The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 103

   

38

THE DREAMTIME

ROGER HAD GONE to sing for Joel MacLeod’s nephew’s wedding, as arranged at the Gathering, and come home with a new prize, which he was anxious to commit to paper before it should escape.

He left his muddy boots in the kitchen, accepted a cup of tea and a raisin tart from Mrs. Bug, and went directly to the study. Jamie was there, writing letters; he glanced up with an absent murmur of acknowledgment, but then returned to his composition, a slight frown between his heavy brows as he formed the letters, hand cramped and awkward on the quill.

There was a small, three-shelf bookcase in Jamie’s study, which held the entire library of Fraser’s Ridge. The serious works occupied the top shelf: a volume of Latin poetry, Caesar’s Commentaries, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a few other classic works, Dr. Brickell’s Natural History of North Carolina, lent by the Governor and never returned, and a schoolbook on mathematics, much abused, with Ian Murray the Younger written on the flyleaf in a staggering hand.

The middle shelf was given over to more light-minded reading: a small selection of romances, slightly ragged with much reading, featuring Robinson Crusoe; Tom Jones, in a set of seven small, leather-covered volumes; Roderick Random, in four volumes; and Sir Henry Richardson’s monstrous Pamela, done in two gigantic octavo bindings—the first of these decorated with multiple bookmarks, ranging from a ragged dried maple leaf to a folded penwiper, these indicating the points which various readers had reached before giving up, either temporarily or permanently. A copy of Don Quixote in Spanish, ratty, but much less worn, since only Jamie could read it.

The bottom shelf held a copy of Dr. Sam. Johnson’s Dictionary, Jamie’s ledgers and account books, several of Brianna’s sketchbooks, and the slender buckram-bound journal in which Roger recorded the words of unfamiliar songs and poems acquired at ceilidhs and hearthsides.

He took a stool on the other side of the table Jamie used as a desk, and cut a new quill for the job, taking care with it; he wanted these records to be readable. He didn’t know precisely what use the collection might be put to, but he had been ingrained with the scholar’s instinctive value for the written word. Perhaps this was only for his own pleasure and use—but he liked the feeling that he might be leaving something to posterity as well, and took pains both to write clearly and to document the circumstances under which he had acquired each song.

The study was peaceful, with no more than Jamie’s occasional sigh as he stopped to rub the kinks from his cramped hand. After a while, Mr. Bug came to the door, and after a brief colloquy, Jamie put away his quill and went out with the factor. Roger nodded vaguely as they bade him farewell, mind occupied with the effort of recall and recording.

When he finished, a quarter of an hour later, his mind was pleasantly empty, and he sat back, stretching the ache from his shoulders. He waited a few moments for the ink to be thoroughly dry before he put the book away, and while waiting, went to pull out one of Brianna’s sketchbooks from the bottom shelf.

She wouldn’t mind if he looked; she had told him he was welcome to look at them. At the same time, she showed him only the occasional drawing, those she was pleased with, or had done especially for him.

He turned over the pages of the notebook, feeling the sense of curiosity and respect that attends the prying into mystery, searching for small glimpses of the workings of her mind.

There were lots of portrait sketches of the baby in this one, a study in circles.

He paused at one small sketch, caught by memory. It was a sketch of Jemmy sleeping, back turned, his small sturdy body curled up in a comma. Adso the cat was curled up beside him, in precisely similar fashion, his chin perched on Jemmy’s fat little foot, eyes slits of comatose bliss. He remembered that one.

She drew Jemmy often—nearly every day, in fact—but seldom fullface.

“Babies don’t really have faces,” she had told him, frowning critically at her offspring, who was industriously gnawing on the leather strap of Jamie’s powder horn.

“Oh, aye? And what’s that on the front of his head, then?” He had lain flat on the floor with the baby and the cat, grinning up at her, which made it easier for her to look down her nose at him.

“I mean, strictly speaking. Naturally they have faces, but they all look alike.”

“It’s a wise father that kens his own child, eh?” he joked, regretting it instantly, as he saw the shadow cloud her eyes. It passed, quick as a summer cloud, but it had been there, nonetheless.

“Well, not from an artist’s point of view.” She drew the blade of her penknife at an angle across the tip of the charcoal stick, sharpening the point. “They don’t have any bones—that you can see, I mean. And it’s the bones that you use to show the shape of a face; without bones, there isn’t much there.”

Bones or not, she had a remarkable knack for capturing the nuances of expression. He smiled at one sketch; Jemmy’s face wore the aloof and unmistakable expression of one concentrating hard on the production of a truly terrible diaper.

Beyond the pictures of Jemmy, there were several pages of what looked like engineering diagrams. Finding these of no great interest, he bent and replaced the book, then drew out another.

He realized at once that it was not a sketchbook. The pages were dense with Brianna’s tidy, angular writing. He flipped curiously through the pages; it wasn’t really a diary, but appeared to be a sort of record of her dreams.

Last night I dreamed that I shaved my legs. Roger smiled at the inconsequence, but a vision of Brianna’s shins, long-boned and glimmering, kept him reading.

I was using Daddy’s razor and his shaving cream, and I was thinking that he’d complain when he found out, but I wasn’t worried. The shaving cream came in a white can with red letters, and it said Old Spice on the label. I don’t know if there ever was shaving cream like that, but that’s what Daddy always smelled of, Old Spice aftershave and cigarette smoke. He didn’t smoke, but the people he worked with did, and his jackets always smelled like the air in the living room after a party.

Roger breathed in, half-conscious of the remembered scents of fresh baking and tea, furniture polish and ammonia. No cigarettes at the decorous gatherings held in the manse’s parlor—and yet his father’s jackets too had smelled of smoke.

Once Gayle told me that she’d gone out with Chris and hadn’t had time to shave her legs, and she spent the whole evening trying to keep him from putting his hand on her knee, for fear he’d feel the stubble. Afterward, I never shaved my legs without thinking of that, and I’d run my fingers up my thigh, to see whether I could feel anything there, or if it was okay to stop shaving at my kneecaps.

The hair on Brianna’s thighs was so fine it could not be felt; and only seen when she rose up nak*d over him, with the sun behind her gilding her body, gleaming through that delicate nimbus of secrecy. The thought that no one would ever see it but himself gave him a small glow of satisfaction, like a miser counting each hair of gold and copper, enjoying his secret fortune undisturbed by any fear of theft.

He turned the page, feeling unspeakably guilty at this intrusion, yet drawn irresistibly by the urge to penetrate the intimacy of her dreams, to know the images that filled her sleeping mind.

The entries were undated, but each entry began with the same words: Last night, I dreamed.

Last night I dreamed that it was raining. Hardly surprising, since it was raining, and has been for two days. When I went out to the privy this morning, I had to jump over a huge puddle by the door, and sank up to the ankles in the soft spot by the blackberries.

We went to bed last night with the rain pounding on the roof. It was so nice to curl up with Roger and be warm in our bed, after a wet, chilly day. Raindrops fell down the chimney and hissed in the fire. We told each other stories from our youths—maybe that’s where the dream came from, thinking about the past.

There wasn’t much to the dream, just that I was looking out a window in Boston, watching the cars go past, throwing up big sheets of water from their wheels, and hearing the swoosh and rush of their tires on the wet streets. I woke up still hearing that sound; it was so clear in my mind that I actually went to the window and peeked out, half expecting to see a busy street, full of cars rushing through the rain. It was a shock to see spruce trees and chestnuts and wild grass and creepers, and hear nothing but the soft patter of raindrops bouncing and trembling on the burdock leaves.

Everything was so vivid a green, so lush and overgrown, that it seemed like a jungle, or an alien planet—a place I’d never been, with nothing I recognized, though in fact I see it every day.

All day, I’ve heard the secret rush of tires in the rain, somewhere behind me.

Feeling guilty, but fascinated, Roger turned the page.

Last night I dreamed of driving my car. It was my own blue Mustang, and I was driving fast down a winding road, through the mountains—these mountains. I never have driven through these mountains, though I have been through the mountain woodlands in upstate New York. It was definitely here, though; I knew it was the Ridge.

It was so real. I can still feel my hair snapping in the wind, the wheel in my hands, the vibration of the motor and the rumble of tires on the pavement. But that sensation—as well as the car—is impossible. It can’t happen now, anywhere but in my head. And yet there it is, embedded in the cells of my memory, as real as the privy outside, waiting to be called back to life at the flick of a synapse.

That’s another oddness. Nobody knows what a synapse is, except me and Mama and Roger. What a strange feeling; as though we three share all kinds of secrets.

Anyway, that particular bit—the driving—is traceable to a known memory. But what about the dreams, equally vivid, equally real, of things I do not know of my waking self. Are some dreams the memories of things that haven’t happened yet?

Last night I dreamed that I made love with Roger.

He had been about to close the book, feeling a sense of guilt at his intrusion. The guilt was still there—in spades—but totally insufficient to overcome his curiosity. He glanced at the door, but the house was quiet; women were moving about in the kitchen, but no one was near the study.

Last night I dreamed that I made love with Roger.

It was great; for once I wasn’t thinking, wasn’t watching from the outside, like I always do. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of myself for a long time. There was just this . . . very wild, exciting stuff, and I was part of it and Roger was part of it, but there wasn’t any him or me, just us.

The funny thing is that it was Roger, but I didn’t think of him like that. Not by his name—not that name. It was like he had another name, a secret, real one—but I knew what it was.

(I’ve always thought everybody has that kind of name, the kind that isn’t a word. I know who I am—and whoever it is, her name isn’t “Brianna.” It’s me, that’s all. “Me” works fine as a substitute for what I mean—but how do you write down someone else’s secret name?)

I knew Roger’s real name, though, and that seemed to be why it was working. And it really was working, too; I didn’t think about it or worry about it, and I only thought toward the very end, Hey, it’s happening!

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