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The International Writers Magazine
(From our Archives)

Dream Surgery
Eric D Lehman

About ten years ago, I went to Monk’s Café in Philadelphia for a few drinks. My friend Subhash and my brother Andy joined me, taking a break from their lives as medical student slaves. We all ordered mussels, each bowl steamed in a unique sauce. The tabletop looked like a sickening fishy mess, but raw hunger outweighed any aesthetic distaste. The uncomfortable wooden tables and benches drove home the feeling of an old world pub, spurring conversation about travel.

Subhash began regaling Andy with plans for the trip that he and I would take when we’re thirty. "We’re leaving the wives in Sydney or Melbourne and renting an old Army Jeep, and just going, heading into the outback, Midnight Oil blasting on the stereo, seeing Ayer’s Rock, the desert, maybe going all the way to the wilds of the west coast."
"We’ve planned this since high school."
"Why?" Andy repeated.
I broke in. "It’s a dream. A dream we’re going to turn into reality."
"Like when we’re forty and we’re going to meet at Mad King Ludwig’s castle in Germany." Subhash continued. "We’ll plan it so we go to Germany separately and then set a time to meet at the top of that fairytale tower."
"Sounds like you guys are old lovers or something." Andy rolled his eyes.
"Just dreamers, dude."
"Where else do you want to go?"
"I want to visit every place in the world." I asserted, chiming my fork on a mussel bowl. "Everywhere."
"That would take more than your lifetime."
"Yeah, why bother?"
"True," I admitted. Still, I hate being trapped here, dreaming our brown alehouse dreams. "I just want to live in different places, work at different jobs, do enough to…I don’t know." Suddenly the smell of beer and fish gagged me and I went to the bathroom, choking back an urge to vomit. What was wrong with me? Everyone has a hundred nights like this one in their lifetime, when dreams take over the present like a pack of starving wolves. The world opened before us, but at the same time seemed too vast to conquer. The hopes of travel seemed tainted with some sort of bitterness, though perhaps that was just the ale.

On my return the waitress appeared at the tableside, asking if we’d like another drink.
"Yes please. Three Chimays."
The waitress nodded and took our plundered mussel bowls.
"Good beer."
"We all need to go to the Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville sometime."
"Keep talking about it, but we never go."
"We will. We will." I repeated. "My wanderlust is too strong not to."
"My wanderlust is steering me towards those girls in the corner." Subhash nodded. Andy and I laughed.

My brother and I did go to Yuengling the next year, a small victory of hope over reality. Subhash and I even went to London for the Millennium celebration. But as age thirty passed we never made it to Australia. My dream of seeing every place in the world gets more ridiculous every year. Our lives have become more complicated, friendships have diverged, and the most to hope for is a weekend in Vermont or a week on Cape Cod. Still, what is wrong with that? Were those dreams that we harbored mere ego? Should I be upset about their loss? Would it have been better never to dream at all?

The waitress appeared one last time. "Anything else?"
"Just the check, thanks."

We headed out the door into the lamppost air, cars splashing black rain onto our jackets. The shops and rowhomes slipped past in a misty haze of midnight fog. Finally, our inevitable goodbyes came at thirteenth street. Subhash’s black eyes bored into mine as he shook my hand firmly and said, "someday." He nodded his thick, black hair. I nodded, as well, thinking how sad it was that so much of our friendship was in the past, or in the future. I tried to find some phrase that would make that parting meaningful, but lacked the skill. Subhash walked away and I grimaced. If only we could perform surgery on words. Take the word TIME and cut the M in two. Pick away at the T until we have molecules of sound. The E would be more difficult, perhaps a chest spreader, a circular saw. Leaving only the spine of the I.

Andy and I reached his brick townhouse, where I silently poured myself water and collapsed on the living room couch. Andy creaked up the stairs, calling "Nighty night."
"Don’t let the bedbugs bite," I murmured, staring around at the bare room. Sipping the glass of water, I wondered why we make all these little plans, hoard all these precious hopes and memories, why we try to verbalize what cannot be. Perhaps the best thing to do is not to think at all. Bury the yearbooks, memories, and old ideas. Find the places where the borders melt, where the map ends and the sea monsters begin, to live on that planet yet undiscovered. And then, if Subhash and I ever meet at the top of Mad King Ludwig’s castle, it will be a pleasant surprise.

© Eric D. Lehman March 2007
Author and Senior Tutor at Bridport University USA

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