Last night I dreamed I was with friends in an indoor public place- a restaurant or a mall, maybe- filled with the half-height walls those sorts of places use to create the perimeter of a food court, or to divide one dining section from another. The walls were deep, and made of a light-colored wood.
One of the walls had a decorative box built into the top at the end, a bit like the newel post pictured here, and about 9 inches square. The side of the square facing me had been replaced with a piece of thick plexiglass so I could see the box was filled almost to the top with water, and that a gray and white goldfish and a champagne colored gerbil were swimming inside.
The gerbil was treading water desperately, trying so hard to keep its nose in the inch or so of air at the top of the box. I started pounding on the plexiglass screwed to the face of the box, trying to break it to release this sad little creature before it drowned.
(It just occurred to me that I gave no thought to what might become of the fish were I to succeed in breaking through the plexiglass.)
I looked around and saw no one with me seemed bothered that someone had doomed this fish by shutting it into a “bowl” where the water could never be aerated, nor that this gerbil was even more precariously trapped and was clearly on the verge of drowning.
So why wasn’t anyone else upset? Why weren’t they helping? Why weren’t they even looking?
I remembered I had a mini multipurpose tool in my bag, with a small screwdriver folded into it alongside its picks and files and blades. I knew the screwdriver’s tip was too small a size to remove screws as large as the ones holding the plexiglass in place, and began praying for help as I ran to the people around me, begging them to get involved as I searched for wherever I had left my bag.
I felt so alone, and realized I was scared. And no matter what I said, or however urgently I said it, everyone I met replied with silence. Frustrated, accusatory silence.
I found my bag, but when I pulled out the multipurpose tool I saw the screwdriver was now larger than it had been before. I ran to the box and franticly attacked the screws. As they came out they cracked and split the glass, letting the water rush out onto the floor.
(I never did see the fish again. Perhaps it was just there in the beginning to help me understand the purpose of the box?)
I caught the soaking wet gerbil as it fell and laid it on top of the the low wall to catch its breath while I took my bag back to wherever I had grabbed it from. When I returned to the animal it appeared to be in worse shape than when I had left it only moments before, and none of the people standing around had stepped in to try to help it.
“What’s wrong with you?” I yelled at them. “It’s dying! Why didn’t any of you do something to help him while I was away?!”
More silence as shoulders were shrugged and backs were turned.
I scooped the little fellow up and cupped him in my hands, stroking his head and face with my fingertip and blowing warm air across his fur to dry him off. He opened his eyes and began moving around a bit. I was so happy that he was alive and recovering, and so angry that no one had done anything to help us. I didn’t know any more about what to do than any of them did, you know? They should’ve done something.
Why didn’t they do something?
I dreamed last night I found a fat, white, aquatic ferret with a black tipped tail like an ermine. Its claws were long, its fingers scaly like a lizard’s, and its teeth looked like they belonged in the jaws of a dinosaur we should be glad has gone extinct.
The creature interacted well with my current ferret brood, but kept leaving them injured after playing with them because of its deadly jaws and paws. It scurried in and out of my arms, up and down and around my torso, playful and chittery and surprisingly heavy in my hands. It was used to living under water and alone, but seemed so much to want to stay with us. It grew happier and happier, and more and more playful, even as its fur would dry and it would have to run back into a rocky pool to wet up.
And so I told it I would keep it as long as it wanted to stay.
I tried to create a place for it to live in my home, separated from my other ferrets so it wouldn’t accidentally hurt them, but every tank I found for it leaked.
Before I could find a solution, I woke up.
“Remember on this one thing, said Badger. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.”
- Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel
I fell back asleep and dreamed I was taken- not with force, but not by choice- onto a giant, steel ship. I was lead below deck to a giant passenger hold like a commuter car on a puddle jumper train. There was an empty seat to my left, so I took it and belted in. And then strapped in. And then belted in some more. What was this? Why all the extra safety measures for simply sitting in a seat on an enormous boat?
I looked up, and the ceiling above my head was a window full of twilit clouds and sky. The captain’s voice came over the speakers all around announcing that all personnel should find their seats because we were about to dive.
It was a submarine?
I looked up through the window. We dove. I could not determine the angle of our descent, except that I knew it must have been sharp as the ocean around us was almost immediately tar dark through the windows at each row of seats. I checked the ceiling view again. No stars, no sky, not even water. Just blackness. I pictured the window above me cracking and wondered if pressure or drowning killed more quickly.
“God? I love you.”
I gripped my arm rests, ready to die there in the unavoidable rush of an unchosen sea.
The captain’s voice came on again to say we would continue to take on passengers at various undersea docking points. We did so, each time diving deeper down to avoid the subsequent barrage of torpedo fire from the new passengers’ previous vessels. They were refugees of some sort. Were we taking on good guys? Bad guys? I never knew.
I got up from my seat under the guise of looking for a restroom, and set about exploring. I found myself in an empty great hall with gold walls and vaulted ceilings. An exhausted group of five or so wilting strangers approached me. I assumed they were our most recent pick up, so I regarded them as fellow commuters.
They were heading toward a nearby bench, so I sat down on it to join them. The youngest in the group was a woman with auburn hair who looked to be in her 20s. She sat beside me on the bench, curled up under my arm, and went to sleep. Another woman, who carried herself like the leader of the band, her hair dark and broken, her jacket creased and worn, worked her face into a small smile for me, and leaned back against the wall behind us to go to sleep herself.
The hall was vast and silent, the walls glittering, the chests of the strangers rising and falling. I tightened my arm around the sleeping girl to keep her from slipping. She opened her eyes, thanked me, said she loved me, and went back to sleep. I stared ahead, wondering without care if anyone missed me in the dim tunnel of belted seating I’d left behind.
Suddenly a door to our left burst open, admitting four giant men, skin dark as the ocean, spears in hand, and looking for all the world like they’d just arrived from hiding in plain sight as a museum display. The sleeping group woke and leaped to their feet as the men demanded I join them. Not “them” the four men, but “them” the four men and the troupe of sleepers. I realized they had not been picked up, they had snuck aboard- and they were all working together.
“It’s time,” said the dark haired woman. “This is why you’re here. We need you to tell the captain. It’s over. It’s time.”
The painted men had set down their weapons and were changing into black pants and shirts from bags I had just noticed them carrying. “Yes,” said one. “She’s right. We can’t wait any longer. We are all here now and it’s going to work this time. You must tell the captain that this is right, and that you are leaving with us.”
“I love you,” whispered the younger woman. “Come with us. Tell the captain. It’s time.”
I felt the ship shift and dive, faster than before. A look to a window revealed more torpedoes speeding past.
“I can’t,” I said. “It’s not my place. I’m not a part of this. I don’t even know who you are. I’d get in so much trouble, and it will never work.”
I wanted to be wrong. I wanted them to be right. I wanted them to be heroes. I wanted them to save the day while I watched from the best seat in the house. And somewhere buried under fears of death by pressure and drowning, I wanted to be one of them.
“Help us. Please.”
I woke up.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
- Anaïs Nin