"Dreams of the Blind," by Benjamin H. DeVries.
The pattern of the black lace skirt spread taut across her knees is that of a church –all thread spires and buttresses rising. There are no crucifixes, but I put faith in my qualification, my judgment: church.
Flames rise from the center of this church, but her legs stay still. She makes no effort to extinguish the fire. She is not panicking, not moving.
And since this dream-second spans hours the flames go unquenched throughout the night. The skirt is not consumed. No ashes fall.
Sometimes I want to beat the fire out with my hands or pour water on it, but I am incapable of doing these things. And my indecision, if one can use that name to describe the inability to control one's destiny in a dream, I know is not a result of my apparent paralysis during this situation, but a stunned and hesitant reaction to this one question I have: who am I to put out the flames?
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” I respond to the tinny voice that wakes me. She is calling with a questionnaire. She wants answers. She wants a few minutes of my time.
“I’ll call back when it’s more convenient for you,” she says. You have already inconvenienced me; I am awake. But forget it, lady. Convenience never jibed with my disposition anyway.
My father told me to live by the three words: Do it now. He meant that I shouldn’t procrastinate, but his interpretation of the phrase I disregarded somewhat. I took the three words as a call to impulsiveness. It was anything. Now was every moment.
So, for years I pursued all whims with conviction. When I was fifteen, I crouched down on a train platform as a mile-long freighter rolled by, feeling the illusion of my own speed as the cars passed my face. I sighted a boxcar with open doors in the distance ahead and jumped in – no hesitation. Riding the train to its terminus, I entered a pact with myself, a pact never to hesitate and to always see things through to a proper end. Convenience was out.
A few steps from the end of my driveway, a cat could cross my path and I would be forced to hunt it down and return it to its rightful owner. She would be a well-traveled old woman who would surely invite me in for tea. I would oblige and let our conversation consume the better part of my day. I would probably leave with her dead husband’s pistol from World War II, for I am an enthusiast of heirlooms.
Or, a certain grave could catch my eye on the shortcut through the cemetery. I would be spurred to visit the florist to purchase a bouquet to grace the hard visage of the stone. A proper end. This takes time.
The ways of the pact soon obliterated my former self. But I had counted on this. I hadn’t counted on lying so much. In order to not appear dangerous or insane, though by many standards I am both, I learned that I must provide the occasional inquisitor with a reason why I am in a certain place doing a certain thing. The most immediate answer to one of these interlopers’ queries will always be a lie. The only convenience I loved was that of a good lie. Like all liars, I learned to lie instantaneously. Eventually, inevitably, the lies became me. I watched as my identity became more and more obscured, not only to others but to myself.
But like all pacts, mine was broken by years . . . and practicalities. Temporal convenience rolled back in like a fog, limiting my activities. Near the end, simple errands would take all day due to the distractions I would face, engaging the parameters of my pact.
So, to avoid opportunities for impulse, I began to confine myself to certain domestic tasks. I am still impulsive, but I now focus my impulsiveness on the plot of land that is my home. One time, I decided to cut down a portion of the hedge maze that displeased me. Another time, I turned the West Basement into a firing range. These kinds of activities and the lies, which will never cease, are the vestiges.
To provide some structure for myself, I spend mornings surveying the house and grounds and inventing interview questions, one per day. I spend the afternoon answering the question I have posed. I nap constantly, not because I’m that tired, but specifically to dream. In the evenings, I drink.
The question for today is this: Is she someone I know? I could know those legs. I could care if they were burned (though they never are and never will be).
And I should mention that there is one question I cannot avoid each day. It always comes toward the end of my morning piss: Is it me in the dream?
Running off the rim now. Tug slightly to the left; back on track.
“Hello?” I awake, pressing the phone to my cheek. The plastic radiates electric warmth and I begin to dream it’s a bloodwarm human I’m pressed against. She jars me back awake:
“Hi Mr. Pariah. Do you have a few minutes to answer a survey?”
“No,” Pariah is not my name. My name is Arden Parish. I used to wonder about this common assumption, true as it may be, about my character until I noticed the close proximity of the S key to the A on a standard keyboard. That coupled with the fact that most typists use pinky or ring, those two most unreliable of fingers, to type said keys led to the frequent misspelling of the handle given me by my father. Parish—Pariah.
“Well, when might be a more convenient time to speak with you?”
“I’m going to be in Morocco for the next seventeen days. In fact, I’m late for my flight, so I really have to get going. Goodbye.”
Seventeen days later:
“How are you Mr. Pariah?”
“Jetlagged,” This, technically, was true. I had been feeling jetlagged for a few years now, even if I did sleep a lot.
“Well, do you have a free moment to participate in our survey?”
“When would be a good time for you?”
“Well, being a fireman and all, I’m a real early riser. How does sometime between the hours of 4:00 and 5:30 AM sound to you? . . . Hello?”
5:14 the next day: it still irked me, though I know it shouldn’t, when my lies became realities I would actually have to face. Maybe she didn’t sleep. But this did not sit well . . .
“Let me just ask you a few questions and if you have to go, we can continue this later.” She said as an ultimatum, after a few drowsy lies on my part.
“How old are you?”
“Well, actually, I think that Portuguese is the most beautiful language to sing in. It reminds me of the sounds young girls make when they wake up in my bed . . . hello?”
The next day, I wake up, furious. Anything to stop the ringing. Pick it up.
“Hello? . . . Hello?”
“Are you looking for love in all the wrong places?” She asks.
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Are you looking for love in all the wrong places?”
“I’d like to die in late summer so as to remind the people attending my funeral of the gravity of the upcoming year. Of course, you and I both know the calendar year begins in January, but September marks the beginning of both the scholastic year and the fiscal year for many businesses. More importantly, September is a time when most are prepared to relinquish the idleness of those few months in the sun and get back to work. Also, late summer presents a greater chance for severe weather – a hurricane, an uncharacteristically cold and blustery day – which would give the funeral more than just a touch of the dramatic. Think of it! Everyone assembled in their fall clothing marveling at God’s last salute to good ol’ me. I’d serve aphrodisiacal foods at the wake inducing desire amongst former lovers reunited there. Fine chocolates. Oysters – death on the half-shell! Wagner would play as the thunder boomed in fury, but I wouldn’t hear it – I’d be sleeping an unforgivable sleep and dreaming the dreams of the dead. Oh, what a sight I would never behold!”
“You might, if you play your cards right.”
“Here’s another question, and please, Mr. Pariah, try to give me a straight answer. This is important.”
“I’m being as honest as I can be.”
“Have you ever prayed that something you sent got lost in the mail?”
“Do you know that feeling well?”
“Yes.” Man drops a letter in the mail slot, I’m thinking, I’m slipping back into a dream. A bus passes. An advertisement on the bus says IT’S TIME. He realizes he made the error of using its instead of it’s. And this was an important fucking letter. He shoves his hand into the slot in vain. Useless fucking hand. ‘Please God,’ he prays, ‘Intervene. Send a flood. Send a blizzard. Send all the sleet heaven has to offer. Let this letter remain undelivered!’
“Is that what you’re feeling right now?”
“Yes . . . Hello?”
Enough. I ripped the cord out of the wall, Ping! and went to bed that night knowing that I could dream about skirt fires without ringing interruption. But the next morning, I was awoken by a knock on my front door.
I went to the window, naked of course. I sleep naked – always have and always will. Except at friends’ houses. And, yes, I have a view from the window of my bedroom to the doorway at such an angle that the caller at the door is oblivious to my perception of them. I have a long history of looking at people on my doorstep.
I was sure it was she at the door. I could tell that the shape of her skull made those sounds on the phone. She looked very businesslike, more together than I had expected.
I descended the stairs still naked because, quite frankly, I wanted to get rid of this woman once and for all. I had no answers for her questions. And I reckoned the sight of my slightly-erect dick (‘Hey Girls! Welcome to Camp Morningwood!’) would scare her off. Had to do it —no hesitation.
“Hi!” I said with a big smile.
“Are you the woman with the questions?”
“Yes,” she wasn’t budging. I stared her off for a moment. Black eyes.
“Come in. I’ve been expecting you.” I thought I’d play it suave. She sat down on the oldest couch in the house. “Would you like a drink?” I asked, headed for the bar. I had company. “No, thanks.”
Fine. For myself, I fixed a glass of whiskey, lots of ice. I saw her hand petting the edge of the coffee table by the ashtray.
“You can smoke if you want,” I mentioned.
She smiled and removed a pack of Luckies from her purse. She was young to be wearing a business suit. Nice smile though. And when she rummaged through her purse for those cigarettes, her body was full of motion: her earrings swinging like chandeliers, her black hair falling into her face, her long skirt shifting on her knees.
But I wanted to give her a full picture of how intrusive she was being. I was naked! She was disturbing my dream, my deep, naked sleep. So I slumped back in the chair, put my arms on the armrests, and sat, legs apart.
She did nothing. No reaction: just looked me straight in the eye and lit her cigarette. She didn’t even blink as the first veil of smoke passed her lips and rose up over her eyes.
I began to suspect this woman was blind.
“Is your phone unplugged?” she asked. That’s it? That’s your important fucking question?
Answer: “Yeah, we got drunk and had a brawl in here last night.”
“Where is it?”
“In the hallway, on the way . . . out.”
She got up and walked over to the phone. I could hear her plugging the cord back in, a sickly-pleasant little click. The nerve! To my surprise, the phone rang immediately, but she didn’t answer it. I did. “Hello?”
“Parish! What are you up to? No one’s seen you in weeks.”
“Yeah.” Months actually, Schmitty, months.
“I’m having a party tonight and you’re going to be there . . . get back on the scene you know? Sluts have been missing you, I know that much . . .”
Schmitty laughed loud. “Come over around ten.”
“Well . . .”
“Okay. See you then. Bye.”
I turned to her. She was practically on my shoulder now. “Have you ever tied a tie on a man before?” I asked. My turn to interrogate.
“I have a good book: How to Tie a Tie by Herbert Schoenbaum.”
“I know how to tie a tie.”
“But on a man . . .”
“Tricky,” she finished.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I must prepare for this party.”
“It starts at ten,” she protested. Eavesdropper.
“Well, you’re coming too and you’ll need every minute of those fifteen hours . . . get a facial . . . massage . . . it’s a very formal party. I’ll pick you up at nine.”
I showed her to the door. “Don’t you need my address?” she asked.
“Yes.” I walked back in from the doorway and grabbed a cocktail napkin from the bar, but she had already written the address on a piece of her own stationary. She handed it to me and smiled. I thought about standing her up, right then. I thought about her at home, trying to call me and hearing my phone disconnected again, weeping, maybe cutting herself . . . I imagined explaining to her, on the phone the next day, “Listen, I’m recovering from this program, lifestyle, whatever you want to call it – which forces me to commit unspeakable acts of impulse at any moment. You can see how this would ruin a relationship. We’d be out on a date, chatting about our days outside in the courtyard of an Italian restaurant and I’d suddenly get this urge to flick my cigarette in the trash. And of course I do. It starts a small fire and the restaurant owner’s son, with his belly stuffed in a white button-down shirt, pours cups of water on the flames as smoke overtakes the courtyard. People clear out. Everyone’s check is excused. The restaurant probably wouldn’t sue me, if they did I’d claim it was an accident, but we’d walk out of there feeling like real scum, you especially. And you’d blame it on me. So we really shouldn’t see each other ever again.”
I should have told her this now, but I didn’t. I allowed myself to ignore this impulse and shut the door on her. I listened to her still lingering there on the porch, exhaling smoke.
“Wake up,” she whispers.
And I do, furious again, confused. I listen. Her body leaves what feels like a couch and I want to bolt up. But I compose myself and keep my eyes closed for a few minutes to see how long it takes me to realize where I am.
I am . . . at Schmitty’s house. And the whisperer had been the girl in the skirt. Yes, it’s all clear to me now. I can open my eyes.
But she is gone. My eyes ignore the hem of the skirt barely clearing the front door swinging closed behind her and move to the window where trees are thrashing as if being electrified. When a windstorm kicks up out of nowhere, my father told me once, there are two reactions you might have. A humble man cowers at God’s power to conjure wind. The other type of man smiles at the whipping trees. ‘Maybe I caused this,’ he thinks, ‘Maybe I’m God.’
But inside, here, all is stagnant. They are all asleep. All the objects, the people, on the floor, in the room, are at rest. The shadows of the trees and I, stretching, are the only ones moving. And I feel nothing like God. I have a headache.
I go outside to see if I can catch her. I reckon I can because she came in my car and has presumably no place to go. I was the one who brought her from her home to this place. Her house had been next to a nursing home. I was tempted to go in and steal a wheelchair, but I kept focused. I parked and untied my tie as I laid on the car horn. When she came out, I taught her how to tie it (half and full Windsor) and we drove to the party.
There we were: drunk and overdressed. She didn’t seem to notice how fine she looked in that skirt. Her fingertips kept brushing the hem. She sat on the couch while we drank and crossed her legs full-Windsor style –as if we were in a lovely home.
Everything was going smoothly, until . . . panic struck as I walked to the bar to get us drinks. A line! Desire for a great wind overcame me: a wind to sweep away all those before me hesitating in the simple choice of what alcohol to imbibe. I imagine the wind knocking them down. As they fight for a clawhold on the floor, I’ll be crouching as an aerodyne, taking advantage of my sneakers’ traction. My hair whipping, I’ll step forward against the resistance just in time to grab the handle of whiskey sliding down the lacquered bartop to my outstretched hand. Holding her by the neck, I’ll take a long draught before I too am blown away.
Eventually, she got as drunk as me (or the other way around, I don’t recall), and I followed her in when she went to the bathroom. She could hear my presence behind her, leading her forward through the door. Once inside, I kissed her and she touched my face then my neck and traced me with her fingertips. She nestled her head against my neck and told me . . . she was on her period. She said it sadly, eyes closed. Fuck.
“I don’t mind.” I said. I was aware that this statement could go either way. Don’t mind if I do, don’t mind if I don’t. I’m not squeamish. Ball’s in her court. Balls to her courtship!
Then her hand reached back and found the dial for the shower.
“Water stops the flow of blood,” she said as she turned it on. I had forgotten that trick. We undressed as if neither of us were watching. I let her get warm and wet as I stood in the back of the shower, cold, just catching stray droplets on the hairs of my legs, wishing for my turn in the hot water. She pulled me in.
Afterwards, we dressed in the steam of the room. She was busy putting her earrings back on. So I slyly selected a tampon from her purse, but she heard me.
“What are you doing?” she asked, genuinely confused.
“I’m leaving you a note, for later.”
I unwrapped the tampon and wrote WISH I WAS HERE in small letters with my pen, suspecting that she never would see it. The ink would probably be absorbed like the blue fluid in the television commercials, rendering the letters indiscernible. Or she wouldn’t notice. Or my missive would somehow, through an act of God, never reach her.
Crossing the road (still drunk-as-fuck, I realize) the wind touches me everywhere, like a hand trying to determine my identity in the dark. It renders my eyes nearly blind from tears so I close them as I step over the double yellow line. Blind is not so bad. As the gravel of the church parking lot (where my car is) begins to crackle beneath my feet, I force open my eyes again, just long enough to see her brush the church door with her fingertips until she finds the handle and slips in.
I have parked at this church many times, but never been inside. It hadn’t occurred to me that people ever went in. I’d thought it was abandoned. It is an elaborate building, but stained totally with soot. The wind abates as I enter.
They span before me, these regular rows, she being the only exception to their hardness and solitude. She, slumped in a pew with her hair hanging out into the aisle. I see that she is already sleeping and dreaming the Dreams of the Blind. I let her sleep, for I seek respite as well.
I seat-belt myself, absurdly, for lack of movement, in the reclined front-seat of my car, and begin to drift off with my head against the window. The car sits under the telephone wires. The rotten old oak stands guard over the wires and car. The church stands guard over all. The wind makes the stained glass windows buckle and jounces the telephone wires. The wires tug on the poles . . .
The oak falls. A boxer dealt a knockout punch –dead weight down against the ropes. The wires give, but don’t snap, and the sparks come immediately as the wire-belted branches hit the roof of the car. The fire in the church starts soon –catching from the sparks of the livewire. Meanwhile, electric fireworks pop and explode on my sunroof. Then, my gas tank blows, sending the car a few feet off the ground.
But I see none of this. I am busy sleeping an unforgivable sleep. It is then that I encounter the unforgivable moment – the last of my dream. This moment spans a time of infinite length. It has always occurred. It will always occur.
And for the life of me I can’t think of a better moment in which to spend eternity. When I encountered it, the church was well aflame. The fire had spread from the curtains to the pews. Lacquer peeled up as the flames swept down the bench. It was then that the blaze between her legs began. It was then that her eyes opened. And what a sight she beheld.
Benjamin Henry DeVries is a proud New Englander. His studies in Cinema and Writing at NYU brought him to New York and on to Dublin, where he currently resides. Besides writing, he works in museums, as a film critic, and raps under the name j. gatz. He rarely hesitates.
His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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