I awoke at what I guessed was about an hour before dawn. I heard no shrill, drunken voices shouting good night or getting the last word in an argument that started before the pubs closed. The explosion of shattering glass from the emptying of the green recycling domes had come and gone. The window-shaking rumble of the massive recycling truck which almost always enters my dream like the heavy breathing of a hungry monster, and sometimes gets me out of my bed to go stand by the window and watch it crawl, guiltily around the corner, had passed an indeterminable length of time ago, leaving an unbroken silence in its wake like the smooth surface of a calm sea healing the tear cut by a roaring speedboat.
I opened the sliding door and stood on the small balcony, looking left toward the beach, but could not make out the water, darkness against darkness. In front of the beach an enormous blue tiled octopus glowed in lights so bright it seemed like a movie set. I wondered how the people whose bedroom windows opened onto that corner could sleep. Against the glaring light, a solitary figure passed, walking quickly, a silhouette of a long-legged man with his hands in his pockets and his head bent forward as if pushing against a strong wind. But the air was still. And silent.
As I do every night when I wake, I offered myself the chance to pull up a cushion, light a candle and meditate. At that moment, I always feel as if I am being welcomed at a spiritual retreat kind of spa, and an attendant is showing me, with a sweeping gesture, the pre-dawn meditation room. He (it is always a man) addresses me as 'One': "One has the option of enjoying the perfect serenity and solitude of the pre-dawn hours sitting in meditation on one of our many cushions. We also provide writing materials should one care, upon completing one's meditation experience, to record any observations that we always find to be treasured mementos of one's stay here, like pearls rewarding one's willingness to dive into the depths of conscious-ness."
"Sounds nice, but I think I'll do my diving on my bed, thanks."
"As you wish, madam," he answers, gesturing with his other hand, in the direction of my bed. I look into his eyes, which, even in the dark, I can see quite clearly. I think, 'It's true, our eyes make their own light.' But I am not able to discern, or even project, any trace of judgment there. "As we say here, 'The guest always knows best.' And in truth, are we not all guests in this grand place?" Search as I might, I find no trace of irony in his voice, and as I nudge my sleeping dog - whose paws are twitching as he dreams of running - away from my side of the bed, and pull the covers over myself, I think, "Maybe tomorrow night."
I dream of an ancient city where half the streets are water, like Amsterdam, or Venice. Around my body is a tiny inflatable boat that appears to be made from papier mâché. I remind myself of those men in parade costumes of a papier mâché horse that hangs from straps from their shoulders. A friend, equally equipped, and I step into the murky water of a canal to find our way home. We find ourselves in a maze of stone alleys and crumbling bridges arching over the dark waterway that is sometimes so narrow we have to go single file.
Sometimes the water appears to be lavender or moss green. The inhabitants remind me of myself in my youth, determined to live the life of an artist, surviving on nothing, hopping freight trains and camping in forests, or crowding together in an old house, or factory, or converted barn. Hungry, and feeling that we somehow belong to this tribe, we climb out of the water to find out what's going on.
A play is about to begin, written by the children. It is hard to tell which ones are the children. Everyone has Raphaelite hair, and a missing tooth or two. The young because they have lost a baby tooth, the old because they can't afford a dentist. We are greeted warmly, given a cup of something warm, and we exchange information about our travels. But as we get up to continue on our journey, they ask us for money. I didn't realize it was a business. Disappointed and embarrassed, I empty my leather pouch, the kind a troubadour might wear, hanging from their belt, and out roll a handful of various small coins. The smile disappears from the face of our host, but he slides them into his hand and turns away.
Feeling sheepish, we shrug, pick up our little boats and slip back into the water, hoping to find our way. The other person with me, I now realize, was me. It might have been that the one whose eyes I was looking out from was someone else. I am tempted to say the other one was a younger me, the one who had passed through that life, but she would have had much more confidence. On second thought, all that confidence she had, and was known for, was fake. Like the papier mâché horse.
My fingers suddenly feel cold on the keyboard. I hear a rhythmic distant whimpering that sounds like it's coming from upstairs. Perhaps someone is crying, or trying not to cry, choking back tears. My mind races. Now I see a green hose being pulled and coiled in the patio outside the window. It turns out to be the source of the crying sound. On a low kitchen shelf near the table where I sit, are three shiny steel saucepans, stacked in a tower. In their bulging faces I see a mysterious interior scene, as delicately painted as a Vermeer. But instead of the young woman pouring milk from a jug by the window, I see myself. Which sets off the whistle of the tea kettle, as adamant as an old-fashioned policeman just before running after the thief.