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

 

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

See Through Me — A Dream

Vaporous, diaphanous, insubstantial — I linger outside the door to my darkened room. Light spills from across the hall where she hurries over breakfast, head bent to read the paper spread over kitchen table.

“Not now,” she says — quick swallow from white mug. “No time,” she says — quick bite of toast. Never raising her head, her eyes, to look.

She. The only one who does not see through me.

Turn away. Down the hall. Toward the stairs. No need to walk — I drift, I float, I whisper over carpeted steps. For each slow-measured stride, two steps fall away beneath me untrod, untouched; sometimes three. The material world moves at a different rate than I, aware it has much to accomplish in uncertain time.

Out the front door, into the evening. Glide over sidewalks. Drift through this quaint neighborhood of hedges and dooryard gardens, warmly lit by star- and lamplight. Ahead, the restaurant beckons, draws me, solitary moth to all those human flames. Lovely old building, reclining in exposed, worn bricks, scrubbed of white-wash. Paired banks of leaded-glass windows fill its street-side wall, each set crowned with half-arch of bevelled and bisected panes. Prismatic light splashed over smooth polished floors; orbits of wrought-iron chandeliers flicker above. Throng of people — life, warmth, laughter. Suits and cocktail dresses, glittering adornments. Flutes of champagne. All sparkles.

Here, yet not. Move through the crowd unimpeded, unobstructed. They do not walk through me, but each knot of people, each individual approached steps lightly aside, allows room to pass. A bubble of anti-gravitational force surrounds, nudges the human tide aside. Ghostly Moses, I part my way through the sea of revelers, reach the room’s far side, pause at French doors flung open to receive night’s air. Slow glance over one shoulder, linger upon a foursome. Two sleek-haired, pretty young women clad in silver and gold, man in sharp blue suit — each steps lightly aside. Fourth member of their group remains rooted, stares in my direction. More casually dressed, in plaid shirt and jeans, he wears sandy-brown hair vaguely uncombed, beard and mustache more neatly attended. Does he look through me? Beyond me? I drift closer, my hand streaming back and forth before his face in curiosity, in challenge. He flinches with surprise, returns my wave. Smiling, he says hello.

So slow before — now, I move as the wind. Flee out the doors, across the street. Pass through traffic, cars swallowing my misted form in an amalgam of steel, leather, vinyl. Pass through the grass-sloped berm, through its darkened reservoir of dammed water. Though he pursues, calling, he cannot keep up, cannot catch me; he must contend with the solid fact of those obstacles through which I easily slide…

Days later, perhaps weeks — what concern have I for fluid time? Drawn again to wander among others. Move through this office space, slip down wide corridors that open onto great, sprawling areas filled with desks, lined with cubicles. Glass-walled conference room filled with people standing, gesturing, discussing. Lured nearer, drift closer. Invisible, disembodied. But…he is here…sees…approaches.

“Why did you run?”

Absurd question! How could I not have? The shock. To be so startled. After so much time, having grown accustomed to anonymity. To be seen…when all else (but her) see… through. Arm thrown in slow-moving, mist-limbed gesture, to encompass all those here, now — she, he, they — oblivious to my presence.

“But I see you…”

Impossible! How? He has no answer, does not know. And I am afraid. Afraid to trust, afraid that this moment will fade, his unique ability will pass. Afraid this new and unexpected fact will not see me through…

 

 

 

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What’s In a Name? — A Dream

Reservoir Road rises steadily underfoot, spattered with shifting tree shadow. Gentle breeze; spill of late spring sunlight. Cool flesh, warming. We walk together, she and I, our strides matched, hearts’ beats echoing the hill’s slight incline. Conversation covers as much ground as our feet. I wave to a neighbor weeding her front garden; she returns my greeting, calling, “Hello, Charlie.” I smile and nod, accept the error. Charlie. Carol. Karen. My name eludes people’s grasps like sand, like quicksilver. Like a calm Spring day. The moment slips by, smooth as the swell of pavement beneath my feet. But I see, with a backward glance, that the woman has realized her mistake, is confused, embarrassed. Kara. Kristen. Connie. So hard to recall — my name…

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“Hello, My Name Is…”

 

No Entry — A Dream

“We shouldn’t be here, Shawn.”

Our friendship is so strong, extending back over so many years to our schoolboy days, that I don’t need to hear it in his voice — I can feel Gus’ anxiety. Sense it. But, as no doubt he expects, I dismiss it. Gus is always nervous. Yet, he’s always right there beside me, disapproving, not wanting to be left behind. Crouched within shadow, I shrug his hand off my shoulder in exaggerated fashion, continue creeping down the hall.

The building is incomplete, still in the early stages of framing. A collection of vertical steel ribs and two-by-fours. Pale plywood floors, seams meeting in red and green edges. A descent of stairs ahead. Here and there, a few sheetrock walls define half-finished rooms. Plaster smears over nail heads. Saw dust everywhere — sifted over floors and wooden beams, swirling in half light. It’s enough to make one sneeze, and Gus obliges.

At the hallway’s end, at the top of the landing, a door has been framed out and fitted with a makeshift panel. Thrust to fill the doorway’s mouth, the panel is wrapped, top to bottom, in bright red plastic sheeting. A sign taped at its center reads “Danger — No Entry — Noxious Gases.” Ridiculous. There’s no real seal here, any gas within would easily leak past the panel’s edges. Highly suspicious. A crude, but obvious, attempt to keep people out. Worthy of investigation. Running my fingers over the panel’s rim, I begin to slowly work it open while Gus, predictably, attempts to hamper my efforts.

“The sign says no entry, Shawn.”

As I suspected, the room is clean — no fumes, no gas, noxious or otherwise. It is, however, a peculiar space. Measuring about ten-feet square, this room is sheet rocked from the outside, studs visible within. Packed between the studs is some sort of soft padding. A secret “padded room”? Strange.

Replacing the plastic-wrapped panel snug within its frame, I lead the way down the open staircase to the ground floor. Nervous Gus sticks close to my heels. The floor below is an open plan. A handful of men in hard hats work to erect support beams. The whir of drills biting wood, the concussive thud of hammers. We are mid-way down the stairs when the foreman looks up, fixes me with a glare.

“I thought I told you to get out of here!”

He’s a big guy, shaved head, full beard and mustache. Work clothes coated in plaster and sawdust, creased architectural plans in gloved hands. I smile and agree, hands raised, and begin a steady stream of fast-talking nonsense, excuses, rationalizations of our presence. Beside me, Gus nods emphatically, frantically. I know I’m not fooling this guy, I’m just buying us time. We back toward our exit — a glass door set in a wall of plate glass windows looking out onto the street.

The foreman picks up a long, wide, heavy cloth strap, fits a brick at its center, and begins swinging it over his head in a wide arc. Pushing Gus before me, I turn and run for the door as the foreman lets fly the brick, then another, and another. A volley of bricks hurtling at us, shattering door and windows. Crystals and shards of glass collect in my hair, on my clothes, as we spill out into the street otherwise unharmed.

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“No Entry” — C.Birde, 1/16

 

Fragile Structures — A Dream

This is no easy task, my attempt to re-enter the house. It sits high upon thick wooden pylons sunk deep into a body of water that stretches out toward the horizon. I stand on a squat pylon similarly anchored, but one that is far too near the water’s level for comfort. Wavelets splash against the pylon’s coarse sides, sending sprays of moisture to dampen my feet.

Extending down the house’s side, and just beyond reach, is a narrow fire escape. Standing on tip-toe, stretching till there is no space in my lungs for breath, I brush fingertips against the ladder’s lowest rung. Another breath, another attempt. Again. More length, more extension — and I am able to wrap fingers around the rung. Now, I haul myself up, inch by inch, sweating, straining, heart hammering in chest and temples, until I have exchanged the pylon’s questionable refuge for that of this fragile fire escape. The structure shudders quietly against the house.

Once I’ve caught my breath, I climb. The waters recede below with each upward step; the wind pulls and plucks. Gradually, the fire escape transforms into a series of railed gangplanks and suspension bridges that rise steadily upward about the house, switching back and forth to weave a scaffold framework around the entire structure. When, at last, I reach the top, I enter the house through a narrow window in a peaked turret.

But my climb is not over — now, I descend the house’s interior by a continuation of gangplanks and narrow floating stairs. These pass through a multitude of oddly-shaped, warmly-lit bedrooms. In one of the rooms I pause — there is a young girl here of about twelve years old. At first, she seems oblivious of my presence. But when she turns toward me, she smiles and we spend time chatting amiably. Although I know her immediately, she does not seem to recognize me. Perhaps because I am somehow in my own past, or hers, or ours. I don’t know how timeline logic works. The reality is that here and now, at this moment as we speak, she has no memory of the fact that we haven’t spoken in so many years, almost as if it never happened, or hasn’t happened yet.

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“Stretch” — C.Birde, 1/16

 

Mischa — A Dream

At some point in its past, this old, fieldstone structure may have been a fortress. But now, it is the site of a haunting, and we three have been called to investigate. We approach carefully, picking our way through night-drawn shadows over the grass-edged dirt road. The building’s open arch gapes just ahead. Wide, flagged slates sweep steadily down into the fortress, which is filled with dark, stagnant water. Just within the entry, a stone ledge dodges off to the left — water laps and splashes against it, but the ledge itself remains dry. One of our party follows this narrow path; I and our third member proceed down the slope of slates toward the murky interior.

The drip of water pierces muted dark; peculiar lights and reflections add a random pulse. Suddenly, a fist-sized bright light pops into existence and zips toward our solo party member, where it pauses, hovering before his face. Then, it zips over to hover similarly before my own — its light is so bright, I must squint against it, drawing my arm up to shield myself from its intensity. Finally, upon visiting the last of our party, it soars away, deep into the castle, down a watery corridor.

For a moment, all is dripping, lapping silence as we stand breathless, waiting for our vision to readjust. Another noise emerges now, off to the right. I see, beyond the window-pierced stone wall, a figure passing by outside, its movements furtive, suspicious. Dashing back up the sloped flags, I move to intercept. An arch-topped garden gate is affixed to the fortress’ side here, and I wait beside it, patiently. The click of the gate latch, the sawing hiss of wooden boards against untrimmed grass as the gate opens…

To my astonishment, a tiny man steps through. He’s no more than three feet tall and about sixty years old, with a wispy fringe of white hair. Though he is unusually small, he is perfectly proportioned, a perfect miniature; he carries in his arms a similarly scaled violin and bow. Upon seeing me, he starts in surprise, equal to my own. But I realize…I know this man! It is Mischa Elman, the violinist famous for his passionate style and tone and musicality! All thoughts of ghost hunting vanish in my excitement to meet this man. Graciously, he shakes my hand, pulls from the vest pocket of his dark suit an old creased and faded blue program. It lists all the songs her performed live in concert in 1957.

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“Fortress” — C.Birde, 12/15

 

 


Note: Mischa Elman truly was a gifted violinist. Born in the Ukraine in 1891, his family moved to New York and he became a U.S. citizen in 1923. He died in his home in Manhattan in 1967 and is buried in the Westchester Hills Cemetery, NY. So much was his playing admired, he sometimes performed as many as 107 concerts in a 29-week season. He was not peculiarly small.