Welcome back, Dear Reader! If you’ve read the first four excerpts, feel free to skip this preamble to the meat a few paragraphs down. If you haven’t, well, thanks for joining me!
These are exciting times for your ol’ pal Jerry – after talking about it for most of my life, I finally put the proverbial money and mouth together and started my first novel, Of Dreams & Angels, in the fall of 2019. It’s still in the first draft, but I thought it would be fun to start putting pieces of it (and thereby my entire soul, don’t you know!) out into the universe. Maybe you’ll get caught up in the intrigue and start following along too.
The synopsis – well, before we get to that, Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing, wrote that many of his stories can be expressed as a What-if question, and after reading that, my imagination (as it pertained to story ideas) started framing situations that way. Of Dreams is this question: What if a man started dreaming about a woman he’d never met, but who actually exists; falls in love with her based on what he sees in the dreams and sets out to find her?
Don’t ask me where it came from, and believe me when I say I’m just as shocked as you are that my first idea for a novel – ok maybe not the first idea in the grand scope of my life, but the first one to make it to fruition – was a fantastical love story. But as soon as I thought of it, *I* wanted to know what would happen, which made me think others might want to, too.
At all rates, here you have it, Dear Reader (also a not-so-subtle borrow from Mr. King, who as you may know refers to us as “Constant Reader”) – another excerpt from Of Dreams & Angels. Joe, our protagonist, is haunted by visions that have unceremoniously disrupted his ordered, predictable life. He has dreamt of the woman on a couple occasions now, seeing through her eyes – but he has yet to see her.
This time the feeling was like being propelled up to the surface of the ocean with sudden violence. The last thing he remembered was drifting off in an exhausted haze, after fighting to stay awake reading Man’s Search for Meaning – William’s parting gift as Joe left the eclectic, but comforting confines of Kemp’s earlier that day. Their impromptu conversation had stretched the better part of two hours and left Joe feeling composed somehow, but exhausted.
Now he was suddenly in a shower, but knew all at once he wasn’t. The water wasn’t hitting him, exactly – there was a muted sensation of water on skin, but the feeling was closer to being underneath an umbrella and placing one’s hand against the canvas. He was startled, at first trying to fight his way through what should have been his blankets to avoid the deluge, and was met by that all-too-familiar feeling of being unable to move this body. Straining against the feeling of paralysis, he heard his mind say Oh, here we go again.
Having grasped the lucidity of the situation quicker this time – and attempting to calm himself as opposed to fighting whatever this new scenario was – Joe tried to get his bearings. It was a bright, spacious bathroom filled with nearly blinding white fixtures, compared to the functional and utilitarian one in his condo. The shower he found himself/The Body in was a corner unit, abutted against a wide and relaxing-looking jet tub (Joe had never been a bath man, viewing soaking in a tub as a waste of time and efficiency, but nonetheless this looked as inviting a tub as one might find). This was adorned in almost a decorative motif; candles along the ledges, and a frosted picture window above.
The only sign of disarray in this room (compared to the kitchen the week before, or the office the previous night) was along one of the double sinks, where Joe – depending on where The Head moved as it seemingly rinsed shampoo or conditioner from its hair – spotted various feminine toiletries: perfume, hair products, deodorant stick, makeup brushes and powders. The other sink was clean and devoid of any getting-ready-for-the-day commodities. This room had the feel of a sanctuary; a place away from demands of a busy work and family life. He wanted to crane the neck to see if he could spot a book or two along the ledge of the tub, but she continued to stare mostly upwards while rinsing her hair. Joe couldn’t help noticing how long this took in comparison to his closely-cropped coiffure.
Despite the steam, Joe felt he could see slightly clearer this time. The edges of his (her?) vision still had that soaped-over-glass quality, but within the outer edges it was starting to lose that just-got-off-the-merry-go-round effect, and he felt he could track with her movements a little more. Granted, she had been standing mostly still – and there was no accompanying conversation like before – but the effect of feeling tossed around in an amusement park ride was less than the previous dreams. I guess we’ll see what happens when she really starts moving, he thought.
As though on cue, she turned a half-step to shut off the water, then rotated again to open the shower door and reach for a towel. A momentary pause for morality entered Joe’s mind, wondering if he should avert or close his eyes should she begin drying her body – but as before, he could do neither: his eyes seemed peeled, all movements entirely involuntary. He was spared of the dilemma as one towel was quickly and unconsciously wrapped around the length of her body, and another just as quickly (and deftly, Joe thought) wrapped around her hair. Joe had always admired the quiet grace the fairer sex brought to even the most pedestrian of actions, like putting up hair.
So far so good, he thought, on the movement front. There was yet to be an attack of nausea, although she hadn’t moved in any drastic fashion. We’re about to find out, though.
She stepped from the shower toward the vanity, and though he had a lingering feeling this must be how it felt to be strapped into robotic exoskeletons he saw in movies, it wasn’t nearly as jarring as the last event. The bustling office, the sudden standing, the start-and-stop walking. He wondered if he wasn’t getting used to this odd, third-party tracking; this sensation of watching through someone’s helmet camera. This feeling of acclimation was met with anticipation: Joe realized that he – barring any sudden real-life vomit or an abrupt, indiscriminate end to the dream – was possibly about to see her for the first time.
While later he was never able to put his finger on how or why – just as it seems impossible to deduce why we like certain foods upon tasting and not others, or how we’re attracted to certain people over others – he’d indisputably known it had been the same woman in every dream. He would never be able to adequately describe how he knew. He wasn’t able to hear her thoughts, or feel sensations as acutely as in his own body, but he could feel her thoughts. Feel the sensations. It was a knowing, even if he didn’t exactly know.
He could feel the breath in his own chest hitch for a moment – and wondered if his physical body laying in bed did the same, or if it was a psychological trick – as she neared the mirror. Just as quickly, he felt a twinge of dismay as the mirror was fogged over from the steam, and he could only discern the outline of the head and body wrapped in white towels. Her eyes looked directly at the clouded reflection for a moment, and then she leaned her arms against the edge of the counter-top, lowering her gaze. He felt her take a couple of deep breaths, as if steadying herself. The action seemed appropriate, as in some physical way running parallel with this fogged-over experience he could feel his heart had quickened. Deep breaths felt like the correct response. He wondered if she could feel it too… his heart, centered in an unconscious body laying – metres? kilometres? oceans away? – somewhere distant, beating with anticipation. Did her heart register an echo?
She turned away from the sink and Joe felt another pang of disappointment. It was bad enough being robbed of what used to be dependable and restorative sleep, exchanged for this crazy carnival ride of physiology and psychology. But the inability to manoeuvre and manage was now coupled with what felt like a maddening slow-reveal on a reality show. I have no desire to solve a mystery in my sleep, he thought. He had no desire to solve mysteries ever; didn’t enjoy reading or watching thrillers, feeling like he had no mind for investigation. So if you’re not gonna show me who you are, would you at least let me sleep? I probably have to be up in a few hours, and I don’t have time to watch someone else get ready for work when I need to do that in no time myself.
She opened a door along the wall opposite the sink and Joe saw a walk-in closet, in parts nicely arranged with hangers and according to season, and in disarray in others: laundry yet to be hampered and washed, other clothes hampered and possibly washed, but not folded and stored. She reached to her right and grabbed a hand towel, and for the first time, Joe had a feeling of direct sensation. He could feel the plush white cotton in his (her?) hands as she turned back toward the mirror, pausing to open a door perpendicular to the sink, presumably to let steam out of the bathroom. Joe glanced a bed with blankets and sheets tossed from a night of sleep (At least one of us is, he thought) in the adjacent room. She faced the mirror once more, and again steadied herself with an outstretched arm against the edge of the counter-top. She lowered her head, pausing to draw breath. She feels it too, Joe thought. She doesn’t know what it is any more than I do, but she feels something.
After another slow inhale, she looked back to the mirror, raising the hand holding the towel and began wiping away the mist. With her arm extended, Joe had the sensation of trying to peer past someone in a crowd, trying in vain to move his head right or left as her arm moved in slow circles. He strained for view as her hand blocked the reflection within the labyrinth of water droplets formed by the towel. She pulled her hand from the mirror but just as quickly leaned on both arms, lowering her head to take in another breath.
Look up, please! I need to know who you are. I need to see you.
At the edge of her inhalation she held the air for a moment, and as she stared at the sink began to say something aloud. At first, Joe had the sensation of a bell being rung, but this too had diminished in severity from previous encounters – possibly because he was becoming used to it along with movements and sensations, possibly because she had spoken barely above a whisper. And for the first time, he was able to discern what she said:
“Just take this a day at a time.”
He couldn’t sense what this meant – it could have referred to any number of things – but what registered was not so much the words as the voice that said them. It was beautiful. It was calm. Composed. Strained, perhaps, but sweet. Joe, who had once nearly broken up with a woman because her phone voice reminded him of a cat in distress, paid more attention to this quality than he would have preferred. This – like becoming conscious of one’s breathing – was difficult to detract focus from once noticed. But this voice was music. Soft and enchanting melody.
And then she looked up.
Thanks again for stopping by, Dear Reader! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.