When Phillip met the woman without any eyes, he was wandering through the grey halls which trailed away from his room at the Dutchman’s. The way the floors were tiled—white down the middle, edged with black along the walls—made them look like pathways Phillip could follow to secret places. The mauve room where the eyeless woman dwelt was one such place, and later, Phillip wished he hadn’t followed the pathway to that secret at all.
He had learned how to pull his energy together enough to take a physical form, so when he finally got bored sifting through everything he could find inside his device, Phillip seeped out the spout and got to work putting on his old body again. After a while, he had a fair approximation put together of what he had looked like in his last moments as a human being: spiky hair, mismatched eyes, white linen suit, coral pink boots. The body felt awkward, a little too big for him the way his suits had always been, but he stepped out in it anyway. As he walked, he fingered the gold cross hanging from his neck by a chain.
By the time Phillip found the woman, he’d gotten used to his body again, and he looked like his old self. He was walking along a very narrow tile pathway, and he had seen no one, human or otherwise. Phillip followed the white tiles through a door, which led outside onto a balcony overlooking the infinite, purple expanse of the Dark Ocean. It lay far below his illusory boots, and Phillip felt more alone there, looking down at it, than he ever had inside his domed kettle back at the Dutchman’s Lodge.
“Where are you?” Phillip muttered into the perpetual lavender twilight. He drew back two steps with his eyes still focused down on the ocean; then he turned and retreated into the hallway.
The hallway ended with a right turn into a room, where Phillip stopped and listened. It was like the entrance to his own room—the real entrance, not the false front leading in through the motor lodge parking lot. He remembered stopping at an identical turn, looking at a woman standing before him, and listening to the whirr and clank of machinery in the room beyond as she asked him, “Phillip, are you sure?”
Now he heard no whirrs or clanks, but as he stood and listened and chewed on his newly formed lower lip, Phillip thought there might be music playing around the corner instead.
He walked forward along the white-tiled pathway and rounded the corner. There was a room there, the size and shape of Phillip’s though furnished very differently, and there was music playing. It came from a gramophone, the old kind with a hand crank and a fluted horn, sitting on a small table against the wall to Phillip’s right. Until his eyes adjusted, Phillip could barely make out the shape of the gramophone and other furnishings, for the whole room seemed to be steeped in twilight like the ocean outside. Two sconces on the far wall were bright themselves, but they gave only a dim mauve glow to the rest of the room.
When Phillip squinted into the looming shadows and glaring sconces, he could make out a short, curved wall which divided the room into two—and in the other half of the space, a figure slowly danced with its back to Phillip. The figure of a woman.
Phillip blinked and moved farther into the room. The woman was petite with dark hair pulled up in a wispy bun, and she wore a dress that appeared to be red, best as Phillip could tell in the distorted lighting. She waltzed alone to the gramophone’s tinny serenade, embracing herself with her arms crossed and her small hands on her own shoulders. As Phillip crept still closer, he was able to see past the dividing wall, to where a fireplace sat between the sconces. The fire burning there cast that same glaring light which did nothing to illuminate the room.
Phillip shifted his dazzled eyes back to the woman, and he watched her dance to the music piping from the gramophone. Within the melody, he could just make out muffled male vocals peppered with the pops and crackles of an old record:
“I thought your eyes, blue. . .
Oh no, they're green,” she said to me.
We danced in time, or didn't you know?
This dance was Time.
The gramophone wound down then, stretching and slurring the following measures before falling silent. The woman in red stopped dancing and dropped her arms to her sides; then she turned toward the table with the gramophone, and Phillip saw her face in profile for the first time. He choked on the cry he attempted to muffle when he saw that the woman had no eyes. Not just blind, she had no eyes at all nor even visible eye sockets, only smooth flesh from her forehead to her cheeks.
At the sound Phillip made, the woman jumped and flung herself around to face him with a fearful, whimpering sound of her own. He stared into her face, but it was not the face he half-expected to see—not the face of another eyeless woman he’d met in Buenos Aires during another lifetime. This frightened woman in her red dress had had eyes at some point: thick scars outlined the edges of the flesh pads covering her sockets. Phillip thought she might be Asian, and on her small mouth, she wore lipstick the same color as her dress.
“It’s okay,” Phillip mumbled, without much confidence. The woman took a step back, farther from him and closer to the fireplace. Phillip reached out a hand she could not see and said more urgently, “It’s okay, I ain’t gonna hurt you!”
When she heard these words, the woman quit shrinking back from him; in fact, she leaned forward with her red lips parted. Her smooth brow furrowed.
Phillip repeated, “I ain’t gonna hurt you.” In that strange, muted place, his Virginia accent twanged harshly even in his own ears. The woman drew closer to him and spoke in a language Phillip could not understand. It wasn’t a human language he did not know, but a language of sound without words.
“I don’t—” he began; however, the woman interrupted him with a terse repetition of the fluttery, chittering sounds she had made. She reached out her own hand and made patting motions until she touched Phillip’s sleeve, then felt her way up to his face. The woman rubbed her fingers and palm over his cheek and his nose, down to his mouth and the ragged spot he’d already chewed into his lower lip. She said something else in her inhuman speech as she dropped her hand.
When she just stood there, eyeless face turned expectantly to his, Phillip suggested, “Should I start the record again?” He couldn’t think of what else she might want from him.
The woman did not move at first, but then she nodded. Phillip went over to the gramophone and turned the crank and reset the needle at the beginning of the record. The waltz began again with the sounds of a sweet violin, and Phillip turned back to the woman in red.
She still faced the entrance to her room, yet she reached out her hand sideways, towards Phillip, as he came back toward her. He took her hand and came to stand in front of her.
How long have you been here? he asked her silently, since he could never understand her answers if he spoke out loud. How long have you danced alone, waiting for the partner who might not ever come? Because I ain’t him. . . just like you ain’t the one I’m waiting on, either.
But when Phillip took her other hand as well, the woman moved into position to waltz with him. Phillip slipped his arm around her side, and they began to dance. The eyeless woman waltzed well. Phillip did too, which had once surprised Gordon Cole and downright shocked Diane Evans, a new assistant they’d hired a couple months before Phillip left for Buenos Aires.
“I do declare I ain’t as uncouth as I look and sound, Miss Evans,” Phillip had told her that night, exaggerating his drawl just to irritate her. They were attending some Bureau holiday gala, not usually Phillip’s type of thing, but Gordon had insisted on the presence of the whole Blue Rose team—Phillip, Gordon, Chet Desmond, Windom Earle, and Albert Rosenfield. Phillip never found out why.
Diane did indeed get irritated by Phillip’s drawling. She had snapped some question about where on earth someone like Phillip could have learned a civilized dance. He had replied with a long-winded explanation of cotillions and Southern gentry, and ended by inviting Diane to dance.
“Fuck you, Phillip,” Diane Evans had said.
Now he and the eyeless woman danced to the gramophone, and Phillip listened to the words so he could sing them to himself later, during the next infinity he’d spend alone in his device at the Dutchman’s Lodge.
At the party of astrologers, the Christmas tide was due.
On the way to Aldebaran: the dance, the dream, and you.
Actuals and counterclaims, dancing all the time,
Dancing in the corridor, and the dance was Time.
Phillip looked down at the strange woman he held. She held her head level, without tilting her face up toward his. Yet her dress was soft like red velvet, and her skin was warm, and she was a human being. Phillip knew that much, even though she had no eyes and she spoke in fluttering, chirping sounds that reminded him of the noises the swifts had made each spring when they nested in the chimneys of his father’s mansion.
At the height of Christmas tide, she found a ghost inside.
Give it up or let it ride: she must decide.
At Phillip’s waist, the woman’s hand clenched into his linen jacket, and he wondered what she was thinking. Maybe that he was another human being there in her firelit room above the endless Dark Ocean. She might wait there forever for a partner who would never come. They both might, her by the fire and him at the Dutchman’s, so no one could begrudge them a dance to pass the time. A dance, a dream, and—
The gramophone’s needle caught and skipped, then skidded over a few grooves of the record with a scratching noise. The familiar sound made Phillip shiver, and the eyeless woman froze in place. The needle settled back into a groove and once more vibrated into song. However, the woman did not relax and instead turned her head in the opposite direction, to Phillip’s left toward the back of the room.
He looked in the same direction and saw a metal door, barred and locked, set in a recess of the wall. Bright, white light streamed through two large holes gouged into the door, yet Phillip saw nothing there to explain the woman’s apprehension.
Then the pounding began, banging which shook the metal door and rattled the thin bar holding it closed. The light flickered as something moved past the holes in the other side.
The woman turned her face back to Phillip and spoke in urgent chatter. Phillip looked down at her, then back to the glaring holes in the door.
“Who is that knockin’ there?” he muttered. “Why’re you so afraid?”
The thing at the door pounded on it, rattled it, and gave an inhuman—no, an inorganic groan. The sound of pain and sorrow suffered by something struggling to exist, a sound Phillip knew well.
“Judy,” Phillip breathed. The eyeless woman gripped his hands and voiced what could only be an argument against opening the door, but Phillip pulled free of her and walked towards it. Although she did not come after him, her fluttering remonstrations followed him, punctuated by phrases of music sounding in between skips of the needle.
Phillip placed his palms flat against the warped metal door and held them there as the thing on the other side pounded and moaned. He tried to peer through the holes but could see nothing past the intense light streaming in. Then a loud thud sounded which shook both the door and Phillip, and even without seeing her, he knew for certain it was Judy.
He fumbled with the flimsy strip of metal barring the door—How the hell does that keep her out? he wondered—until he got it unlatched. Behind him, the eyeless woman raised her voice to a breathy gasping, but Phillip ignored her and turned the lock.
The door opened outward, almost flung right off its hinges. Judy stood there with her legs apart and her arms held out from her sides, the way she stood to make herself look bigger though she was already tall and broad-shouldered compared to most human women. Her black hole mouth gaped open like she’d been caught mid-groan.
No eyes. No eyes on Judy’s grey-white face; no eyes on the waltzing woman’s face either. Phillip glanced over his shoulder at the latter, but she had moved to stand by the phonograph with her head bent over it so that he could see only her profile. Compared to Judy, the woman in red was ordinary.
Judy growled his name in her voice which creaked like a rusty hinge yet soothed him with its familiarity. He returned his attention to her, and then he realized she stood in darkness. Although the door opened onto a balcony similar to the one he had explored earlier, Phillip saw no purple twilight beyond Judy’s pale form, only the star-flecked blackness of deep space.
Then what cast that glaring light through the holes in the door?
She came into the room, and the heavy door clanged shut behind her. In Judy’s presence, the fire guttered, and the sconces’ unnatural light dimmed. Yet the darkening of the room was more than visual, and the eyeless woman by the phonograph raised her head and turned it toward the eyeless woman at the door. Phillip feared that Judy would attack the woman in red, but they both stood there without moving.
When Phillip asked Judy, “Who is she?”, Judy tilted her elongated head to one side and studied the other woman. Reminded of the RCA Victor dog, Phillip held back a laugh that would have come too close to hysteria. After a few seconds, Judy straightened her neck and muttered, “Nobody.” That pronouncement made, Judy strode toward the passageway where Phillip had entered. He began to follow but paused to look back at the eyeless woman in red. She had returned her attention to the gramophone, which she was winding up again.
Phillip thought, She’s been labeled a nobody by the greatest nobody of them all. But she was somebody, once. He went back to speak to her over the top of the gramophone: “You could come with me. You don’t have to stay here alone.”
The woman lifted her face to him and stood there a moment. When she replied, Phillip understood her breathy, swifts’-wings sounds as clearly as English words: Fuck you, Phillip.
As he turned away to go after Judy, he heard the woman in red drop the gramophone’s needle back onto the record. He didn’t look back, but he imagined her beginning to waltz again, alone, to the song it sang for her:
So put me to the question, but there's no return from this castle of mine
For the powers that be, the girl and her dreams, the girl that love made blind.
Judy did not speak to Phillip again until they were back in his room, where his device sat quiet and empty. Then she twitched her antennae toward him and asked, “Why do you look like this?”
“I was tired of sittin’ around in the tea kettle,” Phillip drawled, stretching his limbs at the same time. “I did a good job puttin’ myself back together, right?”
“Why did you go there, to her?”
He chuckled, “You jealous, Miss Judy?” to no response. Phillip sighed and explained, “I got bored, lonely. I made myself some boots and went for a walk.”
Judy said nothing.
“Judy, we were only dancing,” Phillip muttered. “She was waiting for someone too. She was lonely too.”
Judy finally responded by moving a step closer and rasping, “Who is she?”
He moved closer too, close enough to touch her, and asked, “You really don’t know? You didn’t cut out her eyes and tie up her tongue and leave her there?” Judy shook her head no, and he believed her.
Phillip wondered how to answer Judy’s question, but really, he couldn’t do any better than Judy herself when he asked the same question of her. He shrugged his shoulders inside his too-large linen jacket and said, “She’s nobody. Not now.”
“Have you ever danced, Miss Judy?” Her antennae twitched upward like an alarmed cartoon insect’s, and he chuckled. “C’mere, I’ll teach you to waltz.”
He reached for her, grasped one of her hands and put his other arm around her back. She felt stiff and light like papier-mâché at first, but as she lifted her own arm to his shoulders and moved in closer, Judy became warm and solid and real.
“What now?” she muttered. “What is the purpose of this?”
Phillip laughed again when he told her, “There ain’t one.”
He showed her the steps to make, and explained that she was to mirror what he did. She made frustrated growling noises and trod on his feet. Eventually, she was able to dance passably, though not well. No longer bored nor lonely, Phillip danced with Judy to the waltz circling round in his head:
So put me to the question, but there's no return from this castle of mine
For the powers that be, I and my dreams, I that love made blind.