A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 118

Marcello floats in 8 1/2.

Wednesday, July 22

“And might it not be… that we have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished…?”

—W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

And might it not be that we keep such appointments via our dreams?

“One may be born with the potential for a prodigious memory, but one is not born with a disposition to recollect; this comes only with changes and separations in life—separations from people, from places, from events and situations… It is, thus, discontinuities, the great discontinuities in life that we seek to bridge.

—Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars

In a dream, it is night and I am with my mother (who died in 2005) at the Memphis house where I grew up. Distantly, I hear her say something like “I’ll be right back.” And she disappears. I search for her in the dark, calling “Geneva” out the back door, then up into the attic via a closet that contains the furnace, then out the front door into the darkness. There is no response. I look out the front and just see the grassy lawn—no one is around.

Freud says all dreams are attempts at wish fulfillment. So maybe this was an attempt to get my mother to return. But my dreams are quite varied and only a few can be interpreted as wish fulfillment.

Places that often appear in my dreams: my grandmother’s dark old house, my childhood home, Macy’s department store and its quaint old wooden-stair escalator, jazz and classical music concerts, and trains—particularly subways both in Boston and New York. What’s with the trains? Is there a sense of movement in sleep, as with Marcello Mastroianni’s floating in the air at the beginning of Fellini’s 8 1/2? And what’s with Macy’s??

It is not unusual for me to make angry, incoherent noises in my sleep—and for Emily to wake me up. In a recent case, I dreamed I was asleep, stretched out somehow inside a car—probably my mother’s Plymouth Valiant. The covers are comfy—then somebody breaks into the car and snatches away the blanket. I begin shouting for this person to bring back the covers. 

Another such case: I dream there is an intruder. I see him standing in the living room, turned in profile to me, and behind him I can see the oval, gold-framed mirror that stood on the wall at my childhood home. I can also see Emily in the next room, lying in bed asleep. Angry and afraid, I begin to shout at the man, and to throw things at him, including lightweight barbells. My shouts cause Emily to wake me up.

And yet another night terror: At our house on Long Island, I am looking out the side door. It is dark, but I can see that the trees are filled with large, threatening birds, flapping their wings and cawing ominously. I begin yelling at them to go away. Wake up, Hardy, says Emily.

She says that in such circumstances, she isn’t sure what to do. Should she wake me—or will that just frighten me more?

Not all of my dreams are terrors. Here’s another, peaceful reverie.

I go for a walk after dark, accompanied by a dog and a cat. I give the dog a pat on its belly. But I realize that the duo wants to go home, so we go back. Almost immediately, I see the cat on the bed alongside another cat, both fast asleep. The dog has disappeared, perhaps gone to an adjoining room. I am not sleepy, so I stay awake, content to watch.

Dinner: cold pasta salad with snap peas, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, and parsley.

Entertainment: More episodes of Rebus on Britbox.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 43

What dreams may come?

Monday, April 20

We waited in the office lobby. When the meeting ended, Sir Andrew rushed past us dismissively, then continuing to walk toward the stairs, he indicated that Gareth should come with him. Pointing at a typed page he carried, he angrily singled out a paragraph:

You’ve got to pick up every stihch. You can’t miss even one. Every stihch. 

This must be corrected, he said.

A squeamish looking Gareth nodded. Sir, he said, in terms of the work. We’re pretty stretched at the moment. Must this be tended to immediately?

I’m telling you, said Sir Andrew. Do this first. Whether you should receive a significant posting or just a lower level one depends upon getting it fixed.

Why should I have such strange dreams at 4:30 a.m., with arrogant, aquiline-faced aristocrats and their squirming underlings? It must have to do with watching too much British TV, but there may be echoes here of Babylon Berlin as well.

We’re anxiously awaiting our Peapod delivery of groceries, scheduled for tomorrow between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. Such is life under the quarantine—it’s supposedly heroic to do nothing but wait.

Emily is worried about the weather—rain is predicted, and the delivery guy has to leave our stuff outside where we can wipe off any viruses before transporting things inside. We have our rubber gloves and a spray bottle of diluted bleach, which can be used to squirt tins of stuff. Fresh veggies are supposed to require only a rinse with water, while boxes will get only a wipe-off with a paper towel. The virus is said to be able to live longer on metal and for only a few hours on cardboard.

Emily is in charge of the Peapod list, and one can make corrections or additions until 11:59 p.m. tonight. I keep thinking of stuff that may or may not be on the list—then asking her to check. Are we due to get more onions? What about canned tomatoes? And given our experience last time, there would seem to be only a 50-50 chance that any given thing will actually be delivered. What we really need are walnuts, honey, oatmeal, and any sort of meats. I figure that after Peapod comes and goes, I will likely have to go down to a nearby bodega and get several of these things.

For some time, I have had lots of dreams, probably due to a prescription drug that I take. These dreams are not often scary, and sometimes just entertaining. Over the past years, many have taken place at my childhood home, on one or two occasions featuring an intruder who’s trying to get in through the back door. Here, just to keep things lively, are a few examples:

I am spreading tomato sauce on a concrete walkway in a basement (not a familiar place). This seems odd even to me, but I had seen someone doing it and that made it seem a good idea. Still, I want to hurry in case someone sees me and asks what on earth I am doing. I use a spoon and just splash the stuff around, then spread it out evenly as you would with a pizza.

Before bed, I consider having some ice cream, but I fall asleep instead. Then, in the middle of the night after getting up to go to the bathroom, I dream that I hear Emily clanking her spoon against her bowl: It seems she got ice cream and I didn’t.

It is night, and I am at my childhood home with my mother. Distantly, I hear her say something like “I’ll be right back.” And she disappears. I search for her in the dark, calling her name out the back door, then up into the attic, then out the front door into the darkness. There is no response, but I am sure she will reappear. (In fact, she died in 2005.)

And finally, a quote from Oliver Sacks’ “The Landscape of His Dreams”: “One may be born with the potential for a prodigious memory, but one is not born with a disposition to recollect; this comes only with changes and separations in life—separations from people, from places, from events and situations.…All of us, finally, are exiles from the past.”

Tonight’s dinner: Linguini with asparagus pesto and a lettuce salad with cucumber. Lots of cookies.

Tonight’s entertainment: one Twilight Zone and two episodes of Babylon Berlin.