by the canine hordes are of such power and efficiency that when persistently applied they easily shred wood into splinters.  You would think that old people, children, and the limping would suffer first and most in this situation,  but logic seems to have been evacuated from the city, and so the weak gain some strange advantage they have never before enjoyed; the odds of survival are not what custom has previously dictated. In fact, the youthful and confident men seem to fall the hardest to the snapping jowls: sometimes, a single carefully-creased trouser leg terminating in a well-shined dress shoe is the locus of tug of war within a churning, furred patchwork lurching in every direction at once.  You would think that the sound of hundreds, maybe thousands, of dogs barking, would not be so unfamiliar as to be discomfiting, but when it does not cease, after a time its crescendos and lulls begin to lap at the eardrum like waves of a storm-surge high-tide washing against sandbagged levees. A beautiful woman, blonde hair tidily arranged and topped with a sky-blue pillbox hat, runs through the streets in her high-heeled sandals and straight-skirted sky-blue suit; runs, though she does not understand exactly why she must.  She takes shelter with an implausibly-bespectacled old woman, a truant child with pockets full of stolen candy, and a long-frocked priest: they sequester themselves within a department store signposted as out of business, condemned, and slated for demolition. Luckily the bankrupt merchants’ creditors did not find profit in removing the dusty mannequins, and so as the old woman reclines with fear of heart attack, the blonde woman, the child and the priest make piles and heaps of abandoned plaster forms of humans, the stiff-fingered limbs stacking and interlacing like branches of underbrush gathered for a bonfire. These barricades seem even less sturdy than the wooden slats well-hammered over every egress that failed the residents of the bungalow, but nonetheless they manage to keep the dogs from entering the store through the revolving glass doors. A German Shepherd, a beagle, and a terrier-mix take turns hurling their bodies at the storefront window, each thudding impact different according to weight and velocity, until the glass cracks and a small passageway is afforded. But as the German Shepherd leaps with triumph through the jagged-edged aperture he is impaled on the shards, and the rest of the pack freezes.  Instinct grabs the dogs by the scruffs of their necks as they sniff the blood of their own in the wind; they feel they’ve seen this kind of thing before. By the ancestral messages crucial for survival that have been encoded into their mitochondria, they are reminded that ranchers still warn coyote off grazing pastures by affixing some of their trembling brethren not yet dead of buckshot wounds to fence posts, by means of spikes; the dogs know in their bones that shepherds will garland the limbs of old oaks with the bloodied corpses of lamb-eating wolves.  The dogs stop their barking, and run away.  The people are heard weeping, and quieting, and weeping again as they realize they can hear themselves no longer drowned out by the incessant din of barking.  Some time passes and the blonde woman, who has comported herself with dignity and grace throughout the horrifying events of the day, whose pillbox hat appears just askew enough to be a logical result of all her exertions, decides it is safe to peer out the doorway. The blonde woman finds a few people are beginning to creep out from their shelters: first singly, then doubly, then en masse. Strangers embrace one another and runny-nosed children are reunited with tearful mothers. The ones who survived cannot explain what happened, and do not care to try, once the general consensus is that it seems to be over.

2.  A woman clad in a straight-skirted gray suit walks quickly enough to seem purposeful yet not so fast as to arouse suspicion in passersby. Her hair is a reddish-orange that does not occur in nature as human hair, but it nonetheless flatters her pale skin; she wears sunglasses and clutches a large black purse.  A man with close-fitting black hair shiny from some sort of grooming product, who wears a suit of a darker gray than the woman’s suit, is watching the woman and walking at varying paces, occasionally pausing to turn his head in the direction of a shop window or newspaper vending-machine, but all the while his eyes hold the woman steady, until she disappears into a shop readily identified even from a distance and at an odd angle by a cluster of three golden balls hanging above its door.  The man waits for the woman to leave the shop and as soon as she turns the corner beyond it he enters the shop, and demands of the vendor,

 “Sell me whatever the woman who just left has sold you!”

“ Why, Mister, that won’t come cheap,” the old man replies, tugging at his anachronistic mustache and pulling from underneath the counter a small golden statue of a jaguar which, it will soon become evident, was found in the Yucatan by the man who, it will soon become evident, is named Mark.  The next time the woman with reddish-orange hair appears she has blonde hair, and she is at a racetrack, leaning against a railing, watching with great interest horses that have just finished a race.  Mark spots her through binoculars and approaches her, calling out “Lily! Lily!” which does not cause the blonde woman to look up.  When Mark stands before the blonde woman there is a confrontation; she has done some things Mark does not understand. When they begin their conversation, the blonde woman makes many tiny rapid movements with her head and eyes and lips, flashing gestures of defiance and impatience, as if she were a racehorse and Mark were just the wind in her face trying to slow her down as she runs. As they keep talking, the blonde woman begins to look down more and more frequently, she has grown tired and no longer has the lead.  The blonde woman, it turns out, is not really Lily, but Maria. Mark has deduced that the element of surprise is Maria’s most-commonly used weapon and so he disarms her by feigning lack of shock at the sum and substance of her activities, adding that, all things considered, he still prefers the name he has come to call her, which is not just Lily, but Tiger Lily, and he adds, reaching out and coiling a ringlet of the blonde hair around his finger, isn’t it true that tiger lilies are generally reddish in hue?  The next time Maria appears, her hair has returned to reddish-orange.  Mark and Maria each have things the other wants,  though Mark seems to have more leverage in obtaining what he wants, and Maria seems like she might prefer to get what she wants from someone besides Mark. Maria has associates whose awkward, jerking gestures and ramshackle attire suggest trouble and unrest, they seem to have suffered much, and they also seem not always to care if others suffer, and it is uncertain how many of Maria’s puzzling actions are out of empathy for these associates, or perhaps something else, like fear or loyalty or guilt. There is a man, Jorge, who wears an eyepatch that we are given to assume conceals an empty socket from which, the evidence implies, was ripped an eye by some general’s henchman.  There is a limping Josef.  There is a smirking Costanza, who slaps Maria as if she thought such a gesture could keep her from escaping into a new life as Mark’s wife. Though these associates of Maria and their hinted-at stories are compelling and fraught with danger and pain, we never learn too much about them; nothing matters as much as how much Mark wants Maria. Mark spends an awful lot of time following Maria and hiring people to find out about her past. He paces back and forth in his study, the shelves of which are lined with precious objects hewn of rock and smelted of gold for the elites of ancient blood-spilling empires, the walls of which are lined with the stuffed carcasses of brightly-colored birds and the decapitated heads of fierce beasts. It does appear that Mark is a man who collects things, who is accustomed to finding rare and unusual items, and keeping them. When Maria and Mark are together they bicker constantly, except when they are riding Mark’s horses. They ride frequently. Eventually, after a jumping accident, Maria’s horse has broken its leg beyond repair and must be shot to death. Maria grabs the pistol from Mark’s hands and fires it herself. As the horse slumps to the ground, Mark embraces Maria, whose posture also sags, for she realizes that it is in fact herself she has just killed. Mark is more than happy to have what is still left of Maria, the part that just resembles her.

3.    A blonde woman stands on the sidewalk, pressed up against the cordons the police and firefighters have put in place to keep passersby from venturing into the black square of smoldering littered timbers that was a house.  An arsonist is at large, and it is all anyone can talk about.  As a reporter listens to a still-bathrobe-clad neighbor recount the sounds he’d heard the night before, his hair-rollered wife disputing each of his assertions with minor factual corrections, the reporter’s hands are grasping a notebook and scribbling a pencil but his eyes are glancing more frequently at the blonde woman than they do at the notebook or the neighbor or the wife. Later the same night another house is burnt down, and the next day, another crowd stands on another sidewalk; the blonde woman stands among this crowd with her hands thrust into the pockets of her tan trench coat; also present is the reporter, who stands up straighter than usual and assumes a noble look as it dawns on him that now he is not just reporting on two house fires.  In the days that follow, more houses burn, and the reporter eventually confronts the blonde woman, who he finds standing on every sidewalk found in front of every burnt-down house, and whose laconic manner and cryptic terse utterances he finds fascinating.  The reporter learns the blonde woman’s identity, and searches some archives for information about her.  He seems confused as to whether he wants to find something or nothing, but when he finds something he seems to have expected it all along. The reporter is the sort of man who is certain that a person who suffered a traumatic event in early childhood will become obsessed with that event the rest of his or her life, and must repeatedly reenact it in some fashion on one scale or another, and so the blonde woman’s fate is at the mercy of the reporter who sets about convincing others that it is by logic such as his that the town must condemn the blonde woman for the crime of arson.  The reporter seems confused as to whether he should help the blonde woman, or whether he should simply save the townspeople from more fires.  He seems exhausted and sad as he picks up the telephone and asks to be connected to the chief of police. The blonde woman does not run when, in line at the bank, she overhears that she is wanted by the law.  She chooses to go wait for whoever it is that might come for her at the art museum, where she sits on a bench viewing a painting of St. Joan atop a flaming pyre.  At the police station, as an officer remands the blonde woman into the jailer’s custody, another policeman arrives: one hand grappling a rough-looking youth in handcuffs and the other brandishing a metal gasoline can. The reporter is at their heels.  The reporter lurches towards the blonde woman and blusters out the news that the rough-looking youth has been caught red-handed starting a fire and has confessed to the other fires, too.  The reporter proffers an apology to the blonde woman, the substance of which is weighted most heavily towards making clear that, all things considered, it was only natural that he acted as he did, even though he didn’t want to. The blonde woman remains sententious as ever, and the reporter grabs her and kisses her like it is a reward.

4.     A man enters an empty laboratory and steals a glass flask of what he thinks is an important vaccine that ought to belong to all of humanity, especially the disenfranchised that need it most. He returns to his tiny apartment where radical slogans are spray-painted directly on the walls, trash and books are strewn on the floor, and a pet white rabbit lopes freely throughout.  The man telephones his co-conspirators and learns that, in fact, what he has stolen is something from an experiment with radiation and selective mutation, at a stage somewhere between live virus and cure.  Abandoning whatever the original plan was, the man suddenly develops acute symptoms of a virulent avariciousness; he gets the idea to profit for himself, blackmailing the government into giving him money in exchange for returning the potentially-dangerous substance. As he mulls over, aloud to himself, various schemes that increasingly inflame his greed, his gaze grows distant and unfocused, and sweat beads his forehead.  The rabbit jumps past him and knocks the vial to the floor, smashing the glass and spilling the contents; as the man curses and fumes, the rabbit scampers through the liquidy mess and hops out the open window.   Miles away, a blonde woman is driving down a desert highway, and when a city appears in the distance she straightens up in her seat and proceeds forward, alertness possessing her face.  Her eyes are fixed on the road but her mind’s eye is trained on the city she approaches, and she imagines for herself the loved ones she once left behind there.  She prays aloud but to no one in particular for forgiveness and a fresh start upon her return.  Her dreams, and the car, come to a crashing halt as she swerves suddenly into the oncoming lane and the hood of her car crumples against a schoolbus. She turns her head towards what she veered away from, for it was really only the impression of movement seen out of the corner of her eye that startled her, and she’d like to get a better look; she catches a quick glimpse of a rabbit roughly the size of a buffalo, disappearing into the brush.  The entire accident was witnessed by a policeman who missed only one crucial detail: the rabbit. It is this detail that threatens to completely nullify the blonde woman’s chances for a future; people she doesn’t know are mocking, and people she does know are disappointed and claim she still requires serious help and is too much a burden.  As her time in the city passes, the blonde woman remains friendless, jobless, and completely unaware that a few other people have also had similar run-ins with what will later be revealed to be giant, genetically-mutated rabbits. The blonde woman walks into a bar. Dim light casts shadows that reveal creases around her eyes and mouth: she is not as young as she first appeared.  It becomes completely understandable that she is utterly dejected at having lost her chance at a fresh start, for how many others will she have?  It also seems the walk through the bar, from the door to a stool at the bar, is much longer than it first appeared, because in the time it takes the blonde woman to get to her seat and order a drink—the imbibing of which we now extrapolate would complete the final stage of her total downfall and return to disgrace—throughout the city many, many other people are running into trouble with giant rabbits.  At last, enough people who wield sufficient power and prestige that their perceptions cannot be dismissed as madness or lies have seen the rabbits, and the rabbits’ existence becomes accepted as fact.  As a news report flashes on the television above the bar the blonde woman’s story--and by extension, her reputation and sanity--is vindicated just like that, just as her troublesome old companion gin-and-tonic is handed to her. One strangely long and tenuous moment has managed to redeem the blonde woman from having to take a sip from the glass, which she instead pushes along the bar towards the slumped-over drunk to her right.

5.  A young man and a young woman on their honeymoon accidentally learn some information the very knowledge of which endangers their lives, and a number of volatile people falsely believe them to know even more than they do. The young couple runs through the back alleyways of colonial cities, bus terminals, and dilapidated airports hacked out of the jungle.  They disguise themselves ineffectively, and they confound those who might help them by lacking any understanding of the language or customs of the country in which they find themselves. At last they find a sympathetic expatriate of their own nationality, an older blonde woman who runs a shabby, run-down bar in a backwater town, and though they only ever become briefly acquainted with one another, not only does the blonde woman save their lives and enable them to escape and return home, she even sacrifices her own life on their behalf, because with her age and experience, she knows it must come down to that. There are people with guns and there are dishonest government officials and there are large sums of money at stake, and the blonde woman sees that in a situation such as the one in which they all find themselves, a dramatic and preferably surprising development  is required to change the probable outcome of the chain of events that have been set into motion. The blonde woman takes her time with death when it arrives in a storm of bullets and fire and men shouting, she greets this death as the best possible choice given the available options.  She dies slowly and, once limp on the floor of her ransacked bar, makes certain that her face is soft and her limbs elegantly arranged, so that her last breath leaves a lovely pale figure in stark contrast to its immediate, desperate surroundings.


Sarah Falkner

SARAH FALKNER is a writer, artist, licensed practitioner of healing arts and activist based in Hudson and weaning herself from a 20-year relationship with Brooklyn. Falkner's first novel "Animal Sanctuary" was selected by Stacey Levine for the 7th annual Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction and will be released October 2011; she also co-authored "City of Salt," (Aperture: 2005), with visual artists Kahn and Selesnick and writer Erez Lieberman. Falkner co-founded and co-curated Hudson's (hi)story labor(atory) experimental collaborative multimedia arts space yearlong project, and currently co-hosts the monthly show "Roots, Runners, Rhizomes: Health & Healing from the Underground" on community radio station WGXC.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2011

All Issues