art by George Grie at neosurrealismart.com
It’s been almost a year since, yet I remember everything as if it happened yesterday.
It was a fluke my first encounter with Bernard, one of the rare mistakes Eddie has ever made when sending my mind back in Time. However, just as he recognised his error and wanted to pull me back, I realised we happened upon an amazing opportunity. The brain I had reached had almost no consciousness. It was asleep. It was dreaming.
For the first time in my historical forays, I wasn't just observing the landscape but was part of it. It was strange, and wondrous, and scary.
I glided at first, shyly, nothing more than a slight electrical perturbation along the intricate network of that mind. Beneath me, there was a city of glass and stone, of colossal depths and shadows. I could see clearly only the nearby buildings and some domed rooftops, glittering like mad mirrors under incidental sunshine. The rest was mostly covered in fogs or clouds, as was the sky, a gray, heavy shadow with rare flecks of brilliant blue.
There was something going on down there, in the narrow streets, and I found myself gradually floating downwards, fear of heights forgotten under the impatience of curiosity. When I touched the cement sidewalk, I had already created a persona for me, an invented visual being that represented the internal image I had of myself, only just the slightest bit more flattering, with my hair at shoulder length instead of the ugly two-day stubble.
It felt unnerving to be suddenly at the bottom of the shadows, strangely solid ground under my feet, unknown noises filling my mind. Wobbling on my dream-legs, I took a few steps on the street. Everything seemed very real. I could see the cracks in the sidewalk, loose journal pages and caked dust in the gutter, the rough texture of the walls all around me.
At the corner, I stopped. The streets had names, written on metal plates high up on the traffic light poles. It was the 48th Street with Fifth Avenue. New York City, I thought. Midtown Manhattan.
The noise was becoming louder. Now I could attach a direction to it. Suddenly it sounded like voices. I turned left to follow them. Out of nowhere, the street became populated. A musician, on stilts, started playing a strange melancholy tune on his saxophone. I had never listened to anyone playing live an instrument of any kind, and the sounds almost brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to get closer to him and, tentatively, I took a few steps. I stopped to look behind me and was startled at the sight of the street suddenly filled with people, walking in all directions. I waited for a while, alert, tense, ready to run away at the first sign that someone had noticed me. No one did.
My audacity sparkling, I went to stand straight in front of the musician. He was at least four meters tall on his wooden legs and had to move continuously to maintain equilibrium. He graciously managed to transform this into a dance.
“My name is Bernard. Who are you?”
There was no aggression in the tone but the unexpectedness of that loud voice made my heart sink to my suddenly frozen stomach. At first, I thought it was Eddie, playing nasty jokes on me, and I opened my eyes for a split second to catch him with a big grin on his face. Eddie was dozing off in his booth, his chin almost touching his chest. I switched back to the dream. The musician's face was shining white with thick make-up.
I suddenly realized it was a man who had spoken to me, standing maybe two meters to my left. For an endless moment I just stared at him, unable to utter a sound, not even sure I knew how, fighting the impulse to run away. I looked at the musician. He just went on with his music and his dance, oblivious to the rest of the world. I looked at the people on the street but they were barely more than colourful silhouettes.
The only real thing was the man beside me. He was in his late thirties, of medium height, and his blue eyes resembled the specks of light in the sky. He was amazingly handsome, in a way only darkened by his jet-black hair and his black coveralls. He smiled to me, kindly, with no impatience.
I abruptly realized it was his dream I had trespassed.
“I'm Zina,” I said tentatively, wondering if he could hear me.
“Zina,” he said slowly, maybe pondering the truthfulness of my response. My heart sank when he frowned and I was about to pull out but then he smiled again. “Where are you from, Zina?”
I was still so surprised that we could interact in his dream that I barely managed to mumble, “Oh, I'm from… Ma… Manhattan.”
“I haven't seen you around,” he said, “I would have certainly noticed you.”
“Oh, I'm from… Downtown,” I said, ignoring the compliment and the heat flushing my real cheeks. “I don't come here very often. What's going on?”
He smiled, looking around, and said, shrugging, “Not much… There is a concert in Central Park. Would you like to come?”
I surely did. The legend that was Central Park had disappeared from New York City in the early 24th century, more than four hundred years ago, engulfed by the ubiquitous power of steel and stone. That much we knew, and still, preoccupied by historical events, we had spent most of our time in conference rooms and on battlefields, ignoring monuments of nature or of the human spirit.
He took my hand and I followed him, as surprised to be walking on green grass as I was at the warmth and solidity of his hand. A lively music filled the air, pouring from all directions, without an obvious source. I had never listened to such beautiful music, serenely overwhelming my heart with joy.
We sat on the grass, next to a huge oak tree, and watched a distant concert stage and people flocking towards it. Bernard was watching me intensely, and yet I could not refrain from revelling, almost childishly, no questions asked, in the feel of the moist, crunchy grass and of the hard earth prodding at my bones. I lay there, supine, for what it seemed like a very long while. I could feel the sun warming my skin, and the strength of its light through my closed eyelids. And each time I opened my eyes I would see Bernard and would recognize the unconditional admiration in his eyes. It made me smile, and while I listened to his dream-voice, and while I watched the now cloudless sky, my heart went to him.
He spoke of himself and other things, many of which I did not understand. He had an important job, very highly positioned, in an important organization, and used the dreams both to help him solve problems of his work and to relax from the daily stress. He wanted to know about me, and I told him just some general facts, that I was a mathematician, and that I grew up in Manhattan (though I avoided mentioning which Manhattan) and a few other things like that. Even if they were just half-truths and I had to choose them carefully, words came to me easily and I didn’t remember having had such pleasure speaking to someone before. My heart sang with happiness.
I could have stayed in his dream forever but then I remembered that one period of REM-sleep didn’t last longer than twenty minutes. I had to leave before he woke up and realised my intrusion.
“You will come back, Zina, won’t you?” he said then, and I could sense a mild anxiety in his half-question half-command. It was as if he somehow knew that I was a stranger in his dream, that he could not summon me at will.
“I will come back,” I said and ran away.
extract from “Going Home”, a novella