Street portrait taken two years ago at the temporary holiday shopping stalls erected near Columbus Circle.
Friday, December 14, 2018
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Waiting for his morning interview – or debriefing, as he preferred to think of it – Connor sat in the hallway outside Elicott’s office while going over in his mind the content of the previous evening’s dream. As he sipped orange juice from a cardboard container, he became aware of a new reticence within him.
Though Connor knew there was no reason to hide from the professor what had occurred – or, to be accurate, what he had dreamed had occurred – he realized he was nevertheless reluctant to make any mention of Deirdre or the role of guide his unconscious had assigned her. Connor wasn’t quite sure why. After all, nothing could have been more natural than that a woman he had met casually on campus one afternoon should put in an appearance in a dream he had had the same evening. It was not as if she had actually been physically present, Connor reasoned; she hadn’t been any more real than Thoreau’s cabin, the Beatles concert or anything else he had witnessed while asleep. After a few moments’ more reflection, however, he decided that it would cause no great harm if he were to leave out any references to Deirdre when speaking to Elicott. There was certainly enough to relate as it was without having to go into that as well. It would only complicate matters.
Just as he had arrived at this conclusion, the door to Elicott’s office opened and a young woman stepped outside. As she moved past him, Connor realized he had seen her once before. It had been Reicha’s office she had been exiting on that earlier occasion. “Excuse me,” he asked without thinking, “but are you part of the project also?”
The pretty brunette turned to look at Connor. He saw now that she was upset and appeared to have been crying. Her eyes were red and her makeup smudged. “Do I know you?” she asked. Her voice was husky. She stared at him with that exasperated expression women always assume when they think a stranger is trying to flirt with them.
“I’m sorry,” Connor said at once. “I guess this isn’t the best time to talk.”
“It’s all right,” the woman relented. She rubbed her eyes with a tissue she’d taken from her purse as she struggled to regain her composure. “It’s just that I must look so awful. I hate to have anyone see me like this.”
“You look fine. My name is Connor, by the way. And you’re Marguerite. We were introduced by Dr. Reicha the other day. I’m sorry if caught you at a bad moment. I wasn’t trying to be intrusive. It’s just that I was just curious what experiences you’ve had. As far as I know, there aren’t any rules that say we participants can’t talk with one another.”
Marguerite studied Connor attentively for a moment without speaking. She seemed to be weighing whether or not he could be trusted. Finally she came to a decision. “May I ask why you want to know about my experiences? Is there some purpose?”
“Not really. Some weird things have been happening lately when I dream. I guess I wanted to find out if anyone else is going through the same thing, or if I’m the only one.”
At this, Marguerite started violently and then directed an almost frightened look at Connor. “What sort of weird things?”
“It’s sort of hard to explain because dreams are pretty strange anyway. At least mine are. They never made much sense before and they make even less sense now.” Connor realized he was babbling. “Of course, it’s not only when I dream that I don’t make sense.”
Marguerite laughed in spite of herself. “That’s not a very good explanation. If I weren’t having problems myself, I’d think you were a little crazy.”
Connor laughed too. “Oh, I’m a lot crazy. But I’m totally harmless. All I really want to do is compare notes with someone who’s in the same predicament as I am.”
The woman’s expression softened. “I’m sorry. I should not joke. After what I’ve been going through, I’m beginning to wonder how sane I am myself.”
“You said just now you were having problems. Is that why you’re so upset? What sort of problems are they?”
“We should definitely talk,” Marguerite answered. Her tone had grown anxious. “Yes, compare notes as you say.”
Connor checked his watch. “I have to go in and meet with the professor now. He’ll pump me for all the details of last night’s dream.”
“Will you tell him everything?”
“No, not everything. I’ll tell him most of what happened, but there are some details I want to keep to myself for the time being.”
“I understand,” said Marguerite, “maybe better than you do yourself.”
“I’ll be free in an hour. If you’ll still be on campus, we could meet at the student center and share a sandwich.”
“That would be good. I haven’t eaten anything all day.”
“I’ll see you there then.”
“Yes, I’ll be there,” said Marguerite. She cast an apprehensive glance at the closed office door behind her and then strode purposefully away.
Connor watched her thoughtfully as she walked the length of the corridor and boarded an elevator. Then he rose and knocked on Elicott’s door.
The professor looked up as Connor entered the office. “So how did your dream go? Was it a success?”
“Oh, yes,” Connor replied as he took a seat opposite the researcher. “The dream was pretty brief, but it went well. Since I was able to take a photo just as we’d planned, I’d say it was definitely a success.”
“Just one photo? That’s all?” Elicott couldn’t hide his disappointment.
“Like I said, there wasn’t much to the dream. I was on the edge of a small lake surrounded by a thick forest and saw a small shed on the opposite shore. It was just an old wooden shack and there was no one nearby. I took a shot of it but didn’t see anything else worth photographing. Then I woke up.”
The professor stroked his chin. “You seem much more relaxed today, not as tense and excited as when you were describing your first dream.”
“I guess I’m finally able to take the whole thing in stride. There’s really nothing to get that worked up about, is there?”
“And there was nothing else to the dream besides what you’ve told me?” Elicott was suspicious. That much was evident.
Connor looked him in the eye. “If there was, I can’t remember it.”
Elicott regarded him closely. “If that’s it, then I guess we don’t have that much to talk about today. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next time.”
“Yes, I’m looking forward to it. I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.”
“Probably you are at that.” Elicott was once more the didactic lecturer. “Controlling one’s dreams is an acquired skill. It takes practice, just as any mental exercise does.”
Connor and Gallagher were tossing a Frisbee to one another on a grassy spot in Central Park. To their backs, on the other side of the avenue, stood the main entrance to the Museum of Natural History. It was late afternoon on a beautiful summer day.
“I’m glad you’re finally getting some sense and starting to date again,” puffed Gallagher. He was out of practice and breathing hard. “You said the woman’s name is Marguerite? Sounds sexy to me. Is she hot?”
“No way it was a date. There was nothing romantic about it. We were just discussing our experiences in the project, nothing more than that.”
“Well, that’s as good a place to begin as any other. You’ll be in the sack with her before you know it. Now quit bullshitting and tell me what she looks like.”
“I wasn’t even paying that close attention. Brunette, not too tall. That’s all I remember.” Connor grabbed the Frisbee as it came to him and sent it sailing back to Gallagher.
“If only you knew what a disappointment you are to me, my friend. How am I going to get any fantasies going if that’s the best you can do in describing this woman?”
“The hell with your fantasies. I’ve got more important things to worry about. Besides, she was nowhere near as interesting as Deirdre.”
Gallagher stopped cold in the middle of a catch. “Who’s Deirdre.”
“Never mind.” Connor pretended to trip and fall. “Shit. I think I pulled a muscle. Let’s sit down for a minute.”
“You can’t fool me that easily. But if you want to change the subject, go ahead. There’s a bench right over there where you can rest your weary bones.”
After they’d sat down, Connor continued his story. “Marguerite was already in the cafeteria when I got there. She had a bowl of soup in front of her but wasn’t drinking it. Her mind must have been zeroed in on something else because her face was a total blank. She didn’t even seem to see me when I sat down beside her.”
“Not a very encouraging start,” Gallagher smirked.
Connor ignored him. “The first thing Marguerite said to me when she finally saw me there was, ‘Have you sensed anything in your dreams that intends you harm?’
“‘No,’ I told her, ‘nothing like that. Why? Is there something like that in your own dreams?’
“Marguerite seemed disappointed I hadn’t had a similar experience. I think if I’d had, she’d have felt less alone. As it was, it was apparent she badly needed someone to confide in. ‘I always have the same dream,’ she began. ‘I know I’m supposed to control it, but I cannot.’
“‘I’m not sure that matters so much,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you just describe the dream to me, and I’ll tell you if it resembles my own in any way.’
“Marguerite took a deep breath. ‘I’m in some sort of mansion or chateau. I don’t know where it’s located, certainly no place I’ve ever been in waking life. There are old portraits hanging on the walls that make me think I could perhaps be somewhere in Europe.’
“‘Are there any other people there besides you?’
“‘No. Not… people.’ Marguerite actually shuddered when she said that and then had to wait a moment before she was able to continue. ‘When I am there it is always nighttime and everything is very dark. But somehow I can see my way about easily enough. I do not think there have been any people living in that place for a long time. The rooms all have a musty smell, and there are sheets draped over the furniture to keep the dust away. The curtains are drawn on the windows, so I am not able to look outside to see where I am.’
“‘What happens in the dream?’
“‘Nothing really. I wander from one large room to the next, all the way from the basement to the attic. I know I am looking for something, but I am not able to remember what it is. This goes on and on, and then finally I wake up.’
“I sat back in my chair and took a sip of my coffee. ‘I don’t see anything very scary about that,” I confessed to her. ‘Is there anything more to it than that?’
“A really frightened look came over Marguerite’s face. ‘The whole time I’m there in that house I know I’m not alone. Something is following me as I move about, some malevolent being that is only biding its time.’
“I couldn’t figure out what she was getting at. ‘What is it you think this thing wants with you? Why is it after you?’
“Marguerite shivered then and I knew from the look on her face she had something terrible to tell me. She leaned across the table so she could whisper in my ear. ‘I know why it is there. It wants to tear me to pieces and devour me.’”
Gallagher jumped up from the bench he’d been sharing with Connor as though he’d been bitten. “Oh, shit. That is too fucking much.” He pounded his friend on the shoulder. “I take it back. You don’t need to be going on any dates. You’re better off alone.”
“Don’t blame me,” said Connor. “You’re the one who wanted to hear the story.”
“I didn’t think it was going to be anything like that. No way. After hearing that, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to sleep tonight myself.”
“You’ll have a couple of beers, check out Playboy, and doze off at midnight dreaming of naked centerfolds.”
“Maybe so, but tonight I’m going to bed with the lights on, that’s for sure.”
When he arrived at his apartment in Brooklyn that evening, Connor remembered he was still carrying the camera in his backpack. He took it out to check the battery level. It occurred to him there might be photos still on the memory card from the last time he’d used the camera months before. Without thinking, he hit the playback button. To his surprise, a single photo appeared – that of a dilapidated cabin on the shore of a small pond. Connor looked at the image in total disbelief for a moment before carefully putting the camera away in a drawer.
Monday, December 10, 2018
Friday, December 7, 2018
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
“Are you comfortable?” asked Jacqueline, the technical assistant, as she stooped down to check the placement of the metal discs affixed to Connor’s forehead. She was a tall woman who wore her long hair braided in dreadlocks. Her otherwise beautiful face was disfigured by a large birthmark that covered her right cheek, but she seemed unconscious of this as she walked gracefully among the project’s participants now preparing for bed.
“Yes, no problem at all,” Connor said. He felt a sudden wave of friendliness toward the woman. “How is everything with you today?”
“Oh, it could be better, I suppose. My boyfriend and I had another knockdown argument last night. We probably woke up half the Bronx with our shouting.”
“Sorry to hear.”
“Don’t worry about it. Every relationship has its ups and downs.” Jacqueline gave a short laugh. “Ours just has more than most.”
“I wouldn’t know. It’s been so long since I went out on a date I can’t even remember what it was like.”
Jacqueline tousled Connor’s hair playfully. “You’ve got jokes. I like guys who are funny.” She broke off and twisted her head to look at someone who was standing outside Connor’s angle of view. “I’ll be with you in a moment, Mr. Smithers. You be patient now and soon it will be your turn.”
“Please hurry,” Connor heard a shrill voice complain. “I haven’t got all night.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with that man,” the technician said as she turned back to Connor and checked the two discs attached to the back of his neck. She relaxed then and nodded. “That’s it. You just rest now. And when those bright lights go out, you have yourself some very pleasant dreams.”
“Thanks.” Connor watched Jacqueline as she walked away and noticed how her hips swayed rhythmically beneath her white uniform.
Connor had brought his camera along to help put himself in the right mood for the coming dream. Now he carefully placed it on a small nightstand beside the bed where it wouldn’t fall. That done, he settled his head back on the pillow and waited. When the room went dark, he drifted effortlessly into a sound sleep.
At once Connor found himself standing on the edge of a pond hidden somewhere in the wilderness. Thick woods, their foliage a riot of fall colors, encroached on every side. On the opposite shore he could make out a small shack not much larger than a tool shed. The pond’s waters, undisturbed by any wind, reflected the late afternoon sun. A ripple passed across the surface every few moments as fish rose to the top to feed. It was as tranquil a scene as could be imagined, and Connor felt his cares slide away from him as he breathed the fresh woodland air deeply into his lungs. “I wonder where I am,” he said aloud.
“Walden Pond,” said a voice behind him.
Connor whirled around. The blonde student whom he met on campus a few days earlier was standing directly behind him. Somehow he was not surprised to see her there.
“Isn’t it peaceful here?” Deirdre asked, her rhetorical question an echo of Connor’s own thoughts.
“Is this really Walden Pond?” Connor asked, though he knew in his heart it was.
“Oh, yes. That’s Thoreau’s cabin standing on the other side. Can you believe how small it is?” Deirdre was wearing jeans and a homespun top and had tied around her forehead a bandana imprinted with peace symbols. Her voice was filled with excitement.
“It’s not the original, though, is it? It couldn’t still be intact after all these years.”
“Yes, that’s it. Of course, it’s no longer here in our own time. All that’s here today is a replica that doesn’t really look the same no matter how historically accurate it’s supposed to be. There are only a few stone markers to show where Thoreau first set his up.”
Connor returned his gaze to the far shore. “Has anything else changed?”
“There’s an environmentally friendly parking lot somewhere nearby. The county built it because so many people come here in summer to swim. And there was once an amusement park on the western end of the pond, but it burnt down a long time ago. Mostly, things look pretty much the same as they did in Thoreau’s day.”
“I can understand why he wanted to be here. It’s quiet enough that a man can hear himself think.”
“Did you bring your camera?” asked Deirdre.
Connor looked down at his hand. Though he hadn’t been conscious of its weight, he found he was holding his digital camera by its strap. He brought it up to eye level, twisted the zoom to maximum focal length, and pushed the shutter release as he pointed the lens in the direction of Thoreau’s cabin. As he pressed the playback button, Deirdre came closer to stand beside him and to look over his shoulder at the photo displayed on the LED screen. “That’s a good shot,” she complimented him. “Sharp and in focus.”
“Thanks, but I never was much of a photographer.”
“In dreams, you can be as expert at anything as you want to be. That’s the great thing about them. There are no limits on your talents other than the ones your own imagination imposes. It’s the same as in real life. We go through our whole existence shackled by the chains we put on ourselves. All people need to do is get past the humdrum world they’re trapped in and stop worrying about money and status long enough to dream. There are masterpieces in all of us just waiting to be written down on paper or painted on canvas.”
“Yes, I guess that’s true,” Connor acknowledged after a moment’s thought. “I suppose in a dream I could create a great work of art every time I picked up a brush and palette. Or I could write a novel or play without any difficulty whatsoever. I’d just sit back and let the work that’s already inside me come pouring out.”
Deirdre was no longer listening. “It’s a shame Thoreau himself isn’t here today.” She turned toward Connor. “Where would you like to go next to take photos?”
“Can we go anywhere? Even to places I’ve never been or seen?” Connor’s tone betrayed his disbelief. “I can’t understand how that’s possible if I have no idea how those locations really looked in their own time.”
“Sure. Why not?” asked Deirdre as she saw Connor regarding her dubiously. “After all, you were never at Walden Pond before, were you? And now here you are. It’s actually very easy. Just think of where you’d like to be, and we can be there before you know it.”
Connor smiled. “If that’s true, then there’s a place in England we’ve got to go see.”
“Just close your eyes.”
“Whatever you say.” Connor gripped Deirdre’s hand and shut his eyes tightly.
In the next instant, Connor found himself standing on a damp wet sidewalk in a rundown industrial neighborhood. Deirdre was once again at his side. “Is this where you wanted to be?” she asked as she took in her surroundings. Her voice was so uncertain that it was immediately obvious to Connor that she’d had no idea beforehand where he had intended to travel in his dream.
“You bet it is,” Connor almost shouted in his enthusiasm. “I can’t believe I’m really here.” He wanted to pinch himself as he looked in wonder at the rundown brick warehouse in front of him. A huge crowd had gathered outside. Most were in their late teens or early twenties, men in frumpy suits smoking cigarettes and women wearing knee length skirts and primping their beehive hairdos.
“It doesn’t look like anything much. And what’s with that smell of rotten fruit?” Deirdre put her hand over her nose. “Ewww, that’s disgusting.”
“Ignore it. It’s not important,” said Connor impatiently. “Downstairs is where it’s all happening.” Connor pointed to a sign hanging in front that read “The Cavern.”
Deirdre caught on then and clapped her hands in glee. “Oh, Donny, you still love rock & roll, don’t you?”
Connor laughed. “You’re so excited that you can’t even remember my name.”
Deirdre blushed prettily. “Oh, that was a slip, wasn’t it? Forget I said it.”
Connor let it pass. He moved forward with Deirdre at his side and made his way through the crowd without any interference from either those waiting to get in or the bouncers holding back the line. No one asked them to pay for admittance. On a wall he saw a tattered calendar pulled back to August 1963. The 3rd was circled in red.
Inside, the place was packed. Some patrons were sitting at tables but most were standing and yelling at the top of their lungs. At one end of the room was a small stage with a rounded arch extending over the proscenium.
“I can’t wait to see this,” said Connor to a laughing Deirdre.
Four young guys incongruously dressed in suits and ties suddenly appeared onstage and the entire room went berserk. There was no other word to describe it. Over the deafening shouts, the Beatles launched into their first song. For well over an hour, they played a frenetic rock & roll set that could barely be heard over the screams of the audience. Chuck Berry and Little Richard covers were interspersed among the band’s own original lyrics. It made no difference. The audience loved them all.
“Wow,” said Deirdre when it was all over and she and Connor were making their exit. They moved along the sidewalk beside teenagers who would now be old men and women in the twenty-first century. “That was too much. It’s the first time I ever saw them play live.”
“I should think it would be. The band had already broken up by the time I was born. Their recordings were already oldies the first time I heard them. But tonight when they played ‘She Loves You,’ it was still a new song. Lennon and McCartney only wrote it last month.”
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” sang Deirdre out of tune. She grinned at Connor. “Are you having fun?”
“Hey, this is the best dream I’ve ever had. That’s all I know.”
“I’m so glad.” Deirdre leaned forward and kissed Connor on the cheek. “It’s very important to me that you enjoy yourself.”
“Why?” he couldn’t help asking.
“Because you’re dear to me, silly. That’s why.” She squeezed his hand.
Hours later, when Connor awoke in the laboratory to see the sun shining through the windows, he felt marvelously refreshed and caught himself humming old Beatles tunes while he showered. When he returned to pick up his things, he found his camera lying on the table beside the bed where he’d left it. “Damn,” he said to himself, “I didn’t think to take any photos the whole time we were in Liverpool. I didn’t even take any shots of Deirdre.” He chuckled. “What a shame. She looked so pretty.”