The Waterless Cistern

Nathan Dixon


I have a recurring dream—a vision maybe—of my breasts removed from my body and hanging in the air. Independent of everything, and of each other. Floating against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky. They’re beautiful there, and strange, like an art gallery painting, the bright green grass below them, and the brilliant blue behind them—a make-believe. The two perfect breasts, without a lump to speak of, perfect and suspended there in the emptiness. Supple, the round curves full, the nipples pink, cloud-soft, everything still. And though it’s like a painting, it’s not a painting, nor a picture, this vision. It’s rather like a film where the breasts have been directed to hold still. But a breeze moves the grass, and the nipples turn hard, and there’s an almost imperceptible jiggle to the scene. A soft flicker, sexy.

Then, out of nowhere, walking round the smooth green curve of the horizon, come Woody Allen and Phillip Roth, the two old—very old—Jewish men whom I’ve always associated with breasts. Woody Allen because of the movie about sex in which he, dressed as a priest, is chased by an enormous tit, all the while shielding himself with a Catholic cross. Phillip Roth, not because of the Kafkaesque satire in which the character wakes up as a breast, but instead because of a single phrase in his story Goodbye Columbus, in which a bikini top floats away from a young woman underwater and her boobs swim toward the protagonist like “two pink-nosed fish.”

I remember, too, John Updike writing about an A&P cashier’s breasts as two scoops of vanilla ice cream. No. Not the cashier, but the girl in the swimsuit walking barefoot through the grocery store. Beautiful to the narrator—the cashier—but the narrator is always a boy. Or so it seems. And neither they nor the female characters are in my vision. Just my breasts—unattached—and the two old Jewish men walking stiffly over the green horizon, their arms held behind their backs like professors. Prophets, sages, these armless comedians so close to death.

They walk across the green, beneath the brilliant blue, chatting in old man voices that I don’t understand. Dream talk. Both beckoning with their bald heads toward the two breasts hanging in the nothing. Dirty things they’re saying in Dream Yiddish. Or are they? What can be dirty in admiration? In utter devotion? These are worshipers of the bosom tribe, grown old and dressed as the ancient shamans of their sect. The loafers and khaki pants, the checkered shirts wrinkled behind cardigan sweaters. Bald and bespectacled, walking with their arms held behind their backs, shuffling right up to the two breasts. Taking their places behind them, and peering into the hollow concavity, letting their faces fall into the backs of the boobs—until the flesh acts as a suction cup and draws them in. Their wrinkled skin adhered, they wear my breasts as masks.

Both of them pink-nosed or pink-mouthed, or perhaps pink-eyed, each a Cyclops of femininity. The unintelligible chatter silenced. Now rising, the whisper of rustling feathers. I know what will happen, but I wait for it because it’s my favorite part of this dream. The two old men shrug their shoulders, release the hands clasped behind their backs. But instead of hands and arms, they spread magnificent rainbow wings, enormous and flapping in the bright light from the invisible sun.

They run across the green, as if in slow motion, their bony legs lightweight in their khaki pants, their loafers tiptoeing across the grass until free of the earth, then dangling beneath them in front of the blue backdrop as the men flap themselves higher and higher. Beautiful, these Icarus imitators, these old men who helped define beauty, finding the updraft and soaring toward heaven. Flashing red and orange and yellow. Green, blue, indigo, iridescent in the sunlight, the cotton-ball clouds now drifting happily in behind them.

Until an explosion rings out, shattering the silence. Then another, the two soaring birdmen stopped in the sky—still of a sudden as if waiting, as if they already know what I know. Time slows and I try to hold it, try to make the instant last. But it doesn’t slow down enough. So I try to black out the scene—try to make them vanish before it happens. But I can’t, and the breast heads burst—my breasts burst—splattering red the white clouds. Like water balloons filled with food coloring. Popped. The splash so vivid against the white. Bright polka dots with ragged edges.

Plummeting, then, the two men wrapped in their feathers like Joseph in his multi-colored coat, spinning out of the pages of their holy book. Spiraling down, down—headless but dropping head first. Down. Did they find the light before those gunshots sounded? Are they still of the breast-worshiping chosen tribe?

I don’t see them land, but I hear them hit the ground, and the sound is so much worse than seeing it. Two soft plops, lifeless damp thumps, one after the other. The sound of death itself. A shiver running up the knobs of the backbone.

Then I’m looking at the shooter. I’ve turned somehow without turning. The scene has rotated. She looks at me. Looks like me, but is not me, because I’m confident I am myself looking at her. Standing hunched atop a hospital gurney, she holds a shotgun and wears a paper gown. There are two bleeding holes in her chest. Burnt circles in the gown, wide open eyes fringed with red tears. I can see through the holes to the sky on the other side. Blue, brilliant, and beautiful. There’s nothing I can do but stand there—anchored—as she drops the gun and steps off the gurney, into the grass, the breeze blowing tight the gown around her body, blowing the hair in front of her face.

She makes a noise like laughing. Or crying. And it’s more terrible than anything to see her walking toward me with those two gaping holes in her chest, her arms outstretched—always—in an attitude of embrace.


Nathan Dixon lives and works in Durham, NC and is there a MA candidate in English Literature at NC Central University.  He serves as assistant editor for the academic journal Renaissance Papers.  His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trans Lit Mag, Bop Dead City, and the North Carolina Literary Review.