Tulunasia Park

Patrick Keppel

From The Tulunasia Journal, Autumn:

Some time ago, I was fortunate to spot a copy of Dr. Diana Siam’s piercing study of dreams, Concurrent Dimensions, on an obscure shelf of the Tulunasia Park library.  It lay balanced horizontally atop two slim volumes of equal height – one by a Chinese philosopher whose name now escapes me, the other by Castore, the local botanist, on the subject of medicinal herbs.  I had only recently settled for good on this reflective coast, and so could not help but stand grinning for a moment at this odd juxtaposition.  I wondered, as I did quite often during that first month, how I could ever have once misunderstood this kind of disorder.  It was clearly a pleasant moment, my accidental arrival at this most unlikely bridge of books, yet before I might have heaved a bitter sigh at this further evidence, however slight, of a malaise of indifference rapidly spreading throughout the world—the symptoms of which I knew very well, since I had a rather severe case myself.  I would later examine this and other like signs of my remarkable change of mind in exhaustive depth, but at the time I had not a minute’s patience with self-reflection.  All I knew for certain was that I knew very little, and that this was undoubtedly the most lucid moment of my life.  I grabbed on impulse all three books, blew a decade or so of dust off Concurrent Dimensions, and sat down to immerse myself in this text of which I’d lately heard such reverent praise.

I have since then read the book many times.  Controversial° in its time and place, the wonder of Dr. Siam’s search, the intensity of her desire to glimpse mysteries thickly shrouded by everydayness, now strikes a more resonant chord within us all.  Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in her introductory chapter.  There Dr. Siam, anxious to plunge into the deep waters of her startling discovery yet filled too with humble regard for its many nearly inexpressible ambiguities, introduces her metaphor of the “living mirror” to suggest that each individual can through dreams awaken to a world of unlimited possibilities:

We have all [she writes] at least once been suddenly awakened from a dream only to try, while still semi-conscious, to fall back into that sleeping world.  Our impulse then is not merely to see, as if watching a film, how the problems set forth in the dream will resolve themselves; we want, rather, to act in the film ourselves, to live with our whole being every facet of the unknown experience.  We do not consider in this hazy state that the attempt is in any way odd, nor by any means futile.  We fully and easily believe in the simple reality of the vision.  Even so, we will later, when completely “awake,” claim with a distorted and at times almost desperate arrogance that the image we so confidently sought was ‘only a dream.’

How can I explain how misguided this waking notion is?  A dream is not a distortion, but an opportunity, a welcome chance to steal a glance into a kind of living mirror.  And I know now that if we but allow the instinct which insists upon a return to that dreaming world the freedom it deserves; if we relinquish our rigid belief in the supremacy of the waking self and day and night give ourselves over to the mirror’s image, we eventually become conscious of the mind which has always been conscious of each of us – the mind that has in fact created each of us, and which is restored to awareness again only when the dream allows.  We discover at once a perspective we can never lose and so immerse ourselves in an unending cycle in which all dreams turn inside out (22).

Later in the work, of course, Dr. Siam recounts the series of dreams she had which led her to this brink of possibility, and then ends with a detailed discussion of how such self-abandonment naturally enables one to control the various settings of his or her own dreams.  I always felt it intriguing that Dr. Siam, while still an assistant professor at La Duerma, succeeded in overcoming not only the limitations of her own mind, but those inherent in her professional field as well.  She was, I felt, as one trained in the “objective” framework of the scientific method, working at a considerable disadvantage, so I was certain she was an unusually sensitive and perceptive individual.  Since she has recently moved east to Tulunasia Park, I have found this true in the extreme.

Which is not to say that she feels the same way herself; on the contrary, her humility is so genuine it’s startling—so much so that I became in a short time convinced that this characteristic formed the very basis of her remarkable emotional and mental powers.  When I first met her, I could do little more than emit a series of breathless, fragmented praises, comparing her in less than a minute to six or seven of the greatest minds in history.  Naturally she was rather taken aback and seemed puzzled as to how she should respond.  “I mean, in your dream it was no accident,” I ran on excitedly.  “You actually figured it out.”

Dr. Siam smiled to put me at ease, gave a light shrug.  “But it was because of weakness,” she said finally.  “I only ‘figured it out,’ as you say, because of doubt, because I kept refusing to give myself up.”  Then she shook her head, perhaps considering, as one who has by chance escaped a violent accident does at times for the rest of his or her life, how close she came to disaster and, most of all, how unreasonably she was spared.  “Oh, on the surface, of course I had something to prove.  But often when I wrote I swore I was cracking up, and to be honest, I believe now that’s the main reason I did write at all – I mean, to prove my own insanity, if that makes any sense!”

I nodded in recognition, and she added with a wink:  “I suppose there are those who say I did precisely that.  But the basic truth of the matter is that I was terribly alone and frightened, just like anyone else.  Just like yourself, no doubt.”

With these words Dr. Siam put to rest my excessive awe, and at once we began to speak at great length about our respective dreams.  We continue to do so now, at least once a week, since both of us consider the subject inexhaustible.  I am always delighted by the many colorful details Dr. Siam manages to recall, not because they are so very unusual as because they invariably bring out in her a deep fascination more common to a child’s perception than a “scholar’s.”  Like a child, she seems to notice and internalize everything that enters her field of vision – and, I would argue, a few things that don’t.  Like a child she remains surprised at what seem the most insignificant phenomena, reacting to each as if it were occurring for the first time, which (as I know now) it actually is.

It is in a kind of playful celebration of this child’s sense that I describe one of my dreams below.  My analysis hardly pretends to compare itself with the daring complexities of Concurrent Dimensions.  My only hope is that I can reflect at least one of the fresh, bright beams Dr. Siam’s work forever emits.

In simpler words, my dream is nothing new, but it is a good story nonetheless.

* *

I am not quite foolish enough to attempt to square a circle, yet this is precisely my task.  The simultaneous images of this dream naturally defy my narrative corners, and I realize already I could end wherever I begin.  This dream seems to me not unlike the highmasted ship my patient eyes just guided out to sea.  Elevated on this grassy hill high above the sun-spotted ocean, I followed the ship’s gentle, bobbing course as far as I could until all at once it vanished into a think, vaporous line of reddish sea, sky, and sun—one moment the spot of a real vision reflected in my eyes, the next the trace of a memory protected deep within my present consciousness.

This dream is that pinpoint world, a nearly invisible gem of fantastic cut, since even if we should study it every day for years we would glimpse but a tiny fraction of its ten thousand facets.  I should like you to see them all.  I should tell you, for instance, that in one part of my dream I was a child of five sitting in my grandfather’s lap, his warm calloused hands kneading my cool feet as if they were soft lumps of clay; or that in another, my ten-year-old self found it difficult to disguise his desire to gaze for hours at his brother’s rose-smothered corpse.  You should relive with me as well the part of my dream in which I sat in a darkened theatre and for the first time grasped an affectionate hand, only to stroke at once its one mutilation, a middle finger chopped short by a lawn mower, a purple bulbous stub.  Yes, I should tell you every such detail but that they comprise a formidable sea; I would surely thrash about and then drown in any attempt to recall them all.  I must therefore be content to limit my narrative to the single facet of the dream which even now I can’t help but remember at least once per day, the pivotal scenes that directly preceded my waking.

I entered this part of the dream terrifically bored at age twenty-two.  A year out of college and still unemployed, isolated from friends who had vanished happily into the work force, I was content to wallow in my personal creed that I could do absolutely nothing well – or rather, that I could do everything with unsurpassed mediocrity.  “Travel” was the only genuine interest I listed on my resume, though I had never once left New England.  I was in fact still living in my parents’ home in Old Mystic, Connecticut.

They were convinced I was looking for a job, and I suppose it did appear that way.  I received at least one rejection letter every day for three months, but I had known all along that I was only remotely qualified for about five or six of the positions.  I still do not know what an Obstructive Financier is or does; all I knew then was that at least one was needed on every continent except Antarctica, and that I was willing to learn.

Occasionally, my parents’ friends and relatives tried to place me in their various offices, but these little experiments proved embarrassing for all concerned.  My benefactors were clearly unnerved by the detached, methodical manner in which I carried out my assigned tasks, no doubt thinking me rather lazy, if not a little soft in the head.  “Use your common sense,” they told me time and time again when they invariably became exasperated with my frequent questions, and for weeks thereafter I’d try fervently to summon this benevolent god to my aid.  But somehow these attempts always ended in some great disaster or another, and the boss we rarely saw would come storming in, shouting “Who did this?!” over and over, and of course the friend or relative who hired me was to blame.  Soon I would find myself relieved of more and more responsibilities, until at last, ashamed and nearly brain-dead with boredom, I couldn’t help but wonder rather bitterly if it were precisely this “common sense” that enabled its happy possessors to spend nearly every day of their lives in such a meaningless way.  Then, of course, we’d have to contrive some circumstantial parting – they had these budget cuts, I had this new job on the horizon – oh, it was awful!  After a while, whenever my parents would have any of these helpful people over for dinner, I would either quietly disappear, or, when flight was impossible, like a child develop the symptoms of a mild illness – something at which I became alarmingly adept – and beg my absence be excused.

I had in my dream one night declared myself off-limits in just this manner, when one Harry Sneed made it his business to interrupt my solitude.  I cannot say I was surprised.  Of all my parents’ acquaintances, Harry Sneed was the only one who seemed to care that I was not present when he was.  Not that he liked me; on the contrary, he thought me an idle loafer and never missed an opportunity to try to convince my parents, in a voice plenty loud enough for me to hear, that all I needed was “ a good, hard kick in the pants” – a prescription for the world’s ills to which he had frequent recourse in the editorials he wrote for a local newspaper called the Examiner-Voice.

But I think what bothered him most of all was the idea that anyone in the world thought he could avoid Harry Sneed, much less someone right upstairs, and finally he cracked.  That night I heard him shouting my name at least six times during dinner, actually calling up to me with cupped mouth, “He-ey, Tyrone!  I’m coming to get you, Tyrone!”  In the middle of his fourth scotch, he stormed up the stairs to my tiny cell, which was papered, I remember, with posters of every place I’d ever hear d of except Connecticut.  Harry scowled at this montage, picked up his balding scalp, and then pronounced my sentence with a smile that creased his face like a moist incision.  My little charade was over, he said; I was to report to the Examiner-Voice the following morning at seven sharp.

Of course, I had no intention of working for Harry, but a nervous, self-effacing speech from my father weakened my resolve.  The half-time job seemed perfect for me, he pointed out with wrenching timidity, a nice little boost; I would finally have the opportunity to use my competence in writing  and my degree in psychology, a degree he knew I’d worked hard for—and an achievement he too was proud of, since he’d never had such a chance.  I did not have the courage to contend that the job—which involved writing a dream interpretation column squeezed rather inconspicuously beneath the horoscopes in the lower left-hand corner of the entertainment page—probably had as little to do with psychology as my college curriculum had; nor did I have the courage to inform him that I of all people was the one of the least qualified for the job, since I had been for what seemed like years unable to remember a single one of my own dreams.  Instead I resigned myself to my fate with a sigh and the next day assumed the column’s traditional nom de plume, my new identity, Dr. Johann Christian Doppel.

As with other jobs I had fallen into in the past, I had no idea how to go about performing it correctly, if indeed that were possible.  This time, however, confusion seemed to work to my advantage; in fact, what surprised me most about  this job was that I actually enjoyed it.  For instance, one young married woman wrote that one night after she had argued with her husband, she dreamt that they were poor and living in a totalitarian state—“behind the Iron Hand,” as she put it.  They tried to escape by swimming across a narrow river, he holding their son and she their daughter.  When she made it to freedom—which was where they had been born—some people there asked where her husband was, at which point she turned and saw that he and her son were drowning.  She swam out to meet them and without hesitating chose to rescue her husband.  Her son disappeared under the water, and when she reached the riverbank she discovered that her husband too was dead.  As she was hitting him on the chest to revive him, she woke up.

It was of course quite clear to Dr. Doppel, that keen observer of the human drama, that “something was lacking” in her relationship with her husband.  Living in the dictatorship most likely meant that she felt stifled, and probably represented as well her inner anger, which she usually kept concealed.  Thus, crossing the river indicated (as I suppose it usually did), that she had to make some sort of decision, which would somehow help lead them back to the more equal partnership they’d started with; however, it was clear that both she and her husband were burdened by certain immaturities, represented in the dream by their son and daughter.  Now, since she and her daughter made it to the other side, she evidently felt that she was the stronger of the two; her husband, after all, was drowning under the burden of the son.  Choosing to save her husband, then, instead of her son suggested that she wished he would rid himself of his immature characteristics, but the fact that he did not survive the ordeal probably meant that she felt he could not.  Still, she also believed she must keep trying by “hitting him in the chest”—What else?  The heart! – in an attempt to “revive” his inner sensitivity to her needs.

Although I was always aware that what I wrote was, psychologically speaking, far from credible, I soon grew very fond of my Dr. Doppel.  There he was, the eminent Austrian physician of mysterious origin, sitting high on his Alp at his broad, pondering desk, breathing in the perplexing dreams of the world below, breathing out their easy solutions.  From such altitude, his long-winded nonsense seemed to make very good sense indeed.  And so it became sort of a game for me to see how much of this absurdity I could get away with—apparently quite a lot, because to my astonishment every day a couple of handfuls of letters addressed to Dr. Doppel were dumped into my cubicle.  Naturally, I chose to respond in print only to the most dramatic dreams, such as the one above, though to be honest my readers’ entertainment was my least concern.  All I wanted in this part of my dream was to get through the day with a minimum of boredom, and apparently the only way I could was to respond to these strangers’ dreams with interpretations as light as a soft snowfall on April Fool’s.

I admit I grew in time more and more suspicious of this Dr. Doppel, but only after what I assume was a couple of months was I forced to face the startling implications of my careless creation.  I can never possibly forget the grotesque scene I contrived in which Bundt – the stump of a man who edited the unprestigious and often ridiculed Living section in which Dr. Doppel’s kindly elucidations appeared – leapt on me as I entered the newsroom one morning and kissed me like a seal.  I swear the man was close to tears.  “Go check the numbers!” he said, after choking out a few unintelligible words of gratitude, then just shook my unresponsive hand with his ink-stained flippers and scurried away.

I stood stunned for a moment in Bundt’s wake, but a quick check of the bulletin board explained his exuberance.   The paper’s quarterly survey indicated that 88 percent of all subscribers to the Examiner-Voice “always” or “nearly always” read Dr. Doppel Interprets Your Dreams and that about 44 percent turned to it before reading anything else.  Apparently as a result, the lowly Living section was now the “most important,” the “most interesting,” and the “most helpful” in the entire paper.  Further, a few posted letters heaped praise on the column, describing Dr. Doppel, much to my embarrassment, as “wise,” “careful,” and “concerned.”  One reader insisted that he trusted the good doctor with his dreams far more than anyone else, and another even thanked the Examiner-Voice for “bringing to this region such a sincere and sympathetic, albeit invisible, father confessor.”

I stared at all this in vacant disbelief, but then a sudden perturbation sent me hurrying through the newsroom’s labyrinth of partitions and desks to my cubicle.  The situation there was far worse that I had expected.  My desk was smothered beneath a mutant pile of almost two hundred envelopes!

In awe I sifted idly through the stack; a few letters tumbled like dry leaves to the smeared yellow tiles below.  I did not then understand just how easily, and how desperately, people would reveal their most oppressive fears and desires to even the slightest hint of a benign, responsive authority in the world, but there in front of me was the overwhelming proof.  Even then I suspected that these dreams would be far more disturbing than the previous ones.  Selecting a letter from the pile’s summit, I trembled to see how accurate my guess might be.

The letter was from a 44-year-old man who prefaced his dream by telling me all about his job at a medallion factory.  He wrote he was one of fourteen employees there who sat all day long in front of a deafening monster of a machine that pressed gold, silver, and bronze into prepared molds.  For safety reasons their hands had to be bound in leather straps that dangled on long cords from the top of each press.

He was in his nightmare pressing at superhuman speed hundreds of gold commemoratives, which he had in fact done earlier that day while awake.  In a blur he placed the shimmering blanks into the mold, pressed the dirty black button to activate the machine, and then removed the finished product – piles and piles of patriotic medals celebrating New London’s submarines.  He said that at first he was proud of himself, and hopeful too that such amazing efficiency would be recognized by a quarter-an-hour raise, but soon he began to feel unusually tired and queasy.  He decided he’d take a short break but at once realized he couldn’t stop by himself.  As if detached from his body, his hands continued to work at a furious pace.  He glanced desperately to either side of him only to see his fellow workers, their hands obediently strapped, flopping about like wooden marionettes.  He began to sob uncontrollably but could shed no tears.  Frantic, he tried to stick his head under the two-ton press as it slammed down on the blank gold before him, but a tight leather strap appeared around his neck to prevent him.  Each time he tried, the strap yanked his head back with greater violence, until at last his neck began to bleed.  Sobbing without tears, choking without dying, he woke up.

I shook my head and sighed throughout, but oddly enough it was only after I had finished reading the letter that I realized what should have unsettled me most of all.  The very idea should have made me recoil the moment I’d read the letters on the bulletin board.  I suppose I too had begun to consider Dr. Doppel an essence far removed, because only at that moment did I face the awful fact that the role of New London’s wise, sincere, sympathetic, and invisible father confessor was solely mine.

My gape slid gradually into a smirk.  I emitted through my nose a few short bursts of breath, and then at last I broke.  I laughed so loud and long that even cynical old Harry Sneed from way across the newsroom stood glaring at me, obviously impressed.  How on earth could I possibly respond to such a letter in eleven column inches below the horoscopes and to the left of the comics?  Should I tell him the truth? I wondered.  Should I tell him he should quit his job and leave this town for good before it was too late?  That was after all precisely my suggestion for the both of us.  I stared into the mountain of letters, randomly tiered on my desk like the exploded white ruins of an Aztec pyramid, and my fit grew worse; for the life of me I just couldn’t stop laughing.  “Their only hope,” I said, gasping for air, “Their only hope would rather be in Qatar!”

This was by far my dream’s lowest moment, but as Dr. Siam points out in Concurrent Dimensions, such times ironically bring us closer than ever to insight.  My mind had there for the first time in my dream taken one stop off its usual track, and I assure you I felt both the exuberance and the solitude such supposed objectivity insists upon.  I did not, however, consider myself as I had before, perched above my readers on some high plateau.  On the contrary, I had now a glimpse of how little I knew, and though this is, as I mentioned earlier, a good definition of lucidity, I was unable at the time to perceive it as anything but the most base ignorance.

At once my fit of laughter ceased.  I felt the ensuing silence thicken inside me, and in a moment my spirits had sunk far deeper than ever into the swampland of self-pity.  I cursed myself, my tiresome ennui, my inability to care about anything.  I shuddered at just how indifferent I’d become – smirking at the insecurities of an entire city, toying with confidences freely given.  Who was I to laugh, to manipulate?  At least they had dreams, I thought, and with a sudden motion grabbed a fistful of letters.

These dreams proved to be much like the one the medallion presser had described.  They were always violent, usually self-destructive in places, and above all seemed obvious magnifications of the dreamers’ waking misery.  I pored over each as I had never before.  At my right lay a university textbook, a study of dreams entitled A Study of Dreams, which I had brought with me on my first day at the Examiner-Voice.  I had never once looked inside it – not even while enrolled in the course that had required its purchase – but now I found myself scanning its pages for secret meanings as one might the I Ching.  The latter would no doubt have proven much more helpful, but since I wanted so badly to redeem my earlier mistakes by making these interpretations as psychologically sound as possible, I stuck with the textbook far longer than it deserved.

In any case, I remember I had responded to about eleven or so when I suddenly reached another impasse.  Each dream seemed to demand my urgent attention – how could I dare choose but three for publication?  Only my determination not to fail once more as Dr. Doppel prevented me from scattering the letters about the newsroom on my way out for good.  I concentrated my efforts into the construction of an elaborate system of categorization designed to determine which dreams were the most pressing.  I placed each letter into one of three stacks – the Absurd, the Grotesque, or the Hopeless – and then divided these into three sub-categories:  the Temporarily Saved, the Brink of Disasters, and the Lost Causes.  It was a ridiculous plan from the start, but in this most obsessive moment of my dream I even began to ask myself such questions as “Should I answer first the Hopeless Brink of Disaster or the Absurd LostCause?
Utterly exasperated after two choices, I turned angrily away from my categories, plunged my hand into the pile of dreams remaining, and randomly plucked out the envelope I swore would be the last one.  At once I tore it open and began to read:

Dear Dr. Doppel

A while back I started with this dream.  I was on this dirty beaten bus crowded with people who had sad eyes & mean looks & long gray faces all dressed in drab green.  The bus stops in the middle of no where & I could not stand them any more they were so quiet so I got off.  I did not know it before but it was the right place where I was going.  I knew the land & weather right away which is important to me.  There was a sound like here & ponds but lots more woods & farms.  There was only a few small cottages & some simple places where if you need something like food or clothes or anything realy then some people there will just give you just like that cause every body does some time.  There was also no cars or bigger citys & only one bigger building made of stone with lots of rooms & books there if you want to read or walk around inside.  I did not feel like a alien but I could not help but notice that the sky even in day had not one like us but two silver white moons.  I felt thats nice & kept looking up to see when I walked.  Oh yes the people were very friendly & very much peace.  Two guessed I was new & helped me find my home.

That was one day & I dreamed about this place again every night for a while.  I like it there to do all kind of things I wanted to but never had the time or was too scarred.  Some time I fish which I like to do here.  Then I learnt to play the flute like I remember how my grandfather did.  They like me there too which is good cause I do not have too many people here except my nieces but I dont see them that much any way.  I just get sorry when I wake up & know its all a dream.

Now Im awake & this is the problem I am writting about.  It seems Im at work some times at the place where I count the pieces for the nuke subs & its hard to stay up cause the numbers is always just like they counted them before.  I start to dream about what morning is like in the place with the two moons where say I might take a nap & then wake up in my kitchen to cook dinner.  What is this?  My nieces they say you know dreams all right & they wanted me to tell you & ask for help.  I know I stayed alone a long time but at 55 I had practice & cant see how I need it can you?

Sincerely

Thomas Fenster

22 Long Pond Road

I had so many different reactions to various parts of this letter that I found it difficult when I finished to consider it as a while.  I was I admit disappointed at first, because it did not sound as desperate as some of the others I had forsaken.  It seemed, in fact, all too pleasant.  Not only did I find that its language calmed my rather anxious state of mind, but I began to wish the dream were my own.  I was so surprised by its ending that I looked for more on the reverse of the page.  There was nothing there, of course, but at once it struck me that I already had enough as it was.

By the time I had absorbed myself in it again and then once more, I felt I understood this Thomas Fenster unusually well.  He was a lonely, timid man who was able to forget the world as easily as he could forget to count its components of destruction, who could replace our harsh complexities with a simple, benevolent world we could never allow ourselves to imagine, much less to understand.  After all, there were in his vision two moons – a ridiculous sight, I finally decided, which only the most fortunate of us could ever hope to see.

This was my “interpretation,” and without once referring to that graph-riddled textbook I examined every detail in the dream accordingly.  I agreed with Mr. Fenster that he needed no help – that he was in his mind only doing what we all wished we could do – and insisted he need only seek professional attention if for some unlikely reason he decided he preferred one moon to two.

Then some time passed – perhaps two months, but definitely not three.  It is impossible to say; here the narrative corners are particularly defied.  But in any case, I do know that despite the initial burst of inspiration I received from Mr. Fenster’s letter, I had not moved far away as soon as possible, as I had sworn I would.  I had in fact only moved to a disheveled little house some five miles north and once there had rutted myself deeper than I ever had before.  I was still Dr. Doppel from seven each morning until noon, through my percentages were dropping so fast I knew my tenure as that tired old phantom was surely in its last hour.  After work I would invariably sit in a cinema for at least two movies, eat at any roadside diner I could find, and then read all I could about Chad, the Khirghiz, or Cephalonia, for instance, before dropping off at two o’clock sharp into my usual blank sleep, wrapped in the thin rough skin of a blanket my mother had inadvertently pinched from a KLM jet.

I had given up the fight against such rage for order; I simply no longer believed I could or should live any other way.  Surely this attitude bound me all the more tightly to my indolent routines, but on the other hand I see now how such resignation provided for my rapid break from them.  Consider the image I projected of myself in this dream as similar to that of a self-conscious caterpillar.  I resisted for what seems now an eternity the cocoon which had begun to spin around me.  I had no idea what metamorphosis meant; I only wanted to remain the languid worm I was.  Only when I gave up my struggle against that over which I clearly had no control – only when I gave myself over to the unknown and allowed myself to be sealed – only then could I store the energy I would need to burst forth at the sun’s first warmth.

And so when I felt that first piercing ray – when I found in a grassy patch outside my front door that unstamped letter from Thomas Fenster – it seemed only natural that I change accordingly.  At once I called the Examiner-Voice and told the whimpering Bundt that Dr. Doppel had written to himself and that the response he’d received back was to get out while it was still safe.  I then prepared a substantial breakfast that took what seemed like the entire dream to finish.  The unopened letter sat patiently on my right all the while.

I had no idea what to expect this time from Mr. Fenster; I do not recall even making a guess.  As soon as my plate was clean, I calmly laid the envelope out flat before me and with my butter knife slit its wax seal.  The flap released its grip as smoothly as fish scales do for the seasoned angler, and with the same unconscious gentleness I peeled it open and extracted its folded square.  I read it slowly, pausing a moment at the salutation, pleased to write there not my persona’s affected name but my own:

Dear Tyrone

Thank you for the answer which was very kind.  I almost took your advice at the end about help when I got fried from my job without even knowing till maybe the next day when I shown up for work.  My nieces they want to put me in the hospittle but I dont think it matter now any way.  I dont have to live here any more if I dont want.   Thank you though

Thomas Fenster

Long Pond

I set the letter back down on the table and watched it absorb some of the ring of coffee my cup had left.  It lay there while I washed every dish and spoon I could find, and it lay there while I gathered up the hundreds of maps and travel brochures I had collected and even my globe and flung them all in the trash.  I assume it lay there while I walked nearly a dozen circles around Satayuga Park, and I remember its lying there when at seven o’clock I collapsed exhausted onto my couch.

That the letter was in my dream what Dr. Siam calls “the perfect absurdity” – the initial element of unexplainable mystery that shatters one’s usual vision of the world and repaints it in a strangely different hue – should be clear.  I was at this point completely unconscious of my actions; I could do only what I felt I must, and never once stopped to consider the reasons why.  Perhaps the La Duerma professors would insist that I was in this dream a prisoner of whim and therefore in grave danger.  They would in any case undoubtedly find me, or any of us here, currently guilty of the same.  All of us at one point could not help but see our frightening limitations; all of us were forced to admit we had absolutely no control over our lives.  But if we told them that this was the very basis of our imaginative freedom, they would pronounce us insane and have us locked up to prove it.

They would, however, have to find us first, and this is obviously impossible.  I only mention this imagined conflict to give you a better idea of what I was struggling with in my dream.  I felt on the one hand exhilarated by my spontaneous movements, but they were on the other quite unfamiliar.  As I lay there on the couch, I considered the possibility that I was feeling a bit too electric, that I might be in a dangerous situation after all.  My hands had begun to wrestle themselves into knots twisted so tight I had not the energy to wrench them apart. “Let go!” I said aloud and drew back; my voice sounded strange, as if it had become detached.  I tried to calm myself with deep breaths, taking huge bites out of the humid air, but my lungs never quite seemed to fill to their capacity, I couldn’t even work up a satisfying yawn.  Still, I was not particularly frightened.  Frustrated, yes, deeply uncertain—but mostly just uncommonly exhausted.  After about seven and a half more gasps, I curled into the shape of a conch and listened to my  (detached) voice repeat the words of Thomas Fenster’s letter, which fell hard upon me like heavy drops of rain.  A few arrhythmic beats spattered into a pattern and then out again, pelting the roof of my mind with unconnectable dots and then dropping off to a trickle, as if making the decision right then to drop as one gray sheet, a drenching, hissing torrent of thoughts cascading into a dream, the first I’d had in years.

I dreamt I was Fenster’s boss in some generic little office partitioned by drab green cardboard.  Bundt and Sneed are there, and so are my parents; they are all my employees.

It is late in the afternoon when Fenster appears.  He smiles, says hello to a few people on his way through the labyrinth, and puts his lunch in the refrigerator.  I fired him three weeks ago.  A few people laugh nervously, but I’m seething.  What he needs is a good hard kick in the pants, I think to myself.  He’s trying to make me look bad, make me throw him out.  But Fenster quietly sits down at his cubicle as if innocent and begins to count envelopes.

I hover over him until he notices me.  “Am I counting the wrong ones, Tyrone?” he asks timidly.  “Give it up,” I say sharply.  He looks puzzled, and I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, because somehow I already know he has no idea what he’s doing.

“You were fried three weeks ago,” I practically whisper, and he looks up at me, obviously frightened for a moment or two, but then just nods and smiles.

I tremble what to say.  I’ve never really seen a crumbled mind before, and all I can do is suggest he seek professional attention.  Again he nods and smiles, then rises slowly from his chair.  No one laughs as he leaves the office, but the moment he’s gone they all go back to work.

I return to my office, which is a replica of my apartment, and lie down on the couch.  I remember how much I liked Fenster.  I hardly knew him, but I considered him my best friend.  He called me by my name and not Dr. Doppel like everyone else.  He told me all about his dreams, even though I didn’t have any to tell him.

I look out the window and see that night has fallen.  I try to picture Fenster in that place he always talked about, that place which sounded so much like him.  I can just see him playing the flute.  Me and some of the other farmers stop our work for a moment and listen.  We all look surprised, because he’s just started learning to play, but he says it’s nothing, we should have heard his grandfather.  We all nod in appreciation.  I can tell they like him here.  Fenster smiles, and as if that were my cue, I leave the others and walk with him to the pond to see what we can catch for the night.

I remember then how we used to go fishing together, and what a seasoned angler he truly was.  I start to wish he could take me to that place, because I like to travel and read but never seem to have the time or am too scarred.  I look out the window again, at the moon this time, and blur my eyes to see what it would be like to have not one like us but two.  I begin to wonder where he is right now and then remember his nieces are putting him away.  I hate to think of him there in that hospittle, but I don’t think it matters now anyway.  I don’t have to live here any more if I don’t want. . .

My eyes had already opened by the time I awoke to the sound of my own voice mumbling these last few lines of Fenster’s letter.  All at once I felt I understood what these startling words meant, and a piercing sense of urgency raced through my body.  In this hazy state of mind I was certain that Thomas Fenster was about to take his life, and I felt oddly responsible.  I knew I had to find him right then.

I stood up and wobbled from side to side, disoriented in the fresh darkness; what had seemed like only five seconds must actually have been about three hours.  Giving my head a good hard shake, I stumbled over to the table to find Fenster’s letter, which I recalled had mentioned where he lived, but it was no longer there.  I fell to the floor to look underneath, but by the time my knees had touched, the two words had already flashed into my mind.

Long Pond lay nearby, just on the other side of a thicket of ash behind my place.  Of course, I did not then stop to consider how interesting or amusing it was that I’d unconsciously moved so close to Mr. Fenster’s.  I simply bolted out my back door and plunged headlong into the dark woods, crackling a path through the underbrush.  It was nearly impossible to think, and at least twice I slowed, as though about to turn back.  After all, I knew the land around the pond had years before been partitioned, sold, and developed, and it seemed incredible that I would find Thomas Fenster by going door to door.  On the other hand, I felt compelled, pushed ever forward like the tide.

I began to imagine what I would do if he were alive, but by the time I reached the clearing and saw the first house, I could only think how much I wanted to meet him.  I stood for a moment as still as the pond to my right and stared into its imposing blackness.  The silence was unsettling in its perfection, and so I was relieved when I heard a fish break the water’s surface, and then another.  Taking a deep breath of the damp, fertile air, I turned toward the house.

It was but a tiny brown cabin, apparently secluded from the others at the easternmost tip of the pond.  I stepped onto its creaking porch and knocked on a crude screen door.  Muffled metallic waves of sound echoed into the darkness all around me.  Again, I knocked, this time on the splintering wood of the house, but still I received no answer.  I was about to continue my search elsewhere and had even taken two steps back, when my eyes fell upon the name Fenster carved on the floor of the porch.  The next thing I knew I was on the other side of the door.

I could see nothing in front of me for what seemed like an eternity.  I was impatient with my eyes, but at last they adjusted to what little light there was and discerned a long, dark figure laid out on the floor.  With each moment another of his features emerged from the opaque.  He was wearing a navy blue shirt and black trousers, both flecked with dirt.  His gray hair flowed wildly down to his shoulders, and his round, leathery face was dotted with sharp white stubble.  His wooden flute dangled from his gnarled fingers like a tree branch.

He looked precisely as I had pictured him in my dream, or at least so I thought then.  I stared in silence at his fully materialized shape – a sculpture, it seemed, suspended ambiguously between life and stone – and at once I felt sick, expecting the worst.  My hands began to wrestle.  “Let go!” I nearly shouted, then shivered in recognition.

Thomas Fenster immediately woke and looked up and around, out the window, and then at me.  His watery gray eyes appeared at once both bleary and quizzical.  “Tyrone?” he guessed, and after I nodded, stretched like a cat into the gentle evening.  “How in the world did you manage to find me?”  he yawned.

I suppose I could have asked him what in the world he meant by that, or explained that it was actually quite simple since he’d written the location at the bottom of his letter, or else answered him with the ten thousand questions I myself had.  But all that really wasn’t necessary, because by the time all those complicated possible responses finally registered in my mind, I had already followed his gaze out the window and awakened to see the twin, silvery white moons encircling Tulunasia Park, with quiet beauty and dignity, as I knew they always did.


° Perhaps “loudly ignored” would be more accurate.  Because of its “unusual” scope and “unverifiable” experimental methods, many of Dr. Siam’s former colleagues at the University of California at La Duerma had in various publications condemned Concurrent Dimensions as “a preposterous and absurd fiction” and as “yet another personal whim masquerading as serious scholarship, based as it is upon a total absence of fact.”

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