( I did not explain about freezers, but somehow the rumour reached the snow-person )
Audio version of this post here.
Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/
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He had that noble selflessness of a man who cares for no one but himself.
--Derek Marlowe, A Dandy in Aspic
A Dandy in Aspic began to fall apart shortly after I purchased it for $1, or 2$, (I am not entirely clear on this point) at the pleasingly cluttered used bookstore in Gibsons. I've been going there since I was a child and we were Summer People here. Now my parents are, well, what are they? Not locals. I suppose they're part of the latest wave of monstrously destructive gentrification. But, you know, nice.
This bookstore is where I first bought Dune, which I read, and Dune Messiah, which I did not finish. It is not the store where I bought my lost/loaned/stolen and much lamented copy of Tides of Lust by Samuel Delaney (I don't know him well enough to call him Chip.) This book, because some of its obscenity contravened laws created to protect you and I and our vulnerable loved ones from Fearful Notions, had to be rewritten and was re-released under a different title. I had the original. I bought it in a bookstore over a craft shop that sold local artisans' work, including tooled leather vests and, if I recall correctly, tooled leather halter tops. The bookstore has been replaced by a boutique kitchen shop, or I should say, shoppe. Damn gentrification.
Anyway, I try very hard not to be a collector-- I buy things to use and enjoy and ruin, not to put in plastic bags and pray for profit on. But the loss of Tides, and the bookshop, and innocence and obscenity, will ride with me on my Harley of Life as one of my great, or anyway favorite, regrets.
More of a Vespa of Life really.
I'm on the Sunshine Coast, for any who are confused, visiting my parents in their new house. They've just moved down, and I've come to visit and entirely failed to bring them a housewarming gift. I thought of it as I was walking past the gift shop on my way off the ferry, but I was being picked up (by a family friend, not the other kind of picked up) and I had to go, or they probably would have got a Zen Candle (TM).
Anyway, because I'm still looking for something that will let me read it all the way through, and because apparently the thing I do when moving is obsessively buy books, I got the Dandy and a fantasy novel by Diana Wynne-Jones, because Neil Gaiman speaks highly of her. Although I've noticed he speaks highly of a lot of people. Perhaps he is a Genuinely Nice Person. It's my morning routine, along with coffee and writing; read Neil, read The Good Doctor, sometimes check out Making Light or Nick Mamatas (whose book, in an act of fiscal suicide, I ordered from Munro's -- and by the way, Munro's has an awesome website. Check it.)
* * * * * *
Speaking of writing, here is a little exercise I did on the ferry. See if you can figure it out.
Wilt, Wane, Wail: A Tale
At the inn (The White Hind in Wex Lane), all in a wan daze, Delia went-- laid in ale and tended the hind. It lived in a vale at the lawn-end.
Delia had a hale, tan hand and a white, wilted hand, hexed when a jilted Neddie Wattle dealt with the vile Thane Vexhall. The deal: wealth and health for a thieved hex and a wild tale.
In the dell, Neddie and the Thane waited, while the hind ate teaweed. The hand went dead. Neddie went waxen. "The deal--"
"Will he whine and wail?" Vexhall lilted. "Neddie. What avail?"
Neddie waxed, vexed, at the tall thane.
"Well... wait." Thane Vexhall lit a weed-wand. "I lie. It will heal. I dealt with a thin, vain wit. He wanted wealth. And I, I welted him, head, hand, and heel."
"What healed it?"
The white hind let Vexhall halt and hold it.
"Will I?" Neddie waited. Vexhall let it lie.
"All die." Then Vexhall and the hind went with the wild new wind.
The hind wended in at dawn. At the next dawn, it died. While Neddie waned, Delia tilled the teaweed and waited. He died. The hand waxed anew.
At the inn, the Hale Thane, with a tan ale in hand, Delia will tell the tale.
* * * * *
No, it's not supposed to rhyme, necessarily, although the limitations do impose an interesting assonance that becomes rhythmic, or begs rhythm.
See, I was doing this word puzzle in my Variety Puzzle Book. It was a little chart you had to fill letters into so that they spelled words no matter which way you traced through the chart. The words were WARP, WARE, WANE, WAND, WIND, WINE, WILD, and WILT. This is an evocative, shivery sort of set of words, and I thought, why not put them all in a story, as an exercise? And then I thought, or what about writing a story that only allows a certain set of letters?
I wanted to use those words (I didn't use warp or ware-- see below), so I decided I'd use the letters from the puzzle, plus, arbitrarily, enough to make up half the alphabet.
Then I realized that I was making it too easy, because the letters were the most commonly used ones in the alphabet. I still wanted to keep the word list, so I left in T, L, E, N, D, A, I, and the less common W, but I gave up P and S. I nicked H because I really wanted to know I'd be able to use 'THE' -- you can't get even vaguely naturalistic writing in English without it -- and made myself take X, Z, V and J as punishment, sort of like an extra bad Scrabble tray. With the stipulation that I actually had to use them.
It's quite possible that I slipped up --s and f, particularly, kept wanting to creep in, so if you find an error, please let me know, and I'll amend.
Anyway, this isn't the story I thought I'd get out of WARP, WARE, WANE, and the rest, if I had all my letters to work with. (I really missed s.) Maybe I'll write that one and post it next.And if you're very good children, I'll include a really, really long, explanation of how I wrote it, with elaborate theoretical ramparts and great cannons of mind-bogglingly dull structural commentary.
I was talking to grumpy_bastard about this the other day, over the most amazing coffee cake ever made (not too moist, not too dry!) and Marlboros-- how much we like puzzle-stories, stories that are not just narration but elaborate structural riddles that need to be decoded. He said he always hated story problems because the stories weren't good enough.
...Yes, I know, there's a sort of temporal flaw in the story. I'll try to work out a better sequence. With no s,q,u or c. An eene.
...Smoking is bad, and cigarettes are evil, and Phillip Morris is the devils' own backside, and Marlboros really do taste better than just about anything. And those were the super ultra pansy lights. Thanks, grumpy bastard.
Aren't I posty lately. Today I walked down to the farmer's market. It's got nothing on the Moss St. Market in Victoria, but it solves the lone drawback of going to the park-- usually there's no coffee, but the market has a whole coffee van. They even do Blended Coffee Drinks.
I sat down with my back against a log (all the tables were taken up by some kind of party, or anyway some people with balloons,) and read with my book on my knees, which was reasonably comfortable, although I did manage to cough latte all over Einstein's special theory of relativity.
I walked a massive amount more, and then I came home and did a little bit of packing. (The co-conspirator is a god at fitting things into boxes that you didn't think would go.) We had fun going through our massive mug collection deciding which to keep. (Anyone in need of drinking vessels?)
Then I finished this story, which was still missing some patches when the ten-minute draft was done. So, technically it's not a pure ten-minute story, but I can't imagine anyone but me caring at all. It's going to lose a bit of its clever formatting, I'm afraid.
He noticed me shoplifting and decided he'd recruit me for his 'team'. I never pointed out that being caught wasn't much of a credential. I was too flattered. He was two years younger than me, and it took a lot of imagination to think of him as my crime boss, but I did my best.
"Here's what you do. You find a place up for rent where the people are still living. You make an appointment to view it, and you use the appointment to case the joint." He actually said case the joint, without irony. I was annoyed with his self-assurance. He'd done exactly two B&E's, both under the guidance of his older brother, and one was to a car. He was full of stories of other people’s feats. An expert on means of entry and undetectable theft. A whole mythology gleaned from movies, books, comics, urban legend, and his brother's friends. They were all equal currency to him, as real as a car stereo or bicycle.
"But won't they be suspicious?"
"How many people go see a house for rent?"
"In this market?"
"You still look like a student. Nobody suspects students."
I'd been a student for six months, almost a year ago. Art history. After six months, I ran out of money and attention. I kept falling asleep during the slide shows. I'd wake on a word: Fanon, Giotto, fresco, happening, gaze. My dreams were full of works my brain grew out of the half-heard narratives of the teacher. Looking up the real works afterwards was always disorienting because they didn’t look anything like what I thought I'd seen.
But my accomplice was right; I still had a backpack, and I knew how to wear it. My school clothes were the worse for wear, but I could pass for a nice middle-class kid in a poverty chic phase.
He was building a team, but there were only ever him and me. Every part of me except my ego and my imagination knew he was full of shit. But I needed the money, and more than that, I wanted it, as proof that dropping out wasn't a failure of mine, but just a change of venue for developing my talents which, I hoped, would turn out to be for theft and deception.
I looked through the papers. What kind of place attracted someone with a $1500+ bike? A notebook computer? A really good stereo? 2 br, upr lvl, ns/np? Brt, airy 1 br in hrtg hs, w/d? 3 br, hwd flr, 5 appl, $1100 + utils?
Must-see bach, 12-ft clgs, hwd flr, chrctr hs.
I did have a job. I was a clerk in a store that sold only objects with cats on them. It did surprisingly well. I earned exactly enough to pay my rent and my utilities, with enough left over to make it almost but not quite through one week out of two. Hence, robbery. Not much of a justification, I know, considering the reasons other people have. But theft was a good job for me– ideally done in private, and less publically embarrassing than other options.
I got the job based not on my resume, which was almost entirely fiction, but on my six months of art theory. The cat store owner was impressed with that, and often asked my opinion of the aesthetic merit of new product lines. I did my best.
The house was arts and crafts with an unfortunate 70's update. Like the great Empress herself, it was sinking into the ground, but cheerfully, the ship's doomed musicians playing show tunes instead of hymns.
A sign on a stick, as for a garage sale, at the end of the drive. The door was open. I looked in. The first door off the entranceway had a sign taped to the frame: yes, this one. I hated moments of opportunity like that. Clearly the thing to do would be to grab what I could right then and leave, but I've always found it difficult to change my plans at the last minute. I went in hesitantly, calling sotto voce, not sure who to pretend to be.
It was a huge room, made cavernous by the promised ceiling (plaster medallion, empty socket.) The space was an open envelope, a rectangle with the front windows angled out into a huge bay window. One small pane had been knocked out and taped over with brown paper.
The kitchen was just a strip of counter along the back wall, and was full of painter's odds and ends– sprung brushes, rolls of canvas, jars of murky liquid, and pots and tubes and bottles of paint. Stacked up into walls, tumbled like gravel into slumps of multicolored debris. There was a paint-spattered fridge. Over the counter and sink, all one piece of ancient, chipped porcelain, was a set of rough shelves, which seemed to be all of the built-in storage.
The walls were battered, but it didn't matter. It would take you a long time to notice their shabbiness, since they were covered with paintings.
The art was like this: Meticulously detailed but oddly distorted figures bending around invisible objects against a background blurred by motion. For example: a woman perched in empty space, but hunched against the edge of the canvas, with one tiny perfect red chair in the far corner, as though she’d suddenly shot up to the ceiling.
Or their opposite: murky or incomplete or absent people outlined where the background stopped. A photorealistic gas station sans attendant, abandoned shadow still falling across the pumps. The paint looked slick from a distance, but close to, I could see that it was a shiny coating over chunks of rough paint, like a mosaic. Lichtenstein, Warhol, Schiele, and, oh, no, not Van Gogh.
"I'm personal, rather than avant-garde." said the artist behind me. "I’m not heading any movements, as you can see." I turned around. I looked at his face, then immediately at his feet. He was barefoot. As he stepped past me, I could see how dirty his soles were, and how the back hem of his jeans was worn away from being stepped on.
I looked back at the art. He told the truth; you wouldn't call it work of genius. But I liked it. I more than liked it. There was a blank space in my chest the shape of this room, unsuspected until now, and I could hardly breathe for the vacuum.
"I've been using the space as a studio, obviously."
"Do you live in the building?"
"Yes, upstairs. There’s a flat across the hall from mine, then this one and the one behind it, and two in the basement. To be honest, I own the house." he said this with an air of humble surprise. "My flat is in the back, and it has lovely western light in the afternoons, but this is the best morning light, because of these windows. Upstairs is a bit dark and dormer-y. So I paint down here in the mornings. Still, you can only sacrifice for art for so long. Now art must sacrifice for me. I'd take all these down, of course." he waved at the walls.
"Oh, don't!" I blurted, then shuddered with embarrassment.
He looked pleased. "Well, you could decide to keep them, if you wanted." he said.
"Did you do all of them in pairs?"
He produced a new being-pleased-with-me expression. "That's great." He said. "Most people don't get that. Yes. Each one has its partner. Um, this is the bathroom, here." An aqua room, walls and elderly fixtures the same drowning blue-green-blue-green. The eye calculated but could not settle on one or the other.
There was a painting in the bathroom. He made a noise of chagrin when he saw it, and pushed past me to grab the frame. "Sorry, thought I got rid of that." He hauled it through the doorway. "I keep trying and failing to throw it out."
It was another portrait. It was half-finished, but not in the deliberate way of the hanging work. The form was roughed-in with red streaks on a background of false starts, all the shades badly matched. The figure was limp, without the tension of the other subjects.
He let me look at it for a moment, and then he turned it to the wall. "I loved him." he said. "That's why it's so bad." He fussed with balancing the painting, watching me out of the corner of his eye. He brushed some dust from the figure’s empty cheek. My face burned. My stomach turned to ice. "Don't let anyone tell you great passion leads to great art." he added. "My best sitter was someone I hated." He crossed to the sink to wash his hands, as though touching the painting had stained them. "Mind you," he called over the running water, "I still ended up sleeping with him." The water stopped. "At least I got a good price for the set. Ah, that wouldn't be an issue, would it?" He dried his hands on his thighs.
"That you sold them?"
He laughed. "No. Well. Good." He gave me a look. Sidelong, laughing, a light there that could be switched off instantly. I knew it; I had a look like that myself, though I didn't use it very often. I took a deep breath.
"Look, I'm lying to you." I said quickly, to get it all out while I was too surprised to stop myself. "I can't rent this place. I'm only," I stopped short, wondering if the paintings were valuable. "I can't afford it."
His expression clouded briefly, then cleared, and his eyes were kind. "It is quite a space. I did a couple of shows here, and, uh, I think they liked the house as much as the art. Anyway, I got a couple of offers on it." He looked around, up at the ceiling, as if he'd lost something up there.
"Out of curiosity," he said, "What's your, uh, what are you paying now?"
I told him. He made a face. "Yeah, exactly." I said. "So, um, thanks." I smiled brightly. I smiled for too long, and my face started to twitch.
How did my accomplice do this? Right. He didn't. How could anyone? Anonymously, in the dark, yes, sure, that was just modified shopping. But a confidence game, face to face, a swindle– how could you look at someone, his aging-cupid's smile, the brush-callous and paint-crust on his hands, the worn edges of his jeans and ropy muscles of his feet, and then steal from him?
"Oh, God, don't." he said. I jerked my head up, horrified. "Don't look so ashamed." he said earnestly. "You're making me feel desperate. It's not your fault if you don’t have the money, is it?"
"Look," he said slowly, "You like this place, don't you?"
"I love it." I told his hands.
"And you like the art."
"I love it." I said, with the same conviction, to his chin.
"That should be worth something, shouldn't it?" he compressed his lips. It made him look almost grim. His eyes were calculating something in the space between us. The exact dollar value of artistic appreciation?
"I tell you what." he said. "What hours do you work?"
"Oh, uh, eight 'til four-thirty?"
"Perfect." He looked relieved. "Then I'll make you a deal. It's actually selfish on my part. I need the money, but I'd rather have someone I can stand in the house. If you don't mind my coming in here to paint while you’re gone in the mornings, you can have the place for what you can afford." He grinned like the mastermind of a great conspiracy. "I can store my materials upstairs, but I'll leave the paintings up, if you like."
I managed to look at him directly. His seamed Botticelli face, his curling, tousled hair. We looked at each other. "I would like." I said.
"And would you like to live here?"
I hesitated. I opened my mouth to speak.
Then one of three things happened. I'll tell you about those, but first I'll tell you what I did afterwards.
I met my accomplice at his brother’s house. He was sitting on the back deck, reading a comic book and drinking hard lemonade through a straw.
"This guy is a genius." he showed me the comic.
"Pretty good." I said. It was.
"You check out the place?"
"Nah," I said carefully, "Just a bunch of crappy paintings." My throat caught, but I knew I had to hide my treasure under as much dirt as possible. "No computer or bike or anything."
"Crap." he said.
So we went up to the college and popped bike locks instead. Riding home with him in the dark, pedaling meditatively down the big hill in the breeze of our momentum, it seemed to me that all the darkness was a moving, purposeful substance. I realized that the people in the artist’s canvases were sitting on invisible bicycles, driving invisible cars, slung over lost horses, all frozen in the act of trying to get somewhere. Away.
Here are the three things that could have happened.
The first thing that could have happened was that I thanked him. Said I'd have to think about it. Left him with a false name and number. Waited. Came back a couple of weeks later with my accomplice, because we hadn't come up with a better plan, and took everything remotely saleable. We probably kicked over some of the paintings stacked against the wall. I'd already said it was no good, and looking at it made me angry. All those failed getaways.
If this is what happened, then I took the money in his dresser drawer and his cheap stereo, and on the way out I stuffed my pockets with jars of paint. I took them home and set them out on a shelf above my sink, the way he did. I set them out haphazardly, but when I was done, the pigments shone like jewels through their glass and plastic casings. I never used the paints, or even looked at them closely. Eventually I threw them out.
If this is what happened, then we weren't caught, though I often dreamed that we were. There would be a drawn-out incoherent chase sequence, then being discovered, forced to apologize, and made to give restitution. From this dream, I always woke up relieved and happy, until I realized it wasn't true.
The second thing that might have happened was that I said,
And then he said,
"I should tell you that I'm a forger."
And told me one of three stories.
First, that he made copies of famous artworks for schools and interactive museum displays.
Second, that he'd been a real forger, and been caught, and gone to prison; and now he did his own work, which he loved, but could never show in a real gallery, or sell through a real dealer, because no one would ever forgive him. "Forgery," he said, "Was like– you know that amusement-park ride where you're in a little cage on a long arm and you go way up in the air and you know you’re going to fall, but you don't? Only I did."
Or, third, this story:
"There's a woman I know, a rich woman, who took a watercolour course in Tuscany. She came back, and of course, her friends were clamouring to see the art. She was coy about it, but finally she told them she'd put on a show in her enormous living room (well, I think she called it a great room. But the TV was in there.)
"She came to me in tears, saying she'd been cheated. She'd paid all this money for a painting tour in Italy, and look at the result. She showed me her watercolours. She had good judgement in at least one thing– they were awful. I tried to explain that she couldn't buy talent. Then I realized that she wanted to buy mine.
"I looked a few things up on the web, but mostly I worked from a book of postcards I found at the dollar store. It was my best work. I created everthing from her first, hesitant sketches, to her notes about the position of the sun, to her final confident works. I developed an entirely new style as her– little dot-dash gestures that I liked very much.
"I thought she might not like all that realism, but she was thrilled. It was exactly what she wanted. The story of her talent blossoming under perfect light."
And just as I'd betray him to my accomplice, I betrayed my accomplice to him, and told him how he wanted to be a criminal mastermind, and how he always said "B&E" like "beanie." He was delighted. He insisted that the three of us have dinner to celebrate my moving in.
I didn't tell my accomplice that the artist was our erstwhile victim, and I didn't tell the artist that I'd been sent to case the joint. My old accomplice was overwhelmed by the paintings. At first he was timid, then combative, then elated. He told the artist all his best stories over beers that night, and their enchantment was mutual. A long time later, they ended up creating a comic book together, based on one's paintings and the other's stories. It did quite well for an independent publication. "My work was always so narrative anyway." said the artist.
If this is what happened, then about two months into my tenancy, the artist asked me to pose for him. He wouldn't show me the canvases while he was working, but one day I came home and the paintings were standing together against the window.
The first was a close likeness, except the eyes were cartoonishly huge, curious and alarmed. My head was turned, everything about my posture and face expressive of surprise and fear. There was something comically obscene in how I was hunched over, my hands extended towards an absent, forbidden thing.
The other was a landscape like you might find in a children's illustration, simplified, pretty, a green hill, a blue sky, a smiling sun, and my absence; I was cut right out of the painting. Grommets and wire kept the outline in its shape.
I knew he'd seen I was a thief, or what else was my image's alarm and then total absence about? And I knew he loved me, or he couldn't have made such mediocre art.
Later that day he came back to ask me upstairs for dinner and wine, and then he asked me, very humbly, to bed. And in bed, his arm curled under my head (before he moved it because it was getting numb,) he said that from now on he was going to call me Beanie, and there was nothing I could do about it. And he did, that night, and in the morning, and all the mornings after that.
The last thing that might have happened was this. That when we looked at each other, I opened my mouth a little, and he opened his mouth a little, and something in us rushed together.
Then we kissed, and kissed again, and then were kissing, roughly, laughing, letting ourselves fall, rolling together on the creaking floor. Stripping off our clothes, gasping, clutching each other, hands working, legs colliding, locking. Making each other shout, sigh, curse. Coming, the one square of shade from the broken pane falling over his shoulder like a tattoo.
Then dressing again, still laughing, but the laughter breaking somehow, losing its joy, becoming awkward. Eyes appraising each other differently, now. Becoming clear to both of us that I would not give a clear answer to his offer, and he would not repeat it.
And that was that. Whatever future we had begun with our hesitant generosity was compressed into fifteen minutes and over. As completely as if a whole affair had played itself through.
If this is what happened, we exchanged thank-yous and phone numbers. Mine was fake. His could have been. I never checked. Even if it was fake, I could have gotten it from the ad if I'd really wanted to.
But none of that is happening right now. I am on the stolen bike, flying through a wakeful darkness. My momentum sings me down the hill. In a minute, I'll look back over my shoulder so that I can make a turn, and when I do, I'll remember what happened, and I'll know what's going to happen.
When I'm brave enough, I'll turn. For now, I'm staying here in this moment, on this bike, in motion.
I thought I was going to write a story about a magic house the other day, but I wrote this instead. I note that I have not posted the remainder of Poo School, but I just can’t get excited enough about it to bother.
Instead, I present another ten-minute story. Same format: one writing session and one redraft while entering the text. I need another name for these, though, since this one took probably two hours all told.
It’s a neurological condition. I can’t dream. Or, I do have dreams, but not as many as other people, and I never remember them. I’ve known no frustration greater than being woken by a researcher and told that I was dreaming a dream I can’t remember.
Usually my mind just staggers obsessively through the events of the day, a kind of semiconscious brooding doze. And I snore.
I’m supposed to wake up midway through the night to give my brain a chance to restart the dreaming process. Sometimes I can’t get back to sleep-- adding insomnia to injury.
So one early morning in April, the first intimations of sunrise dulling the stars, I was watching the tail end of the TV loop, that wasteland between three and six, which has improved considerably over the last decade, but still can’t even kindly be called "good."
I watched an antique cop drama with lurid hair, then part of a film on the Family Values network with all the Lord-in-vain dubbed out, and then I descended to the level of reruns of children’s shows, since it was that or This Old House.
Apparently insomniac children like to relive the greatest moments of Inventions! Super Crafty Kids on the FunTimes channel. (I note that a possible acronym for Inventions! Super Crafty Kids is I-SuCK.)
It was hosted by two former child actors in spandex superhero outfits, one showing a paintbrush, the other a musical note– (they must reek – is the show too cheap for breathable microfibre?) They demonstrated how to make ugly things out of popsicle sticks while narrating each step in shrilly cheerful voices.
I switched off the sound and put the Spanish captioning on for practise. The words formed along the bottom of the screen, obscuring those busy, eager hands.
An English phrase drifted by, finned with quotation marks: "Dream Machine." I sat forward. The silence, and the effort of translation, gave the show what I thought of as a dreamlike quality. Or, more precisely, a vision, not quite parsable, and irreducible.
The "machine" was essentially a mobile, made of yarn and popsicle sticks and paper, but it was clever, too. It looked like a hot-air balloon, and if you blew on it or put it in a breeze, it spun. (Or it was supposed to. Paintbrush Lad’s just drooped to one side sadly, trembling, as if afraid of his Super Breath.)
It made me wonder if someone somewhere was having a joke, since the finished artifact was reminiscent in some ways of various devices intended to induce "drug-free hallucinations," which I have ordered over the years in an effort to experience the dream state.
I didn’t have popsicle sticks, but I had chopsticks, red garden twine for yarn, and plenty of late-night take-out receipts to hole-punch and tie in the round for the panels of the spinning balloon. The result was not exactly artistic, but I hung it above my bed, pleased at having produced something out of one of my long empty nights.
I lay down under it, looking up through the paper skeleton. I blew a current of air towards it, but my breath didn’t seem to reach, although it activated an early mosquito, which began noisily haunting my face. I got up and stomped around waving a book until I killed it or it got bored and left.
I lay down again and shut my eyes. I rested like that until I realized wearily that I wasn’t going to sleep after all. I opened my eyes. The room was murky, distorted by my fatigue. The dream machine was turning slowly.
I stared at it. There’s no breeze, I thought. Then, why can’t I focus on it properly? And then, with growing wonder, I’m dreaming.
Which woke me up. But I carried that dream with me all day, close against my chest like a small cherished animal. My sleeping mind had dared to leap out into hypothesis. It was a dull dream, but it was mine.
I was terrified the experience would never repeat itself. I would have said, before, that remembering even one dream would satisfy me. Now I know that one of anything only makes me greedy.
The next night I kept peering at the machine through half-closed eyes, trying to recreate that confused vision. I saw the cage of my own lashes, and the red logos of the restaurants repeated around the circle.
I retreated into familiar paths of rehearsal and teeth-grinding.
Towards dawn, I opened my eyes. There was a woman standing next to my bed. I startled back. Her face was at once familiar and unknown. Solemn, accusatory. I was afraid.
My breath rushed in. I opened my eyes for real. Another dream!
I began to introduce my dreams casually into conversation at work.
"You ever have that dream where you think you’re waking up, but actually you’re still asleep?"
The rush of finally understanding a shared human experience. "Me too!" Pride and awe in my voice. Then, because more seemed to be expected, "Isn’t it weird?"
I became superstitious about the device. My conscious mind believed it was a placebo, a suggestion, not a magic device whose instructions had been broadcast to me over the television, but on behalf of my subconscious, I kept it up very carefully anyway. I dusted it, fixed its balance, made sure it could spin freely.
My dreaming mind branched out. I dreamed of turning on the TV and not being able to get sound. I dreamed of being in the kitchen. I experienced that unnerving dream when you’re about to urinate and then you realize you’re only dreaming that you’re in the bathroom. Then you wake up and go down the hall to the bathroom, and it’s much colder than in the dream. (Right?)
During one of these, realizing I was dreaming, I made a great effort and turned myself to look in the bathroom mirror. The face in the deep silver pool was mine, but wrong.
Waking up with an aching bladder, I stumbled into the bathroom. On the way back, I looked at myself in the real mirror. It was none too clean, but I saw the difference. The face in the dream was mine as it had been when I was a child of eleven or twelve.
"Do you ever dream of yourself as younger than you are?" I asked the woman form the cubicle next to mine at work.
"I read someplace that you only do that when you’ve had some big trauma." she said cheerfully.
It was like having all the dreams I should have had all through my life, jumbled, out of order– blurry infant dreams, scary childhood nightmares, adolescent wet dreams.
One morning I woke afraid, unable to shake the idea that I’d been dreaming a dream from old age, a memory dream patched out of fragments of things that hadn’t happened to me yet. A dream from the future.
If all our actions, from a sneeze to a home run, are already implied by the original math of the universe, then all our dreams are there, too, carried in us like a fiddlehead in the heart of a fern, like the dream of a human being lies inside the pinpoint egg cell.
I had seen by this point that you can dream anything– a flying lion, a talking corpse– and it doesn’t have to be true or even possible. But I couldn’t get rid of the idea. I had more of these dreams. Not every night– just often enough that I became a little afraid to fall asleep, which upset me.
They weren’t prophecies. I didn’t see lottery numbers or headlines. They were the garble of memory and hallucination that is the recipe of dreams, but there was something in them that I recognized as mine, a part of a self I hadn’t become yet.
Unknown faces kindled gasping sorrow in me, stirred fear, brought regret. I’d wake weeping. Or, once, laughing. From a dream of roses. I still don’t know why it was so funny.
One day, I saw the woman from my early dream, her morose face reflected suddenly in a bookstore window. I turned to her, and she smiled. She was radiant; the opposite of my dream. I thought, one day I’ll see that expression on her face, that grim accusation, but I was compelled to find out how it got there. It colours our friendship a little, this waiting.
Another dream happened only once. There have been no others like it. It was a fitful dream, of running, falling, half-waking, thrashing in bed, running again. Then falling suddenly backwards, struck in the chest by an invisible hand. Frozen on my back, unable to move, unable to draw breath. Knowing I needed to wake myself up, but unable to do so. Then, as suddenly, perfectly awake, in a silent room.
But not quite that. In between, in the tiny moment before waking, the smallest possible segement of time the human body can measure, a terrible silence. An absence. A not-being deeper than dreamless sleep. Too brief almost to register, and at the same time, infinitely long.
I tell tolerant friends about my funny nightmares and my eerie sex dreams. I tell no one about this dream.
I think it is the last dream I am supposed to have. I think it's the dream I have when I am dying. I don’t know what it means that I have already dreamed it. Does it change my death? Will it be empty and dreamless as my past? Or will the dream come back again? Will I recognize it as it begins, and know that I am about to die? Will I be afraid?
I thought of taking down the dream machine, but I’ve already seen what I would have wanted to protect myself from.
My dreams are still sweet to me, although I am beginning to take them for granted the way that other people do-- to resent nightmares and treat fractured narratives as puzzles from my day-to-day life. I do not see them each as an infinite gift from my sleeping brain. It holds all dreams, and also the end of all dreaming. I might be able to end the dreams myself, artificially, by taking down the machine-- removing the suggestion. Silencing the unconscious. But I won’t be able to make myself forget.
A propos of nothing in particular:
"Every fight is the intersection of two stories," –Narrator, The Last Round
* * * * * *
Again, this is more like a half-hour story. The tone has been inflected by my consuming large quantities of IF*, which I am able to download to my palm pilot. So if the story seems to consist of a long string of descriptions of locations, objects, and oddly static people, that is a combination of my natural writing tendency and my current adventureading material.
I think it also has a certain Vintage flavour – not the excellent publishing house, but the heigh-ho arm-punching style of early-to-mid-era speculative fiction. Which is not my Usual Thing at all.
Are other writers this malleable when it comes to what they read? I feel like the text inhabits me, like I incarnate it while I'm reading it and for a few hours (or days) afterwards. The voice enters my voice -- it doesn't take over, but it definitely changes it. Sometimes I feed good writing into my brain, like putting --
My Dog, does anyone remember the Bugs Bunny storybook where he tries to get the machine to make him a carrot? By feeding it all kinds of objects with the right characteristics -- right shape, right color, and so on?
*IF = Interactive Fiction. See Previous Entries
(*Note - this will be a fragment until I get the rest of it up, later tonight or tomorrow.)
Dr. Enderby’s School of Thought
(informally: "Poo School")
Shit can tell you a lot about the past, but I never thought of using it to predict the future until I went to Dr. Enderby’s school.
It’s too bad he founded the school in 1968. It was, still is, a series of overlapping stucco boxes with tiny, oddly-placed windows, narrow corridors, and depressing dark brick in every classroom. Studying there was like attending classes in a vacated sewer. Or maybe that’s the shit talking. A hundred years earlier or later and someone’s idea of functionality might have included comfort, pleasure, or the actual purpose of the rooms.
The teachers also seemed to have been built in the same era and never updated. Mr. Anders had shaggy collar-length hair, a moustache shaped like a furry brown staple, and tinted glasses. His assistant Norman looked ordinary enough, except that he always wore a tweed jacket. This suited him, but made him seem anachronistic, a space-traveller using old broadcasts who hasn’t yet discovered his error. When he stood next to Dr. Anders, he seemed like a cutting from the larger plant.
The first part of the forty-five-minute tale. As it is a longer story and therefore More Serious, I had a harder time deciding on the title. So, provisionally, this is
My Mother's Table
My mother said she had a full set of good dishes once, but she didn't say how many that would have been. I knew a plate got broken at her wedding, and no one ever 'fessed up to it; and I myself had chipped a bowl at the age of four when I dropped a live frog into it. The frog knocked over the bowl while leaping out again. Still, we seemed to have seventeen of nearly everything, and everyone knows a full set is an even number, although I don't know why that is. Some kind of superstition, probably.
The dishes came out twice a year. My mother had four sisters, scattered across the prairies, and each of them took it in turn to cook for one holiday meal. As the youngest, considered the flightiest, my mother had Valentine’s Day – not a proper holiday at all. She set a good table; but it was not a meal we put our whole selves into. By silent consensus between her and I, that was Midsummer’s Eve.
That meal required a bigger table even than the massive one in dining room with all its leaves in. The barn stood unused (we sold furniture, not crops), and a storm had blown off one of its doors. This door, usually propped inside, my mother and I dragged across the yard to set upon two wooden trestles of uncertain origin, out in the middle of the deep-grass field, all burned golden by the summer sun.
This table was far from an object of beauty until my mother set to work on it. First she threw her heavy linen cloth over it, just long enough to cover the whole surface. Over that, the crocheted lace runner, with accents of tiny green leaves and pink rosebuds.
At each setting, with the bowls, the plates, the good old silverware with the monograms on the back, the starched napkins, and the porcelain teacups, we set out stones as though they were place cards. Citrine, like petrified marmalade. Tiny garnets from the river, kept in a doll’s cup so that they didn’t get lost. Hematite, which bleeds red if you cut it. Smoky quartz. Serpentine, which I always laid out in an S-curve, although it wasn’t strictly necessary.
My father always arranged to be in town on Midsummer’s Day. If his excuse fell through, he would sit inside reading the paper all day, even on the brightest day, and ignore us as we rushed about getting things ready. He affected to believe it was all a game for my benefit, but I knew better. My mother made is clear that it was an honor to participate, not a right, and that none of this was for me.
To finish the table, instead of food, my mother would set out the cards she’d spent the last few days meticulously copying from magazine illustrations. They showed that year’s grandest summer foods. I remember a roast beef with a lurid pink interior that probably contributed to my later vegetarianism, and a gelatin mold in the shape of a castle, with fruit suspended within. She carefully shaded and indicated the various transparencies of the gelatin.
Part II [Added later]
The first is a proper tmt, written in almost exactly ten minutes. The second is a bit of a cheat, since it got more involved and ended up being more like the forty-five-minute tale. It follows my self-imposed rules in other respects, in that it was written all at one go (although not quite sequentially) and was revised only once, during the copying-out process, without changing any major plot elements.
I don't have time to post both here right now, and the second is so long that it probably would work better as a separate entry. I am off to the Art Gallery, to use the membership my co-conspirator so delightfully acquired, and to spend time with a gaggle of the sort of people who like to wander around peering at pictures and other artifacts of imagination. Very Excited.As to the story, well, you can tell already, I think, that I like Boxes with Things Inside.
So here, for your, well, really, my pleasure, is
The Hologram Box
I found it while I was looking for something else, which is often how I find things which are important enough that I would never think to look for them.
Forty years ago, it must have been a neat little piece of technology. A hologram box, cheap enough to give out at a children's party, which is how I received it, at the age of ten. Now it's like a pressed-tin truck, an odd relic of old manufacturing techniques. It seems somehow like it's made of the wrong materials -- green plastic, silicon.
The box is about an inch square, and a little shallower. The lid projects an unremarkable hologram of a rolling wave, only slightly elevated from the surface. When you open it, you see a miniature seascape inside -- a little beach, a little tide washing up against it. If you tilt the box, you can move the tide out or in. You can't pour out the hologrammatic water or sand. I tried often enough.
I often climbed into that box in my mind. When I was in trouble, when I did poorly at school. When we moved away from all my friends and enemies to the moon, to live under a silver dome with artificial air and weather. My little hologram comforted me, a world within a world. And of course the colony was like a larger box, in those days when we still thought terraforming was an exercise of astonishing power and skill.
The earth itself, though bounded by an atmosphere and not a plastic wall, easily cracked and certainly subject to spillage, is also a box. Now we can tilt it this way and that, spin it backwards, create as many new boxes as we want.
But I never wanted to know how to make or control the box. I only ever wanted to crawl inside and then forget it was there, except for the sense of safety its smallness gave, a world bounded, finite, comprehensible. There are no boxes like that any more. Maybe I am the only one who still wants one.
Today I made postcards and wrote stories.
I have spoken often enough in this journal before about my minor addiction to playing games on the palm pilot. I like it for taking me away from the moment -- my moments are a little bit burdensome these days and I like to miss some of them -- and involving me in, if not quite a story, at least a set of actions with sequences and outcomes.
A little bit of this before bed is all right; no worse than a glass of wine, say, or whatever else you choose to do to get off to sleep. But I don't like how much time it can take up out of the rest of my day.
Today I took the average time one of the longer games takes (10 minutes) and set myself a task instead; to write a full story, beginning, middle, and end, in ten minutes, echoing the structure of the game.
Below are the first two stories. I would also include one of the postcards, but I don't have a scan. They are all in that fairly recognizable Art Student Collage style, so if you imagine one you'll probably be pretty accurate.
If you give me your address, and ask me for one, I may send one to you; and if you are very lucky I will write a Postcard Story on the back, which I believe means a story of 100 words or less.
The stories are slightly redrafted from the original as I type them in, but I didn't change the overall structure of either one, since that would be cheating. You can see from the first story that I got caught by my own restrictions. I did a little better with the second; but I'm really more of a mood-setter than a get-to-the-action writer, so it's a challenge.
I think you can tell from the titles what genre and quality of story they are...
1. The Ice Stones of Ixos
The principle drug of the Ixian peninsula is Quicksilver. I travel back and forth from island to island, and sometimes ship to ship, selling and trading. (I do not buy.) This is all, of course, illegal, but almost everything is, somewhere.
One month I transacted business every day without once touching land; in fact I had to, since we were en route to Ixos, the farthest island of the North Ocean, and there was nowhere to put into shore.
There was plenty of trade to be done on the water. We passed the floating raft-city of Aiw, towed by the vast machines of lost technologies that move them on ancient and prescribed routes through the ocean.
The northlands are a bitter cold and miserable place, and Ixos is the bitterest of all. But they have Ice -- not ordinary ice, available in surplus all through the North Ocean, but Icestone, transparent, harder than anything in the world.
So we did a profitable month at sea, dealing with all the ships hurrying as far away from Ixos as they possibly could, and happy to trade lesser diamonds for lesser mixtures, the chance of a Quicksilver escape from the stony memories of the place.
You can't just dig up diamonds on Ixos, and you can't just ask for them either. They are one of the few independent islands left. The forbidding cliffs of the place make it difficult to besiege, but it's the secret of Ixos that prevents some larger power from making it into their monarch's personal jewellery box.
In fine, nobody knows where the stones come from. Not from the dull grey cliffs, not from the mountains. Some say they can distill stones out of seawater, like salt, but I've never credited those rumours.
We went to the taverns, the trade-halls, the markets; we saw a few dull stones made into necklaces and the like, but nothing worth what we had to trade. So we went home. The end.
2. The Mysterious Box
I should be kept out of junk-shops. I should spend my money on groceries, on clothes, I should give it away rather than buy the things I get at Madelaine's Antique Curiositorium. Instead I buy things like the blue box, and I can't even bring myself to be sorry about it, despite everything that has happened.
This box was made of lacquered wood, hard as metal, in an unusual shade of deep blue, with six drawers that had no pulls. Instead they sprang open -- somewhat alarmingly -- at the touch of a catch. What made the box interesting was that the catch on each drawer sprang, not the drawer itself, but one of its neighbors.
At first this mystified me, but one day, springing them each in turn, I saw the sequence. Each catch took the form of a small figure, cast in silver, in oddly flattened perspective: a flea, a mouse, a rat, a dog, a wolf, and a hand.
You can see the logic. Mouse kills flea, rat kills mouse, and so on. I had some trouble distinguishing the mouse from the rat, and the dog from the wolf, at first, and referred to the larger forms as 'big mouse' and 'mean dog,' but a friend suggested the more sensible alternative.
What was in the drawers? I'm coming to that. In fact, that was what led me back to the junk shop, to find out if the proprietor had meant to sell me, along with the box, its contents, including thirty thousand yen and a drycleaning slip made out to a Harold Tewksbury. While she was examining my small pile of contraband, her glasses on the end of her nose, I happened to mention I'd figured out the puzzle of the latches. When I explained them to her, she roared with laughter.
"Oh, dear," she said, "That's not right at all. Don't you know that the only way to cure lycanthropy is to feed the person the hand of the one who bit them? And then, you know, if you want to get rid of a dog-spirit, like in The Hound of the Baskervilles," which was a hoax, but never mind, "You can take the wolfskin, left over when the person changes back, and throw it over the spirit, and then it'll take solid form and you can kill it."
This didn't sound like an improvement to me, but I kept quiet. "Then again, when you've killed the spirit, it will vanish all but its teeth, and these you can use,"
"To scare off rat spirits?" I suggested.
"No, dearie, you use a cat for that. No, but if you wear them -- around your neck, not in your mouth -- you can talk to anything with fur or four legs, including the rats. And of course, rats are the only other beasts that the mice, so fearful yet so wise, will truck with.
"You can ask the rats how to find the Mouse King's hoard. And if you find that, you find him, since he never leaves his treasure. And, well, the Mouse King is the only one who knows where to find the Flea Who Lives Forever."
I thought my explanation was tidier, and that hers borrowed too much from The Nutcracker, but I thanked her for the story (which you should always do, even for one you didn't want) and departed. I left her the drycleaning slip, but not the money.