The gray light fades and I slowly open my eyes singing altered words to a Beatles song.
I once had a dream, or should I say, it once had me.
It wasn’t my dream, I was clearly on loan. Riding the outside of a space capsule like a stuntman hitchhiker into the cargo bay of a man-made asteroid. Man-made. Man, maid.
The interior is like the fantastical lobby to a space station designed by people who normally design movie theatre lobbies. Gleaming tile, high-impact carpeting, polished brass railings, ramps and escalators reflected off the glass facade facing infinite space. People dart everywhere, there’s an urgency, chaos and the sense of danger.
And there is a man next to me. He’s probably in his 70s, maybe older. He’s got a long face and at times it feels as if he makes himself invisible and hides inside me. I don’t figure this out until much later, but I am his Trojan horse into this world, into his own dreamscape. He has found some need to sneak into this place and I was available.
I/we wander the complex. At moments there is a danger in the air as people begin to disassemble themselves and become deadly robots intent on killing. Their sites are set on us but once we engage, once I make eye contact, they fade and disappear. People, things, come yelling, sirens and alarms, all melt away once acknowledged. What was once a space station full of random obstacles slowly, quietly, becomes a disjointed shell of a building. I know, I can feel, that all of these obstacles have been built over the years by the man next to me, behind me now, following me. I catch glimpses of him – looking directly at him appears to be a violation of the rules – the wonder on his face is a mix of familiarity and child-like wonder. He didn’t just need a way into this place, he needed a guide. He’s lost his way, or his memory, and there’s something here he needs to find. But he cannot tell me what, he doesn’t speak at all, and I do my work by instinct. It takes an outsider to navigate clearly.
Edges appear as neon lines of digital code. I unwind the edge of an elevator, monofilament thin with a crackling sound like a fuzzy telephone connection. I don’t hear the sound, I feel it, and it tells me what I need to know.
“Your phone,” I say to the man. He isn’t as surprised to hear me speak as I am by the sound of my own voice. As his proxy I appear to have adopted his vocal timbre, and for all I know I look like a mirror image of himself through his dream eyes. I dial in the code to retrieve his voice messages. The machine is old, cold, mechanical.
“You. Have. Fifty. Five. Thousand. Messages.”
We both know the messages are all the same, left three times a day for fifty years. We only need to listen to one.
“I’m half way up on the left side, on the aisle.”
There is no one left but us two. A double set of doors open to a movie theatre. I hold them open and for the first time the man leaves me and moves ahead. There is a movie on the screen but he’s facing the audience and scanning for a face lit by the light of the screen.
And there she is.
She stands and comes down the stairs, a relieved smile on her face. I follow them as they head out into the lobby, arm in arm, whispering to each other.
Trailing them, answers flood into my head as if the dam holding them back had given way suddenly. The man had missed her message once, many years ago, he failed to meet up with her, and he never saw her again. In these waning days of his life, racked by dementia or delirium or perhaps even Alzheimer’s, he needed reconciliation. In here, this memory imprisoned within a dream, he had unfinished business. He had a debt to clear, a regret to right. He used what remaining mental capital he’d reserved to rent a neutral guide, someone who could get past the elaborate traps and safeguards he’d erected to prevent himself from accessing this one memory. I was a foreign agent, a virus, his landscape as alien to me as I was to it. What would have stopped him cold in his tracks was nothing more than a collection of odd scenes that didn’t intimidate me.
Walking across the lobby the walls became transparent, the darkness of space faded into a gray. Beneath our feet the floor began to ooze a slushy mix of marshmallow and melting snow. The light grew and we became enveloped in a fog. The man and the woman were swallowed by the fog and the gray blended with the red of the light filtered through the veins in my closed eyelids.
I transitioned seamlessly from the dream to being awake. But it wasn’t a dream. As clearly as I know anything else in this world I had been with that man, in his final moments, helping him make one final trip through a personal landscape. Somewhere a man left this world happy, having located the one piece of memory that meant the most to him, found with the aid of a freelance dream guide.
It was the most bittersweet moment of my dreaming life yet.