For Karin C. and Corey R. who asked: An unreadable dream with a plot but a fully unsatisfying ending. In three parts.
Part I: Lennon/McCartney/Encouragement
In my dream last night I was traveling somewhere with a much older woman I didn’t know and whose name I never learned. Let’s call her Mrs. Stranger. We were in an airport, waiting to begin the first leg of our journey, but the entire place appeared to be empty. And there, on the floor of this empty airport, I suddenly found myself giving birth. Mrs. Stranger held the baby, a boy, for a moment before handing him back to me and saying we should change our plans and take the baby to its father before continuing on. In the dream I never knew the detail of who the father was, but I did know I didn’t like him.
I cradled my new son, trying to decide what to do, vaguely aware it was all just a dream. I began singing “Amazing Grace” to my sleeping baby and thought maybe I’d name him John, after John Newton, knowing even then my child had a life ahead of him that would require much grace. There’s part of me lately that’s really wanted to name my son Paul, after the Apostle, and I remember thinking either way I’d have a son named after a Beatle. I smiled. I remember thinking it was too bad I couldn’t name him Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement,” because I just might like Barnabas best out of the entire New Testament, and because all I wanted to do in that moment was love on my son and encourage him to hold fast better than I had.
I settled on John.
Mrs. Stranger and I decided we ought to leave, if not to introduce my son to his father then at least to wait at home until there were people working at the airport. As we prepared to leave I realized I couldn’t find my purse. It was a shiny red number identical to a black one I own in waking life. The purse contained my cell phone, wallet, black moleskine notebook, and a few other nondescript items. We scoured our level of the airport, as well as the floors above and below where we’d been. All three were equally abandoned, and none appeared to harbor my missing purse.
We left the airport and headed to a place that may have been home; not a house, not any building in particular, just a place that felt remotely like where we belonged. I didn’t want to be there. Something felt wrong. But we couldn’t stay on an abandoned level of an airport forever. People around us, more strangers to me, cooed over the baby. Some offered to help find my purse; none were successful.
An older man with thinning white hair was so excited to show me he’d found some raw materials to piece together to make me a new purse, and some new things to put in it; a new phone, a new wallet. But when I saw what he was using I didn’t want his help. He had sheets of heavy white plastic the size of manhole covers with handle holes already cut out. He was going to nail two pieces together, paint them red, and fill them with the new things for me. I wanted to be grateful. I felt sad he was trying so hard to help me when it wasn’t what I really wanted or needed. It wasn’t really my purse. I left as he returned excitedly to his work.
From that point on I don’t think I ever held my baby again.
Part II: Thrown Into the Sea
Mrs. Stranger and I left once again for our ultimate destination (a place I was never quite sure of) and learned we were to have an eight or so day layover in a town we were to pass along the way. We were ushered into an expansive luxury suite in an enormous hotel in the middle of the night shortly after our arrival. A porter brought in our bags.
“What floor are we on?” I asked Mrs. Stranger.
Forma Urbis Romae
“The twelfth,” she beamed, as she threw open the balcony doors and we stepped out to get a better view of our temporary host city. “Vegas!” she grinned, winking at me as we surveyed the stone, brick, and clay city laid out before us. In the smoky night air every light in every building was glowing, with enormous fire pits scattered throughout the city for added light, their garish orange flames leaping twenty feet in the air, towering over most of the surrounding buildings.
We knew it wasn’t Las Vegas. We had actually been sent to Babylon in the glory days of Mesopotamia. A historian’s dream come true! Yet I didn’t know what I wanted more: To hide in our room so no one would realize we didn’t belong in this time period, or to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore this lost wonder.
A dark mountain towered over the city to the left, father of a range of mountains that continued out and around the city coming almost full circle to encompass it on the right as well. I was sick with fear. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I missed my son and wanted to continue on our journey so we could ultimately return home.
And then suddenly there we were, out in the city.
Except it wasn’t some ancient metropolis like it had appeared to be from our window. It was a modern city, complete with a single-ride theme park. We approached their roller coaster, designed to look like a Chinese dragon. It’s body was light purple, with swaths of sour green stretching along its full length. Its head was also purple, with a curling white beard carved into waves around its giant face, its mouth open in a permanent growl, its narrowed eyes focused permanently on the track before it. The designers had intended it to look majestic, but it just looked grotesque. I balked.
“We’ll just ride it once,” said my companion, “and then we need to find a gift store to buy souvenirs for our friends.”
Nothing in me wanted to get into one of the waiting carts forming the body of the dragon. The heights looked so high I knew my stomach would spend most of the ride in my throat. The depths looked so low I was afraid I’d end up plastered to my seat from the speed of each descent.
“Let’s go back,” I pleaded.
Walking Dragon, Qing Dynasty
And then we were on the ride, soaring, dropping, hard right turns, hard lefts, but something wasn’t right. As we plunged down one of the hills I felt the back end of the line of cars come loose from the track. We continued on, diving so far down at one point I thought for sure we were going to plummet right through the tracks and continue on into the earth. Instead the track plunged thirty feet down into a man-made lake, and us and our ride along with it.
I figured if we kept moving at our current speed we’d travel the under water portion of the track quickly enough we wouldn’t all run out of air and drown. I held my breath in terror as the dragon sped along, when I turned toward the tail end of the line of cars and saw children being flung from them as one after another became so dangerously detached from the track they had begun whipping around in the water like a tail, threatening to collide with the rock and reef formations to our sides. One child tried grabbing on to the track as she floated down into the water, but it sparked at her touch causing her to draw her hand back in pain. And then she was gone, sinking into the unlit depths beyond our view.
I looked ahead in time to see my companion grab at some objects floating past her, just as the line of cars reached the next upswing of the track, ferrying us out of the lake. The dragon slowed to a stop to allow the remaining riders to disembark.
“I got our souvenirs!” she gushed, holding up the items she’d grabbed in the water during the scariest part of the ride. “Look– two rings! We can give these to…” and she named some of the people we were on our way to see. More people I didn’t know; residents of another unknown place.
“That’s fine. Let’s just go back to the hotel,” I begged.
And so finally we went.
I awoke briefly, then fell back asleep and found myself back at the airport where a male dog- a security dog? someone’s pet?- had just eaten one of the rings. Mrs. Stranger was wailing and screaming in anger and frustration over what had happened. I looked at the dog, watched its face turn mean. It began barking, slobbering, running loose through the airport, terrorizing the patrons. My stomach began to turn with anxiety. Waves of abdominal pain left me confused and unsteady. And then we were gone.
Mrs. Stranger and I found ourselves in a high-end apartment overlooking a large, modern city of bright skies and towering buildings made of metal and glass. The apartment- home to whoever it was we’d been traveling to see- was beautifully furnished with tall tables, plush leather couches, green marble kitchen counter tops. Even their dog, a young but full-grown female, looked expensive. One of those short-haired slender dogs with legs like tapered candles.
I wandered around the kitchen, peeked into the bathroom, glanced over the entryway. During my self-guided tour I noticed the dog had come along side me. She was beautiful and affectionate. I pointed for her to go into the living room so my companion could see her. When she reached the living room, however, she snatched the second ring from my fellow traveler’s hand and ate it.
As Mrs. Stranger began screaming and cursing at the dog for what she’d done I felt my stomach begin to flip again. The pain was unbearable. I stumbled, fell, crawled into the bathroom, and faced a worrying decision: stay or go? I was too embarrassed to leave it in case I was about to be as violently ill as I felt like I was, but too afraid to stay lest the dog should become wild like the one at the airport had and go on to kill everyone in the living room, strangers all. Could I trust my companion to be prepared? But no; I knew I could not as she’d been so distracted by her own fury during the first dog’s rampage she hadn’t noticed how vicious it had ultimately become.
Weeping with pain and panic I collapsed on the floor. I struggled to rise almost as quickly as I’d fallen when I saw I’d just given birth to half a dozen or more crying, biting animals the size of my fist and covered in spikes. The pain had subsided, but I couldn’t bring myself to open the bathroom door because– what if these things escaped?
I felt like everything was falling apart. My life. This place. The world. And all I wanted was to find my baby, my John, my Paul, my Barnabas. But I knew it was hopeless to even look for him, so I woke up.