Brunch

The streets were crowded with lunch-hour traffic. As Brandy drove, she reconstructed her dream:

‘I was playing out in the backyard—at home—with my dolls. I don’t think they were being very nice to me. I got all tangled up in ropes, or something. Was Simon there then? Maybe. I was dancing; music was playing—which would make sense considering last night. No, he came later. He wanted to take me with him, but I wouldn’t go?… Oh, this is worse than useless; dreams are ‘only dreams,’ as every child knows.’

They did not travel far, coffee shops being plentiful. Brandy pulled in front of The Pot Belly Café.

"This all right?"

Simon nodded. They went in and seated themselves, Brandy resolving to let this dream business drop—until, that is, she had downed her first cup-o'-Joe.

"Remember that name you wrote down yesterday?"

Simon nodded.

"Well it sounded more familiar than I let on—though I couldn’t really place it until this morning. Adrienne was the name of a doll I had as a little girl. She was the third of six dolls my father gave me before he died. Each year, on my birthday, he bought me a new one. But I wasn’t allowed to open the box till I guessed the doll’s name; that was the game we played. I suppose I was told the names of the first one or two, but, once I reached age three, I had to guess. My only clue was that each name started with a letter from my own. The first was Belinda—using the B in Brandy. The second was Rachel—for the R. So the third, I knew, began with the letter A. Counting my middle and last names, there were eighteen letters in all—the eighteenth doll was to be the last that I would get; I’d be a lady by then. But my father and older sister were killed in a car crash when I was only six. Before my seventh birthday Mom asked if I wanted her to carry on Dad’s tradition. I said no; I’d rather settle for the six I already had. Oh… "

Brandy paused.

"Something else; the dolls all looked alike. I’m sure there was a reason for that, too, but I forget. I haven’t thought about any of this for ages. Your writing down that name, I guess, jarred my memory. What I fail to understand is how you knew."

Simon was hesitant to take her into his confidence, especially because his own explanation seemed farfetched. The fact, however, that Adrienne meant something to her and nothing to him (combined with his eagerness to garner the details of her most recent dream) encouraged Simon to hazard one or two questions—though having to ask in writing was becoming a farce. Surely Brandy had read his letter by now, which meant she knew he was capable of normal speech. Should he, therefore, break his vow of silence? Temptations, in the past, all had been resisted. And, in retrospect, muteness had served him well… freeing him, as it had, from the tyranny of words—whose stranglehold on intellect was spirit's greatest obstacle. No… best remain a dummy; signs and cryptic notes would have to do.

Brandy, on the other hand, was finding Simon's reticence rather unfair. Having broached the subject herself, an equal give-and-take was what she craved.

"Why did you jot down those words this morning?"

He wrote:

I was trying to remember something.

"A dream?"

He scribbled:

Sort of.

"Only much more real?"

He nodded.

"That's how mine have been the past few nights. You were in the last one. Funny coincidence, huh; your dream bringing back details of mine?

Simon, attention riveted, wrote down with urgency:

Tell me everything you can about what you experienced.

His intensity startled her. Having formed few conclusions about "the mind’s darker side" (as Lynn described it) Brandy was reluctant to retrace certain steps, especially those that crossed into uncharted territory.

Brunch was served.

Brandy, eager to eat, handed back Simon's pad.

"I don’t really remember all that much, anyway."

He wrote:

Please try!

Hesitant, she complied… talking between mouthfuls (Simon so intent he scarcely ate a bite).

"Let’s see… the last thing I remember… before I actually fell asleep… is you massaging my cramps away. That was very kind of you, by the way; I forgot to say thanks."

He raised his cup of coffee by way of acknowledgment.

"Then I drifted off… I was a little girl again, playing with my dolls. We were in the back yard of the house I grew up in… having a pretend picnic, I think. We sat in the middle of the lawn on a blanket. When you wrote ‘blanket’ and ‘grass,’ I remembered. Though what came next is kind of foggy, I’m afraid."

He wrote:

Adrienne?

"Oh, yeah; she was there. She was the only doll I owned with pitch-black hair; all the others were red-heads just like me. I guess my father bought her because in every other way we looked like twins. In the dream, though, we were enemies. Funny, I can’t think why… Anyway, I got all tied up in strings, somehow, and fell down. Everyone was laughing at me—the other dolls, I suppose."

She took a sip of water.

"Then you came. Out of nowhere. I wasn’t a child anymore. You held my hand… Odd; you were holding it for real when I woke up."

He looked at her expectantly. She took another drink.

"That’s all. What was your dream about?"

He tried to recollect specific images—ones that Brandy might recall as well. He could picture the blanket. Her lying on it. Then him beside her. Then floating in a boundless void. Then… nothing. Except his sense about what came next was somehow vile. His only answer to Brandy was a noncommittal shrug.

"Oh, but you must remember something. At least those parts you fell all over yourself to scribble down. What about running?"

He flipped back through his notepad. Had he written "running"? No. But he did recall being chased. By what? He shut his eyes. A tune he had heard, far off, came drifting back to mind. He wrote:

London Bridge is Falling Down

He showed her.

"The song, you mean?"

He nodded.

Again an eerie chill seized Brandy’s spine.

"In my dream there was a music box. It played that very song. Adrienne was using it to make me dance. I was like her puppet, or something. It was awful! How did you know?"

He wrote:

I dreamed I found you lying on a blanket in a huge empty space.

She read it upside-down.

"This is too weird. Did we hold hands?"

He nodded, then added:

We were running from something.

"From what?"

He shrugged.

"I don’t remember anything about running. ‘Floating,’ maybe. But then, I think, I left. I guess I woke up."

He looked at the palm of his left hand, as if its lines might hold impressions he had lost.

"What does it mean, Simon?"

What he ‘hoped’ it meant would be difficult to convey. He detached a sheet of paper from his pad, folded and creased it, then tore off a long narrow strip. On one side he wrote: CONSCIOUS, and on the other side: UNCONSCIOUS, then passed it to her.

"I don’t get it."

He tapped his forehead.

"The mind?"

He nodded. He took back the paper, gave it a half twist, and tore some tiny flaps by which he affixed the strip's two ends. He handed it back to her. He wrote:

How many sides?

"Two."

He wrote:

Draw a line down the middle of side one.

Then he gave her his pen.

"Starting where; anywhere?"

He nodded.

Brandy drew—or rather held the pen stationary and pulled the strip of paper between the table and nib. She began at ‘CONSCIOUS’ and kept on going… passing through ‘UNCONSCIOUS’… then back again to ‘CONSCIOUS.’

"Hey, there's only one side. That’s a neat trick."

She studied the strip at length, then ventured a guess.

"You mean there isn’t any difference between the unconscious and the conscious mind?"

He wrote:

Something like that.

She thought a minute more (as a busboy came and cleared away their plates), sipping rather pensively at her fourth refill of coffee.

"But only if you twist the paper. Isn’t that what happens to the mentally ill; their minds can’t tell the difference between real and imaginary?"

Hers was a rather sobering interpretation, one that had occurred to Simon often. His alleged ‘breakthroughs’ had been solitary—therefore un-confirmable. Still, last night’s ‘phenomenon’ had been shared; his and Brandy’s experience had overlapped. Were two minds likely to lose their sanity simultaneously?

The check came. Simon reached, but Brandy snatched it away.

"Oh, no. I owe you a dinner. This one's mine."

He offered her the bills already in hand.

"No, I insist. If you’re so anxious to spend your money you can chip in for groceries. Let’s go do that now—get it over with—then the rest of the day will be ours for fun… Unless you’d rather wander off by yourself?"

He shook his head.

"Good. Ready?"

No; he wanted to find out more. His own vague memory of the dream might be enhanced by details she recollected.

But Brandy seemed inclined to consider the subject closed… for now… frightened, as she was, by having her dream-life scrutinized, analyzed, trespassed upon—if such a thing were possible. Besides, trying to separate the things she had actually told him about herself from those he might have guessed was giving her a headache. It was healthier to conclude that she had talked in her sleep.

Once returned to the car, they drove in mutual silence.

*

At the grocery store Simon balked, handed Brandy a twenty dollar bill, then strolled away.

"But what do you like to eat?"

He waved indifferently, heading in the direction of some nearby shops.

Perplexed, albeit grateful to have some time alone, Brandy watched him go, then went to secure a shopping cart. Up one aisle, down another, she contemplated her future; paired or apart?

‘First, I must admit I’m getting too attached… Corn flakes… which I’ll get over pronto; who needs complications? He’s so young, like a lot of men who find one good woman then stick with her for life... Peanut butter... Except his lady-love died awfully early... Bread... I wonder what would have happened last night if I hadn't gotten ill... T-bone steaks... Hormones make poor chaperones... Mushrooms... Anyway, he's still all broken up about that suicide... Milk. Butter. Eggs... His first girlfriend, I gather. Maybe it's her memory that's keeping him so detached... Tomatoes, lettuce, green onions; what else?... Though I must say it's refreshing to be with a man who's straight, decent-looking, and not groping me at every opportunity... Salt and pepper... Not that such restraint guarantees we'd harmonize. It’s sometimes best to get sex over and done with; once a man has had you, his genuine character shows… Sugar. Tea… which brings on disappointment sooner rather than later.… Coffee, of course… Men; what makes them a habit that good sense counsels break?… Oh, look; one of those magic-slates. Gee, as a kid I used to love these things. You write on the plastic cover, then lift it up, and all the words you've written disappear. It makes a funny sound, I remember, when it’s peeled. Would Simon take offense, I wonder, if I bought him one? Might be just the thing to test his sense of humor; so many of his silences feel so glum… Tin foil, Kleenex, Tampons… Plus all this dream-sharing stuff is borderline psychotic. Reminds me of Lynn and her fascination with Ouija-boards; downright spooky, the things that girl could predict. And I, according to her, was "overly susceptible."’

Brandy got into a check-out line. She paged through a horoscope guide, waiting her turn, taking a casual look at her weekly forecast. It read:

DANGEROUS TIME FOR EMOTIONAL INVOLVEMENT.
AVOID COMMITMENTS.
SEEK ADVICE FROM AN OLD FRIEND.
TIME IS RIPE FOR HAPPINESS OR DESPAIR.

Though not obsessively superstitious, Brandy maintained a healthy respect for things beyond her knowledge—astrology being one of them. Regardless its dubious source, this warning made her cringe.

‘Maybe I’d be better off on my own; this guy's odd. Abnormal, even. Maybe, in my sleep, he was up to no good. He has power, I’m sure of that. Lynn told me all about such people; they’re always extraordinary in some uncanny way. You can’t tell just by looking at them; it’s how they make you feel whenever they’re around. Lynn claimed Jodi was like that. She’d never actually seen Jodi use her power; still, she was convinced that it was there. Lynn steered clear of her; suggested I do the same. Jodi was so meek, though… the "old friend" I’m supposed to seek for advice? I’d welcome an outside opinion about Mr. Hitchhiker. And Jodi's been on my mind quite a lot, of late. It would be nice to see her again.’

As the cashier rang up the bill, Brandy opened her purse and took out her address book. Finding Jodi's entry, she showed it to the checker.

"Do you happen to know where this is?"

She did not. But the lady next in line, evidently, did.

"It’s outside Oracle."

"Is that a street?"

"No, a town. You take Oracle Road to get there. Route 89. Drive west to the Oracle turnoff, hang a right, then start looking for milepost 99."

"How far is it?"

"From here? About thirty, forty miles. It’s a dinky little place, mostly artist and aging-hippie types. If you happen to see a white girl dressed like an Apache Indian, tell her, please, that her ‘Mother says Hello.’"

The woman, a walking display case for turquoise jewelry—with rings on every finger, multiple bracelets and necklaces, and eyes made up to mirror the blue-green stones themselves—smiled benignly at Brandy who nodded ‘thanks’ then exited to the parking lot, put the groceries in her car—no Simon—looked in the glove compartment for Jodi’s letter—likewise absent. Both, perhaps, would turn up at their motel.

‘Unless he’s split for good… Jeezus, Brandy, when will you ever learn(?)… rearranging your entire future for another lost cause… so what if he needs a friend; who in this world doesn’t?’

Simon, package in hand, walked up from behind—looking, as Brandy spotted him, conspicuously alien.

Brandy leaned across the car seat and opened the passenger-side door. Simon climbed in.

"I bought enough for lunch and dinner both. Here’s your change. Oh, and I bought you a present; it’s in the bag."

Simon, reaching behind him, fished out the magic slate. He grinned broadly. On its plastic surface, he lettered:

Great present! Thanks.

"I thought we could keep it in the car. You know, for trips? I’d like to take a short one, in fact, today, if you don’t mind. To see my friend Jodi; remember? The one I told you about? I thought we’d drop this stuff off, then drive on up. It’s about forty miles, I found out. Okay with you?"

He lettered:

Fine.

He then lifted the plastic coverlet, erasing the words with a "rrrrrrip." Brandy laughed.

"Hey, what’s in your bag?"

He touched a finger to his lips.

"A secret?"

He nodded.

"A present, maybe?"

He nodded a second time.

"For me?"

He grinned.

"Lemme see!"

He wrote on the pad:

Later.

"Oh, that’s unfair; I let you have yours."

He signaled 'another time.'

"When? When we get home?"

He shook his head.

"Tonight, then? After dinner? Or maybe before?"

He gave a wink.

"But that’s too long from now; I might go crazy. How’s about you let me give it a little shake?"

He refused.

Brandy, affecting a pout, started the engine, then headed back through the not-too-busy streets to bungalow Number 8.

Simon carried in the groceries. Brandy searched her luggage for Jodi’s missing letter—still no luck.

"Should I make us some sandwiches? Or will a couple of apples be okay?"

Simon held up the apples.

"Bring along your jacket; it's liable to get cold by the time we head back."

After one more skirmish over the present (Simon standing firm), they were on their way.

*

*

The northeast...

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