portion of the artwork for Mary Kane's stories

Not Nude, Not Descending a Staircase, No. 2
Mary Kane

Last night in the middle of the night I awoke from a disturbing dream, thirsty, and, deciding to go downstairs to get a glass of water, I rolled onto my side, climbed out of bed, and approached the staircase, intending to descend to the kitchen, but when I reached the head of the stairs, I could see, silhouetted by the moonlight, for there was a nearly full moon last night, the form of the cat at the foot of the stairs, crouched in front of the screen door. Or behind the screen door depending how you look at it. It was night. The cat is black and white but looked all black in that light.

The cat was inside the house at the foot of the stairs at the screen door where he often likes to sit and watch the world outside. In our family we sometimes find it funny that the cat so often sits in front of a screen because we live in such a screen-obsessed culture, but the screen the cat sits before is the kind that lets air through and keeps out flies and other insects, the kind therefore that one looks through not at. The cat does not, as far as I know, ever look at a screen since we are not TV watchers and the cat hasn’t a smart phone, though if there happens to be a moth or fly on the screen, then that might be another story.

I wanted to go down in the night for a glass of water, but the cat, only 9 months old and still a kitten with kittenish energy, sometimes gets very feisty at night and I was afraid he’d attack my feet or ankles if I descended the stairs. As I stood there, regarding the cat from my great height, I wasn’t nude, since I generally wear a T-shirt to sleep even on fairly hot and humid nights, though I felt sort of fractured. I felt like I, or my consciousness, at any rate, was made of about 55 sharply angled pieces, and I had the distinct impression that they could quite easily shift so their edges no longer lined up into the normally more seamless version of me that most people who know me encounter on a regular basis. My feeling fractured, I realized, might have been the result of the combination of the moonlight and the ceiling fan since it is summer after all and fairly hot, which is why the door was open so all that moonlight was flooding into the living room and the staircase and we often keep the ceiling fan on to try to cool the house, and I began to wonder if the interaction of the moonlight with the ceiling fan was perhaps creating a subtle strobe effect that was altering my sense of myself, causing me to feel more and more unsettled.

So I stood there at the top of the stairs, not descending, so as to stop the parts of me, which were a bit like plates in a lesson on plate tectonics, from sliding and shifting and turning me into an even more fractured version of myself and also to prevent the cat’s attacking my feet. And even though I wasn’t nude and wasn’t yet descending, I thought about Marcel Duchamp and the uproar his painting of the reimagined human form caused when it debuted, how it was roundly rejected by the Salon des Indépendants’ hanging committee, and later, when it showed in New York, how it met with mockery and ridicule. I stood there, recalling how I’d read once that Duchamp’s brothers wanted the artist to change the title of his at the time not-yet-famous work because, they insisted, a nude doesn’t descend stairs, a nude reclines. What, I thought, if the reclining nude were upstairs in his/her house and happened to get thirsty and need to go to the kitchen for a glass of water?

But as I’ve said, I wasn’t nude and so, I reasoned, my descent, even if I fragmented on the spot, was bound to be less scandalous than its artistic predecessor. Still, as I stood there at the top of the stairs, disorientation mounting, it also occurred to me that were I, meaning all 55 shards of me, to shift the way I imagined I/they might, such a shift would most likely happen rather quickly, and that might cause the cat to go really nuts. So I stepped backwards, very slowly and quietly, one bare foot at a time, until I was back in my bedroom where I climbed back into bed and told myself I wasn’t all that thirsty anyway.

Return to Archive

FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 53 | Spring/Summer 2019