by Owen McGrann
The light streams through the blinds and floods the room. It awakens me, unbidden – often times before 6 am. The park across the street bleeds its bluster into the house. The dog is up in arms. Five days ago, she left. She had good reason. I spend my time working like crazy as a way to distract myself. She is ready to leave, and if she does, I will be destroyed. I will not survive.
The world shades to invisible. Automobiles race at the same speed to the same stop sign, a constant red-tailing blur splashing down the wet pot-holed road. Power lines—electric snakes poised to attack—cease to hang overhead slithering pole to pole to pole. Buildings fade into a long, faceless façade of collective resignation, everybody hiding behind blinded windows and recoiling from the ineffable doubles surrounding us. Most days I would fail to recognize my own face in a line-up. But every once in a while, the world announces itself and I am bludgeoned into stammering recognition.
She disappeared last week, and nothing makes sense any longer. I am reminded of a dream, a happenstance. I began my daydreaming as I was driving with visions of discrete electronic numbers and quickly slipped into more freeform reverie. My mind worked silently to hush the conscious stream of thought which threatened to take over, recalling images, stories, bleeding into the music blaring from the speakers. I had too much to understand, too many questions I needed to be answered, to fall prey to consciousness. Questions are always best answered in daydreams, which are destined to be forgotten. I knew this.
I remembered a dream The Girl related to me just before she left. She sat cross-legged, with her curly black hair in a mess like a bird’s nest and her brown eyes half-shut, on top of the bedcovers like Athena dispensing wisdom from on high. It was a recurring dream, she said, visiting her at least once a week for the past month or two. She didn’t remember how long, exactly, but it didn’t really matter. A woman was in an old city—it could have been European or eastern American, she couldn’t tell. The city sprawled in all directions with unchecked aggression. She wasn’t quite sure why she was there, but she knew the date she was to leave: five days hence. That date was absolute. Five days.
The woman walked over an old stone bridge. It wasn’t particularly imposing, but the sapling trees on either end made the bridge appear larger than it in fact was. Underneath, a calm, brown river did not move. About halfway across the bridge, the woman’s heel got wedged into a crack in the pathway and broke clean off, sending her careening forward. At the last moment, a man caught her shoulder with long, sinewy hands and lifted her back to her feet, saying, “You should get yourself a pair of flats.” The woman looked up at the man, who was about her age, maybe a few years older, and said, “Flats?” Blushing, she muttered something about being new to the city, and then, “Oh, you mean shoes. Flats.” He asked if she was all right and suggested that he might drive her to her destination as his car was just over the bridge and…well, she wouldn’t be walking very far in a pair of broken four-inch stilettos.
It was at this part in the dream that events always began to lose focus. The scene on the bridge faded into a scene at a sidewalk café. On opposite sides of a small circular table sat the man and woman. They were clearly attracted to each other, flirting as they sipped their tea. The woman had her legs crossed and one of her new shoes dangled on the tip of her toes playfully; he didn’t notice, but she didn’t mind. They never asked about the other, rather talked poetry and post-impressionism and pretentious novels. In fact, they never exchanged names.
The scene faded again, and now they were in her hotel room. She wasn’t sure how they got there, didn’t recognize the clothes in her suitcase or her lingerie, but it fit for the few moments he allowed her to keep it on. She felt his hand on her shoulder again, but it was different this time; it wasn’t a rescue but a request, and she took his arm and gripped with equal pressure. Neither let go.
The Girl stopped for a moment as she told the dream. She shivered. Then she said: The first time I had the dream it ended there. It was just another production from a smutty mind. But the next time, the dream picked up again a few days later. Clearly, the liaison continued in the meantime. The second dresser in the hotel suite was filled with his clothes, even though he had a flat somewhere in town, which she would not let him show her. During the day, they would go shopping at the great old vendors which lined the great old streets. Restaurants faded into nightclubs, late nights into early afternoons, afternoons into lovemaking.
They talked and talked, but about what remained vague. It was the communication that moved effortlessly beyond small talk, but which proceeded with small talk’s quiet assurance, as though an impromptu script lay before them. Only one thing that was said was vivid: “Love falls prey to the same disaster as life: it exists in time.” But even this, even this was not attributable to either of them. It was simply there, a fact that hung between them, connecting them, claiming both even as it baffled them.
There was another pause in dream-telling. The Girl got off the bed and walked to the bathroom. For a moment, I thought the dream had reached its end, that she was about to brush her teeth and get dressed, make some coffee; then she turned around and began again.
Lately, the dream has ended like this:
On the fifth day, she told him she had to leave, that she had a flight to catch. She was to head home, back to the claims and duties of her life. At first, he tried to convince her that she ought to stay. She merely laughed at him, and left. She said goodbye to the man whose name she still did not know. Never in her life had she felt so exalted, never so happy. Never again did they see the other.
When I emerged from my daydream, rain was falling hard against the windshield. I was angry with myself for thinking of her—something I knew I must do, must face, but something I regretted doing each time I did. To distract myself, I pulled into the right lane and watched the trees slide past until they looked as if they were in slow motion.