Grotto — A Dream

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“Grotto” — C.Birde, 2/17

 

Thick grass soughs and whispers about the hole’s rim. Time and erosion have peeled back its rough edges, and, set within this misshapen maw, is a spiral staircase that descends down and down, corkscrewing into the earth.

Fingers clutching, toes seeking purchase, I scale the stair’s exterior and lower myself by careful degrees into the hollow. Slowly, light fades to shadowy dark, only to soon bloom once more in vague luminescence.

The staircase accesses a small grotto. Moisture slicks sloped earthen walls, drips from the vaulted ceiling. A body of dark water sings and ripples with falling droplets, and, protruding from that subterranean pool, are small hump-backed mounds of earth. Fuscia and teal-blue vegetation tangle over those scattered islets.

Humid air abounds here; thick, warm, and still. Stepping off the landing, I sink into spongy undergrowth. Leaves and moss wriggle and curl between my toes. My shoes rest on the landing where I have stepped out of them. Sitting amidst the foliage, I pull my shoes back onto my damp feet. A simple task; absurdly difficult — right shoe on left foot; left shoe on right; laces knot, come undone, pull entirely free of their eyelets.

While struggling with this mundane task, I catch furtive movement from the corner of my eye. There, pressed within the shadows of the grotto’s walls, a man steels toward me. Opposite him, approaching through twining vines and fuscia leaves, creeps a young woman with a long, dark ponytail. They circle from opposite directions in a predatory manner. With a cell phone, the woman snaps random photos of my failed attempts at shoe-lacing.

Hurriedly, I stuff my feet into my shoes, tangle the laces together. Turning, feet pounding, I dash up the stairs, spiral up and out. Emerging above ground, the air is cool against my skin, fresh and sweet to taste. The green world spreads endlessly in all directions. Blue skies spill overhead. Stepping off the spiral stair’s landing, I trod upon a pair of socks — bright yellow, patterned with black and white, blue and red. My step sends the socks off the landing. Slowly, gently, they drift through the air, twist in unseen breeze. Down and down, like twin rays of sunlight, they fall. Down through the hole in the earth, swallowed from sight in the damp grotto below.

Dogging the Dogs — A Dream

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“Doggng the Dogs” — C.Birde, 12/16

 

With their compact bodies and their sturdy, digging claws, the dogs have a far easier time navigating this tunnel. They scoot forward eagerly on their bellies, paws scuffling, tails working back and forth with each small shift of weight. On my hands and knees, I slowly follow behind as best I can. The tunnel twists and turns, but moves steadily upward. Roots protrude from the rough curves of ceiling and walls. The tunnel swallows me whole – head, shoulders, hips, knees. Stones and pebbles prod and digest. The cloying scent of damp earth fills my nostrils, coats my mouth; and the knees of my jeans gather a sheath of mud. Crawling forward inch by inch, I follow the dogs’ noisy progress – the rear-most dog’s tail continuously sweeps the soil loose several feet before me.

When the tunnel ends, it ends abruptly – I emerge in the living room of a beautifully maintained rustic cabin. Slowly, I stand and straighten, aware of the dirt I’ve inadvertently tracked over the paler Berber carpet. In each knuckled hand, I clutch a fistful of mud. The dogs seem to have vanished. I neither hear nor see any trace of them – not even a muddy trail pressed into the carpet.

Shift — A Dream

As far as the eye can see — water. As if the land itself has shifted its elemental nature, exchanged solid certainty for the mercurial, the mysterious. And he and I, adrift amidst it all.

Perched atop a dining room table, we float unmoored within a vast sea that stretches to all horizons. Wavelets slap the table, send small plumes and rivulets over its smooth surface. The formica top grows slick. I kneel within an ever-shrinking dry patch to one side of the table’s central seam. In contrast, he sits at the other edge, dangling his feet, with blue-edged water creeping over his knees.

Shins and knees squeaking on formica, I begin sliding down the dining table’s incline. Toward boundless water. Toward him, where he laughs and talks and splashes feet and hands, oblivious. But my incremental advance soon stops. Before my eyes, I see him shift, exchange his cumbersome human form for something sleeker, smoother, more well-suited to our surroundings. His clothes and shoes slip into the water, drift away on its currents as he glides off the table in his new form — a sea lion. Watching him dive and swim and roll, I laugh. This form suits him.  He suddenly makes complete sense to me.

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“Shift” — C.Birde, 7/16

Devolution — A Dream

Slowly back away, out of the darkened house. Step carefully, toe-to-heel, toe-to-heel. Watch them skulk forward from the shadows. They advance with bellies low. Don’t break eye contact. Don’t trip as you move, don’t fall. They’ll pounce. They’ll tear and rend. They’re too far gone now — no calm words, no soft vocalizations will bring them back. They have devolved. No longer the sleek-coated creatures that, just yesterday, you ran your hands over, that lifted to receive your touch. They bristle. They hiss. Their ears and teeth and claws have elongated and begun to curl. Their jaws shift forward. Don’t look so closely. Don’t think about it. Ignore the rapid beat of your heart, the shallowness of your breath and sweat at your hairline. Continue your uncertain exit. Find the door at your back. Press into it. Feel the bite of wood, the chill handle beneath your groping hand. Hear the click of metal tongue, the creak and gasp of hinges. Back out — slowly, slowly — into the cool, heavy night. Quickly now, pull the door shut as they hurl themselves upon it. Hear them yowl and scream. Hear their talons gouge wood. Pause a moment to catch your breath, to collect yourself. You have escaped. Now, run.

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“Devolution” — C.Birde, 6/16

 

Stolen — A Dream

Where can it be? It can’t simply have disappeared. I kneel on the linoleum floor, press knees to worn brown and ocher and ivory tiles. Bending, stretching, I reach under the couch to probe carefully, all the while wondering, who puts linoleum in a living room? And who lives in this mess? I pull wadded articles from beneath the couch — old ragged blankets, tattered pillows. All is covered in thick clots of dust.

I do not find my purse. Wallet, cash, photos, ID — gone.

This place has an air of abandonment — cluttered and aged, forgotten. The air smells stale and still. After searching the living room, behind and beneath furniture and boxes and bookshelves, I walk down a narrow, shadowed corridor, up a steep flight of equally narrow stairs. The hall stretches on through murky half-light. At its end, a rim of light edges a plain door. I press it open, find a young girl in a small, cramped bedroom. She has glossy brown hair and tanned skin and sits, her legs tucked beneath her, on a tall bed. Although she is a stranger to me, I know, looking at her, that she is the one — the thief. She has stolen my purse.

A wave of anger boils up, shivering through me till I tremble. Who does she think she is? To steal from me? Steal my identityYell at her. Threaten her. Pick up the phone there on the wall, pretend to dial the police, fingers barely touching the keypad. Speak to the crackling, open line, explain the crime. (Hang up quickly when a man’s voice answers!)

But my implied threat has reached herShe is truly distressed, has risen to her knees on the bed, with hands clasped at her chest and fingers threaded in a gesture of pleading.

I insist she return my purse; at the very least, she must help me look for it. She nods frantic agreement while I describe it — olive green canvas with a peace sign patch stitched to its front. As I provide more detail, I feel a weight upon my shoulder, a pressure against my hip. Glancing down, I see the purse, my purse, slung across my chest from right shoulder to left hip. Completely baffled, I cannot understand how it has come to rest there when I have spent so much time hunting for it. When I look up again — to apologize, to call off the search — the girl has scurried away.

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“Stolen” — C.Birde, 6/16

 

Hello? — A Dream

Each step creaks in complaint as I climb the stairs. I have not been here in so long, I’ve forgotten how short the steps are, how narrow and restrictive the stairwell feels. Reaching the landing, I find a door that opens onto a small room, made all the smaller for the random items stuffed within it — half-open cardboard boxes stacked on floor and bed; a worn upholstered chair piled with an avalanche of rumpled laundry; scuffed books and used dishes strewn about.

Two young girls sit amidst this tumult — one kneels in an empty space she has excavated from the floor; the second sits cross-legged on the bed between boxes that shift and lean toward her.

A phone rings — a muffled trilling. Neither of the girls moves in response — not a twitch, nor a blink of eye. Although there is little room to hold me, I push myself into that cramped and crowded space, maneuver carefully toward the insistent ringing. To the left, a small, curtained window sheds dim light on two phones — one is sleek and modern, sitting upright in its charging station and blinking a single red cyclopian light; the other is old and heavy, with a tight-spiraled cord. A flat, circular disk sits on the antique phone’s face where a rotary dial should be. It is a faded, institutional blue.

The ringing persists. I lift the antique phone’s handle to answer; it’s heavy in my hand, cool and smooth against my skin. Pressing the receiver to my ear, I answer: “Hello?”

The line crackles, and I hear, as if across a great distance of time and space, my father’s voice. He tells me we must discover “the murderers”, and he next begins to dictate a series of complex math problems. In all this crowded mess, I can’t find a single piece of paper to write on, nor a pen to write with. This hardly matters, for the problems are far too complicated for me to retain, much less solve.

 

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“Hello?” — C.Birde, 6/16

Buffalo Night — A Dream

Why? Why won’t they leave me in peace? The two of them enter the room, talking animatedly, flicking on lights. He crawls into bed beside me, pulls the covers over himself, and falls immediately to sleep; she sits on the bed’s edge, depressing the mattress so I roll toward her. I curl my body in a semi-circle about the woman’s hips and try to reclaim the threads of sleep, but it is beaten back, away as she continues a ceaseless monologue. Cheek pressed to forearm, I blink eyes open, stare over rumpled sheets and coverlet, out the open window.

There’s commotion beyond the glass — a small crowd of people standing, gaping, murmuring. Blue and red lights strobe the night, and a policeman stands outside his vehicle, calling orders that go unheard, unheeded. Most surprising, though, is the buffalo.

I lever myself up on one elbow, legs caught, restricted by the woman’s presence and the bedclothes. Not one buffalo. Three. No, four — a furious mother and her calves. And all those foolish onlookers – pointing, exclaiming, snapping photos, ignoring the officer’s instructions — have come between mother and offspring. Oh, how the furious cow’s hooves churn the earth, how she stamps and snorts and bellows, readying her charge…

I am fully awake now, shaking the sleeping man beside me, interrupting the oblivious woman’s wandering speech, warning both of the buffalo’s imminent charge. Surely, certainly, the aim and speed and force of her trajectory will have her bursting through the bedroom’s wall…

A huge, dark fury, the mother charges toward the house, but veers off, plunging into the night beyond the window’s eye. But one of the calves has passed through the wall as if it were merely a suggestion, a veil. It trots about the room, stricken and bawling. Where before, there was the random threat of harm, the calf’s presence within the house is a veritable invitation.

But the man has arisen from his exhausted slumber to stand at the bed’s foot. Cupping hands about his mouth, he aims his voice at the knob-kneed calf and shouts. Although it should hurt — should burst eardrums as certainly as it rattles the window against its frame and bones within flesh – his shout does neither. It does, however, transport the calf safely back outside to its pacified mother.

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“Buffalo Night” — C.Birde, 5/16

 

Elevation — A Dream

Evicted.

Cast out.

Before she can retrieve anything from that once-home, sunlit room, they have picked, like vultures, through her few possessions. The veneer cracks — all kindness, gone. Angry, she shouts; anguished, she chastises, drives them off. But there is nothing left — collapsed and sagging cardboard boxes. Scuffed floors. The smell of dust.

Turning away, she walks unshod, out along the curving road’s edge, heedless of night and cold and snow. Cars pass infrequently. Predatory, lazy, sated, their headlights melt through darkness, veer toward her, then jerk away. Heart racing, she hides behind scrub and winter-knotted trees when they pass. Until, she realizes she has no need to walk this night-swallowed road…

…and lifts from the snow, abandoning her stumbling footstep’s impressions. Rising, now, three feet above the earth, four feet, she moves through the night, slides through frictionless air. In tight revolutions, she begins to spin along the axis of her spine. Arms outstretched, one leg drawn up and crooked against the other. Spinning, hovering, calmly progressing forward, away over snow-bound earth.

Below, a crush of people push through the snowscape, too exhausted, too single-minded in their march to pause, to glance about. Observing one among their numbers falter, she slows her spinning motion to alight in the snow. This one is gravely wounded, and, ignoring the fallen one’s protests, she presses hands to either side of, then lips to the injury. Beneath her touch, bruised and broken ribs knit, raw flesh heals. The once-injured individual leaps up, rushes to rejoin the marching throng.

Having landed — feet earthbound, spinning stilled — she steps away from the human river to enter a sandstone house, seats herself within a small chamber. Bead-curtained walls glitter, defining the space in light and color. Now and then, individuals leave the never-ending march to visit. She tends to each — healing bodies, settling hearts, soothing minds — until, her kindnesses suspected, she is once more…

…evicted.

No shouting, this time. No chastising. Agreeably, she leaves the little house and resumes spinning levitation. The snowy plain unfolds beneath her, bounded on one side by a great stone wall, thirty feet tall and twenty feet thick. Following the wall’s contours, she rises steadily, gradually achieving sufficient height to land on a square, bare terrace entirely free of snow. Otherwise unreachable — no stairs lead to this space, no doors open onto it — she touches down within the spread of worked stone. She spins no more. She has arrived.

 

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“Levitation” — C.Birde, 5/16

Larger than Life — A Dream

Sleep lifts slowly, receding with the reluctance of a high and heavy tide. Don’t know what has awakened me, but feel something — a looming presence, an other.

Half rise, propped on one elbow. Blearily, sweep eyes about the room, attempt to peel back semi-dark, to see. Lamp on the nightstand, beside the leaning stack of books; low bookshelf, crowded with more paper spines; dresser squats in the corner, pressed against the wall. And then…there…standing in the doorway…

So tall…taller than logic, than thought or reason… A six-foot tall expanse of ginger… Haven’t seen him in years, since he died, in fact. But even then, in life, don’t remember him being so tall. He fills the doorway. Unblinking. Silent. Which should not surprise. Cats rarely speak.

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“Huge Tibbs” — C.Birde, 5/16

Steamed Over Nothing — A Dream

What can I do? She is terrified, convinced it’s outside, lurking, lying in wait. Neither of us will rest until her fears are mollified. Hiding my annoyance, I grab the electric tea-kettle and prepare to leave the little house, to venture outside into the dewy dark and show her, prove to her there is nothing there.

The door thumps shut in its frame behind us, and she clings to me, fingers digging through my shirt. I’ll wear the mark of her nails — scarlet crescents incised into the flesh of my right arm, right shoulder. Lighting our way, the tea-kettle gleams softly — a pale beacon, full of freshly boiled water. Steam escapes its wedge of spout in diffuse, curling trails.

A dirt path leads away from the house, winds through clots of damp grass. We follow its unravelling toward a stone structure that thrusts up from a small hillock ahead. Drawing nearer, the structure slowly resolves into a crypt.  A heavy, teal green door is pressed into its recessed face, and pale moonlight limns worn stonework. A dark twist of tree mimics the bent, low, wrought-iron fence encircling the crypt. The fence’s gate leans open on creaking, rusted hinges.

Suddenly, my companion shrieks, tugs at me to halt our forward advance. Emphatically, frantically, she points. Heart racing, I follow the luminous sweep of her arm and see…nothing. Again, her shriek threatens to deafen, and her arm describes a wild arc, pointing. I swing the electric tea-kettle and release a spume of steam and scalding water at…nothing. Jabbing her finger at darkness, this way and that, she continues shrieking, all the while pulling me backward, back toward the little house.

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“Chasing Ghosts” — C.Birde, 3/16