When Simon next broke through to consciousness he was alone. His first fear (that Brandy belonged exclusively to the world of fantasy) was quieted by the warm spot beside him. His second fear (that she had abandoned him) was dispelled by the presence of her car. He listened. He heard her humming, softly, somewhere nearby. Reassured, he settled back to reconstruct his dreamsa morning ritual. Even daydreams were subject to his after-the-fact analysis, for Simon had been experimenting with various means of consciously affecting his unconscious mind, exploring the gray areas between sleep and wakefulness, systematically prolonging the transitions in order to see-saw back and forth.
The next step was to carry over into sleep a specific subject or theme. Here, too, after countless trials and errors, he had been successful. He could now induce a dream (get one started, at least) by concentrating on a predetermined stimulus. Once into it, however, his control invariably lapsed. Yet progress had been made. For instance, Simon had trained himself to awaken on command. At first, this was possible only during nightmares where enough of a threat was generated for consciousness to wrench him free. With practice, however, traumatic episodes were not required. He felt confident, after a time, that, irrespective the circumstances, his conscious mind could always intercede.
Memory was the next obstacle. With dreams being ever-elusive, attempts at retrieving them often proved in vain. But, by slowing down the entry and exit phases, retention seemed to improve. It was not unusual now for Simon to think, even during a dream, that a recapitulation could be done soon after.
His goal in all this was to break down barriers between the two independent (frustratingly exclusive) spheres. Imagination-wise, the variety of human experience appeared to be infinite. An uninhibited mind could posit the most fantastic happenings, and cast itself in whatever roles it chose to playall apparently beyond the finite auspices of Reality. Fascinated by such boundless potential, Simon was eager to extend his brief flights into the realm of willful dreaming.
Images from the previous night, however, were obscured by fog. Buoyant breasts and pulse beats were all he could remember after he had awakened? Just before dawn? Inexplicably fearful? He searched for a fragment, any piece at all from which the whole might be reassembled Brandys having comforted him, cradled him in her arms, remained his only clue the muffled throbs of her heart, the scent of her flesh, and the warmth of her embrace had made him feel safe From what?
Before he could conjecture, Brandy returned.
He smiled and nodded.
Having completed her toilette (in the privacy of sagebrush), Brandy looked clean and combed and powdered, thus fresher than the circumstances seemed to allow.
"Do you hurt as much as I do? I feel like Ive been hog-tied and thrown down a flight of stairs."
He imagined himself immobilized; something about the sensation was hauntingly germane.
"I dont think Ive ever worked so hard, or made anything quite so ugly. Have you had a chance to see our ramp by day?"
Simon, still trying to track down his dream, failed to answer.
"Yoo-hoo; anybody home?"
She got his attention.
"Youre so quiet, I can never tell if youre listening or tuning me out."
What a strange man. Must have had a terrible dream last night to wake up all out of breath and trembling the way he did. I thought I heard him holler, but I must have imagined that. I was dreaming, too. About that Gypsy Woman, I think Damn, my brains like a blackboard that someone just erased.
"Weird; I had a dream last nightsecond one in a rowabout this fortune-teller and a dancing girl who looks just like me. Did I tell you I'm a dancer? Well, I ameven in my sleep. Except I dont always look the same. You must have dreamed, too, huh?"
How could he deny it, having spent the pre-dawn coddled by Brandy's cushy breasts?
"Want to tell me about it?"
Yes, he did. But he could not rememberwhich had not been the case for a long, long while. Something, he suspected, was interfering. Something (someone?) sinister was tampering with his mind. By way of answer, Simon simply shook his head.
"Thats okay. A lot of dreams dont make much sense come morningand just get stupider when you try to describe them to somebody else. Im always dreaming about one thing or another, but I rarely tell people. Not anymore. Besides, there arent many dreams I manage to recall. Isnt that frustrating? You experience all this weird, incredible stuff, and the minute you wake up, adios, its gone. As if nothing really happened. Of course, nothing really does when you're asleep. But, sometimes, I dont feel that way. Sometimes its like things in my sleep have really taken place. Know what I mean?"
He knew exactly what she meant, and tried, with his expression, to encourage her.
"You didnt grin or smirk or anything; thats what most people do. Dont you think what I said sounds kind of nuts?"
He shook his head.
"Well, good. Maybe we can talk about it some time."
It seemed sufficient, for Brandy (for now) that he had not made fun of her.
"Maybe over that cup of coffee I promised you. Remember? Yesterday?"
He nodded, but was more than a little disappointed at the delay. For a moment, he even considered breaking his vow of silence. Obviously there were matters they might discuss. He wanted to explain his own dream, for starters (to apologize, at least, for nuzzling her chest), and yet he felt the appropriate time had passed. To admit that he could speak now was to confess that he had been deceiving her all along. Whatever trust she had in him would quickly be destroyed. Better to keep his own counsel, he decided, spare himself and her some awkward recitation.
"Doesnt coffee sound wonderful! And breakfast? Ham and eggs! Come on, Mister Mums-The-Word, lets hit the road."
While Brandy tried to scrape insects off the windshield, Simon rolled up his sleeping bag (wondering if it would ever again be shared).
He loaded his backpack into the trunk, slammed it shut, and hopped into the passenger seat.
The ignition groaned. Brandy pumped the gas pedal. It groaned again, caught, turned over, farted four times, sputtered, then summarily died. She smiled.
"Next one should do it."
She gave the key another turn; instantly, the engine responded, settling into a confidence-inspiring purr.
"And were off!"
The dusty Volks shot forward; they were on their way, negotiating, once again, the uneven grade as sun spread its golden arms to embrace the eastern skyline, and a new troupe of southerly clouds began to build, brood, turn gray above a landscape studded with wildflowerslupine growing in such profusion it dressed the road, for miles, in deep purple skirts. Orange poppies and carmine Indian paintbrush, patches of tawny brittle-bush and scarlet sage were interspersed with white exclamation marks of full-bloom yucca. Even the austere cactus burst with genial splashes of color: barrel and prickly pear were topped with yellow-ochre blossoms; hedgehog spines were bedecked with buds of brilliant magenta; and spindly ocotillo waved crimson flags in the Springtime breeze.
"What a gorgeous day! Ive never seen the desert so beautiful. Ive driven across it a couple of times in summer, but all I remember is sweating and having to squint. This is wonderful! Do you think were far from the freeway?"
Her question spurred a wistful sorrow in Simon, reminding him of society (lying in wait). Isolation had given their relationship an idyllic quality, one he feared would be lost once re-entering civilization. Out-of-context, people were sometimes less disappointing.
Brandy, in the meantime, was looking ahead. She had no place to stay in Tucson, nor any idea whatsoever about Simons future plans. Secretly, she was hoping they might work something out together. He was good companyin his quiet, unassuming wayand his presence might help ease her apprehensions about getting herself established in an unfamiliar town. His presence might also be useful for fending off uninvited advances. Though far from figuring Simon out, Brandy had him pegged as an honorable sort, especially after his sterling self-restraint the previous night at very close quarters (his taking refuge in her cleavage, notwithstanding). High-pressure males (and their female counterparts) had monopolized Brandy's life for far too long. Simons relative passivity, she decided, was a most welcome change. All she wanted for the moment (or so she conjectured) was a trustworthy friend.
Finally, as the car hobbled over a tractor-pleated rise, Interstate 10 came sprawling into view. Simon breathed a sigh of resignation; Brandy honked the horn with obvious glee. Thus dissimilarly inclined, they bumpity-bumped their way to join the divided highway.