Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Not of This World - Part II

Part I is here, for those who don't care for scrolling.

Dreams can be surreal, where one bit of dislocated this ends up in your otherwise fully-formed that. Fastest example I can think of is that for months after my father died he would wander through my dreams emaciated, wearing a green housecoat. I’m going to classify this under the surreal banner since nobody else in the dream seemed to mind that he was padding through whatever landscape I had literally dreamed up. It didn’t disturb me exactly – I would usually think “Ah, this must be taking place when was dad was sick” – and it felt more surreal than nightmarish. It didn’t have the seemingly deliberate nonsense of a nightmare that taps into something when you’re a captive audience in sleep.

For me, the most effective nightmares have always had a twist towards the inevitable. I had genuine, shot-for-shot nightmares for months about something I saw a few years ago, when my wife and I were heading out for dinner. We heard loud chirps and flapping feathers coming from one of the bushes at the side of our very old apartment building. There was an agitated sparrow dive-bombing around the bush shrieking, but clearly not making all of the chirping noises.

It took a few moments to figure out what was happening – a nest had fallen from the tree above the bush. The chirps were from the chicks that were lost in the bush. The dive bombing mother was trying to fight off the silent cats that were circling the bush, with each circle getting smaller. They kept close to the ground, avoiding the sparrow’s wings and patiently gazing and listening at the chirping chicks inside.

This stuck with me, replaying itself in the deep lockup of sleep from time to time, always with the same image of the slowly encroaching cats. There was nothing to be done, cats are cats and sparrows fall from their nests. I considered chasing them off and rummaging through the bush, but it was thick enough that I’d never find a thing. There were far worse events happening in the world at the time, but it’s the bird and the cats that remained in my dreams.

While it happened, it just looked unfortunate (except for the cats, of course). In dreams, it felt portentous. Maybe it was helped along with dim memories of Sunday school – “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matthew 10:29 for the completists), a quote that always sticks with me at hard times. Or maybe it just replayed itself because it felt cinematic; Hitchcock would have loved it. He would have found it quite funny. Don’t worry about the little birdies, he would have drawled to his audience. I’m sure the pussycats will find them soon enough. And that will take care of the noise.

You won’t put too much faith in dream interpretation unless you’re a diehard Freudian or Jungian on one side, or into the whole ‘the universe speaks to us as we sleep’ types, and none of those camps appeal to me. Some people get into it - my grandfather on my dad’s side would allegedly buy and sell stock based on the content of his dreams. Exactly how he reasoned these decisions has been lost to the ages, he might have taken the old Greek pantomancing approach and treated the dream as a series of omens to be taken seriously.

Which I can’t take too seriously, myself. Since most dreams are nonsensical, I can’t imagine my conservative Baptist grandfather saying “I dreamt that a green chicken was pecking at a mattress filled with chocolate chips while a flatbed truck drove circles around them as the driver sang ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’ Therefore, I must sell my Bell Canada stock and invest heavily in commodities this month” to his broker.

Let me add a proviso to the previous scenario- I have just realized that I don’t remember if my father told me that my grandfather sold stock based on his dreams, or put stock in the content of dreams. So much for the green chicken. Either way, it comes down to a reading of omens, or to be more precise, a reading of images or events that are construed as omens. I got tagged with the nickname ‘pantomancer’ for awhile either due to a friend’s left-brained-word-fetishist attachment to the word, or because I was using the phrase ‘That’s a good omen/bad omen’ too often (a case could be made on both sides).

My rational brain doesn’t care for omens, nor does it put any serious significance in dreams. The irrational brain has attached itself to a few incidents that are invariably no less random than anything else that happens on a given day, but felt like portents of something, of reality either framed or twisted to give a hint of events to come. Otherwise known as the Dead Squirrel scenario.

It was August, hot as hell in 2002. My wife was making soap for a small company at the time, so our apartment was already hot from pots of olive oil and water with lye added; she’d pour them together at the right temperature for soponfication. She’d then pour the soap into tall molds that we’d put in a floor freezer that was more or less hidden by a skirt in our dining room.

To get the freezer working, my father had come down to the apartment a few days before to change a wall socket from 2 to 3 prongs. It had taken him a good 5 minutes to get up the stairs, no more than 8 steps. I'd know that his back had been hurting, but I didn’t know that it was that bad.

I’m mentioning this to supply context – watching my father in such a state was enough to put me into a mood. When he left the apartment slowly, I remember thinking “He can’t handle those stairs anymore,” as if I had seen the degeneration from day one. But it had been a shock, and when I thought “This is the last time he’s going to set foot in this apartment,” I put it out of my mind as worried melodrama.

Days later, the squirrel. The apartment smelled like hot soap. The floor freezer and an air conditioner were plugged into a power bar which would trip if the drain got too intense. It had rained intensely for a few minutes, plunging the already curtained apartment into further darkness. The sky was both black and contoured, if that makes any sense – you could see the shape and shadows on the the rolling clouds. The thunder had been deafening and the power had flickered a few times, tripping the power bar. I turned off the air conditioner until the storm was over.

The rain was just stopping as Abby was pouring soap and I was trying to download something when we heard a sickeningly loud THUD from outside, something percussive enough to rattle the dishes on our kitchen wall. We spent a minute runnng around the apartment looking for whatever large heavy object had fallen over before we heard scratching at our window.

I lifted the curtain to see a chubby baby squirrel lying near the edge of the air conditioner. There was an active colony that lived in our roof and travelled over the power lines, this one had obviously fallen. It was moving very slowly, unrolling itself from an unnaturally twisted shape towards the edge. There looked to be blood on its muzzle and there was a perfectly small yellow puddle that stood out from the clear raindrops on the white air conditioner. It had literally knocked the piss out of itself on impact.

The mother – father? – arrived a few seconds later, scrambling down the wall and rushing to sniff the body of its young. The little one was still moving (if barely) when the parent stood on the legs for a second, staring at the window to discern if Abby or I was a threat. I saw its mouth open and, for reasons I will never know, it held our gaze for a few long seconds. We didn’t hear a thing, but it looked like it was screaming.

A moment later, the young one fell over the edge. We heard it hit the ground. Abby winced and I, despite years of priding myself of not being squeamish, dropped the curtain and turned away. We heard a scrambling of claws and it was done.

The sky was beginning to lighten. I turned the air conditioner on so there would at least be something other the silence. We both said a few things about squirrels being tough, they’re built to deal with things like that. But the pall over the afternoon hung heavy. And against my better judgement, the slow nightmarish quality of it all felt like an omen. The message was simple, straightforward, unapologetic and horrible; Things are going to get bad, there is going to be pain and death.

Any armchair psychologist can figure this one out – it was a bad day, I was worried about my father, something unpleasant happened and it seared itself to the memories of everything that followed. This one played out in the nightmares as well, as cinematic as Hitchcock but without his barely under-the-surface chortle at what fools these mortals be. It brought with it the inevitability of a horror – something is going to happen. You won't like it. You can’t stop it. And you have to watch it all.


Anonymous said...

Uhm... we should get drunk. Soon.


STAG said...

This is clearly much on your mind. please...keep on venting.

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