She arrived home that night tired, unusually tired from the day.
Her husband wasn’t home yet. He wouldn’t be home for a while. He had left her a message, an email, tried to call a few times. And afterwards, left it to fate.
In the morning she would be giving a lecture on Garcia Lorca, on his infatuation with causes of the animal spirit in poets, what he deemed duende. But she didn’t feel like preparing more for it. She had already prepared. Besides, the lecture she presented that morning had gone well. She read to apathetic undergraduates on the prevalence of ecstatic literature in nihilistic societies, a paradox she enjoyed mentioning in her work. They didn’t seem to care, but then, they didn’t seem to especially not care. She remembered how as an undergraduate, she used to hide her headphones through her blouse and under her long, curly hair, ignoring the lectures she was forced to attend, dreaming instead of the ecstasy of a real life experience.
She stands in the bathroom, her feet drying warmly with the aid of a blow dryer, positioned to warm her feet. She jerks her body up and down, changing his weight from her toes to her heels.
She pads her cheeks with a cottonpad. She puckers her lips, pouts, grins. She washes the makeup from her eyes, dipping her head in the icy water collected in her palms.
She looks into the mirror. The years have changed her, no doubt. Her complexion ahs always been impeccable. Probably the quality of her appearance, when meeting people for the first time, that they immediately notice, gravitating towards her olive skin, her sensuous pores, the freckles on her neck and between her lips and eyes. That, and her bushy eyebrows, dirty blonde, thick like an overgrown man’s.
But the changes, otherwise, are obvious. Even her nose, which she’s always had a slight problem with, the way it dips in the bone and seems to erode rather than protrude, seems to be getting bigger and growing in all different directions. She’s tried to adapt her hair to accommodate the changes, straightening her hair and leaving a fringe in the middle, or cutting it short, right to the ears, in wild curls. She even tried an undercut, and was going to go all the way to shaving her head, until a scare one day, noticing a stretch of her skull, no more than a half centimeter, where the hair seemed to be growing with a bit more hesitation. Worried, she let her hair out, forbidding the use of clips and hair ties, and reverted to using only organic products when washing, which she now did only twice, maybe three times, in a week.
But beyond the superficial changes, the alteration of her eyes, her declining vision, and the little scar on the edge of her upper lip from a kinky adventure gone wrong, she could feel undeniably the changes in her heart.
As a student, knowing the world would always fail to please her, she made it her mission, somewhat dogmatically, to please herself. Never to find herself in a state of boredom. Always on the run, always after the next big adventure. She learned Spanish for a year, sleeping in cabs on the coast of Spain and into Grenada in an exchange year she deliberately extended, leaving school for six months to travel to South America on foot, making it barely a few cities before getting stuck in the heat of the adventure, in the same worn, raggedy clothes, a few books of mystical poetry, Andalusian and Siberian monks, men of piety, who forgo terrestrial desire for spiritual illumination. Caught in the rapture of transcendence, she schedule her months and traveled based on the festivals playing, the drugs on the scene and the season to best take them. Mushrooms in the Alps, gazing under the stars with nothing but the echoes of cowbells in an immense forest of peak. She smoked hash in the deserts of North Africa until the days turned into one another and the faces of the crowd into one large face and she felt herself clinging to shaved crumbs of a ball of forest moss, holding on for dear life, transforming into the characters if her own past. She burned through republics with a herd of unconventional friends.
Her most transcendental experience would come one week during her great South America voyage. She had finally escaped the urban sprawl and found her way to a coastal mess of cheap housing communities and stations for the terminally ill. The real estate is so cheap most of the place is littered with students taking a year off from school to learn surfing from some retired pros, who could never get a real job after retiring. The type of guys who wrote shitty poems on sleepless camp watchmen, on cadavers drawing up in the sand.
After a few days she met a group of young radical surfers. Not the average gringo type, who wear sandals on dates, but refined intellectuals who preferred studying on the coasts, meditating on the waves, preferring the tranquil surroundings and natural bathhouses to the urban jungle. She traveled with them to one of their favored campsites on the end of a long peninsula, that swerved and curled like a dancing snake. At the site, resting on a wide cave that sits in the direction of the sun, shaded overhead by a wooded mountain, claimed by cypresses and dancing pines, surprising to the area, and below, swathes of olive trees that reach right into the water, so that one of the more agile boys used to climb one of the trees branches and piss into the sea.
It was a monumental experience. She hadn’t fallen for any of the boys but they all fell for her. The intensity cooled as their women reunited at camp.
One night, as she remembers, the longest night of the year, one of the boys mentioned he had been living with a tribe for the six months, learning from the cultivation of an ayahuasca ceremony. Two months later, she was spread out on the mattress of a tent somewhere in the jungle, the ayahuasca taking effect, her ego dispersing into a million little stars, feeling like she was standing tiptoed on the border of life and death, like she had a choice, to relieve herself o this life’s inherent suffering and ascend into consciousness, or return, bleary eyed and stained in vomit, to her life. She can’t remember if she ever made a choice, but at some point she returned to her muddled existence, feeling weakened and regenerated, restless and at calm.
She kept in touch with some of the others form the ceremony. One of the older women, a psychologist from the United States, had suffered in an earlier ayahuasca ceremony, losing his sense of balance permanently thereafter. On his return home, he was instated in a mental asylum, as no one would believe his distress. The ceremony they enjoyed together must have lifted the curse, curing him thereafter, but he told her about the scenes he encountered before and after their trip.
Years passed. She would move from house to house, never quite finding her home. She would enlist as an aid worker in the south of Turkey at the outbreak of the Syrian war. She would learn Arabic, fall in love, accept an engagement and leave the man in Ibiza, after two weeks of MDMA lead her into the arms of another man, who delivers her to Berlin. She would move from job to job, having nothing to spend her money on but cheap rent and entrance fees to dingy clubs, where she spent the rest of her money on speed MDMA, and coke. She would sleep until at least one, never brush her hair or do her nails or buy new clothes, and drink nothing but alcohol and water from a tap. Tuesdays were her day off, and she spent them reading the same romance novel over and over again, a cheap rendition of Orientalist love that blossoms after an Empress’ boat is stranded in the Gulf of Aden. The rest of the week, she would slowly prepare her body for the three night binge that inevitably claimed her conscience come weekend.
Some good came of her endless forays into the Berlin club scene, introducing her to a group of dedicated Hindu Germans who made it their objective to spread ideas of the mission. She joined their company, realizing they had access to excellent LSD, and soon enough was leaving Berlin for weeks, spreading herself into the surrounding forests, waking up with the sun for Kundalini yoga sessions, ingesting magic mushrooms in the afternoons. Some great change came to her life quite suddenly, when she encountered the man who had told her a story years before, the man who lost his balance during an ayahuasca ceremony, and was declared mentally unstable upon his return home.
After years of securing the next best high, she settled finally into a strict apprenticeship under a Qigong master, opening a flower arrangement school under his wing. She maintained the discipline with extraordinary skill, a feat she attributes to crossing over the threshold of thirty, staring down a different barrel paradigm of life.
A husband, the closing chapters of a doctorate, finding herself to be an accomplished writer and even smarter teacher, still having the time to watch over the school. Probably, in the future, a child, maybe two. But now, not yet. Preferring routine to chaos, no longer ripping through books that drive a hundred miles an hour or more. She could finally accomplish that unaccomplishable task and read through Proust’s oeuvre. Oh Albertine!, she thinks, that miserable bitch.
She turned to the radio out of tune, the speakers off, the channels somewhere between the classifieds and a visiting dj’s incoming set. She turned the radio on, playing with the knocks until the frequency settled on a storytelling hour of the public culture radio channel. An old, gruff voice read from a text she could not immediately place. She lit a candle with a match she drew from the cabinet atop the sink, grabbing a cigarette from her husband’s tobacco pouch. She dropped surreptitiously to the floor, slowly, arching her back, protected by a felt robe, leaning against the hot water heater extending from the wall. Smoking, dozing off, listening to the unfamiliar voice usher her into dreams she could not escape, staring into the void of another, cohabitating porcelain canvas.
She knew when she woke up that day that the dreams she was having were real. Her first instinct was to look outside, through the dreamcatcher whistling over the windowsill, the white silk drapes hanging form the wall, o the point in the sky she always turned to, for guidance, for reflection.
Full moon, she thought. She understood.
She had been dreaming of him for some time, waiting on his call, expecting him to visit. Like she had been warned, she thought. Like I have been told.
She follows her eyes to the bedside table. Stacks of books, poets- Reverdy, Hoffman, William Pitt Root. A collection of Silvina Ocampo’s short stories. Books on the cosmos and the human psyche, The Myth of the Eternal Return, The Myth of Meaning. Beside the books, a stack of freshly sharpened pencils, and beneath the pencils, a large yellow notepad. Free bookmarks sat next to the books, and in each of the books, a different bookmark from a different bookstore. Not, as she would prefer, the bookstores she bought the books from, not always, not specifically. But more or less, for every book in her collection, she had at least one and a half bookmarks. One day she hoped to carry a bookmark from the same bookstore for every book, but for now, it wasn’t possible.
These items had always been there, as long she remembered. Not the same books, and not the same pencils, but more or less the same amount. The only difference in the collection on her bedside table, apart from the different lightbulb she would use to view the contents, is the appearance of a thin, paperback book she writes in from time to time, more recently, every night, waking between dreams to note everything down.
She noted everything down, exactly as it came. She was careful to paint as honest a portrait of the images, her memory, the symbolic presence in every scene, the possible relation to her own psyche, to the possible relation to her life. Once she had achieved the capacity to note down to perfection the contents of her basic dreams, she then took it upon herself to note down the different elements of others in her life who may have made it into her dream, as an order to escape their own, or maybe, to ask for help. This change in direction, from a subjective experience of her dreams, to an objective experience of another’s, made her feel very special. It inspired her to dig deeper into the symbols. Different spaces gave her a different feeling, every time. Recurring spaces, spaces that she could name, spaces she knew she would never see. Cityscapes beyond the architecture of man. Towering urban systems conniving so they intertwined. She would walk between the buildings, stretching into the sky, beyond her visibility, waiting to be directed, guided to the next light. She noticed patterns, and from the patterns she noticed airwaves and soundwaves she could employ, to empower her decisions, in where she might go. Dreams being the content of her psychic self, meshing with the random introduction of collective unconscious material, she discovered certain elements to herself she had not been aware. After the rapid introduction of cockroaches, for example, into the dreams, she remembered entire chapters of her childhood she had completely forgotten. The months between spring and autumn, where the moisture in the air and the heat on the ground made it perfect weather for the reemergence of the cockroach onto every day life. She remembered her home, the third or fourth her family lived in, where she would wake up for school and between her walk from her bedroom to the bathroom, would find one, two, sometimes three cockroaches dead on their backs, the remaining sight of their oppressive battle. She remembered finding mothers, liynig on their backs with two, three of their young lying next to them, and the entire house would rise with a wail, and the feeling she had of being home, of being in her place of safety, was gone, discovering a new place she had entered, the feeling that is there when a child finds themselves in the face of danger, and the eyes of her mother, the voice erupting from her giant mouth, tell her she should be afraid. It became so the very sight of a cockroach made her scream a terrible scream, and if the proximity between her and the disgusting insect was too close for her to believe she was not in danger, she wouldn’t scream but freeze, her face would pale, ghost white, her hands would stretch to their most extension, her knees would tremble, her toes would kneel.
Even this, she had forgotten.
Over the course of several months the images became more steady, still, the pace of her dreams was disorderly, like everything was moving in slow motion, but the introduction of different space, foreign elements, disjointed, she stepped from one world to another.
The mountainous she spent summers with her best friend, hiding their prettier underwear and their makeup from her parents, their evolving interest in the village boys, young immigrants from poor households, who had no papers, no names, just arms and legs and a set of eyes they could use to put in the work, and their mouths were kept closed, and they never spoke a word, for fear, she never realized at the time, but on thinking on it now, of being reprimanded, fired, deported. Executed, if they were ugly and couldn’t put in much work. As long as they had no family. Executed, she thought. She noted it down.
In the beginning, she doubted that the dreams held any meaning, any purpose, but being a student of literature, a scholar of esoteric and ecstatic works, a believer in the persona of a cosmic order, she decided to investigate her interest, and treat the dreams as a sort of subject, a patient, and a place where she was free to experiment with things she had learned, techniques, like a hypnosis method, or a method of meditating, to see how she might alter the sequences, the spaces.
She was surprised to find that in the first several months there were no real faces. When she focused on a face, it disappeared. When she focused on a feeling, faces appeared out of nowhere, in great amount. More and more, she tried to study the faces, but they disappeared. She tried to trick her unconscious, turning her eyes away to the faces, but searching somehow, from the corner of her eye, or, if she was lucky enough to notice she was standing in the bathroom of her high school, or, say, the bathroom at her best friend’s, she could find one of the faces staring back at her in the mirror. In the mirror, the faces appeared. Many of them seemed as though she were waiting for her to see them, standing there with their arms crossed, or their backs against the wall, like they were studying her as she studied them, noting down her movements, regularities and irregularities, patterns and symbols. The color of her nails, the scratches on her back. The dirt under her eyes. The scars on both her knees.
Music. The element that was missing from the start. She heard humming, light humming, rising from the shadows of every image, and she followed the shadows, following the sound of a deep bass chorus, humming in perfect fifths the same four chords.
There were also lighter dreams, of fast, wormhole pacing, like she was running through the tunnel of a vacuum, the longer she ran, the deeper, the more it would expand.
It took her some time to make the connection. To believe in the messages. The connections she later made weren’t visible at first. The parallel faces in her dreams and the subjects in her life.
Voices came to her in the dark. She always had trouble sleeping, and those hours she spent waiting in bed for the sudden ignition of sleep, she grew accustomed to a spur of images, moments in her life she never connected, moments that were insignificant at the time and together seemed even more irrelevant. The corridor of her kindergarten, for example. She would even swear that she could smell the corridor, like she was there.
Months passed before she recognized the face haunting her in the dreams. She knew that face. She had known him. What was he doing there?
The night she recognized his face, she saw him everywhere. In the corner of every frame, in the center of every picture, the depictions seemed to rotate around his figure, like he possessed a magnetic field and her images, her pictures, were drawn into his orbit.
Then she heard his voice. He was whispering to someone else, an extra in her scene, someone who comes into the dream to take up space, and leave you with the memory of their shoes, or their patterns of walking, or their eyelids. A tiny detail, expressing itself more for the whole.
She wrote down all of his words. Gibberish, of course, the content of dreams is fleeting, intangible, repressive. What she came to realize is the messages.
What is my name? She didn’t know.
Will we ever go back? Could they?
She was sleeping alone, had been alone for a long time. She accepted she could have done more for a relationship, for something meaningful, more than the occasional fuck, but if she gave it too much thought it just depressed her, so she left the idea as it came, always, on the brink of every silence.
In some way, his voice comforted her, keeping her company while she managed her day. That was why she decided to write down what she remembered, everything he said that she could recall.
But she still didn’t know his name, and she never knew where to look for his face, it appeared out of nowhere and she moved fast enough to notice, like the sudden interruption of a cockroach.
She wondered if she were possessed. If, in his visitations to her, she had become the subject of a demonic possession. He didn’t seem demonic. He spoke kindly, vividly, always with attention to her nerves, calming her in the absence of cognitive awareness, ushering her further and further into the dreams.
Did she want to be possessed? Possessed by him?
What did she have to remember? What did he want?
It all happened almost by accident.
She grabs her bag in a rush, bursting out the apartment door. She runs down the stairs of her flat, several floors with doors adorned with evil eyes or rugs designed with consistent greetings. Reaching the front door of her building, an old free mason lodge nearly two hundred years old, she stands momentarily in the wide passage, the ceiling carrying masonic emblems, the parallel walls fitted with stained glass mirrors. She watches herself in the mirror.
The duende rises from the desert, she tells herself, the duende rises from the soul.
Footsteps can be heard in encroaching from several positions. At so early in the morning, it is unusual to find other life in Berlin that isn’t still awake from the night before. She takes no notice of the footsteps, a pair descending down the stairs, another set of heels coming in through the hinterhaus backdoor, steering a bicycle through the steel enclosure. Another set of feet stop at the entrance to the building outside, and after managing with the keyhole, unfasten the door from its grip. The three passengers in her fury pass right by her, the four strangers in the hall moving past one another without noticing. The strangers disappear in their alternate directions, the woman descending the stairs meeting the man pushing his bicycle through the hinterhaus, both of exiting at once. The woman just entering disappearing into the hinterhaus passageway. All the while she remains, transfixed in her position opposite the mirror, peering in for some otherworldly news.
Arriving outside, the fury of the cold overwhelms her. She hides within her jacket and collection of scarves wrapped around her face like a Touareg’s turban. She realized she did not fit the profile of a professor, least of all a professor delivering a lecture on another scholar. Perhaps, had she bee teaching at the school of design or fashion, it would make more sense. But she wouldn’t apologize for her confused sense of style. She liked to wear what fell into her arms, dressing according to her morning mood.
She waits for the tram at Grunbergerstrasse, the M10 that takes her two stations to the U1 metro line, where she will ride all the way from Warshauerstrasse to Nohlendorfplatz, and from there switch onto the U3, where she will ride until Thielplatz, or Dahlem, arriving at Freie University on time to buy a double espresso from the Kurdish bio-market, and a whole grain cheese sandwich. Rarely does she have time to make breakfast at home, and if she had the time she would probably spend it thinking, staring at an obtuse corner of the room, wondering why she’s woken up that morning with a different set of eyes.
Finally, the tram arrives, and after several seconds she finds herself comfortable in a single seat, staring into the face of a sleeping cow. After a few minutes the tram arrives at the U-bahn station, and after running over the red light, a flurry of cars whizzing by her, honking their horns to the six or seven desperate pedestrians trying to save as much time, she arrives onto the U1 train just in time for the doors to close behind her, an old Turkish man, she thinks, kind enough to hold the door open while she jumps in, leading with her head, taking a seat on the long winding train, the snakelike trains that are usually reserved for the U8 or the U5, never used on the U1, pleasing her in the process.
The train ride is a generous time for reading, glancing over notes, disappearing into a blend of thoughts. She refuses her notes, staring at them bulging out of her bag. She pulls a book from the front jacket pocket. A collection of poems by Latin American writers, all of them imprisoned at some time, the poems written either during or after the poets served their terms. The poets are dead, she realizes, something she always realizes when she lifts the book to her sight. That is the life of poets.
The train is relatively empty, quiet, and for the remainder of the ride she glances over the lines of a Dominican poet, whose life ended as tragically as hers, she realizes, will not. She thinks of her husband, who didn’t come home the night before, of her lecture, which she will deliver with impeccable poise, and of her parents, who she hasn’t called in over three weeks. And later, after having exhausted her thoughts on various recurring subjects and themes that pervade her mind, she thought of her dreams, the dreams she’s been having and the dreams from the night before, the visions still acute in her mind, the sight of his waving handkerchief stretched before her eyes, the flight of white storks migrating above, the infant song of a carousel parading into the quiet night.
She must have fallen asleep. Opening her eyes, she couldn’t place the location. It wasn’t the stop she intended to make. It was obvious, after a moment of panic that rose from between her colon and chest, a striking shriek that emerged out of her mouth in the form of a dreadful open mouthed yawn, noticing the absence of other passengers, the dimness of the light, the mild sloping of the car, where she felt her body tilting sideways to some degree, she rose from her seat anxious, searching awkwardly for a plan.
She would miss the lecture, for sure. Why had she fallen asleep? It was so unlike her. Why had no one woken her up? Did they think she intended to ride until the end of the line, until the train were transferred to its rest stop in the middle of…She realized, she couldn’t know exactly where she had come, unless she somehow exited the train. She turned her attention immediately to the doors of the car, and in another moment of panic raced over to unhinge the door from its place. She clapped her hand against the button. Nothing. She was stuck.
Hadn’t they checked? Hadn’t they made sure someone was not stupid enough to fall asleep on the train?