What a strange dream I had last night! I wandered in the warm streets of a port, in the low quarter of some Barcelona or Marseille. The streets were noisome, with their freshly-heaped piles of ordure outside the doors, in the blue shadows of their high roofs. They all led down towards the sea. The gold-spangled sea, seeming as if it had been polished by the sun, could be seen at the end of each thoroughfare, bristling with yard-arms and luminous masts. The implacable blue of the sky shone brilliantly overhead as I wandered through the long, cool and sombre corridors in the emptiness of a deserted district: a quarter which might almost have been dead, abruptly abandoned by seamen and foreigners. I was alone, subjected to the stares of prostitutes seated at their windows or in the doorways, whose eyes seemed to ransack my very soul.
They did not speak to me. Leaning on the sides of tall bay-windows or huddled in doorways, they were silent. Their breasts and arms were bare, bizarrely made up in pink, their eyebrows were darkened, they wore their hair in corkscrew-curls, decorated with paper flowers and metal birds. And they were all exactly alike!
They might have been huge marionettes, or tall mannequin dolls left behind in panic – for I divined that some plague, some frightful epidemic brought from the Orient by sailors, had swept through the town and emptied it of its inhabitants. I was alone with these simulacra of love, abandoned by the men on the doorsteps of the brothels.
I had already been wandering for hours without being able to find a way out of that miserable quarter, obsessed by the fixed and varnished eyes of all those automata, when I was seized by the sudden thought that all these girls were dead, plague-stricken and putrefied by cholera where they stood, in the solitude, beneath their carmine plaster masks… and my entrails were liquefied by cold. In spite of that harrowing chill, I was drawn closer to a motionless girl. I saw that she was indeed wearing a mask… and the girl in the next doorway was also masked… and all of them were horribly alike under their identical crude colouring…
I was alone with the masks, with the masked corpses, worse than the masks… when, all of a sudden, I perceived that beneath the false faces of plaster and cardboard, the eyes of these dead women were alive.
Their vitreous eyes were looking at me…
I woke up with a cry, for in that moment I had recognised all the women. They all had the eyes of Kranile and Willie, of Willie the mime and Kranile the dancer. Every one of the dead women had Kranile’s left eye and Willie’s right eye… so that every one of them appeared to be squinting.
Am I to be haunted by masks now?”
― Jean Lorrain