The Mime-Artist Is A Little Drunk But That’s Okay
BY JONATHAN CARDEW
The Mime-Artist slides her white-gloved hands over an invisible wall. It’s seriously slippery, and she can’t get a grip.
Her husband says, “You need to get a grip.”
She knows what he means.
“For the children.”
Oh god, the children.
She investigates an invisible tree, strokes her fingers over its branches. At the end of one, she plucks an apple and holds it up to the light.
“Don’t…” he says.
She widens her eyes, makes moons—when in doubt, this is what she resorts to.
“I’m going to France,” she says, studying the apple, turning it. “Saint-Malo.”
She crunches in, making no sound.
“Professionally, I need to.”
Brittany Ferries—and a litany of texts.
The water washing up against the portholes.
Is there somebody else?
The grey slit of the horizon.
Do I know him?
A shoreline approaching.
Do I know you?
“La France!” shouts the Mime-Artist, silently.
And, more quietly, “La France.”
A small boy notices her scanning the port.
“France is huge,” says the boy, demonstrating with his arms, spreading them wide. “This big.”
The Mime-Artist wags her finger, shakes her head.
She places her thumb and forefinger together—squeezes tight.
“Tiny,” she whispers, through perfectly red lips.
The bedsit is as expected: enough for one person to get drunk in.
A yellowed fly curtain, a dubious stain on the wall.
An Armenian couple next door shouting.
She lip-synchronizes and makes exaggerated hand movements, predicts the lengths of the Armenians’ pauses.
Later, she brushes her teeth in the mirror with a non-existent toothbrush; flosses without floss; smiles without feeling.
In bed, with her knees up to her chest, she dials an invisible rotary phone and drinks real cognac, getting into the conversation.
The next day, a small crowd gathers around the Mime-Artist. She has set up her brown leather suitcase in front of a small crêperie.
She pulls out a ladder—a very long one, one she can hardly keep upright because of its unwieldiness.
The ladder is invisible, but somehow the Mime-Artist manages to land her feet on the rungs, and she begins climbing the ladder, straight up into the air.
The crowd gasps, and for a minute, the Mime-Artist feels that familiar rush. In the act of mimicry, she is who she is. She is whole and unencumbered—she could carry on climbing, defying gravity, filling people with joy, it could go on.
She misjudges one rung, and falls.
“I have some loose ends to tie up,” says the Mime-Artist over the phone.
Static now on the other end.
How do you mime static? she thinks.
By loose ends, she means more drinking.
By loose ends, she means once you start pulling you don’t know where the thread’s going to go.
“I’ll be back by October.”
She walks the city’s walls—the ancient ones buttressing the old town, keeping the tall slate houses tight and locked in. The English Channel masses in the distance—layered grey and uninviting.
The bottle she carries is real, each sip she takes is real, her heart beating invisibly in her chest is real—but she knows that nothing is really real until you have mimed it.
She puts down the bottle, puts down her hat, waits for the crowd.
Image: @roboftu / stock.adobe.com