Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Mr. Barbicane Takes A Trip" Chapter Twenty-Two

In his dream, Mr. Barbicane has already arrived at his destination. He is at the church with no memory of traveling there. He finds the church empty and doesn’t know if he’s late or early or if he has come to the wrong church because, in the dream, he doesn’t have his suitcase with all his information, his itinerary. There is no one in the church to ask.

In his dream, Mr. Barbicane walks across the street and goes into the funeral home and asks the man there if he knows where Mr. Barbicane is supposed to be and when he’s supposed to be there. The man tells Mr. Barbicane that there’s been a change of plans and the others have gone ahead, leaving the funeral parlor and going directly to the cemetery without going to the church. The church service has been canceled. No reason for this cancellation is offered and Mr. Barbicane doesn’t ask for one.

He needs to get to the cemetery and the man at the funeral parlor tells him to drive straight down the road just outside and he’ll see the cemetery on his right. Mr. Barbicane does not ask how he will find the people he’s looking for once he gets to the cemetery, he simply leaves, gets in his car and starts driving.

The rental car he is driving has no glass. It has no windshield, no rear window, no side windows. Wind blows into the car and makes it very difficult to drive. Normally, Mr. Barbicane would wonder what led him to except a car in this condition from the car rental company, but this is a dream and therefore beyond the usual challenge of logic.

The imperative that put Mr. Barbicane behind the wheel of a car with no windshield is the same irrefutable force that brought Vickie’s father back from the dead, which in turn resulted in her father and her boyfriend making out in the movie theatre while she grew a penis.

This is one of the ways dreams can be exceptionally cruel, how they can deprive us of context, logic and often our clothes. How they can drop us into ghastly situations and make us suffer pain and embarrassment and loss all for the sheer, perverse pleasure of watching us suffer.

But, really, we do it to ourselves, don’t we? Dreams. They’re supposed to be the random discharges of a sleeping brain that we try to forge into some kind of narrative, even if the narrative changes from moment to moment. All the terror and confusion we carry around in our own heads, ready to victimize us, waiting for the chance to torture us, waiting for us to be at our most vulnerable, waiting for us to fall asleep.

Mr. Barbicane squints into the wind as he drives down the road. Up ahead he sees the beginning of the cemetery fence and presses harder on the gas pedal, trying to look ahead, trying to locate the gate so he can get onto the cemetery grounds. He drives what seems a long time without seeing a gate.

The other side of the road does not seem to be moving past Mr. Barbicane at the same rate as the side with the fence. In fact, the other side, the driver’s side of the road, doesn’t seem to be moving at all. Over there, motionless, is a large farm stand. A large, long, open sided shed sort of a building with rows of produce and a large display of sweet corn and gallon jugs of cloudy apple cider close to the road. Signs announce JAMS AND JELLIES and CANDY APPLES and PUMPKINS and PICKLED GARLIC. There are barrels labeled CRACKERS, and a big Franklin stove painted red and connected to nothing, just standing there, at the entrance to the farm stand. There is a jug of cider on top of the stove, an additional indication that this was not an operating stove, but one used as some sort of rustic advertisement.

Behind the farm stand, and Mr. Barbicane was able to see behind the farm stand in his dream and it didn’t seem unusual that he could, was a small sort of carrousel. Not a carrousel with horses, but a round tank of water with some sort of carrousel apparatus at the center that pulled eight small boats around the tank in a counter clockwise circle. Each boat was big enough for two children. There was a length of rope from the seats to the bow of the boat which was attached to a brass bell that the child could ring as he or she imagined they were piloting the boat. The bottom and sides of the tank had been painted a dark blue to give the impression of an ocean. But the painting of the interior surfaces was done some time ago and the paint has flaked off in many areas, making the bottom of the tank look like a neglected fresco. All this Mr. Barbicane could see from his moving car as he drove along the side of the cemetery looking for the gate. He never questioned this peculiarly omniscient point of view.

There’s a little girl in one of the boats and she’s dropped something in the water and she’s very upset, but not one is paying attention to her. Mr. Barbicane wants the people standing around the farm stand and the boat ride to stop and listen and help the little girl. He knows the thing she’s dropped is a ring, but he doesn’t know how he knows that because he didn’t see her drop it. Then up ahead he sees the entrance to the cemetery and he’s already so late he has to push on. Her can not help the little girl.

Mr. Barbicane turns in at the entrance to the cemetery. He looks around and sees no one. He has no idea where he is supposed to go, how he is supposed to catch up with his family. But he doesn’t worry about this, he just drives deeper into the cemetery until he sees a row of black cars parked behind a hearse on one of the narrow roads winding through the headstones and crypts like little courthouses.

He parks behind the last car in the row and gets out of the car with no glass and looks around for the service. He sees people off in the distance, standing at the crest of a hill, about ten or twelve of them standing in a group. and he starts up the hill to reach them. He knows this is where he is supposed to be although he doesn’t know why he knows, nor does he question why he knows without knowing how he knows.

When he gets to the top of the hill he’s surprised to find that the casket is open. The people are standing around an open casket and they don’t seem to think it’s odd at all. He realizes the casket is very plain, a pine box actually. Like the coffins you see in old westerns. Like the sort of box they put you in before they take you up to old Boot Hill.

There is no fabric lining the casket, but there is a blanket and a pillow supporting the head of the woman in the casket. The woman in the casket does not look like she’s asleep. She looks like she’s made of wax. She looks to Mr. Barbicane the way she looked when they first met, when they were both in their twenties. She is younger, now that she is dead. Her eyes are closed and her hair is blonde again the way it used to be. She has high cheek bones and her lips are slightly parted like the lips of the young woman on the airplane listening to her iPod, and she wears lipstick the color of plums like the cabin attendant who brought Mr. Barbicane his filet mignon and later bought vodka to drink in the parking lot of the convenience store. Just something to get her home. Something she had earned.

The woman in the coffin is surprisingly casually dressed, in black jeans and a lime colored sweater with a floppy sort of open neck. Who picked out these clothes for her? Certainly this wasn’t what she would have chosen for herself. He wonders if it was too late to change her clothes so she could go to her grave in something more dignified. Then he realizes it really doesn’t matter. At that point, the lime colored sweater with the floppy sort of open neck would do as well for a shroud as anything else. Her hands are folded just below her breasts and she is holding a rosary, the small silver crucifix carefully placed against the back of her right hand. Her expression is not one of sleep or peace. She looks like she was preparing to sneeze. She does not look comfortable in this box, on this blanket, her head on this pillow. In death she does not look at all comfortable.

In the dream, Mr. Barbicane was not expecting to see this woman dead. He was unaware that it was her funeral to which he was traveling. In the waking world it would have been impossible, or at best highly unlikely, that Mr. Barbicane would go to a funeral without being aware of whose funeral it was. He is surprised to see her here, to see her young and dead and about to be buried.

In his dream Mr. Barbicane looks up from the pretty woman in the coffin and realizes everyone is looking at him. They say nothing, but he knows they hold him responsible for this. Something he did or failed to do led to this and everybody knows it.

And in the dream, somehow, Mr. Barbicane knows they’re right. He feels suddenly filled with guilt. Filled not in a metaphorical way, but a physical one. He feels engorged with guilt. He feels bloated with the foul stuff, packed with it, in his bowels, in his stomach, bubbling up through his esophagus, burning his throat.

He should have stayed where he was. He should never have left his house and come to this place. It wouldn’t have made any difference to her if he came or stayed, so really what had he accomplishing with all this traveling? He got to look in an open coffin which really shouldn’t have been open at the gravesite, and see what she looked like, see that she was dead with his own eyes, not that he had any doubts, not that he had known it was her funeral before he arrived and looked in the coffin.

They invited him without telling him who was to be buried, knowing he would not come if he knew the truth and now that he’s shown up they look at him like this. That is the moment Mr. Barbicane realizes that he has been tricked into coming. This was not consideration, this was punishment. He had been compelled to this place by a conspiracy of lies in order to be confronted by what he did and exposed to the world for his crimes.

He turns away from her, from the coffin, from the rest of them and starts down the hill, starts back to the car with no windshield, no glass at all. He is afraid to turn back, to look around, afraid they might be coming down the hill after him. He knows enough about how dreams worked that if he tried to run it would do him no good. Running never works in dreams.

But in spite of knowing this he starts walking faster. Or at first he thinks he’s walking faster then he realizes the hill is now much steeper than it was when he first walked up it to the grave and the coffin and the dead woman. It gets steeper as he walks, as if someone were tipping it up under his feet. He has to go faster in order to keep his balance. He is afraid in a moment he will fall and a second later he does trip and start to pitch forward, his hands going out in front of him and his whole body starting to twist to one side.

His hands hit the ground, the wet grass, and then his face. He gets the smell of dirt in his nose. He feels the friction of pebbles against the palms of his hands and he slides and falls and starts to roll down the hill.

Mr. Barbicane rolls down the hill. What he sees takes on the characteristics of what one might see looking out from a carrousel, a repeating loop of a landscape. There is the wet grass and dark almost muddy earth close to his eyes, then that arcs away and he is looking up the hill up at the grave and sees that the people up there aren’t chasing him, they’ve turned away from him, turned back to the pine box with the dead woman in it. Then the hill top is gone and everything is blue gray sky for an instant. Black branches slash through his field of vision. The trees multiply and the ground rushes up, but now he’s looking down the hill, down to the road where he can see the rental car behind the rest of the funeral cars. The ground pushes the cars away and again there’s nothing but wet grass and earth, then the top of the hill again, then the sky again, then the trees followed by more trees followed by the car and then the earth again. Mr. Barbicane is caught in the loop. With each rotation the people at the top of the hill get small and his car gets bigger until the last few orbits where the car looms bigger than the sky and he finally stops, hitting the side of his car, his head banging against the right rear tire. His head bounces of the tire and he drops down, wedging himself between the wheel and the curb.

Mr. Barbicane’s vision is swimming in a most disconcerting way. He tries to focus on something. He sees his hand on the plastic wheel cover and tries to focus on in. His hand is filthy from the hillside. Mr. Barbicane reaches up to the edge of the band-aide he put on his finger at the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport and pulls it off. The flesh underneath the band-aide is white and shriveled, cold and dead, like the inside of a fish. The line of the cut is still visible, like a thin red filament. It is if that little part of him had died and this was a preview of what was unavoidably ahead for him.

In his dream, Mr. Barbicane put his face down, pressing his eyes into the fabric of his charcoal gray suit jacket and makes a sound somewhere between a moan and a groan and then he proceeded to weep.


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