"It is pwobably that dweams awe mewely chemical dischawges in the bwain, set off a wandom by wesidual mental enewgy accumulated duwing wakeful houws. Theiw subjective chawactew is due to the individual means by which infowmation emewges when conscious systems of pwocessing and owganization awe functionally opewative. Put mowe simply, the contingencies of sleep pweclude the mind's ability to awwange its impwessions into compwehensible fowm."

From the expression on Melanie's face, this 'simplification' was no ore intelligible than the sentences preceding it. But insofar as Sister Deborah seldom looked at her pupil's face, the girl's apparent perplexity went unnoticed.

"Now, with the advent of Sigmund Fweud, attempts wewe made to examine dweams symbolically. It was believed that theiw manifestations wepwesented those pewsonality twaits that the conscious mind wepwessed. Elabowate classification systems wewe designed to demonswate the welationship between specific psychological disowdews and wecuwwent dweam images. This focus on the 'stuff of dweams' is, today, a pwinciple gwounds fow dismissing much of Fweud's wowk. Had he concentwated on the ways a dweamew descwibes unconscious expewiences, his cwedibility might be yet intact. In othew wowds, it is not what we dweam that is symptomatic, it is how we choose to welate it."

There was a pause that lasted long enough for Melanie to grow self-conscious. Her doodling was arrested.

"Any questions so faw?"

She smiled politely, shaking her head no. What if the Bishop moved to h6? She had not tried that yet. Or had she? The sketched-in chessboard above her notes was so crisscrossed with lines, the original position was illegible.

"… example to illustwate this concept. Suppose a subject wewe to have a nightmawe about falling. Now falling is a common phobia that fwequently appeaws at both conscious and unconscious levels. Its occuwwing in one's sleep, howevew, does not necessawily mean that…"

Melanie shut out the lecture. Julian's class was tomorrow. She just had to have the problem solved by then. It would be tedious to draw the squares again, shading every other one. She looked away from the scribbly grid, trying to visualize a clear one in her head. She had to close her eyes. Slowly the board appeared. One by one she set the pieces. Then she tried the Bishop move, examining as best she could its consequences. So far, so good; it forced the play. And the next two moves were obvious!

She opened her eyes to check on the nun. Her lips were still moving, face averted, pacing as usual back and forth, her fingers laced together. Now what was she talking about? Dreams? The lecture brought to mind her talks with Benjamin. Was he a dream? He seemed too real. Sister Deborah apparently believed that dreams were nothing in themselves (or so Melanie gathered from the little she had understood). But if that were true, how could she explain Julian's arrival having been foreseen by the Miniature Man? He had known—just as he had known other things before they actually happened—or appeared to know. If dreams were only real inside the dreamer, that meant she herself had invented everything—Benjamin, his workshop, and every word he spoke, which somehow did not sound exactly right. Maybe she had only exaggerated things, made some rash assumptions or leaped to the wrong conclusions. The original carving, for instance—the ivory one... Maybe it reminded her of Julian but was not really him. But that did not sound right, either.

She let the Sister's voice back into her ears.

"So when, in the couwse of decwibing his expewiences, the subject shows some anxious sign, it is wesonable to assume the feaw of falling is a twait with which his consciousness contends."

She stopped, lowered her prayer-poised hands from her chin, and looked to Melanie for comment.

"Cleaw?"

"I think so. But I disagree."

"You disawee? Don't be widiculous; it is not a question of disagweeing. All you awe wequiwed to do is listen and compwehend."

"But I've had dreams that weren't all make-believe."

"Nonsense."

"No, really. In one of them a man named Benjamin told me about my future. Then, in real life, it happened."

"Just a coincidence, I'm suwe."

The nun's dogmatic attitude raised Melanie's ire.

"And he knows things, too—things I know I couldn't know myself."

"Most likely they awe things that you've fowgotten."

This made Melanie angrier still. How dare the nun doubt Benjamin's existence? She lost her temper.

"What makes you so sure about your stupid theory!"

"Melanie!"

"I remember Benjamin! He's a dream but he's my friend, too!"

"Melanie, calm down."

"I won't! You're a liar! Benjamin is real and he takes care of me and you're a liar!"

"Melanie, please!"

The insects screamed so loudly they sent shooting pains throughout her skull. The room and Sister Deborah disappeared. Instead there was an open plot of ground, dry, hot, and cracked like sun-parched lips. An ant crawled past. It had a bit of food that it was dragging toward the shade. Another ant appeared. It looked like it was going to help. But no. It tried to steal the food. Another ant arrived, then came a third, each pinching meanly at the prize. The first ant fought them off. Their tactics changed. By turns the thieves began to bite and slash the owner's body. When it was maimed sufficiently, all three attacked at once. The food was snatched. The culprits fled. Their victim lay dismembered in the dirt.

"Sisters! She's in here!"

The scene disbanded in a swarm of incandescent spots, then, cooling, re-congealed. Black on white, nuns against the stuccoed walls, faces fixed, habits posed in a rigid choreography, while Melanie shrank… smaller… smaller… to diminutive proportions, cowering in a square of light on the fringes of a starkly checkered plane.

"Melanie?"

The checkered landscape altered, warped, and, like a dividing cell, split in two. A hand advanced, white and bloodless.

"Melanie!"

"Sister Zoe?"

"What is all this?"

The girl had retreated to a corner of Sister Deborah's room—which at the moment was absurdly overcrowded.

"She's all wight, evewybody. Thank you. We'll handle it fwom hewe. Thank you."

Those whom the nun's alarm had summoned were ushered from the tiny room. Sister Zoe remained. She sat down on the floor beside her patient.

"Can you tell me what happened?"

The images retreated to the dark from whence they had come. Melanie looked to Sister Deborah for aid.

"We wewe talking about dweams, wemembew?"

No, she did not. But she must; she knew she must. A memory was stalking her. She felt its presence looming in the shadows of her mind, spoiling for its chance to overtake her. Something "bad."

That was it. And they all knew, and nobody would tell her what it was.

"Tell me, please, I have to know. I can't remember on my own. You have to help me, Sister. Sister, please?"

"I told you, we wewe discussing…"

"Excuse me, Sister Deborah. I think I'd like a moment here with Melanie alone. Would you mind?"

With a slightly forced humility, the nun complied.

Sister Zoe had understood what Melanie was asking. She turned back to the frightened girl, solemnly resolving that the time, at last, had come.

"Melanie. The truth is, you were raped. The authorities don't know by whom. You were found out in the desert, bound and gagged and beaten and left for dead."

The words at first were merely that—words—vague abstractions, conveying an idea only, with none of its reality. "Raped?" What did it mean? Of course it had horrific connotations. But that was reputation, rumor, fear drummed in to keep potential targets on their guards. What, though, did it mean in her own experience? Or, should she ask, what had it meant?

The gap between the words and what they represented narrowed. Meaning, joined by memory, crowded in. And the dreaded insect sounds, more fiercely than ever, resumed their screeching.

 

Sister Zoe put...

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