Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two Dreams


 

By Don Schaeffer


The kids gathered in Caroline's family living room for snacks. They lolled around on the rug and chairs. The girls challenged the boys to leg wrestling contests. It was chilly out in the late autumn. There were no leaves on the trees. But the room was warm. It was soaked in joy. It was taken for granted. All who were there, Kathy and Neil, Caroline and Nolan and Pete and unrecognized others invited didn't care about the climate.

When David arrived it was an accident. He rang the bell in ignorance. Caroline answered politely, greeting him. She didn't ask for his invitation.

Neil saw David enter and everyone heard him say, “Oh no.” This was the end of their joy. They all felt the cold from the inside of David's half visible body.

David never took it for granted. It was not granted. Not taking it for granted was David’s transgression.

When Moshe awoke from this dream the world around his bed shimmered in late summer moonlight. Ceres was not in his bed. He was in the guest room bed. He came to that awareness. Moshe had mixed feelings about sleeping alone. Maybe those feelings triggered the dream, maybe recollection.

He couldn't remember how he ended up where he was, tabulated into a household unit, counted along with the true residents of New York. He lived then among the creatures with raised eyes and straight determined walks. Then he met Ceres, a woman not a fantasy and lived as the estranged visions washed away in the years. But he was still only half visible because he couldn't take it for granted. He cooperated in the reality of the town and the country and the world but with obvious reluctance. Since he didn't do so with a whole heart, the world never fully paid him.

Not speaking up, not saying hello, slipping half-seen in and out of shops and down streets, not knowing how to make his voice call up his visibility. He walked among those who chatter, those in fashion, those with noses pointed straight ahead, with human faces so completely recognizable as to declare themselves universal, flesh solid, uniquely real. They all took this for granted. Moshe did so with reservations. The slight hesitation in his mind, in his fingers, although not really articulate-able, was noticed. Moshe was the ghost of the town. Its walls were hollow, not quite owned by him.

It took Moshe ten years of graduate school to earn his Ph.D. He thought it exceptional considering his poor memory for names.

Moshe dreamed.

He was in an experimental hospital ward. He and the other patients spent the days sitting at tables and watching TV surrounded by pristine white walls and curtains and wearing hospital gowns. It was a grand social event and Moshe never had enjoyed such a sense of belonging. One of the assistants was an attractive young woman named Linda, like the kind of young woman with whom Moshe would flirt when he was a graduate student.

The ward was designed to test a novel approach to producing food using a substance never used before and subject to universal human taboo. At first he refused to accept it, telling Linda that the thought of it made him sick. Linda persisted, moving near him in his hospital gown and describing how nicely they prepared the dish. He vacillated, closing and opening his fleshy mouth until finally yielding to Linda's persuasion. She was jubilant and rose to arrange his meal.

Moshe awoke suddenly before the sandwich was delivered.

The key was Moshe’s culpability. Ceres pointed out that his career was marred by personality flaws that opened him to fraud. Some of the mistakes of the past never got erased. The disappointment generated by them weakened the private social fabric of Moshe’s quiet, withdrawn life. He never felt like a hero in his own house.

The job of Moshe's wife was to prevent undue self-esteem. Moshe had thought that ending his isolation in the permanent company of a woman would flatter him. It turned out not to be true. It was the same as his belief that he would be the master of his house. Ceres couldn't help it. It was a natural reaction against moral weakness, to spread shame.

Moshe worked as a TSR. Telephone sales representative was his profession. Not what he planned and worked for. Failure was frightening and refreshing as he came down.

At Re-Tel Corporation International selling telephone donations for minor charities that needed that kind of help he was part of a troop of telephone headset wearers, long evening hours bent over a monitor that spit his script out at him as well as bits of history. Selling was frightening, a flow of human voices giving and not giving, under the hot light of chance. Moshe always thought that chance was the language of God. He tried to measure his regeneracy by his sales, a gambler's preoccupation, watching waves of numbers on display, flowing through the hours and minutes, envy and embarrassment.

Moshe sold for half-legitimate mortgage banks, credit card companies, low legitimacy financial schemes, absurd mail order offers with hidden clauses that had to be read quickly. He sold memberships and subscriptions, contract deals. Ten years of pretense fell to earth and ten years of raw labor of the heart.

Legally, the shift had to end by 9. It was completely night and the late autumn had shifted into cold as the would-be, might-have-been Moshe made his way to the glass bus shelter. He did feel like a citizen tonight, one among many. Those in the shelter, slightly hand-me-down and raw, everyday human products shared a metal bench or stood against the glass looking for buses. The wind managed to get under the plate glass and made him shiver, a mild form of fear because of the shadows around him.

Moshe always saw himself as young, the youngest and most helpless in the room, even with his bald head, his graying sideburns and his old man beard. Apparent seniority and sophistication hid him and he rode around in his face and body like rajah in a tent atop an elephant.

On Wednesday evening when Moshe had off, while he waited for the fright of his next shift, he and Ceres went to the nearby casino. They had dinner in the plastic cafeteria, fitted to look like Acapulco, which he would never see in reality. They kept their expenses for gambling down to ten dollars. Each of them sat at a 25 cent slot and watched the flow of spinning fruit and diamonds. Here was Moshe’s hall of prayer. The slot machine was his prayer wheel, the word of God suspended in time directly viewable in wins and losses. He saw the hills and valleys of the hidden holy world.











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