He had that dream again. The one with that road, that hill, that intersection never born of the dust and pollen of the real world. The dream with that sense, that gut rumbling dread and that hum of unease , that dream with the car that never has the same driver, never the same interior, never the same engine sound, but 20 years of it navigating those damn hills, stopping at that intersection of pure impasse.
The dream was one of those odd places in sleep, some odd neural drain pipe mold collection, he had a few such places imagined that his dreams sutured to. One was an impossible university campus that had the greenest hills, most gorgeous Spanish style roofed buildings, a cafeteria always open partially inside a giant redwood tree and a dorm he shared with the ghosts of past. Another was a humble 50’s home with a perpetually flooded front yard he for 20 years had toured with a dull, droning real estate agent and his best friend. Another was a thousand odd variations of his parents house sold long ago; it at times had hidden rooms in walls and tenants in rooms inside the aging, dull stairs, at times it had a glimmering impossible view of ocean from the San Fernando valley. Other times it sank into that ocean, eaten as though waves were foamed with teeth and tide was a bored potent mouth.
This was the other one. This dream site was the one he had dreamed his whole life as far back as he could as a bitter tired adult recall. It was there in childhood night terrors. It was there in pre-teen stress dreams of cars with wheels vanishing and of social failures so large as castles and volcanoes at 10 or 11. It held in its dead brush arms an army of dreams of just being lost.
That hill just hates me he thought sometimes.
Is it possible for the brain to manifest a specific few miles of landscape to just really bum you out? Like, could it be some poisoned synapse just hates me, of me hating myself, in wait to spread ruin to a short nap of full night’s sleep? He thought one day while he blew a test, that hour of sleep after a pot of coffee and cramming sunk like a ship from that damn hill and a bad, bad dream.
There were those other places, the lost ones, the ones somehow his brain had turned away from. He had for years dreamed of college dorms inside huge malls and hotels, the dreams glimmering, neon, carnivals of sound and activity, his room always huge and neat. These 3 dream locations died August 2008. Something of that summer and of never going back to school put these dream architectures to rest, murdered by disuse as his life turned or maybe just passing away peacefully as that strand of possibility was simply no more. He also dreamed of his dirty kitchen having a door he had never noticed, a humble old door that when opened either led to a whole other apartment he had never bothered to use, a horrific party full of dead relatives stuck there with old food from never or , even worse, a family next door really annoyed he did that again who were making dinner in a kitchen mirroring his, wall stains and all.
James was 35, had the same type of crap job since the end of his twenties and the same apartment. He had the same room mate as well. He had two college degrees, one diploma lost in his parents garage when he moved in after graduation for a time, back in his old room, lost in the world, a future hopefully somewhere in waiting. The other diploma he accidentally sold in a box of books after he was forced to move between low paying jobs in San Francisco after that shiny bachelor’s degree. Grandma cried at the ceremony at least. Dad hugged him. His dying mother saw the video. He meanwhile felt like a hollowed tree at the ceremony, the quiet after the family left hitting like the edge of flat earth.
35. The number to him was itself a kind of flat field, a purgatory, a canyon dry and dull among milestones. The uncertain unmade future so scary and full of portent at 25 was dried to ash at 30, the womb comfort of 22 at university was a faint ghost on hills he was lost in while asleep or a noxious whiff of gas of lost freedoms and naivete those times stuck in traffic, that spinning wheel of practical concerns spiraling away in the anti-carnival of adulthood and a sense of doldrums. He once even held a funeral with a few friends for the goofy hopeful kid he was at 18. They even made banners.
James sat up in bed and tried to go through the details of the hill this time around. It was darker somehow.
Drove almost the whole road again. The car kept getting older, more rust spotted like the last few times, yep. The driver changed 5 times this time. Two of them died long ago. One was that woman I saw one time on the train with those haunted eyes, amazing I still remember her for some reason. The sky was sunny this time, no rain, no fog , usually it rains there. Wait, insects? Weird. The sky had at times filled with odd creatures big as bats, spiders though, then it would clear and my aunt would say “I am going this way, this is where we are to go”. I wonder what that could possibly mean. She was skinnier than she ever was, eyes a bit hollow when she would shift gears on the ever aging Volkswagen, hair long and thin and flat as valleys. The road led to those insects then some parts I am already forgetting, something about a bus, about those things coming when someone in it would say the word “yes” with any sense of confidence. The car disintegrated at one point, that seems to happen about a quarter of the time. Yeah, sounds about right.
James saw out his window an early morning fog as he dissected the dream like so many mornings. He had a journal for a while in his early twenties but that was hope to find a cool story or poem to make from it. Never happened. At 14 or so he kept another small journal hoping for something mystical or wise to fall out of the belly of the repetition and tall yellow dead weeds at that intersection. Nothing. He threw the pretentious little book of useless notes and impotent musings into the fireplace when no one was looking on his 16th birthday as it rained heavily outside ruining his birthday party.
It was Saturday at least this time. No work this day to go to and years past the last thoughts of going back to school for that Phd.
James walked outside and figured he would walk it off, the fog and corpse of the dream and all, not let it linger in his day. He headed around the back of the apartment building and to the alley that flooded in the rain. He had never noticed the odd crack at the edge of the below ground parking structure. It was huge and seemed almost intentional and clean. James walked a few miles in the cool morning air. The fog would soon burn off. The weather report said it would be in the 90’s again. That number hung around his and many others necks with nearly the weight his age of 35 pulled so deeply down at his his. It had been somewhere near 90 for 3 years while lakes dried away, snowpack dusted at most at high peaks like powdered sugar, while water rationing became mandatory. The few days of brief rains were almost holidays.
James walked all the way to the small diner at the other end of town. There he treated himself to bacon, eggs and toast, the greasy meal a celebration of self almost as he gulped it down with coffee. The few others muttered about the hot weather at times and one man passed out in his eggs, his hair a hurricane of disarray, the grease in it a monsoon merging with the oily residue on his plate. The waitress asked James how his day was going as he asked for more iced coffee. He felt odd about it, but iced coffee especially after those really tight years financially was a great treat, like a magically caffeinated slice of chocolate cake.
“Well, pretty good. So far anyway.” He pointed his finger skyward.,
“Yeah, this fog will seem like a dream by noon” She said this wearliy but grinning politely.
“Yeah usually sleep in, it is weird to be in it here if that makes sense.” He looked down, ate a few bites.
She nodded. Poured his coffee.
He said nothing of the hill, of the car that evaporated like always, of killer insects, of an intersection that for 25 years at least he could never cross, of that dream. He dared not ruin that quiet exchange , taint any more than his awkwardness already had. He watched her walk away, chat with the man who a few moments before had his head drowning in his eggs, added some milk to his fresh coffee, spun storms with his spoon , great hurricanes crashing into each other of milk in an alien skyscape of his ice coffee glass.
“Maybe some rain next fall” she said, gently surprising him, she had come back to check him while he had his head down chewing away.
“Uh, woah, yeah….hope so..guess we all do huh?” He said awkwardly as a bit of egg fell out of his mouth onto his shirt.
A ray of sun cast in through the glass door with a kind of ice skater’s grace lost on all in the diner. 90 was on its way now. Again. This cruel forever. Some days it actually was only 87, some days it was 104, but this bastard median, this cruel relentless mathematical mean, this pattern score was the same damn number. An article in the newspaper James did not read at this moment had a scientist explain it as “that algorithm emerging out of the fog”, of how many factors kept leading the pattern to be morning fog and then somewhere around a 90 degree high in late afternoon. James saw none of this, burrowed again into his eggs, savored the caffeinated cake of what was in his glass, thought for a bit gloriously about nothing , nothing at all.
“Here we go” She half said..half muttered leadenly with dread in a conversation with herself.
“Yep….guess the morning is over now…bye bye fog” James said awkwardly, snorting at the absurdity of it all, secretly hoping he was being clever somehow or at least on the conversational mark.
James finished his meal as the waitress drifted ghostlike across the room to sit and stare out the window on her break. The man who had drowned for a time in his eggs left with bits in his hair but awake and surprisingly to James getting into a really nice imported car with scratches along its doors from someone’s keys. James paid and walked on home in the late morning heat as the last bits of fog hung in a few corners of view then were eviscerated by the sun. He passed a few other apartment buildings and noticed another one had that odd crack that almost seemed like a door. He passed the house of the once best friend who tired of his unhappiness in social gatherings, a bleak fog of words he called James once in a post on Facebook before unfriending him, an invisible wall, knife edge descending on so many moments and small things.
James a few blocks later passed the apartment of the former class mate who was the first to tire of his stories of that stupid dream, that damn hill. He had once swore their friendship “forever”, had cried and embraced the now fleshy ghost, passing nothing stranger in a time of great loss and need. Flat earth. James walked past and was nearly hit by a car pulling into the next driveway, music too loud, unaware.
James got home and on an odd whim went back to that odd crack in the back of the apartment building and pulled on it as hard as he could.
Maybe at least I can break something, something tangible for once by my hands, not in words or asleep
It is a door. Impossible. How? Why?
James swung the door open and there was a huge storage area or perhaps another level of the parking structure left unfinished.
Wait…what….buildings? Miniatures? What is this? A bunch of thrown away old movie set bits?
James looked around and it soon was clear. This was an exact reproduction of the city but of how it was in 1964 before the new places, those new building laws. One part was even “flooded” with some kind of resin , it seemed to recreate the big floods of that long lost rainy year.
Impossible. Amazing. Who would do this? Why?
There were notes in some tiny streets, some were now impossible to read, stained, worn away, dried out from once being soaked by sprinklers edging in from the dull hedges outside through the cracks in the walls.
This must have taken forever. Wow. Someone is obsessed. But thank you.
James was amazed. Awed. This was almost as wondrous as that fog. Almost.
He walked back to the other similar crack across town and hurled all his strength into pulling and amazingly it too was a sealed old door. That building was even older than his, 40’s probably. He smelled a stench of old things and decay punch him hard but he struggled in past piles of garbage, some with newspapers dated before he was born.
James found under the trash an older model of the city. This one said 1953. It was incomplete. It appeared as though someone had decades before come in and either stolen bits of this past or tore them out to destroy for some long long internal wish. The notes had long faded or rotted away. The little model trees still looked pristine if you ignored the cracks, chips and color stolen by time and wear.
Did someone do this for a job? Was this for a show? Was this to not forget?
The one note far in the corner by the spider webs had a last page not erased by the years in this place. It had math equations, figures, a tiny architectural sketch of something now illegible, incomplete. There was the clear signature of typewriting until one last ballpoint pen smear sentence.
“May this be refuge when it comes…”
James thought it was just a crumb of nuclear age paranoia. This was, in fact, crashingly disappointing, like all these details were just that fear many shared, of the cement and brick of bomb shelters, of the mutant flower blooms born of atoms splitting, of the rotten foods in those rectangles once cut into backyards staring at the cyclops eye of some shared end, shared fouled future.
The model had blocks and blocks in once perfect detail, had clearly captured a present held tight against that bright anti flower bloom that was said to be the world’s end back then.
But wait…1964? Are there more of these across this town? Of another’s present now past? Why?
James heard a car starting above and knew it was time to go. He hurriedly rushed through those old streets, the details of signs and stores so worn , so precise. He ran through the garbage blown and washed into this present past as he headed to the heavy long hidden door, shut it behind him. He took off running full speed as the car turned and headed toward the street. James ran a few blocks and the heat was a gauze all around even a few hours before the peak sun and heat of the day. 90. That number. It felt like it was higher than that already but he trusted the forecast as he slowed and panted, sweat sticking his shirt to his back.
It was in fact 94. It was 11 a.m. James texted that old friend he found on Facebook again. Maybe this time they would get back to him. He checked his you tube account. Still no comments on the what he thought were interesting videos about that dream and what it might mean. He checked his Pinterest. He had twelve thousand pins and no followers still. Surely others were fascinated too by old meal containers and of his drawings of characters from Bukowski books. He checked his Instagram and only that photo he stole from that restaurant page of a sushi boat had more comments again.
A data ghost near transparent, James Woodhouse turned a corner to the screeching of a car horn as a bird flew past his head off to shade. James turned a corner, 164 pounds, 4 pimples on his cheeks, 23 dollars in his wallet, 672 dollars available on his credit card. The bird landed in a tree thicker in branches and shade, a solitary stick of a man, James headed west toward home.
35. He even hated the lack of symmetry of the numbers. A small cloud amazingly briefly eclipsed the sun. James thought again of the dream.
What is past that intersection anyway? Why does it end just before for decades but repeats on and on? Am I missing something. I have taken notes for most of my life and no pattern comes clear, no detail pops out, no variation has yielded a god damn epiphany or even bumper sticker worthy message. I know my brain is far smarter than me, the damn spam ball sometimes drops an image I have to translate that is a really interesting idea, it once every few years as I near sleep poops out a concept that I proceed to lose in sloppy notes or forget. It manufactures dream narratives and spaces out of the stale scraps of my days. What am I not getting?
James still reread his copious notes in his theory books from college. He pored over his books on the lives of Andy Warhol and Basquiat as he had since he was 19. Sixteen years of study and no golden glowing realizations to speak of. Of course at the same time sixteen years had passed and he had found no other muse, the beard of time growing like dust on these increasingly dog eared paperbacks. Sixteen years was a fog of past behind him now. Same room mate. Same apartment. He had a string of jobs but all were cash registers in some room somewhere in town, just the details changed.
James got a like on a photo. His endorphins fired a single firework inside the spam ball of his brain, the sky of a single section of it. He felt a rain of joy flood through his body. Then it was gone. The car that honked sped ahead, angry driver cursing the idiot who wandered in their path like a zombie in a sweat stained shirt and bad hair cut. He passed another apartment building that he would never know also had a secret door and scale model of the past. He would never know that this one was fully intact. He would never see the texts explaining clearly how and why and the notes of one person. He would never see these things because he would never explore, push that bit further, beyond page 3 on a Google search, try. This all would be Atlantis to him then nothing at all.
James got home to his room mate’s note saying they were going to move out. It was just time and they did not really talk any more anyway. The atrophied remnant of a friendship had finally rotted away. She was moving to a new place across town with friends from work. She also loved him a few years before for a while. Her hugs after dinners lingered so in the air, of this James had never noticed.
This again was an Atlantis, and now, nothing, nothing at all. Somewhere across town in a diner a waitress wondered for a moment about that nervous guy who chatted briefly over his eggs with her. Then, like so much early morning fog in early summer sun, it went away.