Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dream of Horses


Dream of Horses


Graham House dreamed of horses in a field of tall grass. Dusty, ragged smells, earth and dung filled his senses. The small group of horses ran in circles around him, kicking up dust, running at a slow canter, heads bobbing and heaving up and down, foam lilting from mouth to ground. Trembling, he stood in the middle of the small herd in his Covington Men's Plaid Flannel Pajamas he’d purchased at Sears and one by one pulled them into his inner circle by an invisible lead. He held their necks, smelled their briny aroma, and ran his fingers against the hot wetness of powerful equine necks. One by one he pulled them in, the palomino pony, the little pinto, the standard, the Morgan, until he reached for the Arabian, it’s strikingly sharp features alert and asking. The Arabian came toward him, towering in agile form, reaching the middle of the circle, her long white head, sleek mane and black eyes at once unapproachable and soothing. When he took her neck, she flung him upon her back and he settled down clinging to her lean frame with the grip of his legs. She wandered down beyond the banking of tall grasses and into the thickly wooded area. The trail was covered in grasses and foliage. The sky broke through fingered openings in the trees. The trail was narrow but soon opened to a clearing that lead to a small pond and fast moving river beyond. He stayed on her as one, feeling each muscle and joint move in harmony with his contracted frame. At the river, she drank from the frigid water. House was entranced by the sounds she made. The chug, chug, chug of her long esophagus pushing liquids to her belly, splashing happily, digging her snout into the water and then jolting up, searchingly, her ears moving in each direction as if testing for predators. She was sinew, bone and power under him, strong, agile, and omnipotent in her surroundings. And as she drank, he could feel her belly expand. The more she drank the darker and heavier she grew, until he could no longer fit on her and he slid off to the muddy ground. She drank and expanded until she resembled an engorged tick, white, bloated beyond countenance, spindly legs sticking out from her sides, her head submerged to her girth until she split open spilling a torrent of water. The flood took him off his feet. Rivers of water carried him as he struggled to keep his head above the sway. He lay gasping on the banking. Eyes closed, his head pounding, soothing warmth swathed his cheek. He opened his eyes to see the Arabian licking his face, and he awoke.

Graham lay trapped in sweaty sheets, curling them tighter around his body as he sat up. Looking over at his wife, Penelope, he tried to make out her face, but could see nothing in the shadows of their bed, she but a bundle in the dark. He pulled the sheet as he sat up, knowing that she wouldn’t care, because she hadn’t slept with covers for about two years. She was always too hot, couldn’t have a warm body next to her, just couldn’t stand the heat of it. The balled-up sheet fell to the floor as he walked slowly to the bathroom, feeling the walls in the dark as he went.

Splashes of cold water numbed his face in the dim light of the bathroom. The dream came back to him then, in vivid pictorials, the Arabian staring at him with her intense black eyes. Horses? Why horses? He hadn’t ridden a horse since he was fifteen. Carefully drying his face near the darkened closet where she kept the neatly stacked towels, the sounds and smell of the Arabian were more than memory. He inhaled deeply attempting to capture the essence of the beast, but his senses were dull and he couldn’t even smell the fresh towel. House kicked the sheets back over his body and slowly let his right arm fall on Penelope’s side. His hand slipped down and he palmed her hip bone. She grumbled and turned onto her stomach. He tried to make out her dirty blonde hair, the line of her form, but he could see only a dark lump. He was alone again, in the same bed as his wife, her flesh radiating like hot coal next to him. How could I have married a person who can’t cuddle? How did I, the cuddle king of the entire world, end up with someone like that? Laying still, trying not to disturb his wife, he conjured visions of the horses to take him back to the lazy fields, but they would not come and he fell into a restless sleep.

In the morning, House could tell he was alone without looking. The empty bed felt lighter and freer than when she was there. He looked at her clock, 10 AM, set ten minutes into the future, and decided he could sleep a few more minutes. The smell of horses came to him then and he closed his eyes to ride back to the golden fields. He was in the circle now, holding out his hand toward the flowing beasts. The Arabian walked slowly toward him and circled him, just out of his grasp. The circle grew smaller and tighter as he reached for them all, his fingers stretching out never quite far enough to reach them. As the heat and the movement intensified, he could smell the dust and the horse hair warming in the sun. The blue sky above was bright white with heat. He spun and turned in circles, reaching his hands out to the horses as they slowly cantered around and around until he lost his footing and he fell to the dry earth in a cloud of dust, his legs spread out before him like a twisted rag doll, his chest heaving, head still spinning. The horses stopped and looked at him, their heads down, ears flopping back and forth with gentle alertness.

House’s job had nothing to do with horses, and everything to do with computers.
In fact, he hadn’t touched a horse since he was fifteen years old, that time on his birthday, when they went to the horse-riding camp on Cape Cod. He remembered the nag they gave him: A nasty black and white pinto. The thing had bucked all over the place. Wouldn’t put out when he had encouraged it. “Give it a little kick,” the guy had said. And the bucking started and didn’t stop until he returned the evil thing back to the wrangler a half hour later. That was his only memory of horses, except for the dream. Throughout the day, all he could think about, all he saw, was horses; Horses on TV, horses on billboards, horses in the park. He supposed they had always been around, he’d just never noticed them. But now, with this dream, this hot, sweaty, aromatic dream splendid of languor, it was fresh in his thoughts. And he knew that the Arabian especially had something on her mind.

After a solemn day of fighting traffic, plucking keys on his computer keyboard, eating lunch at a cheap fast food deli and then fighting traffic for an hour returning home, all of it almost feeling like a dream, House couldn’t get the horse dream out of his mind and he almost willed the night to come so he could get into bed. He dutifully complimented his wife on dinner, carefully watched the clock as his favorite TV shows ticked by, commercials on mute, his trusty clicker in hand. Finally, at 10 o’clock, with Penelope long asleep (she being the early riser in the family) he wrapped himself in the cool sheets, anticipating meeting the herd. A vague feeling of loneliness hung on him, his plump body shaking and bouncing on the air springs until at last he drifted off into a tintype dream of horses.

The arrived slowly, one by one, passing ever closer in a circle, each appearing in turn as if from a mist. The pinto moved in close and House could smell candy canes and mint. The palomino moved in close and he could smell his wife’s perfume. The Morgan moved in and he sensed his childhood and playing games with the neighborhood children, the smell of his leather football and baseball glove. He reached out and took the Morgan by the mane. He inhaled the smells and wrapped his arms around the horse’s neck. The Morgan flung him up onto her back and started to trot out into the field.

Heat rose in waves from the brown grasses and he could feel the sun bite the back of his neck. Muted colors glowed all around and as the horse moved closer to the river. A feeling of nostalgia overtook him. Gradually, rising out of the swaying grass and the scrub, the idea of his childhood home found shape. In front of him were the muted yellow of the clapboards, the umber of the back yard fence, the carousel close line white with linens. On the right, a slab porch and a green bulkhead leading to the dirt floor cellar. A barefoot boy of about seven came out the back door and, as the screen door slammed, sat on the porch and smiled up at strange rider.
“Hey mister, where’d you get that horse?”
House looked carefully at the boy, the short dirty-blond hair, the round pudgy face. A rush of adrenaline exploded in his chest and steamed into his head. The Earth seemed to be spinning faster. And in a flash he saw all of his childhood: The crying and sucking on a teething cookie, learning to walk, the football games in the back yard, his friends running to and fro in heavy pursuit each other, his mother, her light brown hair falling partially over one blue eye, wet pie crust in her hands, his high school years.
“Hey, Mister, can I ride your horse?” the boy called.
House focused on the boy and suddenly recognized himself. He remembered that he had seen a rider come to his back porch, through this same field, long ago, and he remembered the rider sitting in silence, staring down and saying nothing.
House turned the Morgan and kicked at its belly. They rode out into the field. The whole time he could see himself sitting on his old back porch, and knew everything he was thinking, everything that he did, had already done, and will do and there was nothing he could do to change it. It was as if it were inevitable, him doing the things he was doing, fulfilling a prophecy, the purpose of which was lost to him. He turned to face his old house and it faded into a dull ball of yellow and white, and suddenly exploded into a million small dots until there was nothing, and he awoke.

House sat up in bed gasping for air. Penelope reached out to him.
“Graham, what is it?’
“Horses!”
“You scared me!”
He took her arm, heaving deep breaths and said, “It’s okay. A dream is all.”
“Horses?”
“What?”
“You said, ‘horses.’”
“Yeah.”
They lay back and he moved close to her, wrapping his leg over hers, spooning her in the middle. His heart danced wildly in his chest. The young boys smiling face stayed clear in his mind, (he could count the freckles on his cheeks) but soon faded and nothing was left but the cool darkness of the room. Soon a profound sadness overtook him.
“Weird, thing is...” he whispered.
But she was half asleep and showing signs of discomfort from his body heat. He knew better than to try and talk to her now. Rolling onto his back, he pulled the sheets up to his chest, thinking of his old house, the back porch and the strange man that had ridden up, the man he knew now to be himself, on horseback, that hot summer day. And he slipped into a listless trance-like state, staring off into the dull nothingness that surrounded him. As he drifted off to sleep, muted yellow dots danced, oscillated in formations before him and coalesced into his childhood home. A sated feeling ran through him. Helpless to control his urge for more, wanting to delve deeper and stay longer in his strange dream, he began to weep. He wept for the boy on the porch, for his lost potential and for future that promised nothing more than what he already had.

On his way to work the next day he saw horses in a trailer and followed it off the wrong exit. Realizing his error too late, he found the nearest turn around and headed back in the direction of work. When he finally sat at his desk, he typed “horses” into a search engine and spent the day picking out horse screen savers. He found a web site devoted to horse stories, but found them unsatisfying, preferring to remember his own experiences. And suddenly it dawned on him that he had momentarily thought of his dreams as real experiences. Startled, he turned his attention to a project he’d begun the week before.

Traffic was heavy on the ride home and when he got to the “horse” exit, he found himself turning off the freeway and into an area he’d never been. He could almost see that same horse trailer he’d followed in front of him as he made a left turn off the down ramp. The languid feeling from the night before fell upon him like a fog, and he stared straight ahead, out at the road, turning left, then right, then right again, traveling for several minutes before stopping at a gated fence. He got out of the car and stood, silently staring off into a field. He looked down past the scrub brush and the small wooden barn, to a pretty palomino pony grazing on clumps of wet grass. As his world stretched into this long, lost moment, a light drizzle began to mist and he wiped his face with his sleeve. He coughed and cleared his throat. The horse’s head popped up, her ears reaching toward the sound. The chill of the afternoon dug through his thin coat and he walked back to the car. He sat in the driver seat, turned the key and kicked up the heat. After a few minutes, he turned the radio on low and, as if waking from a dream, realized he couldn’t remember how to get back to the freeway.
He turned toward the field and the horse stood close to the car, her head straining through the fence, motionless, her liquid eyes targeting him. He stared back at the horse, feeling dreamy and calm, thinking: What? What are you trying to tell me? A loud commercial sprang from the radio and it sent a jolt through him. He turned it off, thinking: No, no, I’m not dreaming. Am I? I’m awake, aren’t I? And for a second he wasn’t sure. He touched his puffy cheeks and swore they felt numb. Then rubbed his forehead red, hoping to feel that and he did. His heart jumped and pushed his racing pulse as he turned the car back onto the road and sped away. He turned off the heat, fighting the numbness of his despair, telling himself to pull out of it, that this was sinking too far from reason. But even as the adrenaline raced through his body, fighting the narcotic lure of his fantasy, he could feel the horse dream pulling him back. The thin veil of desire wafted over him, filled him, calming, pulling him back until at last, he sat sated, quiet, heading home on the dark road.

It’s not that Penelope didn’t like children. She just had a problem with being pregnant. She had a hard time taking two aspirin for a headache, never mind having her stomach grow uncontrollably, hormones raging through her body. She liked things just the way they were. Normal. It was always good when things were normal: Early to bed, early to rise. Eat at seven, noon and five, shower everyday at the same time. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right. Normal. So when House started to question her about why they didn’t have any children again, saying that an empty spot touched his heart, she was silent. He pressed her and started talking about the horses, how the Arabian, he was sure, was giving him a sign of childbirth. That it was natural and right to drink from the stream of life. To breach and let life flow out from her body. He explained how the Morgan had reminded him of his own childhood, the blissful, happy times when he would run in the fields and laugh and jump and play ball, the lovely feeling of freedom. She sat stony-faced at the kitchen table holding a piece of white fish on her fork, staring over the light-blue rim glasses on the end of her nose. Her lips pursed and puckered, as if giving weight to her thoughts.
“You know what the doctor said. If we try again, you could lose both of us.”
“But it wasn’t an absolute,” he said, smiling. “It’s not like it’s written in stone: ‘If you get pregnant, this will happen!’”
“I don’t want to talk about it right now, Graham. I’m tired.” She scrapped off her plate and began loading the dishwasher.
“We could try again, is all I’m saying.”
She held her stomach, turned toward the sink and started to run the water.
Petulant, groggy from the meal, Graham laid himself out on the living room sofa and stared up at the shadowy corners of the darkening living room. He remembered the awful day Penelope had bled so much. She’d shaken him awake, her hands cold as ice, staring at him dumb struck. Her face pasty white, eyes sunken and red, shaking involuntarily, stuttering what the matter was. He’d wrapped her in blankets and carried her to the car, his mind only on saving her, to hell with the baby. He remembered her frightened looks, the bone white of her cheeks, her trembling. The Doctor had been very concerned, stating only, “she’s so very far along,” as they wheeled her into the operating room. Those hours waiting, the longest he’d ever spent slipped by as a rock through flesh. On the cell phone one minute, crying the next. Drinking coffee and vomiting it up in the men’s room, until at last the doctor came and told him it was done. The child was gone.
“Was it a girl or a boy?”
“A girl. But your wife is going to be all right.”
And he burst into tears, profusely thanking the doctor.
Graham opened his eyes, shifting his weight on the couch. Darkened tree limbs danced and swayed near the window above his head, casting shadows on the walls. He followed the moving shadows for a while, thinking of them as his horses, wild, beautiful, free. Then he drifted off.

As the dream took shape, he saw himself jumping through the tall, pale grasses beyond his childhood home. The warm wind licked his face as he turned to see the huge horse before him. Twelve feet tall, the monster horse stood snorting and grunting, masterfully shaking its mane. House lunged for its neck, but could not wrap his arms around it. Frustrated and a little frightened, he looked down at the massive round hoof near his foot, the weight of it digging into the ground. He felt it would be rooted there forever if he didn’t get it to move and he looked back up at the snorting beast.
“How do I ride you?”
The horse glanced at him with a bored eye, winked and trotted off toward the stream.
Graham ran after and soon found himself in the circle of horses, the dust beneath their hooves rising high in the air as they trotted round and round. Faster and faster they galloped. The huge horse stood hands taller than the rest, its proud eye staring at Graham, daring him to come forward and ride. Suddenly, he was snatched back to the sofa and he found himself staring up into the face of Penelope as she stood over him, whispering into his ear.
“Come to bed, dear. Come.”
And as he got up to follow, he touched her thigh and gave it a squeeze. She didn’t say a word but trotted up the stairs and disappeared into the bathroom. Graham climbed into bed fighting the ether veil of sleep. He reached for Penelope’s leg and she gave a sigh, mouthed a few incoherent words and turned onto her stomach. Remembering her naked body, her smooth thighs and flat tummy as she had walked naked from her shower, admiring how youthful she’d kept herself, he longed to feel her now. He reached for her again, pulling back her hair, kissing her face. She smiled and said, “I love you, Graham.”
“I love you, too, Penelope.”
He pulled the sheets up to his neck, feeling his fat stomach rub against bed as he turned onto his side, then stillness, staring into the dark. Soon his eyes grew tired and he closed them.

Graham stood bright eyed and fixed upon the white Arabian, her snout opening delicately contoured above her dark muzzle. The musculature of her body was sharp and beautifully modeled. He felt her strong back, dark legs, held her snout in his fingers.
“This is my very best work.”
“What dear?” Penelope leaned over the counter, browsing the Sunday Paper.
“This one. The Arabian. It’s my best one, don’t you think?”
She turned and glanced over her blue rimmed reading glasses and smiled.
“Very nice,” she said.
Graham took the six-inch wooden model and lightly brushed some white latex paint onto the eye. It looked startled, he noticed. Not at all like the strong Arabian he’d seen in his dreams. Perhaps he needed something more off-white, something comfortable, perhaps a tinge more beige so it wouldn’t upset the balance of color.

Upstairs standing next to her side of the bed, he placed the beautiful model on the alarm clock facing his wife’s pillow. The suitcase behind him in the closet was already packed. All he had to was pick it up and walk away. Holding the heavy suitcase in both hands, he stared at the king size bed for a long time. The boy he’d seen from horseback was a distant memory now, and the gnawing need to hold him, to never let him go, tell him what he must do overwhelmed him. But he knew the boy wouldn’t listen, to anyone, let alone a man unknown to him and he began to weep. Great sobs heaved from his chest. He dropped the suitcase with a thunderous boom.
“Are you all right?” Penelope called.
“Just fine, Dear,” he managed to say.
After a while he walked downstairs and placed the finished horse on the top shelf of the study and stood back to admire his work. There was a Morgan, a palomino, a standard and now the Arabian. His “circle of horses” was nearly complete. They had become his passion, his playmates, and his hobby. And even as the memory of the horse dreams began to fade, the horses brought him great joy and comfort in the long nights he spent carving and painting them from mere blocks of wood.

The End

1 comment:

  1. I am wondering if art does satisfy us, which seems to be the denouement of these dreams. I am reminded of my own experience with horses growing up, but I had great trouble drawing horses. There was a boy in school who drew horses every spare minute he had. Later on my sister Linda was able to paint horses the first time she ever tried it, she got their legs right even racing. I never did. This was an interesting attempt to connect the psychology of dreams to an interpretation that had practical success. Carving the horses in the dream worked for him. He finds out he has a great enough talent to be an artist. That must be an important revelation in anyone's life. I never got the revelation I could be an artist, even though I dreamed about horses many times. I run with horses in my dreams. I ride them in green pastures. I am safe from the snakes on the back of horses. But I find myself in old age extremely aware of horses. I was only vaguely aware for years of how important they were to me. They saved me from nightmarish people even in my dreams.

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