Authors: Anais Nin
Tags: #Literary, #Erotica, #General, #Fiction
Book IV of CITIES OF THE INTERIOR
THE LIE DETECTOR
WAS ASLEEP when he heard the telephone ringing.
At first he believed it was the clock ordering
him to rise, but then he awakened completely and remembered his profession.
The voice he heard was rusty, as if disguised.
He could not distinguish what altered it: alcohol, drugs, anxiety or fear.
It was a woman’s voice; but it could have been
an adolescent imitating a woman, or a woman imitating an adolescent.
“What is it?” he asked. “Hello. Hello. Hello.”
“I had to talk to someone; I can’t sleep. I had
to call someone.”
“You have something to confess…”
“To confess?” echoed the voice incredulously;
this time, the ascending tonalities unmistakably feminine.
“Don’t you know who I am?”
“No, I just dialed blindly. I’ve done this
before. It is good to hear a voice in the middle of the night, that’s all.”
“Why a stranger? You could call a friend.”
“A stranger doesn’t ask questions.”
“But it’s my profession to ask questions.”
“Who are you?”
“A lie detector.”
There was a long silence after his words. The
lie detector expected her to hang up. But he heard her cough through the
“Are you there?”
“I thought you would hang up.”
There was laughter through the telephone, a
lax, spangled, spiraling laughter. “But you don’t practice your profession over
“It’s true. Yet you wouldn’t have called me if
you were innocent. Guilt is the one burden human beings can’t bear alone. As
soon as a crime is committed, there is a telephone call, or a confession to
“There was no crime.”
“There is only one relief: to confess, to be
caught, tried, punished. That’s the ideal of every criminal. But it’s not quite
so simple. Only half of the self wants to atone, to be freed of the torments of
guilt. The other half of man wants to continue to be free. So only half of the
self surrenders, calling out ‘catch me,’ while the other half creates
obstacles, difficulties; seeks to escape. It’s a flirtation with justice. If
justice is nimble, it will follow the clue with the criminal’s help. If not,
the criminal will take care of his own atonement.”
“Is that worse?”
“I think so. I think we are more severe judges
of our own acts than professional judges. We judge our thoughts, our intents,
our secret curses, our secret hates, not only our acts.”
She hung up.
The lie detector called up the operator, gave
orders to have the call traced. It came from a bar. Half an hour later, he was
He did not allow his eyes to roam or examine.
He wanted his ears alone to be attentive, that he might recognize the voice.
When she ordered a drink, he lifted his eyes
from his newspaper.
Dressed in red and silver, she evoked the
sounds and imagery of fire engines as they tore through the streets of New
York, alarming the heart with the violent gong of catastrophe; all dressed in
red and silver, the tearing red and silver cutting a pathway through the flesh.
The first time he looked at her he felt:
everything will burn!
Out of the red and silver and the long cry of
alarm to the poet who survives in all human beings, as the child survives in
him; to this poet she threw an unexpected ladder in the middle of the city and
As she appeared, the orderly alignment of the
city gave way before this ladder one was invited to climb, standing straight in
space like the ladder of Baron
to the sky.
Only her ladder led to fire.
He looked at her again with a professional
She could not sit still. She talked profusely
and continuously with a feverish breathlessness like one in fear of silence.
She sat as if she could not bear to sit for long; and, when she rose to buy
cigarettes, she was equally eager to return to her seat. Impatient, alert,
watchful, as if in dread of being attacked, restless and keen, she drank
hurriedly; she smiled so swiftly that he was not even certain it had been a
smile; she listened only partially to what was being said to her; and, even
when someone in the bar leaned over and shouted a name in her direction, she
did not respond at first, as if it were not her own.
“Sabina!” shouted the man from the bar, leaning
towards her perilously but not losing his grip on the back of his chair for
fear of toppling.
Someone nearer to her gallantly repeated the
name for her, which she finally acknowledged as her own. At this moment, the
lie detector threw off the iridescence which the night, the voice, the drug of
sleep and her presence had created in him, and determined that she behaved like
someone who had all the symptoms of guilt: her way of looking at the door of
the bar, as if expecting the proper moment to make her escape; her
unpremeditated talk, without continuity; her erratic and sudden gestures,
unrelated to her talk; the chaos of her phrases; her sudden, sulky silences.
As friends drifted towards her, sat with her,
and then drifted away to other tables, she was forced to raise her voice,
usually low, to be heard above the cajoling blues.
She was talking about a party at which
indistinct incidents had taken place, hazy scenes from which the lie detector
could not distinguish the heroine or the victim; talking a broken dream, with
spaces, reversals, retractions, and galloping fantasies. She was now in Morocco
visiting the baths with the native women, sharing their pumice stone, and
learning from the prostitutes how to paint her eyes with kohl from the market
place. “It’s coal dust, and you place it right inside the eyes. It smarts at
first, and you want to cry; but that spreads it out on the eyelids, and that is
how they get that shiny, coal black rim around the eyes.”
“Didn’t you get an infection?” asked someone at
her right whom the lie detector could not see clearly, an indistinct personage
she disregarded even as she answered, “Oh, no, the prostitutes have the kohl
blessed at the mosque.” And then, when everyone laughed at this which she did
not consider humorous, she laughed with them; and now it was as if all she had
said had been written on a huge blackboard, and she took a sponge and effaced
it all by a phrase which left in suspense who had been at the baths; or,
perhaps, this was a story she had read, or heard at a bar; and, as soon as it
was erased in the mind of her listeners, she began another…
The faces and the figures of her personages
appeared only half drawn; and, when the lie detector had just begun to perceive
them, another face and figure were interposed as in a dream. And when he
believed she had been talking about a woman, it turned out that it was not a
woman, but a man; and when the image of the man began to form, it turned out
the lie detector had not heard
. She was a
young man who resembled a woman who had once taken care of Sabina; and this
young man was instantly metamorphosed into a group of people who had humiliated
her one night.
He could not retain a sequence of the people
she had loved, hated, escaped from, any more than he could keep track of the
changes in her personal appearance by phrases such as “at that time my hair was
blond,” “at that time I was married,” and who it was that had been forgotten or
betrayed; and when in desperation he clung to the recurrences of certain words,
they formed no design by their repetition, but rather an absolute
contradiction. The word “actress” recurred most persistently; and yet the lie
detector could not, after hours of detection, tell whether she was an actress,
or wanted to be one, or was pretending.
She was compelled by a confessional fever which
forced her into lifting a corner of the veil, and then frightened when anyone
listened too attentively. She repeatedly took a giant sponge and erased all she
had said by absolute denial, as if this confusion were in itself a mantle of
At first she beckoned and lured one into her
world; then she blurred the passageways, confused all the images, as if to
The dawn appearing at the door silenced her.
She tightened her cape around her shoulders as if it were the final threat, the
greatest enemy of all. To the dawn she would not even address a feverish
speech. She stared at it angrily, and left the bar.
The lie detector followed her.
Before she awakened, Sabina’s dark eyes showed
the hard light of precious stones through a slit in the eyelids, pure dark
green beryl shining, not yet warmed by her feverishness.
Then instantly she was awake, on guard.
She did not awaken gradually, in abandon and
trust to the new day. As soon as light or sound registered on her
consciousness, danger was in the air and she sat up to meet its thrusts.
Her first expression was one of tension, which
was not beauty. Just as anxiety dispersed the strength of the body, it also
gave to the face a wavering, tremulous vagueness, which was not beauty, like
that of a drawing out of focus.
Slowly what she composed with the new day was
her own focus, to bring together body and mind. This was made with an effort,
as if all the dissolutions and dispersions of herself the night before were
difficult to reassemble. She was like an actress who must compose a face, an
attitude to meet the day.
The eyebrow pencil was no mere charcoal
emphasis on blond eyebrows, but a design necessary to balance a chaotic
asymmetry. Make up and powder were not simply applied to heighten a porcelain
texture, to efface the uneven swellings caused by sleep, but to smooth out the
sharp furrows designed by nightmares, to reform the contours and blurred
surfaces of the cheeks, to erase the contradictions and conflicts which
strained the clarity of the face’s lines, disturbing the purity of its forms.
She must redesign the face, smooth the anxious
brows, separate the crushed eyelashes, wash off the traces of secret interior
tears, accentuate the mouth as upon a canvas, so it will hold its luxuriant
Inner chaos, like those secret volcanoes which
suddenly lift the neat furrows of a peacefully ploughed field, awaited behind
all disorders of face, hair and costume for a fissure through which to explode.
What she saw in the mirror now was a flushed,
clear-eyed face, smiling, smooth, beautiful. The multiple acts of composure and
artifice had merely dissolved her anxieties; now that she felt prepared to meet
the day, her true beauty, which had been frayed and marred by anxiety, emerged.
She considered her clothes with the same
weighing of possible external dangers as she had the new day which had entered
through her closed windows and doors.
Believing in the danger which sprang from
objects as well as people, which dress, which shoes, which coat demanded less
of her panicked heart and body? For a costume was a challenge too, a
discipline, a trap which once adopted could influence the actor.
She ended by choosing a dress with a hole in
its sleeve. The last time she had worn it she had stood before a restaurant
which was too luxurious, too ostentatious, which she was frightened to enter,
but instead of saying: “I am afraid to enter here,” she had been able to say:
“I can’t enter here with a hole in my sleeve.”