In her world, she is a paleontologist. She lives in a reliquary, where the objects of the everyday (slices of toast, flowers in vases, heavily curtained fabric in folds) cradle images of heads and faces, things recognized amid and upon and within other things. A studied glance connects her world to others, worlds known and walked only in day- and night-dreaming. In waking life, the careful observer can trace fossils of these imagined and imaginary worlds while scanning the immediate physical objectscape: a demon’s face can be just made out in the pattern of the marble in a hotel shower, a griffin’s head emerges from the syrup swirling on a stack of pancakes, a flying dog wisps through a fair-weather cloud, a baboon with a dragon’s tail hides in the shadowed leaves of an olive tree.
She knew that looking for – and making meaning of – these images required long and careful training. And so she went to school to study this special kind of paleontology.
Some substances preserve these traces better than others, and she specializes in knowledge of these materials: the glancing-equivalent of peat bogs or tree resin. As the absence of oxygen helped maintain organic matter in some worlds – the very substance that gave life kept on giving it to the microorganisms that broke a body down in death – here, preserving the details of the face of a loved one was best accomplished in daydreams when the remembered voice of the beloved was silenced. Pigments were best fossilized when the imagination turned black and white. (A certain red that she researched for her doctoral thesis is, she has argued, a trace left by the locomotion of butterfly that repeatedly appeared in her dreaming, a kind of flying footprint fossilized in pigment. But she slept in color – despite studiously donning grey pajamas at night, removing all her make-up, closing all the lights – and hadn’t yet managed to produce a really excellent specimen.) Flames in wintry dreamscapes helped make waking fossils in patterns of char. (During a particularly stressful period she dreamt constantly of churches built of icicles that melted under swarms of fireflies, and she kept waking to breakfasts of outlined Jesus figures burned into toast.) In less ideal conditions, the images might be imprinted as outlines or vaguer recollections, the visual equivalent of a name that’s just right beyond the edges of your memory, right at the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite reach it into your mouth or mind to speak it.