Gauze (from the book Colors by Jay Magidson)
The following is copyrighted material. Gauze is reprinted here by permission of the publisher. It may not be reproduced, copied or reprinted without permission.
The dream repeated itself again this night, as it had for months. It was simple enough. A wall of haze with a single defined brick, high up and to the left. Nothing happened, no chasing or falling off of high cliffs. Just a single brick hanging in midair- all night. Lorna stared at it a little longer, then awoke from the dream.
After the first few nights of the dream, she had been anxious, then amused, now she was simply bored by it. Nothing happened. What kind of dream did that? There was no mood, or feeling during the dream. It was completely neutral. But because of its lack of change or feeling, Lorna had her doubts that it even was a dream. She thought it might be something wrong with her vision, and had visited a doctor. She wasn’t specific, just telling him she sometimes saw a spot in a certain area in the upper left part of her vision. The doctor didn’t find anything. He suggested it might be a floater, a small imperfection in the fluid of the eye. Nothing to be concerned about, it would go away on its own.
So Lorna did her best to ignore the dream. But it wasn’t always easy. Her job was monotonous, and she had no friends or family to break the evenings. When she got home she would watch TV, drink half a bottle of red wine and go to bed. And there it was waiting for her, the wall of gauze, and the single defined brick.
Days and weeks crawled on. Lorna went to her job, then back to her small and tidy apartment each day. Boring evening, TV, red wine, sleep, and then the dream. But there was something subtly different about it this time. She hadn’t noticed it at the beginning of the dream. Like always, she stared all night at the brick in the upper left of her view. Toward morning, the one brick had turned into two. Lorna had not noticed when the change had occurred. Just simply that now there were two bricks instead of one, staggered as they are in the construction of a wall. She continued to stare at the two bricks until the dream was shattered by the buzz of her alarm clock.
Lorna worked as a secretary at a small accounting firm, Jones, Frank, and Smirnoff. She knew Mr. Jones and Mr. Frank, but had never met Mr. Smirnoff. The tired joke was that there was no Mr. Smirnoff, that a bottle of vodka was the third partner. She had filed enough of his papers to know he was real, just a very silent partner. The office was located on the outskirts of Portland where buildings thinned until it was no longer city and not quite suburbia. It was an ugly wooden two story building sandwiched between a Speedy Wash and Taco Shack. Lorna’s window faced the noisy street, wide and busy, filled with commuters constantly on their way to and from the city. She had been there for 13 years, typing and filing with no thought of advancement or change. She needed money to pay for her rent and food, and the job provided that and not much more. No one complained about her work, nor asked very much about her. But when she arrived today, something went suddenly very wrong. All the other office workers were there, the businessmen waited in the lobby as usual, even the coffee gurgled as usual. It was as if she were looking at everything through a bit of thin cloth. Lorna went cold with the realization. It was as if she were looking at it through the white gauze of her dream.
She did her best to ignore the vision, blaming it on too much wine the previous night and dry eyes. The day droned on, and no one seemed to notice Lorna’s darting looks and nervous air. Finally the day was over and she rushed home. Everything was the same here too, a world covered in gauzy white. She ate quickly, and tried to watch television, but the milky layer was too annoying to ignore. Sleep, that was what she needed. A bottle of cheap red wine and a single sleeping pill put her into blissful oblivion. When the alarm woke her, Lorna realized she had not had the dream, or any dream, as far as she could remember. The world was back to its normal clarity and she blamed the whole episode on lack of sleep.
For the next several months, Lorna was sure to drink at least half a bottle of wine, and take a sleeping tablet before bed. And since that time, she had not had the dream, and her eyes were clear. Everything at the office was back to its monotonous routine. And now, so much time had passed that she was beginning to forget it had ever happened. At work this afternoon she was informed that the company was changing insurance carriers. The rising costs had forced them to take on a new provider. The good news was that they would all have better benefits. The only condition was that each employee pass a basic physical to qualify. This meant no drugs or alcohol for 7 days as well as a 12 hour fast before the blood test. On the surface, Lorna was calm, but underneath, her mind swam with panic. The dream loomed large in her mind, without the wine and sleeping pills there would be nothing to stop it.
The first night without wine or a sleeping pill was very long. Lorna did not have the dream, but nor did she get much sleep. She was utterly addicted to the sleeping pills and could not sleep without them. She was tired at work the next day, but functioned well enough. The second night was different. Exhaustion overwhelmed her, yet she still could not sleep. Fearful ideas bathed her tired mind, that she had schizophrenia, or was going mad. Even though the dream never came, it loomed like a circling hawk, threatening to swoop down at any moment, to consume her and her fragile sanity. Gratefully, the morning finally arrived and Lorna dragged herself to work. When the office manager saw her, he turned her around and told her to go home sick. Once there, she flopped on the sofa, instantly asleep and dreaming.
The brick was there, along with many others, perhaps 50, but for some reason, they were difficult to count. The bricks were extremely defined now, and Lorna could easily discern the tiny pocks and pits of each individual brick. The dream was completely uneventful, nothing happened, nothing changed. She was simply looking at a wall of gauze-white bricks. She started to count them, starting from the top, moving left to right. But every time she worked her way down a bit, she lost the number and had to start again. It was a strange and monotonous dream.
When Lorna awoke, the room was filled with the thin light of early evening. Her neck and back hurt from sleeping on the sofa. That didn’t stop her from jumping wildly to her feet in panic as she turned on all the lights. There in front of everything, was the white haze, much stronger than the first vision. And worse than that, she easily saw the slight outline of bricks wherever she looked. Lorna closed her eyes in blinding fear, but the pattern remained, the texture of bricks lined the very blackness of her squeezed eyelids.
Lorna forgot the blood test instructions, and quickly guzzled the remnants of the bottle of wine sitting on the counter. It didn’t help in the least. She tried to focus on her watch to see what time it was, but it was difficult to read the face with the brick pattern covering it. She finally determined that it was around 7:30 pm. Not too early to go back sleep, and hopefully oblivion. She took two sleeping pills to be sure, and washed them down with a new bottle of cheap red wine. Her heart beat wildly as she lay in bed waiting for the pills to take effect. She was afraid her adrenaline would keep the pills from working. But after some time, she began to relax and finally fell asleep.
But she did dream. Her vision was filled with the gauze white bricks. And though they now surrounded her completely, she was not afraid. There was no feeling of claustrophobia or oppressiveness. In the dream Lorna reached out and touched one. She ran her hand over the hard surface. But it was not cold as she had suspected, but warm, as if it had been lying in the sun. And though it was rough, it had a smooth kind of coarseness as if from great age. Her hands ran across the brick surface, and though she could see the joints, which appeared to be filled with some kind of mortar, she could not feel them. They felt seamless. Then she pushed on them, but there was no resistance, yet they did not move, nor was she pushed away. None of this surprised her in the dream. It simply was.
Lorna woke in the morning early, and quite refreshed. The terrible anxiety from the previous evening had gone. She looked around in the growing twilight, not surprised to see the texture of bricks on everything around her. It was strangely comforting now that they surrounded her. She sprung out of bed with a new enthusiasm, an energy and purpose she hadn’t felt in many years. And for the first time in her life, she had purpose and knew what to do.
She was one of the first ones at the office that morning, even though she had walked there (she hadn’t felt confident enough to drive with the brick pattern in her vision). When the office manager finally arrived, she pulled him aside, and with a great smile told him she quit and to mail her final check to her house. And though he prodded her, she would give no explanation or reason. It was simply something she had to do.
When Lorna left the office, she had nowhere to go, so she wandered over to the small river that ran through the town. It was walled on both sides, forcing it into a tight canal. Lorna crossed the pedestrian bridge that arched over the channel. She stopped at the center and looked down. It was high above the river, at least forty feet. Normally afraid of heights, she didn’t seem to mind this one. She watched the water rushing briskly over the large smooth boulders. It was late summer, but the river seemed higher than normal. It made a roar that grew louder the longer she listened. Beneath the rushing gurgling sound she heard a kind of haunting song. It was calling to her. “Yes,” she thought, “I must go into the water.”
Before she realized how she had gotten there, she found herself at the riverbank. She slid her shoes off and hiked up her skirt. Lorna took a step into the frigid water and felt the fine mud envelop her feet until she sank up to her ankles. The cold made her gasp involuntarily. She took another step, and the water rose up to her knees. It tugged at her legs, threatening to knock her over. She looked down through the blue-black water to her feet, at her wiggling toes raising puffs of silt. Lorna hadn’t noticed that the bricks were gone, nor did she care. It was just lovely to be alive.
Gauze © 2012 Jay Magidson, all rights reserved