Episode Five ♦ Dreams 

Life had a dreamlike quality for Luis since leaving Willem’s house; the train ride, the dining hall felt more like Informateur images than reality.

The conversation with Willem dominated Luis’ thoughts: Had his friend gone mad? Why was Willem running away? Chasing aspirations of a natural, wild existence was not beyond Luis’ ken – romantic era literature was riddled with pursuit of the idealized natural man: a life free of artifice and rationalized presumptions of how the world should be. He too wanted life to be better, more perfect, but running away from society was not the answer.

Approaching this new world with no plans worried Luis most. “When are you leaving? Where are you going? What will you do out there? Where will you live? How will you get food? How will you defend yourself?” Why not just stay here? Luis had given up asking the questions which inundated his consciousness like the bank-swollen Mississippi flooded the Delta.

“Will I see you before you go?” Luis had asked.

“Hard to say – might leave tomorrow, might leave next week,” had been Willem’s reply.

“Well, in case – you know – take care. Get word to me that you made it.” Unable to look his friend in the eye, Luis tensed up when Willem put his arms around him. For Luis ‘friendly hugs’ were an oxymoron. The moment had grown even more awkward: his clumsy return of the hug then mumbling “see you” as he had walked out of Willem’s door.

Thinking over the events, Luis wished he could have acted differently but he succored his conscience with the knowledge he would have another chance to say goodbye.

Luis picked up his tray and carried his half-eaten meal of Yankee pot roast, mashed potatoes, and succotash to the cleaning station. He set the tray on the receiving platform, a door opened, the tray glided past the threshold, and the door slammed shut. The suddenness shook Luis from the replayed memory.

Too depressed to go for a walk, uninterested in talking with other residents, put off by the thought of a swim, Luis took the lift back to the thirty-fifth floor. He stopped at the communal sanitary facilities and checked the status displays looking for the first door that showed “ready” above an icon of a sit commode. The door slid open and then closed behind him. At completion Luis thought, “No bidet service,” used the proffered swipe, stood, pulled up his trousers, and exited the small room. The status changed to “sanitizing.”

Across the room were another set of doors and he stopped at the first one that said “ready” above a spritzing shower nozzle. He entered, sat on the small bench, and started to undress. Across from him a panel opened revealing hatches labeled “laundry,” “shoes,” and “personal items.” He pushed his dirty clothing through the laundry door and placed his shoes in a container.

He stood, the panel closed, and the shower adjusted to Luis’ preset temperature, nozzle position, and water pressure. Water cascaded over his short, black hair and down his café au lait colored skin. He allowed himself to cry for three minutes while the water ran.

A small amount of shampoo dripped onto his head and he rubbed his scalp and face with his fingers. When a pre-lathered brush appeared in its window he swiped it over his body. He replaced the brush, the window closed, and the water returned for a three-minute rinse.

When the water ceased, another portal opened radiating warmth. Luis reached for the waiting towel, dried off, dropped the used towel through the laundry hatch and took a warm, white, terrycloth bathrobe and pair of moccasins from the same window. He slipped on the robe, cinched the belt, stepped into the slippers, and shuffled off to his room where he changed into a pair of freshly laundered, silken pajama pants and slipped on the matching top, misaligning the buttons.

Luis flicked off the moccasins, climbed up the five-rung ladder to his bed, and lay on his back. The lights dimmed, he closed his eyes, but sleep was a reluctant companion.

He and Willem walked a hillside wooded with familiar trees – oak, hickory, birch, maple, and pine – when they approached an enormous evergreen which had fallen across a gulch. Luis asked, “Will you cross it?” Willem answered in the affirmative, handed Luis a tiny, ivory egg, and started across the whitish-grey trunk. As Willem walked the tree grew smaller, sagging and bouncing under his weight. At the same time the egg grew in both in mass and volume. Luis watched silently as Willem disappeared into the woods on the other side.

Luis continued up the path on his side of the chasm. The trail grew steeper, the trees less familiar and covetous of sunlight forcing him to struggle against their tangled murkiness before emerging into a dense prairie which covered a now gentle rise. Cresting the ridge, he sat on a large boulder and reveled in the glorious sunshine. His eyes followed the hill brow around a wide, irregular, circular expanse which enclosed a body of sapphirine water too wide to swim across. The ridge’s far edge was obscured by clouds.

A noise – it could not be flatulence – captured his attention. Along the crest he saw the back of a fat man with blond hair sitting on a log defecating over the lake. The naked man stood and walked towards a small, dilapidated hut. Equally naked, a dark-skinned woman with long, black hair greeted him at the door: they embraced and made love on the earth. Were they unaware or uninterested in his presence he wondered.

A rush of wind blew away the clouds and Luis discovered a churning sea beyond the far ridge. Enormous waves barreled towards the shore. Whether from fear or fascination, Luis sat transfixed watching as the waves broke and water rushed up the mountainside. Another and then another wave breaking, each higher than the last, until finally the ridge was bested.

Luis sat resigned to his fate: the seaspray hitting his face. He felt refreshed but guilty.

Having engulfed the pristine lake, the ocean receded. The hut, man, and woman were gone. He looked around for the egg but only found a small chick. Safeguarding the chick in his shirt pocket, Luis started walking home to a collection of small shacks perched on a plateau high above the ocean. He stopped at the lean-to of the old man and admired his cow, its udders swollen with milk, before continuing to the overlook.

Tourists milled around admiring the view. The ocean had receded exposing kelp and crustaceans to the air before again swelling in the distance. Luis feared another eminent tsunami and wondered if they were high enough to escape the sea’s wrath.

As the first wave broke against the cliff, the tourists ran away. Villagers huddled together as this first wave dissipated leaving the broken bodies of seals strewn on the rocky beach far below. Another giant wave broke and Luis could see the drops of spray on his black, leather shoes, but the village remained safe from the angry sea.

Luis woke from his dream.

♦ ♦ ♦

Avinashika’s evening was uneventful. A palmful of raisins, yoghurt, and curry powder seasoned the bowl of rice and lentils she ate sitting on her back stoop. The sun dipped below the roofs of the neighboring houses and trees and the soft mewing started again. She drew comfort knowing that her favorite part of her home – besides the garden – now sheltered a family of feral cats.

She debated if going next door to offer assistance would be helpful or annoying. Curtains were already hung and drawn in the bedroom. Maybe the baby was sleeping. Maybe the parents too? Or maybe they had gone for another load. She decided it was better to wait for some indication they needed help or at least wanted a hand.

Her thoughts drifted to her run-in with Bubbeh’s oracle the previous day:

Listen and know!

The man of bright colors deposits a seed in an empty vessel.
The elephant takes the vessel to a man of letters.
The elephant and man of letters take the vessel out of the diseased garden.
The man of letters harvests the fruit under a distant, barren land.
The man of bright colors finds the fruit.

Listen and know!

How strange it seemed to her. The imagery made sense though a couple things gave her pause. Who was “the man of letters?” A learned man? Someone in the market who passed messages? The wording of the oracle seemed to put this man in opposition to Willem – “the man of bright colors.”

If she was “an empty vessel” then the man of letters would take her on a journey – a journey of hope and success – for the elephant was a good omen for the traveler. She struggled with the possibilities: Where would they go? Should she travel now? Would she find Willem? Was she really pregnant? And wouldn’t it be safer to have the baby here? It just made no sense to her, the granddaughter of fortune-tellers and soothsayers, but she trusted the true meaning would be revealed in time.

Feeling fatigued, Avinashika headed for bed. Maybe her new neighbors would welcome some assistance tomorrow. She donned the simple nightgown of pink, cotton tricot that she wore when sleeping alone, switched off the light, and slipped between the sheets. Replaying the image of the sunset in her mind, her eyes grew heavy and sleep came easily.

“We must find Ugo. He’s got the answers,” she said to her unseen but seemingly familiar companion. “Appledorf. That’s all I know. Ugo. Appledorf.”

Together they ran chased by a pair of over-sized Rottweilers with teeth too large for their mouths. They barked “Where?” and “When?” and “Why?” until she pulled her comrade into a large wooden crate and slammed the side shut. The dogs ran past the box and continued barking their one-word questions, the sound fading in the distance.

Pushing against the side of the box it would not give. She tried another side, then another, moved around, and tried again. They were locked in. In the pitch black she sensed her companion’s anger but felt no menace. Continuing to press against the sides of the box she cried for help. Nothing happened.

She tried to slow her breathing and banish the panic. “Don’t worry, we won’t suffocate.”

The top of the box dissolved into a cloudless, azure sky. She rested her hands on the edge and peered over. She was now in a boat with two people – the seemingly familiar partner and a man with a malevolent quality. He demanded, “I want more. Give me more!” He grabbed at her.

She pulled her companion out of the boat box. A single, red cloud hung in the sky. She pirouetted three times and an elephant with many arms appeared. Marigolds rained from the heavens as a tiny Willem sprang from the ground where she had danced.

“Thank you, Ugo!” she sang as she danced with her companion.

Avinashika woke feeling hopeful.

♦ ♦ ♦