Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Dream Along The Way

The day had brightened, and the sun had even broken through the clouds, so I hurried to the river with my camera. The afternoon was cool and still, and there was just enough light to take pictures. I walked and looked and shot. The air was fragrant and damp.

But evening quickly approached and the clouds regathered. The walk was overhung with branches still heavy from yesterday's rain. I was on the farthest limb of the path near some hawthorns and locust trees and a cluster of towering mulleins. I stopped to try to photograph some knotweed seeds -- glistening white in the last light -- and heard a voice behind me on the path.

Cindy ! Cindy !

Without thinking, I turned. Thirty feet away stood a man, middle aged, pale, pudgy, slightly unkempt, wearing blue jeans and a red shirt. He stared at me and smiled.

Oh, sorry ! he said. Are you taking pictures of nature ?

He wrapped his arms around himself, hands to shoulders, and walked toward me.

Yes, I replied, uneasy, curt, and turned back to the knotweed bush.

So you're taking pictures of nature ! he said, drawing closer.

He stopped beside me and looked right at me.

I perform, he announced.

I began to walk away. He followed.

Yes, I perform. I can perform for you. I can do anything you want.

He was walking beside me, closer than I wanted, closer than a stranger should. He was smiling. Almost leering.

Perform ? Anything I want ? What did he mean ?

I don't take pictures of people ! I snapped, walking faster.

No ? No ? Listen, I can perform for you. I can do anything you want. he persisted.

No ! I hissed.

OK, OK ! he said, and backed off.

An older couple, a thin, stooped man and a round-faced woman, approached from the opposite direction and passed us. I turned around and hurried after them, past them, and sat down, heart pounding, on a small concrete dais by the path entrance.

They looked at me, blank faced, unsmiling, incurious. Zombies. Robots. They seemed like creatures in an unbreachable dream, ambiguous, unhelpful, apt to transmogrify at any moment.

It was that hour of evening when the light recedes and draws all objects with it; that hour of evening through which one moves like a dreamer trapped in gray distances. Dream objects pull back from the stricken sleeper; they put on the aloof, bland, unfamiliar faces of jamais vu. Words take on double, triple, meanings or no meaning at all. Perform, you say ? Perform.

Perform for you. Anything you want.

She, try as she may, cannot awaken. She is trapped in her dream, alone with the pressing, intimate, weighty, inescapable realization.

Something terrible could happen.

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