In the Realm of Dreams

 

It was the sound of flutes that woke the cloistered couple from their slumber. Woke the man; the woman lingered in a prophesying dream... wherein the scars upon her belly, limned from pubic bone to waist, resembled circles drawn like ripples on the surface of a pond bestirred when stone or pearly teardrop fell "kerplunk" into its center, wounds engraved to mark the passage from a prepubescent girl to one whose womb enveloped seeds of future tribesmen. She endured, embraced the pain with stoic courage as the thorn inscribed its pattern, blood and cries suppressed through appliqués of mud and force-of-will. A ring of 'sisters' ('helpers'), each of the selfsame gender, had attended, linked by rites and carnal knowledge of the moon, its phases theirs—allied by power bred of faith in being transubstantial kindling that receives an aimed or random spark to set ablaze new life. Their loving labors, all-consuming, showed acceptance by their bodies of the role that had been typecast biologically—preordained—with parts to play for deviations, should the call of Nature hearken to those talents of a maiden superseding her physique: there flourished huntresses among the clans, adept at bearing arms; as well as healers, mystics, artists, sovereigns, limits set by character, not imposed by pre-assessments based on a member's given sex. Thus dawned the outset of coequals in their struggle for survival with the beasts whose awesome numbers dwarfed their rival species', Man, and formed a cordon few dared challenge. Fewer still proposed to break it. Better to study ways and wiles of prey and predator, earth and sky, effects of fire and soil and wind and rain on every living creature from the crocodile to the tsetse fly, from the hummingbird to the skink. While plants were likewise texts for learning how to thrive within environments that were harsh, betimes, but trenchant, in their cyclic traits and truths: the oval egg, the globe's ellipse, were cogent metaphors tried and tested for the existential shape of things. Well-rounded stood for good, for wise, for harmony with continua thenceforth scored on virgin abdomens, muscles flexed against the prick and slice, as the dreamer's dream revived... forbearing movements of the one bestirring the other from repose, inciting each dissimilar hue to overlap.

 

She greeted sunrise wed to a legendin the view of some, a spirit. His reprise, from points unknown, had filled her vestal heart with dread. His towering height, and silky hair, and slender lips, and prickly whiskers were anomalies. Odder still had seemed his otherworldly eyes, their blue like borrowed bits of heaven. "Jewels of of the Gods," her kinsmen called them. It was rumored they could pierce the thickest wall, the darkest night, discern a thought before its gist took wing, make manifest plots and secretsthough his chosen mate knew differently, once accepted as his bride. Their match was made before his coming by none other than "The Seer"an appellation earned by the crone who sat alone for untold seasons. She who waited irrespective of the weather. She who augured. She who never lost conviction that her only son's cremation formed the ash from which his life and limb was charged to be reborn. Restored in toto. Resurrected, in the fullest bloom of manhood, to fulfill a waxing forecast few believed till he arrived, arose like a waterspout, recreated out of nothing. As if liquid air accounted for his advent. Crystal clear, his body first appeared transparent, insubstantial as a figment, a mirage to all but her whose prayers at long last had been answered, whose enfeebled squint beheld the sight awash with dormant tears. Her proud announcement of his hegira from the future's evolution to the olden times that gave it birth betrayed such glad ebullience, that the fear with which this miracle was initially apprehended soon diminished. First in her whose fate it was to be his spouse. And last in those whose lots, once long-ago cast, had sealed his sacrificial fate.

 

 The tide reversed; the dusk had lapsed and doubled back upon the dawn; the Seer's son who died afore had here-and-now returned.

 

We slept till noon. I'd like to tell you we made passionate love, tell you Graham was cured of migraines, that the shoot resumed from that point on without a major hitch. But, frankly, none of those things happened.

To begin with, 'Tops and Bottoms'which had always been a surefire ployfell flat; we stayed 'just friends.' Except for one unguarded moment in the early hours of morning, when I wasn't sure whether either of us slept or lay awake; I felt his fingers, like a blind man's, ever so softly brush my face. You know, like maybe he was making sure of who I was, or wasn't? But his hand and arm retreated, shortly afterward; that was it.

He 'groped' no more, I'm sad to say; I would have welcomed further fondling. Truth be told, I woke up jealous. Is that sick, or is that sick? I mean, had Graham been gay, our brother-sister act would not have bugged me. He was straight, though: single, handsome, talented, bright, and UNattached. So you can understand, I'm sure, why I was pissed off at his chivalry. I'm not into self-denial, I guess; don't value self-restraint. I KNEW he liked me—liked me physically; he was always casting glances. You know, longing looks that guys don't bother to censor, let alone fake. And on the set, his lust was heartfelt; Bea and Barnaby DO have sex. Which makes my jealousy more absurd; he had the hots for Bea not me? Except he didn't. Someone else was cast as Vel Jerome's arch rival. I could feel it; couldn't prove it. She was there, but wasn't real. Unless you credit Graham's subconscious with the power to make myths tangible. He was blathering, all next day, about some dream he said he'd had. And that's when SHE became an issue. SHE was marvelous. SHE was beautiful. SHE was every boyhood fantasy he had ever dreamt. Combined! It made me ILL. WE spent the night together; Ms. Right got the billing. I played stand-in for a run-through; for the real-deal SHE got laid.

I had to tell myself that 'sunstroke' was the cause of this injustice. Even so, the way he'd rhapsodize got INCREASINGLY on my nerves. A living, breathing, horny, fully-functioning female lay beside him, snubbed; he opted for a notion, some ideal inside his head.

A head with migraines getting worse no matter how he tried to hide them—which would trigger his hallucinations. Undermining work. He started flubbing lines and missing cues; he'd lose his concentration. Nothing drastic. Not at first; and he'd recover pretty quick. But he could space out at the oddest times, for NO apparent reason. And his visits to that outcrop grew more frequent. This I guessed. He'd turn up missing. Folks would panic. I'd be asked, but wouldn't tattle. Maybe SHOULD have. And I WOULD have, had I thought of his best interests. I was sulking, though, still miffed about his jilting me for HER. That's how authentic SHE became through Graham's depictions—ha!—DEVOTIONS. He had visions of her nightly. DAILY. Christ, it was absurd!

And when I think of how I let myself resent this mad behavior, how I left a man with mental problems stranded, practically helpless, and totally unprotected in a truly LETHAL setting, I feel I'm the one to blame—which may account for my admitting here how feelings of rejection can transform an average person into a green-eyed, hardboiled bitch.

 

 

VJ: So the bottom line is, things got pretty shaky for a while. But I'm sure you'd rather have your readers spared the grim details?

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Our magazine thrives on grim details. But, if I may, redirect your thoughts? Were there any scenes that might be described as fun?

 

VJ: Of those I've mentioned?

 

{Or of those I've had the sense to keep under wraps?}

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Something off-the-wall? An inside joke? An amusing take?

 

VJ: You ARE going to edit this, I dearly hope?

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Thou shalt not be misquoted. Any scenes at all that might be...

 

VJ: "Described as fun"; right.

 

{Lighten up, in other words; feed the fans their fill of feature-film fluff.}

 

Let's see... Our movie's hardly what you'd call a comedy; damn FEW laugh lines. In the script, that is; the "noises off" were sometimes pretty droll. We had a scene disrupted once by the charge of an elephant. Pretty scary. But the aftershocks, when things calmed down, had most of us in stitches. Even Scott, who lost a whole day's footage, cracked a crooked smile.

 

A cache of weapons, closely guarded by a pair of Crowe's subordinates, is the goal: secure a rifle in exchange for Bea (held hostage)who awaits her lover trustingly, to return with gun in hand. Both sentries hustle to attention at the sound of Barnaby's footfall; heavy, halting, insecure steps betray his less-than-firm resolve. The threat of punishment plagues him less than do his private reservations. Is it wise to arm an 'ally' whose allegiance is to lucre? Though the shot will be withheld until their ship at port weighs anchor, the transaction smacks of infamy, arms for love a wicked deal.

 

Human cargo, grieving losses, queues for loading, forms a gauntlet; grim expressions emanating hatred for their captors and themselves will handicap souls for generations, long-past whips and chains and lynchings, as the stigma of enslavement stamps its gross, indelible mark.

 

The time has come to make selections from the brokenhearted throng, accept the young, the strong, the hale, reject the old, the weak, the sickly. Prod the muscles, grope the genitals, run a check over teeth and gums, and disregard the fact that those who fail to make the grade face slaughterat the hands of him to whom shall be delivered 'modern means,' should Barnaby manage to achieve his dubious enterprise.

 

Guard

Sir.

 

Barnaby

At ease. I'd like a firearm. Minus ammo.

 

Guard

Sir?

 

Barnaby

Inspection of the prisoners. Wouldn't do to walk among them with a loaded gun, now would it?

 

Guard

No, sir.

 

"HOLY SHIT, LOOK OUT!"

 

The framing veers. We hear a bellow. Focus crashes to the ground. Another viewpointpanning wildlycaptures something huge and gray. Its ears, like wings, flap indignation, as it rocks from side to side. The hand-held camera bounces, locks on target, backs away in jerks, still trained on actors—two of three—as they retreat with all due haste, one left stock-still; having lost his chance to flee, Graham gapes, as the film bears witness: Man (by fear immobilized) face-to-face with a colossal, irate beast, one unarmed mortal versus tusks and trunk and massive weight and pique.

 

The animal trumpets its displeasure at the moviemakers' trespass; vans and cranes and jeeps and trailers, et.al. crowd its erstwhile stomping grounds, unwelcome as a lion pride near calving females, heedless of the paths that have been trod by those whose girths earn right-of-way, whose huge forbearance should be courtedas the instincts of our rooted actor hasten to affirm.

 

Graham's non-aggression is self-evident from the meekness of his posture. Lack of motion reads 'surrender' to the outraged creature—luckily—and incenses it no further. With a snort, its ire abates...

 

... affording Graham, in slow-mo caution mode, to venture one step backward—a concession viewed with favor, evidently, by His Grace, who finally strides a regal stride in the direction of his harem, like the Patriarch of Pachyderms his enormous bulk proclaimscollective heartbeats, thereby, freed from accelerated pounding. 

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Wow!

 

VJ: You said it.

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Anybody hurt?

 

VJ: A few bruised egos, nothing serious. It was Graham who suffered most; although he didn't blame a soul for leaving him in the lurch...

 

A crowd had gathered well behind our hero's face-off spot with the elephant. It was almost like some safety zone divided us from it. A space that no one dared to cross, I might add, even once the coast cleared. We just stood there, waiting. Gawking. Collectively hovering, in suspense. Till Graham, at long last, turned.

"Ung-gow-wa!"

Perfect timing! Broke the spell.

We soon indulged ourselves in countless reenactments of the incident. 'Jumbo's' walk-on was a smash hit. Cast and crew cut up in force, lampooning turn-tails for their lickety-split escapes through brush and thicket, doing take-offs—BROAD impressions—of the man who "stood his ground." Ha! Turned to jelly, was more like it. Graham had nearly browned his boxers. Yet he took our taunts and ribbings with remarkable savoir faire. Except the episode truly shook him, I learned latter, to the core.

"I wasn't so much scared as humbled by a sense of what we've lost."

"Huh; come again?"

He'd spoken apropos of nothing; we were shopping in Nairobi, DAYS gone by, on R and R—which I spent mostly in my 'suite.' I mean, why brave the filth and squalor and asPHYXiating swelter? I had turned my air-con unit to its coldest setting—'blizzard'—just for old times' sake, nostalgic for some goose bumps, chills and thrills. How I let Doubletree—damn him—coax me from the only lap of luxury I had known in WEEKS explains my thick allegiance to the man DESPITE his lunacy. Or because of it?

We were back to being sidekicks, arm in arm among the stalls that crammed this African bazaar—a maze of alleyways, really, so chock-full of crafts and tacky curios, I felt vaguely claustrophobic. Graham, apparently, felt 'absorbed.'

"When I was challenged by that tusker on the set... "

"Your woolly mammoth?"

"Did I mention having a flashback?"

"To a time when men were men, and beasts were beasts, and girls were props? I think you maybe let a hint of some such macho-twaddle slip. It bears repeating?"

"Don't be snippy, Vel; remember my condition."

He'd been diagnosed again. This time the doctor was Caucasian—just as cocksure, just as high and mightily vain, and just as WRONG. Another QUACK, I dare say, 'practicing' medicine—few seem to get it right—and too conceited to admit that he was stumped.

"Go on; the 'tusker'?"

I was drinking one, in fact—a local brew goes by that moniker—in a pub so hot my neck sweat more than the bottle's.

"Déjà vu. Like I was physically in the present, metaphysically in the past. As if that animal called to mind the way our planet must have looked when Man had eyes that weren't so jaded. You know, seeing things anew?"

"First ice cream cone, first swig of beer, first convertible ride, first fuck?"

"You've got the concept, not the vintage."

"I'll take life post penicillin. In the world you're conjuring, people our age croaked before their prime. If not disease, advanced senilityat the age of thirtykilled folks. Give me acid rain and ozone holes; I'd rather have longevity."

"Life spans maybe weren't so short for tribal people like the Flute Players."

"Did your sweetheart play the flute?"

"My who?"

"Your prehistoric bride? Girl have a name, might I inquire? Or shall we dub miss paragon 'Eve'? It's more primordial, come to think of it. More in keeping with a mate whose single virtue, it would seem, is anatomical ."

"Snippety-snip. I should have let you sleep till sundown. Where's the harm, if I romanticize? Sure, advances in technology lengthen life expectancy. So? It's not the quantity of our lives that counts, it's quality."

"Shelve the maxims. All I'm trying to get across is that utopias don't exist. They're either futuristic pipe dreams or distortions of antiquity—which only look ideal when viewed from a distance, far, far away. 'Up close and personal,' as the saying goes, they're full of warts and whiteheads—as are ALL the fickle phases of human history."

"Nicely put."

I'd had that speech on tap for AGES. Since his love affair with whosis—which I'll wager went unmentioned when he went to see Quack Two. An ophthalmologist, no less, who fitted Graham with Cool-Rays. Don't you love it? Spare the CAT scan, give the man a pair of sunshades!

"Do they help?"

"You mean my spiffy specs? I guess they must; nooooo headaches. Though the tint I took for greenish you contend is more like rose."

 

It didn't matter that I called him on it; Graham maintained his theory. He 'remembered' life BEFORE the fact, as in YEARS before his birth. I dare say CENTURIES, if you credit his account of Miss Godwanaland.

 

 

VJ: But your question dealt with scenes I might describe as being "fun."

 

{Our 'Souvenir City' outing had its share of chuckles.}

 

I was drinking, as I mentioned, what the locals labeled "Tusker." And the first beer maybe was. But not the second. Or the third. I ordered "refills." Out this funnel came; a pitcher appeared from somewhere. I was poured a substance regulars at the pub called "Kill Me Quick." Ha! Truer words were never spoken. I was dry; the beers were wet. I chug-a-lugged them, one, two, three, then ordered number four to go—the barkeep charging me a HUGE deposit. Graham weighed in, protesting. In Swahili, as I recollect, so management let it slide.

And I felt fine. A little dazzled by our sudden shift to sunlight, but perambulating nicely, backbone tingly, wits alert, conversing tit for tat with Graham—and feeling sharp enough to tease him—when the ground began to tamper with my sense of balance, tilting, suddenly warping like a gangplank made of rubber; everything SWAYED. Or so my drunken faculties argued; I was absolutely plastered. I saw elephants: lots and lots, not pink, but ebony, each identical, shelves and shelves of hand-carved "tuskers," under corrugated eaves that sheltered masks and spears and shields and droves of pseudo-native chess sets—aimed at tourists unaware that Kenyans RARELY play the game—alongside jewelry, postcards, handbags, baskets, pottery, clothes; you name it. All was horribly overcrowded, each proprietor pitching wares with—"Jambo; welcome"/"Free to look; step in"/"You like; you buy; we send"—combined with smells and stifling temperatures; it was close, a regular hothouse, like some bargain hunter's paradise turned to Little-Shop-of-Horrors, in Hell.

 

And making matters even worse, I had to pee so bad it hurt; each staggering step I took put pressure on a bladder primed to burst. And then I did two very stupid things: I polished off the beer; and I excused myself from Graham to find a toilet. Double-decker dumb! Hello delirium; good-bye escort. I was lost inside of seconds. It took all my concentration just to plot a level course. I mean, my senses were AT SEA, without a hand on deck to steer them. Then reality—HA—went overboard. I was pie-eyed, set adrift, and at the mercy of marauding thugs and thieves all poised to maul me. Or so my paranoia fancied when I paused to get my bearings. Threats amassed, in all directions. 'Woe is me, I whined. What next?'

A bit of foolery; that's what happened next. I was, in fact, being followed. Not by gangs of would-be muggers; rather by one evasive pest who wore a mask as black as charcoal, crude and appallingly grotesque, composed of wood, with gruesome inlays; chips of bone and jagged teeth, and none too charming in expression, I can tell you. Like a gargoyle. Or a whatchamacallit—a Minotaur; sporting two enormous horns. The beast appeared then disappeared, appeared then disappeared ad nauseam, ducking in and out of corridors. I could only catch a glimpse. Enough to scare AND reassure me. It was Graham, no doubt. Or was it? His khaki shorts and grubby sandals gave the game away. And yet our cat and mouse—I played the rodent, Graham the stalking feline—found me crying almost, panicky, and, at the same time feeling faint, when Nature called; I couldn't hold it. Ducking out-of-sight, I squatted, hitched my skirt up, yanked my panties clear, and, at long last, let 'er rip. A yellow RIVER snaked its way through my protective ring of trash bins, through which nosy stares, I dearly hoped, would not be turned my way. Fat chance; the eye of someone, somewhere—I could feel it—found a peephole.

Then a shadow fell across the spot I hoped IN VAIN was private. It was human, from the shoulders down, like a bull above the neck. And I was terrified—even knowing it was Graham. I'm sure I cringed. But when I looked up at this MONSTER from the shadow it was casting—forced to squint into a blinding sun—a normal face looked back. No mask, no possible place to stash one. It was Graham, alright—the bastard—with a grin as broad as Alice's Cheshire Cat.

"Caught short?"

I finished, rose with all the wounded dignity I could muster, and effected what I trusted was a well-earned, well-AIMED slap!

Misjudged on both accounts: it turned out Graham had NOT been masquerading, and I missed. I missed so widely I described this pirouette—before my legs gave out, and down I plopped, butt first, in my own pooled urine.

It was then, and only then, that I wised up to where I sat. Twelve, FIFTEEN urchins had attended my inelegant performance. Titters broke out—I just closed my eyes—then out-and-out guffaws. I'd picked a daycare center's playground for my toilet. Oh, the shame of it! Drunk, disorderly, and indecently exposed! I could have wept. I could have crawled into a hole and pulled my damaged pride in after me.

My only consolation was that Graham, thank God, was there. He helped me up, appeased the teacher—who was justifiably outraged. If I hadn't been so mortified, I'd have mumbled some excuse. But with my white chiffon a muddy mess, my mood—and breath—as putrid, all I wanted to accomplish was an exit.

No such luck. The teacher signaled us to 'stay put,' while she went to call the gendarmes—or the bobbies, or whatever; cops. Or that's what we assumed. Instead, she hurried back with what I thought at first was just an apron. But, by the time she'd finished wrapping, I was decked out in a skirt—my own slipped off from underneath and set aside. She said she'd LAUNDER it! I was so relieved, so dumbstruck by this UNDESERVED compassion, I just wandered off in shock, in tow; Graham led me by the hand.

And I'll be damned, next day that dress was spotless: washed, dried, pressed, and delivered. We agreed to swap—the teacher and I—her 'kanga' for my skirt, and ever since I think we consider ourselves fast friends.

 

 

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