Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-Three

Though he had been to Gallagher’s apartment on Havermeyer Steet once before, Connor had trouble locating the address.  Too much had changed in Williamsburg since his last visit.  Everywhere he looked, he saw new apartment buildings being put up one after the other.  Workers in hard hats scrambled over the scaffolding surrounding them. 
When Connor did finally arrive, he found Gallagher busy in the kitchen cooking dinner.  “Hey, perfect timing, man,” the latter said as he held the door open. Connor noticed Gallagher took the time to look into the hallway to make sure they were alone.   “Come on in and have some of my special chicken fricassee.  It’s a work of art if I do say so myself.”
Connor gave a bleak smile.  He looked about the apartment he had so recently visited with Deirdre in his dream and saw it was just as disordered now as it had been then.  “Did anyone ever tell you that you need a cleaning woman to come in and get rid of this mess?”
“I’ve thought about that,” Gallagher chuckled.  “What I really want is some sexy chick in a French maid’s uniform walking around with a feather duster in her hand.”  He turned back to the stove and stirred some vegetables in a pot.  “Are you hungry?”
“I’m Irish, remember?  We only break bread with our friends.”
Gallagher turned toward him with pot in hand.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what it sounds like.”
Gallagher looked at Connor closely enough to make out the dangerous glint in his eye.  “So what’s up with you?  You trying to tell me we’re not friends anymore?”
“You never were my friend, you piece of shit.  It’s just that I’m only now realizing how you used me all this time.”
Gallagher was startled but recovered quickly.  “Fuck you,” he shot back.  “If you’ve got some bug up your ass all of a sudden, you can get yourself the hell out of my home.”
“Don’t worry.  I’m going as soon as I’ve said what I came to say.  I don’t want to be around you a minute longer than I need to be.  You can take my word on that.”
Gallagher was too surprised by Connor’s new attitude to be genuinely angry.  He lowered his voice.  “What’s with you tonight anyway?  Your new girlfriend throw you out on the street or what?”
“Get off the act.  I know all about you and Jocelyn.”
This time Gallagher was genuinely shocked.  “What are you talking about?  That woman say some shit to you about me and her?  If she did, you know it’s a damned lie.”
“I haven’t seen Jocelyn since I visited her at her new apartment, and I’ve no plans to change that.  If I don’t see her again until my dying day, it will still be too soon as far as I’m concerned.”
“That I can understand,” said Gallagher as he attempted to calm Connor down.  “If she hadn’t talked you into pulling that dumb burglary job you wouldn’t be in the mess you are now.  She really did screw up your life with that stupidity.”
“It wasn’t her idea, it was yours.”
Gallagher banged the pot down.  “And bullshit makes the world go round.”
“Except even that wasn’t enough for you.  You didn’t stop there.  You called the cops while I was inside and handed me to them on a platter.”
Gallagher took a step back.  “Are you crazy?  Where’d you ever get that idea?”
“I was standing right here the last time you met with Jocelyn.”  Connor changed his tone to mimic his ex-wife’s voice.  “‘That didn’t stop you from calling the police and telling them what he was up to that night and where they could find him.’”
Gallagher’ face went white.  “How the hell did you find out about that?”
“I just told you.  I was standing right here while you two lovebirds were spilling your guts to one another.”
Gallagher dropped all pretense of innocence.  “The hell you were.  She and I were in here by ourselves with the door locked behind us.”
“You figure it out then.  What the hell difference does it make anyway how I found out?  What’s important is that I know you stabbed me in the back, the both of you.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”  Gallagher was fast recovering his composure.  He gave up attempting to appease Connor and instead moved forward to confront him.  “You know as well as I do you’re fucked.  You’re an ex-con.  Ty to play rough with me, and the cops will have you in cuffs before you know it.  They’re just waiting for the chance.”
“Don’t worry,” Connor assured him.  I already figured that much out for myself.  You can have your miserable life and be happy with it.  You can have Jocelyn too – you two deserve one another.  I don’t want anything more to do with either of you.  I only came by to tell you I finally got wise to what’s been going on.  God knows, it took me long enough.”
“So that’s it then.  We’re done, aren’t we?”
“We’re done all right.  If I saw you lying in the gutter, I wouldn’t stop long enough to spit on you.  I’d just step over you and keep on walking.”
“Yeah?  Well fuck you too.”
Connor stepped in close and hit the other below the belt as hard as he could.  He watched as Gallagher doubled over in pain.  “I just wanted to give it to you once where it would hurt and wouldn’t leave any marks.  I wouldn’t want you to have anything to show the cops if you decide to turn snitch again.”
Gallagher groaned in pain.  “I’ll get you for this,” he said behind clenched teeth.
“Go ahead and try.  You know where to find me.”
Connor took one more look at Gallagher and headed for the door.  “Sorry I couldn’t stay for dinner,” he said over his shoulder.

When Connor arrived at his own home in Bed Stuy a half hour later, he found an envelope addressed to him lying on his desk.  He ripped it open and found inside a message written on a scrap of yellowed paper.
“I’ll be at the Purple Onion on West 3rd Street at 9 o’clock.  Meet me there.  Deirdre”
There was no stamp on the envelope and Connor had no idea how it had ended up in his room.  Neither of his roommates was in the apartment to tell him who had dropped it off.  Connor crumpled the note and put it in his pocket.  Looking at his watch, he saw it was already almost 8.  Without missing a beat, he grabbed his jacket and headed back out the door.
The address Deirdre had given was right around the corner from the West 4th Street subway station.  There turned out to be a nightclub at the location.  A glitzy neon sign hanging above the entrance identified it as The Purple Onion.  Inside was the usual Village crowd of N.Y.U. students, tourists and well-to-do couples who paid for their overpriced martinis with platinum credit cards while taking in the local color.
Connor didn’t pay that much attention, though, to the audience that filled the club’s darkened interior.  His gaze was instead riveted on the small stage where Deirdre sat playing piano.  A single spotlight shone down on her and reflected the glow of her blonde hair.  She was dressed in a full length strapless gown that made her seem a visitor from another, more glamorous, era.   There was no score on the piano, and Deirdre barely looked at the keyboard as her fingers raced across the keys.
No host or waiter was in sight, so Connor took a seat at a table in the back of the room.  From there he could see and hear everything.  A lit candle had been placed at the table’s center, and its flame fluttered and created reflections on the empty glassware.
Deirdre continued to play as if unconscious of those about her.  Her selections were familiar standards that ranged from Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train to Cole Porter’s Night and Day.  Each one she performed as perfectly as the last.
“She’s marvelous,” whispered a woman at the next table to her distracted husband.  “I wonder who she is.  She’s never played here before that I can remember.”
The performance went on for the next half hour as Deirdre progressed through an eclectic program that veered from the Big Band era to the classical.  For her final number, she played Debussy’s Claire de Lune.  When she had finished, the entire audience broke into wild applause.  Some even stood up at their tables as they clapped.
Deirdre looked up and smiled at the crowd who, as if awaiting their cue, at once broke into cheers.  She stood then beside the piano and gave a formal bow in their direction.
Seeing Connor sitting alone in back, Deirdre stepped down from the stage and made her way across the room while ignoring the curious stares of those she passed along the way.
As soon as Deirdre sat down beside Connor, a waiter in a white jacket rushed to their side.  In his hand he held an ice bucket containing a bottle of Roederer Cristal.  He first set elegantly cut flute glasses before them both and then handed to Deirdre a small package wrapped in white paper.  “This is the item you asked the manager to hold for you.”  His voice was almost a whisper as he prepared to pop the cork from the champagne bottle.
After the waiter had filled their glasses and left, Connor leaned smiling toward Deirdre.  “In the old days,” he joked, “you’d have held a Turkish cigarette in a long ivory holder and I’d have lit it with a monogrammed silver lighter.”
“Oh, no.  I’d never in my life smoke a cigarette,” laughed Deirdre.  She pretended to shiver at the thought.
Connor nodded toward the stage.  “I see you haven’t forgotten any of the piano skills you learned in our dream.”
“Yes, it’s amazing, isn’t it?  I can’t remember ever having heard some of those songs before.  They just seemed to play themselves.”
“I’m glad you invited me here to listen.  You have quite a career ahead of you as a concert pianist.  I’ll be able to say I knew you when you were first starting out.”
Deirdre shook her head.  “No, it’s too late for any career for me.  But at least I’ll have this wonderful memory of having been here with you.”
Connor lifted his glass toward her.  She raised her own and they touched rim to rim before they drank.
“There was another reason I wanted to meet with you tonight,” said Deirdre.  “I have something I want to give you.  It once belonged to someone very close to me.”  She took the wrapped package the waiter had given her and handed it to Connor.
Not knowing what to expect, Connor tore away the paper and found inside a book.  Looking at it more closely, he saw it was the I Ching, the same Bollingen edition he had at home.  “Hey, I already own this book,” he exclaimed in astonishment.  “And this looks exactly like the copy I have, only it’s not so badly worn and tattered.”
“Where did you get yours?”
“I picked it up years ago second-hand at the Strand.  I found it was much better than the translations I’d used in college.”
“And you still ask it questions every now and then?”
“I consult it every time I have a decision to make,” answered Connor seriously.  “I believe everything I was taught about it.”  He frowned.  “Not that I can always understand the answers the oracle gives me.”
“You have to keep your mind open.”
“And that’s the problem.  We always know what answer we want the book to give us before we toss the coins.  The real difficulty is in not imposing our own wishes on it when we try to interpret the hexagrams it’s shown us.”
“Oh, you do understand,” Deirdre said and clapped her hands appreciatively.  “That’s the same explanation Donny always gave too.”
“There’s that name again.”  Connor regarded his companion reproachfully.  “You never did tell me who this Donny is.  What’s the big mystery?”
“You’ll meet him.  But you have to be ready first.  Then I can take you to him.”
“In my dreams, right?”
“Where else?” Deirdre asked as she took another sip of champagne.
Connor started to say something else but then thought better of it.  “I guess I should be jealous of how much you care for this guy,” he finally told her, “but if he’s half as cool as you are then I can’t wait to meet him.”
“You two will get along great.  I promise.”  Deirdre gave an enigmatic smile.  “Believe me when I tell you that you’ll feel you’ve known him forever.”

Monday, February 25, 2019

Downtown Graffiti 2

The care graffiti artists take to make use of every available space always amazes me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-Two

Marguerite stood in the center of her apartment while holding in her hand an antique violin.  She glanced once at Connor, then tucked the instrument beneath her chin before drawing the bow across the strings to tune it.  “Do you know the Prokofiev Opus 115?” she asked.  “It’s a sonata for solo violin.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard it,” Connor confessed.  “There are some twentieth century pieces I really enjoy; but, to be honest, I don’t have any expertise when it comes to classical music.  I’m not a musician myself.”
“That’s all right.  You don’t need a college degree to appreciate it.  It is enough to listen carefully.”  And with that Marguerite launched into the moderato that opens the work. 
As Marguerite proceeded effortlessly through the spare three-movement piece, Connor listened just as attentively as he had to Deirdre the evening before.  When she had finished, he clapped enthusiastically.  “That was fabulous,” he said.  “I mean it.”
“Thank you.”  Marguerite blushed slightly and then bent down to return the violin to its battered case.
“Did you really learn how to do that in your dream?  If you’ve never played the violin before, Elicott will consider it an incredible breakthrough for the project that you’re now able to perform the piece so perfectly when you’re awake.”
Marguerite took a seat beside Connor and put her finger playfully to her lips.  “Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone, especially not the professor, but I was familiar with Prokofiev’s work long before I ever came to this country.  I studied music for several years when I was a child.  My teacher was an old Russian émigré who had settled in Switzerland.  During the time he had lived in Moscow he actually met not only Prokofiev but Shostakovich as well.  He venerated their music and had me practice it over and over again.”
“You were pretty lucky to have someone like that for a teacher.”
Marguerite sighed.  “It did not do much good.  I never had the talent to become a true virtuoso.  The poor man should have devoted his time to instructing a better student, one who would have profited more from such lessons.”
“Don’t put yourself down.  You were wonderful, and I’m sure the composer himself would have loved your performance if he’d been able to hear it.”
Marguerite put her hand on Connor’s knee.  “You are such a sweet man.  You always know exactly the right thing to say to make a woman feel appreciated.  I can’t believe your wife could ever have been foolish enough to have left you.  So what if you spent a few months in jail?  What does that matter?”
Connor stiffened.  This was a subject he felt no inclination to discuss with anyone, especially not after what Deirdre had revealed to him in his dream, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good to keep his hurt and anger bottled up inside him.  “It’s not so hard to believe as you might think,” he said.  Then he proceeded to relate to Marguerite everything that had gone on between Jocelyn and Gallagher exactly as he had witnessed it in his dream.
When Connor had finished his story, Marguerite could only put her hand over her heart.  For a moment, she was unable to speak.  “That is unbelievable,” she finally managed to say.  “How could anyone deliberately put someone in prison for no reason at all?”
“I guess the two of them thought their love life was plenty of reason.”
“If I had not seen so many strange things in my own dreams, I probably would not believe what you’ve told me.  It’s too horrible.”
Connor nodded his agreement.  “That’s pretty much the way I’d describe it myself.”
Marguerite regarded him anxiously.  “What are you going to do about it?  Are you planning some sort of revenge?”
Connor gave only a sardonic laugh in reply.  “I certainly gave it some thought, that’s for sure.  You’ve no idea how much I’d love to see those two suffer for what they did to me. And to think I trusted them both so completely.”  He literally ground his teeth together.  “I’m not going to get myself in trouble, though, least of all over those two pathetic losers.”  He took a deep breath to calm himself.  “It’s just not worth it no matter how much they have it coming to them.  What’s done is done.”
“So you’re going to put it out of your mind?  Are you really able to do that?”  Marguerite’s voice was unbelieving.  “If it had happened to me, I know I’d never be able to let it pass.  I’d think about it night and day.”
“Jocelyn’s already out of the picture.  And I know now that that’s a good thing.  The truth is that I’m so much better off without someone like that in my life.  The last thing I want is see her again for any reason.”
“And what about your friend Gallagher?”
“Oh, he’s another story altogether,” Connor fumed.  “All these months since I got off Rikers I’ve been hanging out with him and thinking what a great guy he’s been to have stuck with me and been so supportive.  And all the while he’s been laughing his ass off at me behind my back.  No, him I’m going to have a talk with, even if it’s only to let him know I’m in on the joke now.”
“But you’re not going to hurt him?”
“No, luckily for him I’ve never been a violent person.  Lucky for me too, come to think of it.  Here in New York, what goes around comes around.  Picking up a gun or knife is the best way to get myself killed in this city.”
Marguerite let out a sigh of relief.  “Thank God I’ve met at least one person in this country who is sane.”
“I’m not really sure I’m as normal as you think.  Sometimes, as I get deeper into this project, I’m afraid I’m starting to go crazy.  I see things and then I’m not sure they’re really there.  Maybe it’s better not talk about it anymore.  Ok?”
“If you say.”  Marguerite hugged him impulsively.  “Just as long as you know I’m proud of you for taking such a stand.  Violence never solves anything.”
Connor smiled and put his arm around her.  “But tell me something.  Why did you cheat on the project assignment?  You know the idea was to master an instrument you’d never played before, not to work with one you were already expert with.”
“You have been honest with me, and I will be the same with you,” Marguerite said grimly.  “I have been so frightened by what is happening in my dreams – the presences I can feel but never see – that I didn’t allow myself to fall asleep the whole night I was in the clinic.  I couldn’t bear to go through all that again.”
“You really should leave the project, Marguerite.  It’s just an experiment, nothing worth making yourself sick over.”
“I know that, but I am so weak inside that I can never bring myself to tell the professor I’m actually leaving.  Besides, I think I will be out anyway now.  I’m sure I won’t be included in the final selection of participants.”
“I’m just as sure I’ll be leaving too.  I’ve given them too many problems.”
Marguerite looked at Connor shyly.  “Well, the experiment was worth participating in for one thing at least.”
“What was that?”
“It was by taking part in it that I got to meet you.”  Marguerite impulsively drew Connor to her and kissed him.  “Let’s forget our problems for a while and make love.  I want to hold you tight and never let you go.”
Connor kissed her back.  “Yes, that would be the best thing in the world.  You’re an anchor for me, you know.  When I’m no longer sure what’s real or not, I think of you and that’s enough to help me hold on to what little sense of reality I have left.”
“It’s so funny you should say that when all the while I feel I’m the one who’s losing my mind.”

Though Connor hadn’t bothered to make an appointment, Elicott did not seem particularly surprised to see him arrive at his office.  “I thought you’d be here sooner or later,” he said.
“Really?  Why was that?” asked Connor.
“You know we’re weeding out participants before we go on to the project’s next stage and you wanted to make sure you’re not left out,” Elicott announced with a self-satisfied air.  “You came by now to talk with me and give me all the reasons you should be included.  Do I have it right, or not?”
Connor smiled.  “That’s a pretty shrewd deduction.  You’re the one who should be the psychiatrist, not Dr. Reicha.”
The professor smiled back complacently.   “It wasn’t that hard to figure out.  No one’s shown as much determination as you have.  You’ve taken our work here much more seriously than any of the other participants.”  Elicott regarded him evenly.  “And you’ve attained a far higher level of success than anyone else.  That was an amazing feat you pulled off when you were actually able to visit Moldova in your dream.”
Connor was startled by the Elicott’s attitude.  “I was sure you’d be furious at me for that one.”
“I’ll admit I was a bit nonplussed at first.  But then I began to consider what you’d managed to accomplish.  I don’t think anyone here has ever managed to take lucid dreaming as far as you have.  You’ve gone well beyond the goals we established when first setting up this experiment.  It makes the assignments we’ve been giving out seem sophomoric in comparison.  And I feel it’s in large part due to the attitude you’ve shown right from the start.”
“Yes, the work we’ve been doing here has become very important to me, more so than I’d expected when I first joined.  Then I was at loose ends.  I can see now I wanted to do something meaningful as a way to start over.  If I could do well here, I thought, I could go back outside when it was finished and begin putting the pieces back together again.”
“That’s not so altruistic a reason as a love of science for its own sake, but it’s a lot better than some I’ve heard.  Would you believe there’s one young man who hopes his experience here will help him get an audition for a reality TV show?”  Elicott, utterly bemused, shook his head in wonder.  “Needless to say, he’s not one of those who’ll be continuing.”
“Actually, the real reason I came by was for quite a different purpose.”  Connor interrupted.  “The truth is that I feel honor bound to let you know I’ve broken the rules.”
The professor was taken aback.  “What rule is that?”
“You told all us volunteers when we started that we shouldn’t have any significant interaction with one another when on the outside.”
“And you’ve done that?”  Elicott was understanding.  “Well, it probably isn’t as serious a problem as you think.  If you and another participant had a cup of coffee together and compared notes, it wouldn’t be such a good thing; but I don’t believe it would compromise the integrity of the whole proceeding.”
“I’m afraid I’ve done a bit more than that.  Marguerite Zilander and I have become lovers.  I’ve just come from her apartment.”
Elicott whistled in surprise.  “That’s certainly something I hadn’t anticipated.”  He didn’t try to hide his disapproval.  “I have to say I expected a bit more of you.  I’m disappointed you weren’t able to hold your instincts in sharper check.”
Connor flushed.  “Give a rest, will you?  I didn’t do anything wrong.  You talk about my instincts as though I were some type of lab rat.  When two people have been lonely for a long while the way Marguerite and I have been, it’s only natural that they should want a relationship with someone they’re attracted to.  That much should be obvious even to some scientist locked in his ivory tower.  It might do you some good to get out of here once in a while and to take the time to explore your own instincts.”
Elicott refused to be baited.  “Be that as it may, such a relationship as yours must necessarily be a hindrance to any continued participation in this experiment.”
“I understand that,” Connor replied at once.  “That’s why I’m telling you about it.”
“Are you saying that you want us to go on without you?  Is that why you’re making this confession?”
“If it were only my own wishes that needed to be taken into account, I wouldn’t mind continuing.  I’ve had some interesting experiences and I think I’m strong enough to handle whatever comes up.  It’s really Marguerite I’m worried about.  The situations she’s encountered in her dreams have frightened her out of her wits.  She’s at the point where she’s begun to question her mental balance.”  Connor looked inquiringly at the researcher.  He was thinking of the files he’d seen.  “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?  Is there something you haven’t been sharing with us?  Has anyone else besides Marguerite been experiencing frightening manifestations in their dreams?”
The professor looked away.  “I don’t know what you mean.”
Connor shook his head.  “You’re not telling me the truth.  It’s a terrible thing to put the results of your research over the well being of the people involved in the experiment.  I don’t think that’s ethical at all.” 
Elicott glowered at him.  “Who are you to lecture me on what’s ethical?”
Connor felt the truculence wash out of him.  “No, you’ve got a point there all right.  I’m in no position to take the moral high ground with anyone.”  With that, he rose from his seat and walked out of Elicott’s office without a backward glance.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Downtown Graffiti 1

I shot the graffiti photos a couple of years ago while wandering around downtown.  They're the last bit of grit remaining in gentrified Manhattan.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Parisi Bakery

I took this photo a couple of yeas ago while wandering through downtown.  I don't even know if the bakery is there any longer - so many small businesses have been put out of business by gentrification and their places taken by large chain stores.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-One

Entering the dream, Connor found himself in Weill Recital Hall, the smaller venue adjacent to Carnegie Hall.  The quiet space had always seemed to him a holdover from another time.  In contrast to the chaos of present day New York, its ornate décor evoked the world of nineteenth century fashionable society and an era when horse drawn carriages lined 57th Street and coachmen patiently awaited departing concertgoers. 
Connor looked about him.  The windows, as in reality, were sealed and plastered over; there was no chance of catching any glimpse of the outer world that might ruin the illusion of timelessness.  On center stage, a massive Steinway piano stood alone as though beckoning to him and offering an invitation to perform.  All the seats in the hall were empty except one in the first row center where Deirdre already sat in anticipation of his arrival.  On this occasion, contrary to her usual custom, she had dressed in couture.  She wore a flowing green silk gown that left her pale shoulders bare.  Her long blonde hair had been done up in an elaborate coiffure and around her throat she wore a diamond necklace.
“That’s a lovely dress,” said Connor.  “You look like you just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine.”
“It’s an antique Poiret gown from the turn of the twentieth century.  It was considered very daring in its day.  I love how sleek and elegant it is.”
Connor’s gaze once again traveled about the confines of the small hall.  “Well, this certainly is a fitting place to wear it.  A hundred years ago, society matrons must have sat exactly where you are now and wore such just gowns while their husbands stood in the lobby talking politics and smoking cigars.”
Deirdre giggled.  “I’m so glad you don’t smoke them.  That horrible smell would ruin the whole atmosphere.”
“I’ve been here before,” said Connor.  “In real time, I mean.  My ex-wife once had a friend who had graduated from Juilliard and gave her debut recital here.  I came with Jocelyn to hear the woman play Scriabin and Chopin.  I can still remember how much fun we had.  We sat with the pianist’s parents and talked of her career prospects.  Everyone agreed she was a major talent who’d soon be performing next door on Carnegie Hall’s main stage.  But it didn’t work out.  The poor woman died less than a year later of leukemia.  It was very sad.”
“That’s the way it always goes,” said Deirdre.  “It’s the people we love dearest who die young and without warning.  We can never see it coming.  When they’re gone, we think back to the time we spent together and wish we had been more caring and had better appreciated how lucky we’d been to have had them with us.”
“You sound like you’re talking from experience,” Connor observed.
“Yes, I once loved someone very much.  One day we were together making love to one another and the next he was gone.  I barely had a chance to say goodbye.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Connor.  Then he paused.  “I always feel so helpless talking in clichés that way.  It seems there should be something more meaningful I could do or say, but I never know what it is.”
“Oh, Connor, don’t worry about it.  You’ve already done so much for me without even realizing.”
“I haven’t done anything but wander around uselessly in my dreams.”
“You’ve got a good heart, and that’s what counts most.”  Deirdre turned her gaze away.  “So what are we here for anyway?  Are we going to get on with this dream, or what?”
“Of course, we are.  This is where I’m supposed to become the greatest piano virtuoso since Horowitz.”
“I like that idea.  You certainly look the part in that tux you’re wearing.”
Connor looked down at himself and saw he was indeed in evening clothes.  “Ha,” he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this dressed up in my life.”
“You should do it more often.  It becomes you.”
Connor looked about for a mirror but couldn’t find one.  “I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”
“Good enough.  Now get up on stage and show what you can do.”
Now it was time for Connor’s surprise.  He held up his hand and smiled.  “Sorry, but there’s been a slight change of plan.  You’re the one who’s going to play that piano, not me.”
“No way,” laughed Deirdre.  She shook her head in bemusement.  “I couldn’t play it to save my life.  The only time I had music lessons was when I was twelve.  My parents loved polka music – they once told me they’d met at a party while dancing to the Beer Barrel Polka – so they bought me an accordion.  For months, I tortured the neighbors with my practicing until even mom and dad finally gave up and admitted I had no talent whatsoever.  That had to have been the most frustrating experience I ever had in my life.”
“Hey, it’s my dream and I get to call the shots,” Connor informed her.  He pointed to the stage.  “If I imagine you as the world’s greatest pianist, then that’s what you are.”
“And what about the project?” Deirdre protested as she tried to gather her courage.  “What will mean old Professor Elicott say if he finds out you pulled a ringer?”
“Who cares what he says?  I already have one foot out the door anyway.  If we have a little fun on my last assignment, it isn’t going to make any difference to anyone.”
“Well, ok then.  You talked me into it.”  Deirdre stood up and without any further argument mounted the steps by the side of the stage.  “What would you like to hear?” she asked.  “Please make it something easy.”
“It’s got to be something terrifically difficult, or there’s no point to it.”  Connor snapped his fingers.  “I’ve got it.  I want you to try Balakirev’s Islamey.  It’s not performed very often precisely because it’s such a formidable piece.  Virtuosi play it in recital when they want to show off their skills.  Now I can hear you give the best rendition ever.”
“Sorry.  I hate to let you down, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it myself.”
“That doesn’t make any difference at all.  Just sit down at the keyboard and let the music come out through your fingertips.  You won’t even need a score to follow.”
Deirdre pulled out the cushioned bench, adjusted it for her height, and then stared blankly at the keys.  “I don’t know about this.”
“Don’t worry.  You just have to relax and let yourself go.  You’ll do fine.”
Deirdre gave in at last.  “If you say so.”  With that, she put both hands on the keyboard, closed her eyes and started playing. 
For the next ten minutes, Connor sat spellbound as Deirdre performed the piece flawlessly in one of the finest displays of talent the hall had ever witnessed.  When at last she had finished and sat back in exhaustion, Connor rose from his seat and clapped till his palms ached.  Brava,” he shouted.  “You were magnificent.  I’ve heard several recordings of that work, but your interpretation was definitely the best.”
Deirdre blushed.  “Flatterer,” was all she said.
“I only wish there had been others here to hear it as well.”
“You’re thinking of Marguerite, aren’t you?” Deirdre teased him.  “Tell the truth.  You were probably wishing you were out on a fun date with her instead of being stuck inside a dream with me.”
“So, you know about Marguerite, do you?  Do I detect some jealousy here?”
“You know that isn’t it, Connor.  I want you to be with Marguerite as often as you can.  She’s a sweet woman, and she’s in a bad place.  You don’t realize how much danger she’s in.  But even if you were with her, I don’t know if you’d be able to protect her.”
That reminded Connor of the file in Elicott’s office.  “Protect her from what?”
“From herself.  All these things she’s afraid of are inside her head.  That’s what makes them so dangerous to begin with.”
“So what can I do to help?”  Connor felt suddenly powerless.
“Just stay with her as much as you can and be kind to her.  That’s all the help anyone can give her.  The rest she has to do for herself… if she’s able.”
Connor stood up.  This was becoming too much for him.  “Let’s get out of here.  There must be somewhere else we can go in this dream.”
Deirdre’s face all at once darkened.  “Yes, there is,” she said firmly.  “There’s something you have to see.  You’re not going to like it very much, but that can’t be avoided.”
Connor was apprehensive.  “Sounds like I’m headed for a nightmare.”
“The worst nightmares aren’t the ones we see in dreams.  Those we can always wake up from and put out of our minds.  It’s what happens to us in broad daylight that’s usually the most horrible.”
“Then why go there?”
“Because you’ve been living a lie without knowing it,” Deirdre explained.  “All these months you’ve been beating yourself up over the way your wife left you.  You’ve been sad and depressed even though you know it was Jocelyn’s idea that you pull the burglary that got you arrested.  It’s time you stopped being so hard on yourself.”
The smile froze on Connor’s face.  His heart beat more rapidly until he could hear it booming inside his chest.  “I am over it.  Jocelyn treated me terribly.  I realize that well enough without having to see it in a dream.  It’s nothing more to me than ancient history.”
“You know what she did, but you don’t know why she did it.”  Deirdre paused for effect.  “Or who put her up to it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Connor angrily.
Deirdre merely beckoned with her finger.  
Suddenly Connor and Deirdre were standing inside someone’s living room.  Connor had been there before and recognized it at once as Gallagher’s apartment in Williamsburg.  The two of them had sat drinking beer on that very sofa the one time he’d been there.
The state of disorder the elegantly furnished room had been in when Connor had visited hadn’t changed.  Clothes still lay strewn over the designer furniture and empty beer cans littered the floor.  Two half eaten takeout dinners sat forgotten on the table.  The television was turned on, but the sound had been muted.  A reality show flickered across the screen. 
On the sofa where Connor had once sprawled his ex-wife Jocelyn now sat beside Gallagher.  The two were deep in conversation.  Their strained faces and lowered voices showed how tense their talk had become.
“Don’t worry,” Deirdre reassured Connor.  “They can’t see us.  We’re watching something that happened in the past.  I’m just replaying it for you.”
“I can’t go on living in my apartment any longer,” said Jocelyn to Gallagher.  “It’s getting to be too much for me being there alone.  Michael’s out of prison now and sooner or later he’s going to come knocking on the door.  I know he will.”
“What are you so worried about?”  Gallagher’s tone betrayed his impatience.  “You’re divorced.  Judgment’s been entered.  Your marriage is over.”
“A decree is just a piece of paper.  It’s not enough to keep him away.”
Gallagher was dismissive.  “If he shows up, you can get a restraining order.  That’ll do the trick.  He’s not going to risk going away again just to have a heart-to-heart with you.”
“He’ll probably try to borrow money,” Jocelyn went on without listening.  “Michael mustn’t have a dime to live on right now.  He got fired from his job when he was convicted.”
Gallagher shrugged impassively.  “He’ll find a new gig sooner or later.  It might not be what he’s been hoping for but, hey, ex-cons can’t be choosy.  If he gets a job mopping floors or working in a car wash, that’ll be good enough.”
Jocelyn laughed bitterly.  “And how is he going find a place to live if that’s all he ends up with?   Michael’s never going to earn more than minimum wage if all he can find are crap jobs no one else will take.  He’ll end up needing to put the touch on me.”
“That’s something he should’ve thought of before he embarked on a life of crime.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”  Jocelyn’s voice was filled with bitterness.
Gallagher glanced at her doubtfully.  “You want to know what I think is really going on here?  You feel guilty about what you’ve done to the guy.  Somewhere deep inside, you’ve still got feelings for him.”
Jocelyn grimaced.  “Well, that’s something no one can ever accuse you of.”
“Don’t talk like that.  Connor’s my friend.  He and I have been tight ever since college.  Even before.  He may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but he’s not a bad guy.”
“That didn’t stop you from calling the police and telling them what he was up to that night and where they could find him.  You even gave them the address.”
“You were standing right there beside me and you knew exactly what I was going to do before I ever picked up the phone.  Don’t blame me for what happened.  I only came up with the idea of having him pull that job in the first place because of your nagging.  You were the one who kept complaining we were never able to be alone together.”
Jocelyn snickered.  “I think you could have solved that problem without going to such extremes.  You didn’t have to put my husband in jail.”
“I figured there was no way he’d ever get wise to us if he was locked away.  You and I should have been able to meet and stay cozy without anyone being the wiser for a few years at least.  It was nothing but dumb luck that the jerk got off with only six months.”
“Maybe so.  But now he’s out and free and ready to make my life a total misery.”
“So what do you want me to do about it?”  Gallagher sank back on the sofa.    “You women are such pains.  Always so damn helpless.  You do nothing but whine and beg morning, noon and night.  Listening to you makes me want to puke.”
Jocelyn broached the subject that had been on her mind all along.  “I’ve decided I’m moving out of my apartment before he shows up.  I’ve got to find someplace new to live.”
“So move.  Who’s stopping you?”  Gallagher reached for another beer.  “When you get settled, give me a call and let me know your new address.”
Jocelyn gave her companion an appraising look.  “Actually, I was thinking of moving in here with you.”
Gallagher shook his head vigorously.  “You can think about something else then.  No way you’re staying here.  I like having my freedom too much to have a roommate underfoot.  Besides, Connor isn’t that dumb.  The minute he finds out where you’re headed he’ll start to figure things out.  Then we’re both screwed.  He’ll never give up until he gets us back.”
“Who cares what he thinks?” Jocelyn argued.  “Even if he does get wise that we set him up, he can’t very well go to the cops.  He’s the one that committed the crime, not us.  All we did was to notify the authorities just like good citizens are supposed to do.”
Gallagher wasn’t having it.  “I don’t care what you say.  You’re on your own in this.”
Jocelyn’s tone grew more insistent.  “I’ve got to move, I tell you.”
“That part I don’t care about.”  Gallagher pushed her away.  “You’re an adult and can do whatever you want.  Find yourself some new digs and make yourself comfortable.”
“And that’s it?  You’re not going to give me any help at all in this mess?”
“Like I said, sweetheart, you’re on your own.”
“Then I’ll tell him what part you played in all this,” she threatened.  Do you think Connor will ever forgive you once he finds out you’re the one who ratted him out to the cops?  He’s going be coming after you for payback as sure as the sun rises in the morning.”
Gallagher sat up straight.  “No, you won’t tell him anything.  It’s not as though you were some innocent bystander.  You had as much to do with him going down as I did.  What the hell do you think he’s going to do when you tell him you were involved?  Say ‘thanks so much for letting me know’?  Please.  You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t go berserk and break every bone in your body.”
Jocelyn was close to tears by this point.  “Then this is it, you asshole.  I won’t be seeing you again if you’re not going to do anything for me.  We’re through.”
Gallagher only yawned.  “Bye, babe,” he said.  He emptied the can of beer into his mouth and watched unconcernedly as Jocelyn stood up ramrod straight and looked about the apartment as though searching for something she could throw at him.  Seeing nothing, she strode furiously to the apartment’s front door and then slammed it loudly behind her as she left.
“Good riddance,” said Gallagher in disgust.  He rose from the sofa, popped open another beer and switched off the television.
Connor, who had been watching in amazement as all this unfolded, turned dumbly to Deirdre.  She shook her head and then plucked at his sleeve to pull him away.