Last night I had a vivid dream which has stayed with me. These are the details:
I am in the backseat of a cab that is briskly turning down narrow alleyways in an old section of the city. Outside the window is a blur because of the raindrops first settling and then sliding down the glass. The rain is little more than mist at this point, a moist blanket wrapped over the dusk, but soon it will be a downpour. I turn away from the window and face the woman seated beside me. She is in a cocktail dress that would have been all the rage in the late 1950s. Her breasts, normally nondescript, are now augmented, which makes her look simultaneously sexy and cartoonish. As she subtly leans the back of her head against her seat, her round breasts press upward, and my first thought is that they are saying “hello” to me. I look away from her. I am not at all comfortable, for this woman is my friend’s wife. As I have known the two of them for years, I am accustomed not thinking of her as a sexual person, even though of course she always has been. In my mind, until now, she has been more like a sister to me, a woman hidden behind her conservative clothes (gray turtle neck sweaters or blazers, trousers, “sensible shoes,” like she could be a model for Talbot’s), a saccharine sweet, Southern Evangelical Christian smile (always kind, but never inviting), and a spirit of civic, do-gooder activism that makes her seem more suitable for a school fundraiser potluck than for a night on the town.
The cab drops us off on a damp, gray street of fish supply shops and seafood eateries. We are on the side of a hill that descends to waves crashing upon jagged rocks, and the smell and the feel of salt overwhelms everything else out here. It is like the sea below is making its way up the hill with the intention of dragging us all back down into the deep. There is a long line of people on the sidewalk that curves up the outer side of this salted hill. People are dressed appropriately for the cold, moist, early evening weather, and so my friend’s wife stands out in her yellow cocktail dress. I take my place in the back, and I allow my friend’s wife to stand in line in front of me. I stare at her auburn hair which is dancing in the sea gusts sweeping up from the bottom of the hill. Her hair is long, which is almost hippie like and seems all the more scandalous in contrast with her 1950s era outfit. Besides contrasting with her outfit, her hair is totally unlike I have ever seen over the many years, for usually she keeps her hair in a bun that tells the wide world that she is all business for the Lord. Now, tonight, for some reason, she has stepped out from all that and is playing with her look. It is as if I have never known her. I wonder if this is the kind of playful abandon she has indulged from time to time with her husband, my close friend, behind closed doors. I am ashamed even to have thought about that, for I am of the mind that we should never imagine our closest friends having any lives of their own behind closed doors. In our imagination, they should stay forever asexual, comfortable, and pleasant; those people with whom we share a cocktail while reminiscing old times.
The long line slowly wraps up the side of the hill to a standalone Victorian at the top. It is the house that used to be set aside for the lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse is off to the side and has been weathered by salt, disuse, and age into a work of art. The Victorian is a little more fresh, if only because of the new coat of paint applied every year, and is still used from time to time as a place for hilltop weddings and parties. The sidewalk ends at the base of a long staircase that finishes the path up to the house, and as we are slowly climbing up the steps I look over the hill toward the vast expanse of a churning sea. The rain, now heavy enough to loosen the mud beside the staircase, clouds my vision so that everything is a blur. The heavy storm clouds blanket the last trace of sunset, and the sea turns into a black cauldron occasionally broken up by sprits of white foam. The only light is from the swinging lantern overhanging the open, front door above us. Though there is another light also inside the Victorian, it does not reach those of us who are still outside in the rain because of the thick, mildewed curtains hanging over the windows.
As soon as my friend’s wife steps inside the foyer, she looks back at me and smiles. Hers is the excited smile of a little girl about to step up to the counter at an ice cream parlor. I smile back, while removing my drenched overcoat. She looks back at the counter that is a few steps ahead of us. I look down and note how she lifts her feet up against the white laces of her high heel shoes. She is trying to look over the shoulder of the man in front of her. When we get up to the counter I see that indeed they are serving small scoops of ice cream. There are two women behind the counter. They are each dressed like maids from the Victorian era. One is scooping vanilla into a cup. The other is scooping chocolate. My friend’s wife chooses one of each. This is against the rules, for we have been allotted one scoop each, but the maids nod and wink knowingly at her and make an exception. When it is my turn, I also ask for a scoop of each. The maids stare back at me impassively. I am going to have to choose one or the other. I look over to the side and see my friend’s wife already starting to indulge her two scoops of ice cream. I look beyond her and see a den full of wet people eating their cups of ice cream. Unlike my friend’s wife, who remains as giddy as a girl in a parlor, the people in the den appear to be tired and bored. This is not the party that I thought it would be, and so I am already restless to take my friend’s wife by the hand, to drag her back out into the rain, and to hail a cab that will take us away.
I am standing inside the living room of my friend’s spacious home. It is a Bauhaus in the middle of an elaborate tropical garden. The inside is furnished midcentury including an old record player that is always playing “Papa Loves Mambo” sung by Perry Como. There is a Zenith TV that plays a loop of a video recording of the tropical garden outside. Apart from Perry Como there is no sound, for we are very far from any neighbors. The home is more like a hideaway than a residence, a step back into long ago, and the feeling in here is so soft and relaxed as to be almost dead. Indeed, it occurs to me that I am in a kind of Limbo. Nothing that happens in these walls will be recorded. There is neither love nor sin that will be remembered. I have been here about a week now, and I sense vaguely it is a week that has been hidden. I recall that my friend left a week ago with their children for a planned trip. They waved goodbye at the doorway. The little children smiled and waved to their mother in that cute way that only children can do. My friend pecked his beloved wife on her cheek and then shook my hand. They drove away in a new, red, convertible, Porsche 911 that is incongruent with the midcentury world inside their home. Perhaps, this is my friend’s midlife crisis toy, and the furnishings inside reflect the sensibilities of her wife. Regardless, they are gone, and will be gone for a while, and I am here inside of this Limbo with his pretty wife. She has not been wearing her yellow cocktail dress since we came here. Instead, she is dressed as she normally does in her turtleneck sweaters, trousers, and sensible shoes. Her hair is in a bun again. Even her church lady smile has returned. I see it when she looks up at me, while she is puffing the pillows on her couch or dusting the dust off of her lampshades. Since she repeats the same chores every few hours throughout the day, I see her smile at me a lot. When not cleaning, she is heating up food for us in her microwave oven. The food is always the same: Popcorn in a yellow Tupperware bowl, lightly salted, with a bit of parsley for garnish. We eat the popcorn at her kitchen table. Her children’s crayon drawings are on papers spread across the table, and she shows them to me like they are masterpieces shown only to a select few. She is so proud of them, but after she shows me the same drawings a dozen times (and pretty much gives me the same spiel for each one) I sense that she is motivated by routine as much as by pride. Indeed, everything about her life is routine – this whole house is a kind of shrine to easy going routine – and I realize just how much she rebelled when she had put on that cocktail dress for that outing last week.
As I walk through the enormous house, I sense vaguely that my friend’s wife and I have been making love to each other every night since I have been here. I do not remember the sex, if indeed that is happening, but it seems apparent given the ease and familiarity of our interactions of late. It is like we have been married forever, and I am strolling in or out of the many rooms, or dozing on the leather recline in front of the Zenith, like I own the place. Only the framed photographs on the wall give it away, for my face will not be found in any of them. They are all configurations of my friend, my friend’s wife, and their lovely children. They are perpetually at ease in those pictures. There is a hint of genuine happiness in their smiles, but not enough to undermine the sane and pleasant world the couple and their children have constructed for themselves. Theirs is a life dedicated to the proposition of never rocking the boat or upsetting the applecart.
I wake up one morning, and walk out to the living room. The tropical plants just outside the floor to ceiling windows are enveloped in an intense white light that is immediately blinding. It is the first startling sensation that I have experienced in a long time. When I am able to see again, I see that the world beyond the windows is just a soft, white glow. The dark silhouette of a man creeps beside one of the windows from left to right. There is an intruder outside. Alarmed, I am about to go outside to confront him, when I see to my side a teenaged boy seated on a coffee table. He has his legs stretched out and his arms folded. The cocky look on his face tells me that he is in charge. Before I am able to question him, I hear people coming through the front door. I turn to the front door, and I see a bald, portly, middle aged man in suspenders with several more teenaged boys. He is a film director, and the boys are his film crew. The boys are carrying equipment for the film shoot they intend to do inside the living room. They walk in like this is all according to plan. I am speechless and servile, as the director tells me where and how to sit down.