Pieces of the Moon

 

 

 

 

 


A dreamer is one who can only find his way

by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees

the dawn before the rest of the world.

Oscar Wilde, 1893

 

 

Dreams are disingenuous by nature. And analyzing them at the breakfast table can be as arduous as counting rocks on the moon from your porch. So I think about the moon a lot; and I therefore dream a lot too. My dreams arrange themselves in the night like stars and form a landscape not unlike the moon: unfamiliar, hazy and surreal.

Somewhere in my subconscious dreams are eternal and blissful and will take a ray of sunlight into a new and changing atmosphere. When the sleep comes, hours change to seconds and every experience comes and goes in an instant. But the instances never end; they cycle through the long sleep and make of time an indifferent stranger reminding me of something lost and a destination that will never endure the night.

The dreams play until dawn, and I see therein my destination shared with no one but the artist. Yet we are neighbors divided by a window that she cannot uncover and that I cannot shade. And so we wait within the same dream living as though we were not apart, waiting for change to introduce us, waiting to look at one another, to touch, taste and smell a mere particle of love—or to simply anticipate its fulfillment, caring for the moment as though it were the earth's first midnight lasting until the dream is done and sleep is interrupted by morning.

Occasionally I'll wake with a new attitude. I'll discover a new fragrance coming through the window or from the pile of old books on the nightstand or from the bed sheets recently washed by a quiet stranger still adjusting to her own independence. And then I'll question my own freedom and discover that my dreams have been indentured by change and I've embraced a new choice as though it were a long aspired goal finally reached. By nightfall I will remember what I've lost and realize that my independence was at some point compromised by a lifetime of worry, doubt and ignorance. Experience is my last reward; and time will make from it another memory that I will tuck away inside me until the dream is over and I awake to another day tapping at my window.

 

Vespers came early this afternoon, or so it seemed. I fell asleep at my desk and dreamed that I was floating in the chapel high above an imaginary chorus and looking down at Mangan's sister sipping milk from a communion cup. She seemed unaware of me hanging over her as she drank and tapped at the cup with her paw.

At the back of the chapel I could see my father smiling up at me and waving as if he were sending me off on a trip. At first he looked unfamiliar until he turned away and I saw in his expression a heavy sadness that I remembered from my childhood. He stood in his weekend blue jeans and t-shirt stained by a summer's worth of yard work and raised a hand above his forehead as though he were shading his eyes from the sun. He held that same frozen salute outside the chapel in a variety of settings dredged up from my past. Sometimes I would see him at the end of our driveway resting his forearm on the mailbox and gently waving the screwdriver he used to scrape the motted grass from under the lawn mower. And sometimes he'd be waving from the school playground or from the federal building where he worked, where my mother and I would meet him some afternoons for lunch.

My father personalized melancholy and gave it a name and a face. He never completely recovered from my mother's tiring illness and he resented her for dying and her obsessive affair with vodka martinis and Marlboros. From his constant scowl, you'd have thought she had a lover. But I guess in his eyes she did. I can still remember quite vividly our last three years together as a family and have yet to forget my father's worry and concern that permeated our house. He would sit at the kitchen table and work the morning crossword while keeping an eye on my mother lying on the couch in the living room. As my mother's illness progressed she would spend more time in the bedroom with my father kissing her forehead and holding her hand while she slept. I would sometimes watch him from the hallway sitting beside her, gazing up at the ceiling with that same aching expression. My father however failed to see that the more my mother slipped away from him the more he slipped away from me. But now that I am older I can see their relationship more clearly and how deeply her suffering affected him. After she died, he gave up the crosswords altogether and spent much of the day at the kitchen table looking up at the ceiling or out the window. I can only guess at what he was thinking. She was his last and truest love and only now can I excuse his helpless preoccupations and my mother's own indulgences that slowly destroyed her.

As my dream progressed I imagined my throat hurting and being unable to swallow. Breathing was more difficult and I began swinging higher to where I could almost touch the ceiling. Mangan's Sister looked up at me like the operator of some nauseating carnival ride, unconcerned with my obvious stress and discomfort. I remember feeling like the knot on a tug-o-war rope stretching over a chasm between heaven and earth and life and death.

And then from the ceiling just beyond my reach a hand extended itself towards me. Initially I thought my father was trying to grab me but I could still see him standing like a weary soldier at the back of the chapel. And as I rose again towards the ceiling I saw my mother's hand reaching out to me, but when I tried to touch her, the hand pulled away. A cigarette smoldered between her fingers and slid towards her unseen lips for another kiss never meant for me.

After a while breathing was pointless. My mother's hands closed around my neck and choked me as I suspect they had herself and my father. I looked again into the back of the chapel but no one was there. And despite my anxiety, I somehow understood that I would see my father again before his death and that he would find contentment even though my mother years ago had withdrawn so often to the porch, transfixed by something he wasn't a part of.

When I woke I sat quietly in my chair and wondered why I hadn't dreamed of the artist. So I closed my eyes and tried my best to reconstruct the dream. But of course this didn't work. I had to accept the dream as my subconscious presented it. My only recourse was to sit on the parapet outside and lean against a cold gargoyle and imagine her walking through the garden below me.

 

Spring was several weeks away and the garden had not yet revived from the depths of winter. But I imagined my invisible companion like Rapuccini's daughter strolling through the daisies, roses and sweet pea. She was my prisoner and I, her creator, conditioned her life and the garden according to my own desires. I wanted her to love me unfailingly, but as she walked below, giving life to the garden, I saw her disdain when she saw me on the parapet above her. This was the first time I had ever attracted her attention, the first time she had ever acknowledged me. But she couldn't see my sincerity or my devotion. She saw something ugly inside of me surface and molt into something crude and rapacious. My very presence threatened her with the same sincerity and devotion that created her, and I could do nothing but look away.

From the sunflowers at the back of the garden I imagined my father waving as I had remembered so often, so long ago. My mother's pale fingers seemed to prod at me from behind the gargoyle, and I wanted to fall. I wanted to jump, to be thrown to the ground and to break up into a thousand pitiful pieces before the artist noticed me staring so pathetically upon her.

 

I stood on the balcony the following day and watched the winter birds jump between gargoyles on the parapet. Their dark forms looked like black spheres balled up into tiny fists of feathers. Their songs were low and short, but mostly they kept quiet and flew in small, tight patterns from tree to shrub to fence without making the smallest sound. The garden and adjacent meadow provided sparse cover and made no effort to hide them within its own tawny grasses. Instead, the dark birds took shelter near the ground in leafless brush resembling nests of crumpled wire.

The winter birds held the earth's spirit. They lived and moved where nothing else would. I stood inside the doorway and watched them twitch and peck at seeds and pieces of cracker that I had dropped for them earlier. They stayed for only a moment. Their eyes moved about searching for predators that I could not imagine against the still landscape. Aside from a neighbor's cat creeping around a light pole or a hedge of blueblossom, the dark birds gave the earth its only motion. They told of the earth's former personality; they told of its compassion, warmth and color.

The birds flew off and gathered in the nearby meadow. And when they were still, I could not distinguish them from the shadowy pieces of turf turned up by the neighbor's brood mare. The wind was calm and quiet. I could hear nothing, not even the clock from inside the doorway, not even a random scraping of branches from the ash and cypress against the building. Nothing in the garden or in the meadow moved. The sheer absence of sound and motion gave the moment an eerie tension. The dark birds and the pale landscape created a loneliness that wasn't entirely unpleasant. It made me want to sleep, to envision myself stuffed within a warm bed piled with downy quilts and pillows. Time never moved more slowly. Fatigue lingered in the coldness and I fell asleep uncovered in an overstuffed lounge chair in the middle of the room.

I don't remember dreaming; I only remember waking and feeling frustrated with my own loneliness and isolation. I wanted to feel alive again. I wanted to feel renewed and invigorated. I wanted the artist to be alive and to touch my hand and pull herself into my embrace. I wanted to feel her desire instead of my own. I wanted to feel her passion instead of mine. I wanted her wants to be satisfied in me that I might forget my own wishes and rediscover them anew in her.

 

Just before sundown I swept off the balcony and brought in a chair that someone dragged out after lunch. The afternoons are brisk but last a few minutes more each day. Spring is coming and I can feel it gaining momentum every evening when the library closes. It starts with just one chair left on the patio and eventually precedes another and maybe one or two more. Last year I set up a small table against the parapet and stocked it with chips and queso. A couple of school girls had brought up a tray of St. Patrick's Day cookies, and I set them out with a stack of paper cups and a liter of ginger ale and orange soda. The gargoyle nearest the door served as a coat rack and the balcony was at last ready for the new season. When the tourists returned in June, the friendly gargoyle became their backdrop and was photographed with a dozen or so strangers before the autumn came and its use was once again restricted to holding coats, hats and umbrellas.

This morning I have been preoccupied with my gentle routines of straightening the library just enough that it appears managed. Generally, I'll place a stray book on a table and stack a newspaper unassembled on the research counter. Sometimes I'll read my horoscope and maybe Sister's as well. If I'm so inclined I'll work part of the crossword puzzle and pencil in a few wrong words to throw off Mr. Soals who always comes in, glances at it furtively, huffs, sighs and then tosses it back on the counter without ever correcting a single error.

After a season of such indifference towards the library's appearance I prepare to clean the place from top to bottom. Every year I reorganize the shelves and recognize in the process nearly every title and remember a few unaccounted for that later turn up at my house, usually still in my bag or twisted up in a blanket at the foot of my bed.

This Easter weekend the library will experience a thorough cleaning. Mangan's Sister and I began last year's cleaning with a few domestic beers and an all night slumber party in the study. We huddled in a sleeping bag on the sofa and shared a bag of cheese flavored popcorn. Sister fell asleep watching a documentary on sea birds and I dozed off later during Rear Window shortly after Raymond Burr packed in a large suitcase his murdered wife's chopped up corpse.

Sometime in the night either Sister or I rolled onto the remote and turned off the television. It was dark and quiet when I woke after 2 AM, swallowed some aspirin and walked out to the library to think. Of course I thought of nothing in particular, I just sat in the overstuffed lounge chair as though I were waiting. In some respects I suppose I was. But there was no better place or time to just sit and wait.

In the absence of light, the library lost its color. Rows and columns of books lost a measure of beauty at the expense of gray-scaled clarity. Yet among its contrasting shades of gray there was a softness unaffected by light or shadow. Every volume was equal. Every shelf and counter was nothing more and nothing less than just a surface. I was on the moon again, and every image was just as lovely as it was plain and no more important than the reduced components that created it. A rock was a rock, a book was a book, and a thought was nothing more than just a thought—another image I imagined with no more significance than the books and papers that blended into the room.

There is something very restful, even magical about the night, and I wonder why I spend so much of it sleeping. On nights when I wake, I normally walk around the house with my arms folded and wander in and out of rooms like a ghost. Without turning on a light, I can make my way to the staircase and wonder momentarily if I am the only one awake or if the artist is sitting just as serenely a few steps above me. When I return to my room and finally sleep I am always impressed by how gentle the night can be and my own companionship that makes my home so calm and warm. On nights like these comes a different dream, a philosophy really, that I always disregard come morning. Whether at home or in the library it is the same. It is a different understanding of work and rest, a philosophy that obscures discipline and responsibility and makes the waking minutes more restful than even the deepest sleep.

 

My father believed that trusting in one's dreams was as foolish as trusting in fate. Death was our only destiny, and aside from this, it was our only hope worth trusting. After my mother died he failed for a while to believe in anything. Purpose and ambition were no more legitimate to him than dreams and no more veritable than philosophy discussed over a twelve-pack and a weekend campfire. I can still remember him saying that relying upon your dreams is like relying upon your echo to lead you across the Atlantic. In his sky, I suppose, there weren't enough stars by which he could plot a single straight line.

My dreams however have always given an attitude to a season which is often violently complacent. They have armed me against winter's homogeneity by validating my anxiety and understanding my delusions of being someone I am not and living in a place that feels my presence and welcomes me.

My father would have liked it here. Unlike me, he would have made better use of his time and the library's resources. He would have lost himself in Checkov, Ibsen and Shakespeare and then have found himself again in the pubs and other concessions nearby. I on the other hand have lost myself in Valencia 's meadows and orchards. I have lost myself in her culture and have acquired her appetites for peace and solitude while on the trail behind my house and the pathways through the woods and the mission's cool patico and breezeways. And in my delusions and night-time wanderings I have found myself. I have found a philosophy worth understanding, worth holding on to even on the coldest winter morning.

Hamlet said to Horatio, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" and I wonder while reading if Hamlet's dreams and visions are as real as mine. I wonder if there is any philosophy that understands the value of dreams and visions as fully as Hamlet's. But in the end, it doesn't really matter. I may fall asleep tonight believing that I am not alone and hoping that a seed will swell in my imagination; and sometime in the night I will wake and see the moon shining on my pillow, illuminating in the artist's sleeping cheeks, Hamlet's troubled Ophelia. I may dream of waking her, kissing her and touching her hair with the palm of my hand a moment before the bow above the river breaks and I reach for her falling, drowning between the banks' white lilies. Her madness finally ebbs and mine emerges, rising from her slowly sinking; her last breath ascending from the cold, pale river. Most certainly I will abruptly wake, sit up in my bed and realize that all is well and that it was only just a dream.