books

The Great University

I was a student of literature in the Great University, which was similar in feeling to the arts departments of universities I've been in in real life, but twenty times as big, and teeming with millions of students, every one of them following their own stories with all of their energy. I was to be taught a seminar by a Professor Andrew Wyle, the subject being a forgettable book that I did indeed keep forgetting - for a while I was looking for a bookshop to buy it in, then I was looking for another student from my class who could remind me what the book was, and finally I was just searching for Professor Wyle so that I could talk to him. I think I wanted to talk to him about another student of his, a girl who was in trouble. She was in a panic because her fiance had broken up with her and was with another woman, and she was running through the corridors of the Great University unable to figure out what she should do.

The problem was not so much her love for her fiance, although that was part of what was causing the pain and panic - the real problem was the unravelling of the story by which she had been living her life. She didn't really have a backup and so she was going nuts, like a computer whose operating system has crashed. I realized this when I was exiting the university bookshop, still looking for Professor Wyle, and saw the throngs of students streaming to their classes, and then saw a famous old writer on crutches heading towards the bookshop doors. I did my best to hold the door open for him, but it was very heavy and I didn't do a very good job. He did get through through, and proceeded to a table without a word of thanks or even a glance at me. I didn't take it personally, because he had a reputation for being extremely antisocial and unpleasant. I noticed that people were joining him at his table - admirers and helpers, people who wanted to talk to him. He showed no enthusiasm for all of this and I wondered what made people want to be around him.

Then it hit me. He was a creator of stories. People need stories. It's not simply that they have trouble thinking without stories; they literally cannot live without them. Someone who creates new stories, like many types of artist, is let away with practically any form of behaviour because of what they can do. They are like priests, mystics and royalty all wrapped into one. A writer of stories can do what almost no one else can do: they can give you a reason to live. It could be a stupid reason or a beautiful one, but they are the ones with the ability to write new software for your mind. It can be anyone, any story, at any level of expertise in the craft of writing. James Joyce shares the same power with Stephanie Meyer and they give people the same gift. Writers express the gift with the powers that they have been given, and the story is the living thing, not the craft with which it has been created.

I was still looking for Professor Wyle, but now I was running with joy, and the sun was shining on the campus of the Great University, and all the hordes of students appeared to me as something different, a mass of energy directed and shaped by stories, and I realized that it was within me to be a writer and a creator too, and I felt that ability as an energy inside me, driving me faster and filling me with an urgent kind of happiness.

Stealing Books

I was working in a medium-sized open-plan office space halfway up a skyscraper. The view outside included streets, other buildings, and the landscaped gardens of some dark-stoned stately home. I answered my phone, and the voice at the other end said "Look at your monitor," in rather ominous tone; so, of course, I did.

What I saw was myself, in grainy black-and-white CCTV footage, hauling an entire shelf of books out of the front door of a large bookstore in a wheelbarrow. A moment of amnesiac confusion, and then it hit me all at once - oh Christ - that stupid, drunken night! I remembered: breaking a window, browsing the bookstore shelves blind drunk while the alarm sounded, tipping a whole shelf into my handy wheelbarrow and exiting in a relaxed, happy manner.

Now the full possibilities of consequences hit me. "God, I'm so stupid," I said, and the voice at the other end sounded amused but not moved. There was some kind of wordless communication of futures: prison, fines, humiliation. I thought of my family and felt so guilty that I'd let them down and failed in my responsibility.

Bookshop of Death

I was in a huge bookstore that I've explored in several dreams. It has several floors and many sections, and places to sit down and read. The shelves are black and the carpets are red. In previous dreams I've been looking for people in the bookshop, but in this dream I'm looking for a book about sex. I can't remember why I want to find the book except that I know it has pictures in it and I want to see them (I think this might be a younger me in the dream).

While I'm looking for this book I realize that there is somebody following me, and I remember that I am involved in a mystery of some kind. A man was killed and I was supposed to find out why, or how it happened. I was with a group of young people who were investigating the mystery, when a man had driven up to a gas station nearby with a young boy in his car. I knew that there was something wrong about the man, but I didn't act on my intuition straight away, maybe because I was afraid of accusing someone in the wrong. Then I remembered one of the "rules" of intuition, or at least one of the rules of dreams, and I realized that if I had this feeling, it was because I had seen ahead in the plot and knew that something was going to happen. I chased down the road after the car, but it was pulling out of sight. I felt terrible - I knew that the man in the car was going to rape and then kill the young boy. All this had happened a short while before I entered the bookshop.

I left the bookshop wondering what was going to happen next. I felt that the plot was rushing to a conclusion but I didn't know what was coming next. I stood beside two men who were talking about a historical novel based on real events, in which a man was killed by a group of English soldiers. He had been shot over a hundred times, but he kept running. Suddenly I could see it happening as if I was a movie camera following the man's face. He was wearing a red uniform with black boots, and a silver wig which was almost falling off his head. He was guilty of a terrible crime, and he was being chased on foot along a road in open countryside by soldiers on horses. They would shoot him, and reload, and shoot again, and with every shot he staggered or fell, and then get up again. His blood covered the grass and the gravel for hundreds of yards. The soldiers were fascinated and appalled. The man was dying, and he must have known that, but he refused to give up. Finally he could only walk slowly, his eyes far back in his head, and a soldier got off his horse and walked up behind the man. He put the muzzle of his rifle against the man's back and fired, and the man fell forwards and everything went black. I woke up.
 

Little Burning Petals

Yellow roses are cold. Red roses burn you inside and white roses are broken pieces of a purer sun, but yellow roses have no flame, they are cold. Everyone knows this.

Karen remembers the day Dad gave her roses. She sometimes thinks about his as he was on that day, at that moment, the butter flowers making his face glow as if with an interior light. She knows it was only the fluorescents reflected off the petals, because as she took the flowers they chilled her skin.

Karen still sleeps in her old bedroom. She takes the same steps every day and smiles to herself as if each of her actions contained a secret. She is a shower of dark hair. She gets more beautiful every day. In the morning she sits outside and waits for the sun to crest the oaks at the edge of the garden, soaking up as much light as she can. When she comes back inside she radiates it – it’s almost painful to touch her, and there’s nothing beautiful in the world except her. When it rains she folds up her light neatly and draws it into herself. She drifts through the house like a thing barely alive. She arranges the flowers in every room. Daffodils for the kitchen, daisies for the bathroom, lilacs for the hall, and roses…

Roses are powerful flowers. Dad brought her roses that day. Their stems were bound with rough string. His face was caught in expressions from which he had no escape – every smile held the seeds of the frown that would soon return. He brought her flowers because it was raining and he knew that rain broke her heart. Karen thinks that the rain falling in our garden sounds like a dead person breathing.

Karen has put all her books in boxes and she says that one day she’ll burn them. In her bedroom she is surrounded by red and white roses in vases, jars, glasses, dried and hung from the ceiling, pressed between sheets of paper, pictures and paintings of roses, roses on her bedcovers and sheets. She says that they keep her warm at night when the sun is gone, and while she sleeps the scent wraps around her and she feels loved. I’ve seen her smiling in her sleep. I’ve seen her sleeping with open eyes.

She saw it in Dad’s eyes when he gave her the yellow roses. She didn’t say anything then, but later she told me that she had known what would happen. The yellow reflected in his eyes, the smell of the petals, the slow crumbling of his smile. The way he’d been reluctant to let go of the flowers when she took them, as if he needed the light. When she took them he went grey again in an instant – the stone eyes, the stone mask of skin, like a golem. When he left again she dropped the roses on the ground and wouldn’t pick them up again. They were pulling the heat from her, she said.

Sometimes I bring her away from the house. I try to take care of her because she needs it so much. She sees all places as if they were the same place. She gazes through people as if they were as shallow as the skein of dew on flower petals in the morning. But at home she’s alive because she knows where she is. Even on her dark days she burns from within like an angry ghost. When I have to go out she turns the lights off and moves through the darkness, and I come home hours later to find her glowing a subtle white, floating from room to room with her arms full of flowers, wet from the garden or crisp and pressed from the pages of books. Some day she’s going to burn the books.

She says that as Dad turned to go upstairs she heard him whispering, but she didn’t catch the words, and then it seemed to her as if she might have been wrong, and what she heard was really the sound of the rain in the garden, the deathly whisper.

I keep the room locked, except when Karen comes to me with yellow roses in her arms, smiling, her eyes full of hope, a knowledge that she would give to me if she could, and I open the door for her. He had always given her flowers. After Mom died his love locked itself deep inside, and the harder he tried to reach out of himself, the further away his voice seemed to be when he spoke, the more distance his gaze had to cover. Karen sometimes cried after he spoke to her, and that’s why he brought her flowers. They made her smile again, and the house would grow warm for a short while, and his spirit would come closer to the surface of his skin. He gave her lilacs and carnations and daffodils and irises and hyacinths and roses. Red roses and white roses. Then yellow roses, at the end. I’m sorry. That’s how she knew.

At first, Karen burned the roses in his room because of the gunpowder smell. The cordite scorched her nostrils and brought tears to her eyes, and she put the yellow roses in vases on the windowsill and the shelves of his room and burned them with a cigarette lighter until the sweet perfumed smoke hung in the air like fog and the smell of powder was gone. Black, tattered petals floated to the ceiling on plumes of heat and fell on his body as ash. Then she came out and looked at me and I locked the door because I didn’t know what to do.

Yellow roses are cold, like the moon. Karen watches the moon at night and smiles to herself. She knows who it reflects and she knows she shines brighter. She drinks the sun in the morning and gathers flowers for the house. She knows a secret. I don’t know the secret and she can’t tell me. She burns flowers in Dad’s bedroom to take away the smell. Dad smiles a smile that isn’t going to go away. Karen floats through the house like a star. I try to help her but soon we will have to go. When she smiles I feel warm. She’s my burning little sister. She cries sometimes because she doesn’t know how to say what she needs to say.

She says that we’re outside time now. We’re always going to be here, she says, and we were always here, pressed like petals between the pages of a book. She burns the roses and she will burn the books too. I know we’re not always going to be alone here. Someone is going to come. It’s not supposed to be like this, but I need her. I need her and I love Dad’s smile, his beautiful cold smile.

When the others come Karen says she will bring me home at last.