Mikhail decides to put the box in the ground first. Then he pulls her across the lawn and Noé wonders if he can see that she has a bum leg, if he will take that into consideration when folding her into the… she searches for the word….coffin. He folds her up like a human origami, a token for the gods, pretending that they exist just to be on the safe side.
The lovely lady is very concentrated right now, she has prepared, she is slowing down her breathing rate precipitously. The closing of the wooden lid sounds like a faint echo of the pop of the door of their under-pressurized house in which they share their life.
Is his whisper that follows her into the dark. Then shovels of earth start rapping the closed chest like a strong stranger begging to be let in. Noé is breathing extremely slowly now, her heart rate is coming down too. This is beyond what is usually even expected from method actors. The soil keeps coming. She carefully feels about her for a walkie-talkie or cellphone on which to call him in the unexpected case that Mikhail will not excavate her in a couple of hours or so. Nothing. Above she can hear his faint voice saying:
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Though he always declares himself an atheist when anybody bothers to ask. Finally, a muted hush falls and Noé can’t even hear the crickets any longer. Inhale, exhale, all in the space of three minutes. She imagines Mikhail worried, at long last opening the chest and her bounding forth like a Jack-in-the-Box, screaming
I win, I win honey, I always do!
But there is only silence. This might be a game that is not about winning or losing. She gets very sleepy and starts pinching herself but it’s no use. The dark deepens, begins to spiral and fill with imaginary figures [Darfur children, paintball victims, method thespians, horse-headed knights, spinning timepieces] and down the rabbit hole Noé goes.
Time passes, she plays dead most convincingly, her fiancée lives.
After an undifferentiated while a coolness wakes Noé up. Her head bangs involuntarily against the oak slats.. The pretty woman clutches her hands, something strange there: long, disgusting nails. Suddenly Noé grows infinitely tired of playing dead: enough is enough, she should be a young woman about town not playing a game where she is buried alive in her fiancées backyard. She misses light, fresh air, running, even the noxious photolab.
Noé tenses the arms at her sides with her fists at chest level, then lets them fly forward extremely rapidly. The first twenty or thirty punches are painful but ineffectual then however she can hear splintering noises. Soon she is holding her breath and feverishly digging hard soil into her casket. To be sure, the grave is very shallow and Noé comes clambering up through cold clumps of earth like any other undead play actress, dirty but alive and kicking.
Except underdressed in her lime undies for all this snow. She scans the white-covered back of the house and lawn in electrified amazement then makes her staggering way for the porch’s stairs, hoping Mikhail won’t take all too long to open the back door. There is soft light and unfamiliar voices from the living room so that instead of going to knock, the shivering Noé, blue-lipped goes over to the window to take a peek inside.
What her eyes are telling her seems to be that she is still under the earth, dreaming a strange dream. There are two little identical children playing on the couch and sitting between them, a small man with a beer belly and a week’s worth of a beard. Vaguely familiar. The shadow of a female figure moves in the kitchen among the appliances. The man lifts one of the tiny boys and arches to the rear onto the big couch:
Ha! A little exhausted, are we? Now for my backwards driving power-arch suplex!
For a moment their eyes meet and it is only now that Noé, in the middle of the winter night, also starts to feel cold on the inside. Stunned, she tries to totter towards the door but instead the slippery snow and ice send her in the direction of the big wooden post next to the steps where she tries to steady herself. She spins in place, her shoulder-long hair flaring out as though she intends to finish off her play with a little jig, a Danse Macabre. By the time Noé has spun around in the direction of the door it is wide open with an older version of Mikhail standing there, framed by living room light, resplendent. Under her feet is black ice, water congealed to oblivion that lets her loose her vertical standing in life to send her toppling backwards down the little flight of stairs.
Noé flies indeed and landing on the last one, unluckily or not, has her performance perfected.