It was getting late. Brandy had been a long time changing. Simon went to the bathroom door and softly knocked.

Still huddled on the floor, Brandy, using the sink for leverage, managed to hoist herself.

"Just a minute."

She looked into the mirror; the face that grimaced back looked positively ghoulish.

‘Terrific. What a finale. I step out like this, he'll run for the hills.’

She splashed some water on her cheeks, then sponged off most of her makeup. Feeling a bit revived she turned and opened—just a crack—the bathroom door.

"Simon? Would you bring me my robe? It should be in that suitcase next to the bed."

Simon found it, then passed it to the disembodied hand that reached from behind the door jamb.

"Thank you."

Both hand and terrycloth bathrobe were withdrawn. Brandy dusted herself with baby powder, donned the robe, then tried to affect as self-composed a reentry as misery would permit.

"Sorry I took so long; I’m feeling a little queasy. Remember when you were a kid and your parents drummed into you, ‘Never take a swim just after you’ve eaten’? Well, never, ever belly dance after you’ve gorged; I feel horrible. I know better, too; I just wasn’t thinking."

She sat on the bed.

"Ever seen one of those mixing machines they have in paint stores? Imagine, just after dinner, strapping one on."

She toppled over sideways, almost comically, and uttered a lengthy moan. Simon left then returned with pen and paper.

He wrote:

Describe your symptoms.

"I feel seasick; that’s the worst of it. All I want to do is curl up and die. I have these God-awful cramps all through my midsection."

He touched her forehead.

"No, no headache."

He wrote:

With your permission, I can help.

"Anything. Shoot me; it might be more merciful."

He eased her onto her back, then propped her head on one of a pair of pillows (Brandy grabbed the other and clutched it to her gut). Cupping her calf in his right hand, Simon pressed with his left thumb, working it into a shallow depression beside Brandy's tibia. With firm deliberate pressure he slowly massaged… (inciting a tingly sensation, like bumping one's funny bone; it hurt, but only a little)… clockwise motions applied with moderate force… (just enough to sustain her curious pins-and-needles)... at the same time, pulling gently, he straightened out either leg, rubbing each in turn (while Brandy felt the tingle ineluctably spread)… shifting back and forth between the corresponding acupoints.

Whether the buzz traversing Brandy's body actually helped or merely distracted her, she felt the nausea ease. As long as it worked, she resolved, he could do what he liked.

Prying one of her hands from the pillow, Simon applied a similar treatment to Brandy's wrist, pressing between two tendons, kneading with his thumb (again clockwise). Soon the same sensation encompassed her entire arm. She offered him the other. Her queasiness was diminished; her cramps were still intense.

Despite the slight discomfort they were causing, Simon’s hands (strong yet tender, youthful yet embossed with prominent veins) soothed and wooed simultaneously… as they moved in sync with Brandy's pulse, his focus so intent he failed to notice the patient's scrutiny:

as she watched his steady breathing (its measured cadence calm),

reflected upon his beard (its shade of haystack blond slightly darker than his tow-streaked hair),

contemplated his nut-brown brows (set at melancholy angles) that cast a subtle shadow over azure eyes so clear, so lustrous eyes (they shown like sapphires),

appraised his mouth (its corners like parentheses, sorrowfully downturned)…

a poetic face, she concluded, whose monk-like qualities made her sigh with yearnings less than chaste.

Finished with her wrists, and careful to expose only the area around her grumbling tummy, Simon parted the flaps of Brandy’s robe. About four inches above her deep-set navel he pressed, again with his thumb, resuming circular motions (though using much less pressure). With his other hand he searched for and found a place behind her ear, massaging there with his index finger, spurring a mild uneasiness that offset the one below… where, lo and behold, the cramps began to subside.

He switched hands.

The relief spread… infiltrated nerves like steam through ganglia… Brandy, growing ever more relaxed, allowed her eyes to close… indulged, past all resistance, the therapeutic press and probe of Simon's thumb—replaced now by the heel of his roving hand… which gravitated upward… in slow ovals… each one broader… lighter… less precise than the one before… until she felt it brush—or was she dreaming—her bosom's naked undersides.

Disroped

To Simon, Brandy’s slumber was somewhat problematic, leaving him alone with his own rekindled id, tempting him to stray from caresses strictly curative to those that might arouse said acquiescent breasts, trace their plump perimeters, fondle their rosy tips...

 

 

 

 

I’m a young girl again, a child. I’m playing with my dolls up in my room. No. Now it’s the backyard, on a blanket. The grass is full of dandelion ghosts. I must be six years old because there are six dolls; my father bought me a new one for every birthday. They had special names. I’m talking to my least favorite, the one with long black hair and a peasant’s costume. What is she saying? I can’t quite hear her voice but her lips are definitely moving.

 

… parting her robe’s lapels the better to contemplate each ample sphere...

 

‘You’ll have to speak up, Adrienne… No, I will not send the others away; they have just as much right to be here as you.’

She’s envious of her sisters. I’m a little scared of her. She does nasty things sometimes. She’s taken one of Rachel’s ribbons and won’t give it back. I’ll have to coax her out of it; if I reach over and grab it she’s likely to bite me. She has sharp little metal teeth that nobody knows about, besides me and the other dolls—who are inching back toward the blanket’s outer edge. I wouldn’t have brought Adrienne along, except, when she’s left alone in my room, she tends to steal things.

 

… watching both expand… contract…

 

‘And while we’re on the subject of theft, young lady, suppose you tell me where you hid my music box. No sense denying it; you were seen.

Uh uh, I refuse to say by whom.’

I’m watching Adrienne's face very closely now. Her eyes are following mine as if she’s suspicious; I know she doesn’t trust me. She’s flexing her chubby fist, scrunching up the ribbon.

 

… recalling how they had felt the night before when Brandy's muffled heartbeats drowned out nameless fears.

Guilt eclipsing the unclad goose flesh, Simon drew the curtains on his peep-show impropriety…

… only to catch a glimpse of nakedness further afield… Brandy's hairless crotch arousing boyhood fantasies (bred by books on art with classical nudes depicted, their private parts, more often than not, sans hair)…

 

She’s glaring at me with that defiant look of hers. I feel like I’m losing my authority. She seems bigger. She is bigger. Or I’m getting smaller. Maybe both. I’m starting to feel numb all along my arms and legs. She wants me to help her stand but I refuse; she's already much too tall.

 

… mannequins, likewise, bare between their legs, inflaming his libido (as Simon spied their rigid-limbed passivity in sundry downtown showcases)…

 

And she’s moving. All by herself. She’s circling me. I’m stiff all over. I can’t move anything except my eyes. She’s doing something directly behind my back; I can hear her rummaging through my sewing basket. Oh, oh; mother's shears!

‘Adrienne? Adrienne, what are you doing?’

My voice feels like its trapped inside my throat.

 

Another pang of conscience gave Simon guilty pause; the liberties he was taking were grossly indiscreet… except that she, his victim, seemed blissfully unaware—which only served to make his trespass more contemptible.

 

She doesn’t have the scissors; she’s moved back in front of me. Instead she has a spool of thick black thread—the strong kind that's hard to break even with your teeth. Except hers are razor-sharp; she’s biting off lengths: one, two, three, four, five, in all. Now she’s grinning. Whatever it is she’s up to, her grin isn’t nice.

 

Simon nonetheless directed his nose to the unsuspecting pubes… breathing in their scent of  sweat and lilac soap—sultry and fecund as rain-doused earth in spring. Once again, he drew the terrycloth curtains closed.

 

She’s grabbing at me; she has my arm. I'm staring at my hand as she manipulates it. She’s knotting a length of thread around my right thumb. Too tightly, I can tell; it's making a nasty groove below the knuckle—though I can't feel it. Now she’s let it drop to tie up my left. Ooo, this is frustrating; I can’t even budge! And nobody's trying to help; all the other dolls just gape, scared stiff. I’m scared, too; Adrienne just tied both my legs with the threads. And, oh my God, she’s using the last to make a noose!

 

Easing from the bed, Simon turned off the light, removed his clothing, then slipped back under the covers…

 

She’s gone. Where? A breeze has sprung up, setting the dandelions free. They’re floating over the yard like wisps of see-through cotton. Oh, oh; she’s back… with a stick… snapping it in two… making it into a cross… now tying it to me … fastening all four threads and putting the fifth—attached to the crossbar—around my neck. Jeezus, she’s enormous! My face now only comes as high as her knees.

 

… molding himself against Brandy's supine body, resting his palm on her belly, his thoughts at last dispersed...

 

I’m being jerked into the air! My feet are dangling just above the picnic blanket. I must be hanging by those threads; the feeling’s coming back to my neck, knees, and elbows. Whichever way they’re yanked my body has to turn.

 

… then reassembled oddly, as if overlapped... by someone else's dream(?):

 

I see an endless plane. Very sparse. The grass is all discolored. As if a gigantic tarp has blocked it from the sun. Except, along the horizon, it still looks green. And there are people, I think; I see tiny silhouettes. I'm moving in their direction. Not walking, exactly. I’m close to the ground but neither foot makes contact. Sounds, way off in the distance, are carried on a bone-dry breeze.

Music! It’s my music box. Adrienne has opened the lid and it’s playing my favorite tune. She wants me to dance to it. She’s making my arms and legs flail about; they feel dislocated. She’s hurting me.

‘Please, Adrienne, stop!’

She can’t hear—or doesn’t want to. She’s laughing. They’re all laughing, all the dolls. Before, none of them would help; now they think it’s funny. I’m crying. I feel humiliated. The music keeps on playing. Why won't it stop!

I recognize that melody. It's faint but getting louderor maybe I'm drawing nearer. I can just make out my shadow as it races underneath. There's something weird about it, though. Yikes, the thing has features! Dim but recognizable. I think they’re mine!

I’m hoping, when the music stops, she’ll stop. When the music box winds down this nightmare will end.

My double has sped ahead. All that’s left between us is a slender length of chord. Stretching. Stretching thinner. I feel I’m losing ground. I can barely hear the music. Those figures that I mentioned are far away again. Why is it important, I wonder, for me to reach them?

She’s dropped me. I’m lying in a heap all tangled up in threads. Those ‘traitors’ are applauding my predicament, clapping their little hands. I ache all over.

‘Please, no more! I’ve had enough.’

Hey, they’re leaving. Adrienne’s tucked my music box under her giant pudgy arm and is leading the others off to who knows where.

I’m gaining ground on them again.  My shadow's up ahead. Or maybe it's disappeared.

‘Wait!’

They’re moving away. All save one.

‘Wait!’

They're gone. The ground is grassy now. I'm almost there. The one they left behind is lying on a small patch of cloth all alone in a vast expanse of green. I can make out her features… a woman's… sprawled and all disjointed, her limbs like those of a doll.

Brandy?’

‘Simon?’

‘Here, I'll help you up. What happened?

‘How should I know? A nightmare, I think. I remember dancing, is all. I must have fallen. Where are we?’

‘As you see.’

‘What are we doing here?’

‘We’re… ’

‘Simon, you’re talking!’

‘So I am.’

‘But I thought… What’s going on? Where are we?’

‘I’m really not sure myself. But I have an inkling.’

‘Well…? Tell me!’

‘I think we’re dreaming.’

‘No, I don’t think so. This doesn't feel at all to me like a dream.’

‘Just the same, I think that’s what it is.’

‘Whose?’

‘Well, I thought I was alone until I saw you and your friends.’

‘What friends? Where?’

‘You don’t remember?’

‘No.’

‘I saw them. I was a long way off at the time, but I saw them clearly.’

‘How many?’

‘I couldn’t tell. Five or six, maybe. They left before I got here.’

‘This is freaking me out, Simon. I don’t understand. If I’m really asleep, dreaming, then you, and everything you’re saying, I’m making up.’

'"I’ll let you be in my dream, if I can be in yours."'

‘You seem to think this is pretty funny. How can you take it so lightly?’

‘Listen, I’m a bit jittery too, but, if this is what I think it is—something I’ve imagined for a long, long time—then going with it, enjoying it, is better than panicking.’

‘Will you hold my hand?’

‘Delighted. Shall we float on up for a look at the-lay-of-the-land?’

‘What do you mean, "float"?’

‘Just what I said. Like this.’

‘Jeezus, Simon! Let go! You’ll get us killed! No; don't let go! Oh, God, this is absolutely crazy!’

‘Relax. It’s all right. Really. Calm down. Rules, it stands to reason, don't apply here. Or they’re very different. Go ahead; let go. Believe that you're suspended, and you’ll be fine.’

‘I only want to believe I'm back in bed. This is too bizarre. If we should fall right now, we’d splat like eggs.’

‘But we’re not falling, are we?’

‘No… Not yet, anyway. Why, is what I’d very much like to know. And how come everything around us is absolutely empty?

‘I don’t know.’

‘But there’s nothing: no houses, people, trees; not even my blanket. I want this to be over!’

‘Brandy, I can’t answer most of your questions; I can scarcely answer my own, but… ’

‘You seem to know what’s what.’

‘Not really. I’m simply trying to let this "phenomenon" be.’

‘Well, I don’t have to stick around.’

‘I thought this was your dream.’

‘If that were true, I’d end it; I’d wake myself up.’

‘Go ahead.’

‘I can’t; you won’t let me.’

‘Why is it up to me?’

‘You’re the one who yanked me off my blanket. For all I know that may be the only route back.’

‘I hardly think that’s rational.’

‘"Rational!" Is it "rational" to hover hundreds of feet in the air having a two-way conversation with a self-styled mute?’

‘Point well taken.’

‘Not that it makes any difference. As soon as we wake up, things will go back to normal.’

‘But what if this is something other than a dream?’

‘Then it’s probably something neither of us should fool with.’

‘Don’t you want to know? To explore?’

‘Explore what? There’s nothing here.’

‘Maybe not here, exactly, but surely there are other places, other realms.’

‘Well, you can chase those wild geese by yourself.’

 

Brandy turned and opened her eyes. Simon lay beside her under the covers, his hair spread over the pillow like a tarnished golden fleece, the fingers of his left hand interlaced with hers. Careful not to disturb him, she disengaged herself, and went to fetch her journal.

 

Brandy?… BRANDY!’

Yikes; I hadn’t realized… no reference points. Nothing but myselfI, me, and mine: left, right, up, down, forward, backward, are all meaningless. Am I moving or am I not? I can’t quite tell.

Okay. Think things through. There's no need for alarmjust because you're TOTALLY DISORIENTED!

Nothing is all that threatening; there’s only what? Emptiness? Waiting to be filled? By what? Imagination? Maybe Brandy was right; it's only a dream.

Though it's much too lucid. I won't be sure, of course, until I've awakened. If I awaken. I don’t want to, however; not yet. Brandy wanted to wake up; ipso facto, Brandy no longer is here.

Maybe I’m dead! I hadn’t thought about that. Except I don’t much feel like I’ve expiredthough something, in relation to nothing, is not what I'd call vigorous. Odd, when I was a kid, this is how I envisioned Limbo—just me and maybe a few un-baptized babies drifting around, abandoned, forgotten. That’s it! I’m creating this myself. If I want these things to be different, all I have to do is to picture them otherwise. Okay, change!

Everything’s the same.

All right, if I’m not in control, then who the hell is? Brandy? Where did she go, anyway? ‘BRANDY!’

Okay, that’s enough. Time to wake up. I want to wake up. Concentrate!

No luck.

So, if I’m sleeping, I ought to remember what I was doing just beforehand. Where was I?… In my sleeping bag, no doubt. Alone?… No; with somebody else. Brandy? Except she was lying on a blanket. In a pasture. By herself.

Or were there others? Yes, there were. There are; they're suddenly back! Standing in a circle. Brandy's back, too. We're being ogled, faces all agog at the fringes of our platformor blanket, rather. Strange; their eyes are shut, yet it’s perfectly plain they see. They look like dwarves—not fully formed, or something—gesturing to each other—and to us—with their rubbery little mitts, daring us to take a few steps and join them. Don't! The ground is false, beyond; they’re making it up to fool us.

Oh, oh, seems they're closing in. We'll have to make a run for it.

‘Run, Brandy, run!’

They’re after us! I’m holding Brandy’s hand; she'll have to go faster. They’re all around our legs, tripping us up. Brandy!

She fell!Simon's Dream

They’re all over her. I’m straining with all my might but I can't turn back. She’s fighting them off but there are too many. They’ve got her pinned. One of the little monsters is prying apart her legs… WHY CAN’T I HELP!… while another is sticking its hands, now its whole head inside. Brandy's screaming. Her belly's suddenly bloated, like giving birth in reverse, each dwarf, single file, pushing and shoving till all six cram in.

"Simon. Hey, are you gonna sleep all day?"

The instant he awoke, amnesia drew a heavy curtain. Oblivious to his nudity, Simon sprang from the bed. A smattering of random images was all he could retain: blanket, grass, dwarves. He searched for pen and paper.

Brandy watched his antics, admiring the buff-bare view.

"Very pretty."

Simon about-faced.

"That side, too."

Using his writing pad as a fig leaf, he backed toward the bathroom.

Brandy, gathering his clothes, carried them in his wake.

"I expect you’ll be needing these?"

Simon peeked out, grabbed them, then ducked out of sight.

Unable to squelch her laughter, Brandy made the bed while Simon hurriedly dressed. She had been up for over an hour, part of which was spent on primping and preening. The remainder she had devoted to Simon’s 'autobiography.' His muteness being a choice, not an infirmity, had come as no surprise. Nor was she too upset about being deceived. If anything she felt sorry for the taciturn hitchhiker—just as much a victim, she decided, as his dearly departed girl. He blamed himself; that was obvious. Why else confess to a perfect stranger? Was homelessness, too, a private act of contrition? Like his silence? Simon's letter cast far more darkness than light. Why, for instance, had he accepted her invitation to share the motel room? What (and this one really puzzled her) did he accomplish by watching her sleep? And how (when she could hardly explain it herself) had he intuited the name ‘Adrienne’—whom Brandy now recalled from a ‘former life.’ Extrasensory forces, she concluded, must be at worklaunched by what (or whom) she was loathe to hypothesize (lest the purported Gypsy be tampering againwith her subconscious).

Simon reemerged, looking a bit sheepish.

"You okay?"

He nodded.

Brandy found his shy embarrassment quaint.

"I thought a bee maybe stung you out from under those covers."

He stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"You’re blushing! How sweet."

He looked away, unused to being teased.

"Sorry. What did you scribble, by the way, on that silly little pad?"

Removing it from his pocket, Simon showed her eagerly.

An eerie chill crept up and down Brandy's spine. She read: blanket (recalling a picnic somewhere); grass (in a park, or a backyard); dwarves (dwarves?… dolls… dolls, definitely… six of them). Then, she recollected, Simon had been there… had actually held her hand during their daydream's denouement. Hiding her alarm, she merely shrugged, then handed back the pad.

"Hungry?"

He nodded.

"Let’s go get some breakfast, okay? Bring your notes along; we’ll chit-chat later. I can’t even think till I’ve had my first slug of coffee."

*

*

The streets were crowded...

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