International Writers Magazine: Dreamtime
sky is full of birds," the boy said to me. "It is full
of birds and they are all dead- watch how they are eyeless in
their flight, and they are full-grown and yet without feathers
of any sort," he added.
I looked up and
past the sky, windblown and wet in patches from where under the clouds
hovered, and I could see he was right. Wickedly large they were, and
their wings imposed over the vista of the eve, and their beaks, while
still sharp, held inside them no tongues or tissue of any sort. They
were, in a sense, lifeless, and yet stirring angrily towards something.
Anxious animals, I watched and waited for them to say something I could
understand. But their shrieks went on, unrecognized. Trying to shield
myself, I could feel their erratic vibrations through my running feet.
I had grown fearful with the night. Winnowing orbit, the birds arrived
and went as they would have in a type of poem, or dream. Feeling weary,
I thought it too early to wonder about the world. Hoping their target
was not me- I ran and ducked below a nearby tree. Above, I watched as
their bodies pushed past the leafing greens, as they scrambled and blocked
the sky with their screech, echoing ever fuller over the face of the
clouds, and the stars, now flattened by my silence. I had remained quiet
this whole time, hand over mouth and looking, I saw the boy was not
near till having appeared again to me- both of us beside this rough
"What has happened to them?" I ask the boy, who seems to clearly
know more of the matter than I.
"Theyve been killed- their eyes have been eaten and their
memories stored away, digested by the belly of another. And now theyve
come to retrieve them."
I gave the boy a puzzled look, and then turned from him to the trees
above. They were still alive, these birds, black leviathans only living
through the act of revenge. None had any pasts- all had been taken,
as well as everything those eyes had ever seen. Their bones, still large
and left leaning upon tough skies, were of course hollow as their hollow
eyes. Just who would want to eat them? It was a myth- one that with
the swallowing of eyes meant freedom and even more so, an ability to
hunt, to choose, to live by what that bird has seen, ever upward in
the mountainous stars. Barking like wild dogs, several of them flew
over, joining one another in a kind of bird-knot, bigger than lifting
heads how they roll onward in their all night song, their shrieks that
have little to do with our own cries, their bodies salting in the storm.
I pulled my face into my arm.
"When will they leave?" I asked the boy, who by now had lost
interest in me and had his own agenda. I saw him walking off into the
grass, shedding his shadows into it, and then he was gone.
When I woke, there was nothing out of the unexpected. I rose from bed
and dressed for work, feeling partly saddened from having been pulled
from my place of dream, only to join the dregs of the world- my job.
One can never explain a dream as this, and as a writer I can do no better.
Or rather, my advantage is there, however slim. Easy for me to describe,
yet not so easy to pick apart, Ive often wished I could have owned
those eyeless pets, and been the one having won their eyes. Just what
privilege would such witness grant me? I suppose Id be more inclined
to see what it is Ive already thought to be there. Most never
even think that at all. Why, it was just the other night when, before
bed, I had been rambling about time and the continuous stretch of it,
arguing that in the solitary wink of an eyeball the duration and quality
of my life would not matter to anyone with futuristic eyes. How often
I wished I could see these eyes, and even pick apart the minds behind
them years hence, only to somehow get that faraway glance these birds
might gather in a single hour. I had rambled out loud for a good five
minutes till I turned to my spouse beside me and asked, "Do you
agree?" And he, in turn only replied with, "What the hell
are you talking about?"
I could only answer with an "I dont know," followed
by a laugh, since I did find the scene quite funny.
"Now go to sleep," was all he said- philosophy shot down by
more obvious needs.
I admit that I dont like my job, or what it represents. Not to
imply there are not others who have felt the same, but what I dislike
most is my having to change each day to suit the morning commute, this
face of drones not thinking much past what is required, which in this
case would be the immediacy of their lifetimes. Perhaps to expect more
is asking too much. I dont deny that, but I feel, in a sense,
more solitary and pulled unevenly into two parts: the planetary self
that faces its uncreative mornings, and the evening self that turns
away. I prefer to retire each night early, so my mind can shift into
the world of dream, and make shapes from shadows, where things go sometimes
uncontrolled however unpredictably, but ultimately reach some memory
of it by morning.
When I was young the world was a big intelligent place. All around me
were products made by minds I would never meet. Ideas built upon another-
like houses or neighborhoods, they filled the books upon the shelves.
Who made the shelves? And who thought carpeting would work best upon
a bedroom floor? All around me existed these products as proof that
life lived and bloomed before me. And it will go on once I am gone.
People say this- that they know such to be true, but I realized it first
as a child, once I was old enough to think and find patterns to pick
apart. Cars were everywhere, motored and fueled, and then there were
lamps, and plumbing, and a means to climb over gorges and steep ravines-
people before me had thought that all up too.
But now that I am old I see how the world is not so big and not so smart.
People know each other. They build pasts and remember them. They obsess
over the arbitrary. They fall into some part of history and remain there,
while their lives get a whole lot smaller. Each day a temporary sun
fills the sky, and the tides ebb till they reach the bases of feet,
only to sigh back inward towards the pit of self, this sea and all its
inhabitants, arriving as objects tossed under a mizzle of rain - toy
boats abandoned, pink plastic cups once used for girlhood teas whose
recall has long been sucked and taken out to sea, they are now tossed
within a whorl of wreckage and salted swallowing of biting weeds. All
wash among the waves. They wash, and will always wash, as this observer,
this one collector, collects all mind and still walks.
Lone creator climbing ever upward to those places uninformed by most,
that place of artistic elation and specialness believed to be sieved
through clouds, how easy it is for the artistic mind to tilt upwards
towards it, intoxicated by the juices of thought. But there was a time
when I did not know this place. Perhaps a slighted part of myself did
know, but such was not something that came to show itself regularly.
I was immersed in the momentary patterns of my youth- riding bikes and
finding shells and stones, collecting all I could and storing them in
jars, naming them as parts of my pasts that, should I chose to excavate
those same jars out from below some basement floor, how Id find
myself there in the ravine once more. In kindergarten I was shy and
spoke little. It was there when I first learned how to steal. I can
remember taking small trinkets from the toy bins and stuffing them into
my pull up socks- a plastic hippopotamus, a small gray cat. When it
was naptime, the teacher would walk me to my cot and lay me down, and
I would keep that part of myself hidden- that spot that held the thing
I had taken and made my own. Once the lights were out I would pull the
charm from my cloth crevice and hold it in my hand, not in any act of
rebellion, but because I wanted it as my own and nothing more.
Lessons, I thought, were boring. I was given a workbook with a red cover,
and once I finished that, my motivation was that Id have to move
onto the one that was blue. This in itself was not enough to satisfy.
A few girls I was a friend with were mid-way through the blue already,
but I was still in the beginning pages of the red. For a long time I
was only on page seven, and I would sit at my desk, pretending to look
busy while the teacher looked on, as I took an eraser and scraped my
old answers clean, only to rewrite them again in pencil. They must have
been written over at least a half dozen times. I dont know why
I never moved past page seven- I think that maybe there was some instruction
I did not understand, but it was not in my nature to ask for advice.
Instead I just ignored it and flipped to the next page, only to see
that what resided there was not any more interesting, and so I flipped
the page back. For a long time, page seven is where my work ceased.
Then I got into trouble. My mother was called. I got some bad grades.
"She doesnt appear to be doing her work," the teacher
"I dont appear to be doing lots of things," I would
have said if I owned the means. Instead I was instructed to a corner,
where Id sit for a while as my mother and the teachers talked,
chewing on my twisted up shirt. I sat that afternoon for what felt like
a good while, and noticed a small spider up in the nearby corner. It
lingered above the doorway, in the far-off crack, begging me to keep
its location secret. I watched the spider as it sat motionless, as did
I- the two of us very much aware of the others presence. Normally
I might have screamed, but on this day I did not care. That day I kept
the spider a secret from those around me, knowing that should the door
open with just enough force, such a quake could surely stir such small
a beast well within its webs of trapped life and time, only to dance
upon the head of some parent coming in to retrieve her child. I sat
there and watched in quiet rebellion. I did that a lot, in fact. Im
sure too, that they thought these patterns were something sure to change
with age. But with age, my behavior did not improve, but with age I
came to understand it. I began to read the biographies of other artists,
and could see that they had experienced in some way or other, things
quite similar to mine, where they too were forced to balance the interpretations
of themselves with those around them. And never once did they seem to
coincide. At least with me they didnt.
The spider builds, however intricately, and invades all space around
it by its delicate extension of legs. Often in an afternoon Id
have a friend of mine crush a cockroach only enough to make it wiggle,
and wed watch as he threw the bug onto the sticky thread. To our
surprise, the spider would not jump immediately, but hesitate a bit,
waiting while the roach writhed itself into a permanent wrap. Then she
would trickle her legs over and pounce her plump body upon it, draining
all fuel and function from its form, existing now only for her need.
I wondered then about all the life that had ever passed though those
silvered webs, only to be eaten under the light of the sun. Later, Id
see the web had been abandoned and full of holes. Parts still stuck
to my fingers without my trying, and the very weariness of the strands
appeared like old ghosts. My fingers appeared to have dissolved in the
strands, became the filaments themselves. For a moment I existed not
as myself, but only as a solitary hand set against the fibers of another
time. A hand could be something short of a god to this spider who, having
long since expired, existed as something outside of time. I tried to
imagine it, what this spiders life was like, and then the thought
was gone, having fleeted far as the strands themselves, now obstructed
by old winds and whatever leaves remain from last season.
A spider is, for most its life, solitary. With the exception of prey
falling into its web, the spider remains alone in its hunt. Even after
mating, the males are either eaten or just go away. A web, to the spider,
becomes its own landscape, one that however willingly or not, is in
no position of preventing the toil needed to maintain it, or the myriad
occurrences that can come to destroy it. They too, are not immune to
I sat there, within the younger part of myself, chewing my shirt till
damp, chewing till my mother came and got me. All these thoughts of
course did not arise till much later, years later when, in a melancholic
state of under appreciation Id attempt to recall, and change this
ghost from memory into something with pulse. I do not know why it is
that an artist feels the need to pull backwards, or to be looked at
as something outside of his own flesh, wishing to become visible only
though ideas and not through ones mere functions alone. To exist,
not blindly but openly and full of sight, full of the will to wander
the inner world of the solitary self, and all planets and places between.
Self-examination can become a place unto itself, and the artful mind,
with the ability to force introspection upon the world, can easily be
despised for it. No one wants to travel to places they dont wish
to go, or notice necessarily the world through a different shade of
eyes. We accept instead, that it is easier to remain buried below dirt
too thick for thought to enter, and never admit to the flesh of bugs
that we know can crawl over the bones of even the most accomplished
women and men.
The birds are back. I drowse and hear them hurrying by.
© Jessica Schneider Jan 2007
stories in Dreamscapes
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