The Man In My Dream

"In short?""In short, right now, as soon as you get home, pack up your things... Tomorrow morning, on my way to the station, I'll drop by for five minutes: I'm gonna drag you along! Fifteen days of quietness, of fresh air, after a whole summer in this inferno will do you better than all the soothing draughts. I have a balcony with wild vine, overlooking the whole valley: it's wonderful! Autumn is really beautiful there... It's all settled! O.K.?"It was late at night on the terrace of the restaurant, at Enescu's. It had rained during the day; autumn announced itself to be cold.At a table, a couple of late customers were having the rest of their coffees, with their overcoats on the shoulders. A woman, her neck wrapped up in a white shawl, waiting for somebody, all by herself, was removing with slow and bored movements the wax-like peel of a pear. The musicians were putting the instruments into their black little coffins. A cembalo string, touched by mistake, startled in a moan.The wind blew the oval, yellow little leaves off the locust trees across the wall. It was sad, damp, cold. The straw hats had disappeared for some days from the streets...The waiter started wrapping up the table-cloths. He put out some of the lights.The cigarette tasted bitter; I threw it away although I had just lit it. I shuddered."Just look at your eyes! C'mon! Say it's O.K. with you..."I found it hard to give in. All along that summer, the only green I had rested my looks on, was that of the dusty lime leaves on the boulevard. Just a couple of times, at night, I had felt the breeze of grass in the field, overcome by the smell of gasoline on the Şosea[1]. The whole summer there had been an utter drought, a dry scorcher, radiating from the walls, heating up the tin of the roofs, lasting until past midnight. The shoeheels would get stuck into the rubber-like asphalt. In July and August all the windows had been blinded out with blue paper. At the time trains were coming, the carriages would pass by, loaded with suitcases and baskets, with women in traveling clothes: grayish cloaks, thin veils, covering small hats and tied under their chin.For a while, the whole city had seemed empty. Few passers-by, hurrying along the walls, hats in hands, wiping their foreheads with the handkerchiefs. In the evenings, no acquaintance in the open-air cafés: so, I used to sip the ice-coffee all by myself, sitting at a table with round stains from the beer mugs, overhearing unwillingly the haggling of the grain merchants, showing one another the harvest samples, spied on by the gypsy kids selling newspapers and waiting for me to throw my cigarette butt.Then I had witnessed everybody's return; long lines of carriages and taxi cabs, kids with sun-tanned ankles, red-faced women under the foam of their laces; shedded walking sticks with iron ends; nurses holding on their lap pitchers with Romanian folk decorations, withered wild flowers, "souvenirs" from the spa...The windows had been opened; on the trellis works and on the margins of the balconies there had appeared the carpets shaken off the moth balls. The sidewalks had regained their noisy, rested crowds, having a particular refreshed and exotic air, like people healed from their urban paleness.That autumn found me tired, after sleepless nights. The vibration of the cars on the pavement was resounding on my nerves as if on tightened strings. Two weeks away from those walls, somewhere, would have poured into my tired veins a fortifying draught. But I found it hard to break off. Something humiliating, impossible to confess, paralyzed me to stiffness, sentenced me to this blue tormenting, without any possibility of escape. My friend felt the hesitation in my eyes and putting out his burning lighter across the table, smiled gladly, already convinced of his success.I lit my cigarette unawares; after two puffs I threw it away. Obviously! I had to take his advice if I couldn't stand the smoke of my own cigarette either. The third day, I woke up in the morning, worried by so much silence.No sound of the "coal, coal, coal..." shouting under my windows, no truck rattle penetrating the walls, no voice of whitewashers arguing downstairs in the street... For a moment I closed my eyes, trying to come to myself. I jumped up to let the sun in.In the yard, Alexandru, wearing his tight-belted country coat, and his riding boots, was watching a servant putting black oil on the hooves of a bustling filly.A swollen-feathered turkey was going round, puffing asthmatically through its nostrils and shaking its bluish wattles. A maid, wearing a narrow red girdle tight around her waist, put the milking pail down and chased it away with her foot:"Get lost, damn' you!"My friend turned around. He saw me by the window frame. He made a threatening sign with his finger:"You're late, lazy bone, you're late!"Then, to the maid:"Profira, take him his coffee at once!"I had my coffee on the upper porch. "Well, how did you sleep? What did you dream?" he asked me, while spreading the butter on his slice or rye bread and putting some fine salt on it. I had slept like a log. No dreams at all!"Strange!... I said, dropping the sugar lumps one by one and watching the bubbles coming up from my coffee. Strange! It seems I have run out of fantasy to spend in dreaming. I have only my child dreams left... Haven't you dreamt you were flying? You spread out your arms and float immaterially over church steeples, over woods which you leave behind. The land stretches out at your feet, like a map with bluish water veins, with narrow stripes of farmlands and the winding white roads... It seems a most charming, yet most natural journey... Then, another dream: an upright mountain rises in front of you and you have to climb it up, which scares you; you know you won't manage it up to the top, you can't see any path, yet something urges you, there is no way out; you hang to the rocks, your heart is throbbing to tear your chest, you're halfway up, a stone plate gets loose as you touch it, you roll down, want to cry out, no shout is heard and you know that you're going to die down there and the falling keeps on and on... You wake up moaning, your hands clutched to the pillow..."My friend smiled, showing all his white and strong teeth, brightening up his - sun-tanned face. He never dreamt anything. He was always too tired to be able to dream. He used to sleep with tight fists and wake up on the same side. "But the wonderful thing, wonderful and strange, is that - I went on - as soon as you have closed your eyes, you meet characters that appear only in your dream, who have somehow become old acquaintances. You have never seen them in reality! They don't even exist in flesh and blood! But they appear in your sleep, take part in the events, disappear for a while and then reappear, and, dreaming, you remember having met them in another dream.. That's the way a providential character appears in my dreams. He saves me from the most terrible dangers, lends me a hand when I'm slipping into an abyss, dives and swims to me and saves me from drowning... He is a gray-dressed man; an old man with grayish, short-cut mustaches, with a very sad and tired figure, with a narrow black tie round a hard collar, showing the metal tip of the button. He is always accompanied by a brownish doggie with short legs, twisted forward like a crocodile's: a pointed-muzzled, floppy-eared 'basset'. I could even tell you its name: Soliman!... It has a white spot on the chest, red, lashless eyes and a reddish collar with a shiny buckle. Since my childhood dreams, when they first appeared, they have never changed, never grown old, they seem as familiar to me as the people I meet in my real life. During the examination sessions, when my sleep was tormented by the lessons I had not learnt and by the fear of those strict teachers, that man in my dream used to come and release me from the most absurd and breath-taking adventures... The whole commission was gathered there in the examination room, round the teacher's desk. I used to stand, chalk in hand, at the blackboard, white-faced, breathless, with a blank mind, after I had swotted for a whole month. "What is the name of the most important lake in Central Africa!" I would rise my eyes to the mute map in front of me. I could see its blue spot among the brownish caterpillars suggesting the mountains. I remembered that the night before I had known it for sure, that the Nile springs from there, that is has a feminine name. But my mind was in a total darkness and I could not utter a word. The president would smile maliciously, write something down in pencil, turn to whisper in the ear of his colleague on the left. "Who came on the throne of France after Hugo Capet?" "When a pyramid is turned into a cone, its apothem becomes the generatrix of the cone; so, what is the lateral surface of a cone?"... It seemed like a language from another planet! I would drop the chalk, rumple the moistured sponge... There was a dead silence in the classroom and nobody dared to move... The three of them would make me a sign to leave, as if I had been a convict who had no one to expect a pardon from. And at that moment, the door would open and the old man with the doggie would show up. Having greeted, he'd go straight to the president, put his hat on the corner of the desk and say: "Mr. president, I guarantee for this student! He knows the subject admiringly! You have intimidated him!" The president would wipe his glasses with the handkerchief, bow on his chair and answer politely: "Well, then, that makes all the difference... Here, student Theodorescu Ion: in Geography, in History, in Mathematics!" The man used to say Goodbye, turn around and say extremely calm: "Let's go now, Soliman! Goodbye student Theodorescu Ion, and try to get rid of your timidity!" I would wake up as happy as if I had avoided a real danger, like the dream had solved all my childhood fears. Some other time...But my friend had stopped listening. His quick eyes, the eyes of a master, had noticed an unacceptable disorder in the household. He rose and ordered from the end of the porch:"Costache, See about Sâmbotina's calf! It's got loose!"The calf, well leant upon its front legs, was suckling busily, and Sâmbotina, a Swiss-breed cow, with big, brown spots, was turning her mild-eyed head, with a wet, black muzzle, trying hard to caress its offspring with the tongue. The servant rushed and snatched the calf, pulling it by the ears and chasing it into the stock yard. Sâmbotina mooed behind."I'm sorry," Alexandru excused himself, returning and laying the napkin back on his knees. If you don't keep an eye on them, everything goes wrong... You were saying..."I didn't feel like going on. My friend proved to be too absent-minded a listener. After all, why should he be interested in dream interpretation, which is a job for old women and star gazers. For a few minutes nothing was heard but the clinking of the teaspoons in the cups, the gurgle of the black coffee poured out of the porcelain coffee-maker. I found myself filling my cup a second time, eagerly pouring the foamy cream over the coffee.My friend was watching me, pleased with this wild appetite."You're looking better today... In a week!..."Then, after a long pause, on a lower voice:"Still gambling?"I bowed my head, feeling the blood rushing to my cheeks. At the moment, I looked concerned only about the yellow butter, with drops of water, which was spread on my slice of bread.That was the question that I feared most. My sunken eyes, my life's whole mess of late, the summer that I stubbornly spent in the scorcher of the capital, were all caused by this passion, which was dragging me deeper and deeper. I was burdened with debts. I was running away from my creditors. That was my only thought. I used to avoid my friends, always talking busily, obsessed by the games at the club and every night's baccarat, blaming myself for the silly game I'd made the night before. Towards daybreak, in the pale light, the mirrors of the club reflected among the flickering candle flames and through the thick smoke, my distorted ghost figure, with glossy eyes and sweaty, dirty temples.Something horrible and irretrievable was going on in my life, which was suddenly denied any prospect, a slow, inexorable decay, a flounder which was going to suck me in soon, for ever, in that swarming of déclassés, kibitzers and jesters around the gambling houses.I swallowed that piece of bread reluctantly. The milk seemed suddenly tasteless, disgusting. There was no better place than that one, far away from the city, where life went on naturally, powerfully, there was no better place to show my fall more hopelessly.My hand might have been trembling when I placed the knife on the margin of the faience plate, maybe there were tears in my eyes.My friend rose, shaking off the crumbs. He felt sorry for having asked that thoughtless question, so unwillingly brutal. He took a few steps on the porch. He tore a red, jagged leaf off the vine stretching on the string, bit its stalk, spit the sourish juice. He drummed his fingers on the wooden beam.He turned around, took me by the shoulders in a brotherly access."C'mon, don't make such a long face. I've stupidly asked you, because we are going to Vlăduleni this afternoon, to Ordeanu's, who has lost his fortune in cards playing. I didn't mean it. 'A natural association of ideas', as poor Apostol, our Logic teacher, used to say. Let's go down now, to show you the orchard." That afternoon, having crossed the bridge over the Moldova in his wheel-cart, Alexandru slowed down the horses' pace, let the bridles across his arm to roll a cigarette, and being through with that, he pointed with his horsewhip to the right of the road, on the outskirts of a village, indicating Ordeanu's houses.An orchard spreading out on one hillside, a vineyard, the white house surrounded by trees, some fenceless outbuildings. He turned on a narrow road, covered with weeds, which felt soft under the wheels."This man, Ordeanu, he explained, after having smashed a huge, gray fly on the buttocks of the horse with the tip of his whip, the Ordeanu I'm talking about is, as far as I know, the last descendant of a very old family... He used to have a forty-acre lot around Roman, two big houses - real palaces - in Iaşi. He has lost everything in cards playing, long ago. He has quit gambling for some ten or twelve years. What's left to him is this vineyard and the orchard, once famous. He sold them in order to move to Bucharest. These days he is taking stock and delivering... I have noticed two colts that I think I'm going to buy... They're good breed, coming from Paşcanu's stud farm. As a matter of fact, he is so in debt that I wonder what's going to be left for him after he sells out. Cards playing is a terrible passion!..." Alexandru declared conclusively and touched the backs of the horses with the whip.The wheels brushed along the grass-covered road. We were crossing fields of ripe corn, ready to harvest, with twisted yellow leaves and black tassel.As we were getting near, the farm showed its dereliction. The house, white from the distance, revealed walls turned gray by the rains, with fallen plaster, a rusted tin roof, with small, black square windows, protected by thick bars, like those of a prison. No fence. Two stone pillars in the middle of the field indicated the place where there once was the gate. A dry poplar, with a shedded trunk, dry leafless branches and with black, crow nests. The weeds reached a man's height. The very image of desolation, poverty, sadness.When we pulled in front of the entrance stairs, no door was opened, not a curtain moved behind the windows. A maid, wearing a dirty, ungirded, hempen blouse, and holding a twig in her hand, left a goose flock by the skew barn, set on pillars, and shuffled her bare feet to the wheel cart.When asked, she didn't answer, keeping her hand over her mouth in a silly way. "I say, where is the boyar?"The girl, poked the soil with her twig and kept her mouth covered with her hand, blackened by nut peels."To hell with her! She's an idiot, brother!" my friend lost his temper, fixing the whip in its holder and jumping off. "We'll find him without... Hey, old man, where's the master of this place, the boyar?An old man, the small of his back bent, wearing a faded-colour riding coat, and a hat that once was green - relics of a coachman's outfit in the fashion of old times Hungarian counts - dragged his worn-out boots towards them."I say...""What? Sorry I don't get it...""He's deaf, he can't hear!" the maid explained and then ran to the geese in the dusty weeds."I'm asking where the boyar is! Master Iorgu!" Alexandru shouted as loud as he could."Aaa! the boyar. Where's the boyar?..."The old man scratched his head under his hat."Well, who could know where the boyar is? He may be that way, in the vine, excuse me...""Everyone's nuts here!" my friend complained. "What a house, brother, what people!"He pulled the wheel cart by the stable, detached the girdles by himself and knotted them, brought a handful of hay from a manger and then we both left for the orchard and the vine, in search of the master.There, the devastation was even more distressing. The vine had empty spaces and it was overgrown with weeds; the wild vine had dried grapes and tangled stalks.We walked to its farther end and returned on another path. No trace of him. We stopped by a half-dried pond. Once there had been a garden all around.There were a few autumn flowers left, white chrysanthemums, still unwithered by the white frost and a few shrubs of young trees of that kind one finds around cloisters, like small white cedars, whose leaves, rubbed between the fingers, smell like basil and myrrh, and maybe that is why they are called "God's wood". Passing by, I picked the soft tip of a branch to breathe its fragrance. Something cried in a metallic voice above my head and got away in a silky flutter of wings. We both startled. There was a pair of peacocks. They stopped on the roof of a broken-windowed, doorless kiosk.There, the peacock spread the fan of its tail, wonderful ornament with iridescent eyes: green, blue, black and gold. Those birds with their sumptuous and heavenly rich feathers made the poverty and ruin all around even more depressing. A spiky fruit fell off a chestnut tree, broke open at our feet and let two twin and glossy-peeled chestnuts roll in the sand.Puzzled, we were looking around, not knowing which way to go, when, from behind a lilac hedge, there appeared the master of these gloomy surroundings.He was coming, his grayish hat over his eyes, making no haste, his hands hanging by his body, as if extremely bored, or not finding anything to do. When he got near he greeted reluctantly, in a soft voice. I looked at him with eyes large open, and feeling like a sick man in course of unexpectedly losing his mind. I had seen that man once, coming that way.A brownish dog, burst out of the lilac bushes barking cantankerously."Hush! Do behave Soliman!" his master called, and the doggy with twisted, croc-like legs came close wagging his tail, suddenly friendly.I grasped my friend's arm:"The man in my dream!" I babbled.Alexandru didn't hear, or didn't understand. He shook the old man's hand, then turned to me:"Master Iorgu, let me introduce an old friend of mine..."He put out his hand naturally, unconcerned, as to a man he'd seen for the first time.His hand was sweaty and cold. A dead man's hand. I let it go in a shiver. What was that? Where was the vision coming from? Like in a bad dream, when you face the danger in order to put an end to it, I felt like speaking quickly, breathlessly, thus fooling myself."How come you don't know me?" a crazy thought urged me to ask. "I am student Theodorescu Ion, the one who didn't know the name of the main lake in Central Africa, or who followed Hugo Capet, or the lateral area of a cone... It is me you have saved from the dangers of my dream examinations and from the most terrible catastrophes in my sleep. I would have recognized you from a thousand persons! I also recognize Soliman! See how he's looking at me! He seems to remember something..."But I could not say all these and I did my best to keep my coolest look."Obviously, that's the way madness starts!" I was saying to myself and suddenly I felt terribly afraid of my own self. "Now I am going to do something crazy, I'll start walking on my hands or I'll start shouting that I have a glass brain."But everything around me was as before, I could see everything with the same eyes: Alexandru's mustache, black and round-trimmed above his lip, and the blue-stoned ring on his finger, when he was gesticulating, and his voice, which sounded the same, unchanged. The autumn sky was blue and calm above. A bird was swinging on the tip of a branch. I whispered to myself, in my thought, the names of the trees and plants around; I recognized them, I had not forgotten anything; nothing was troubled in my thinking. Then why the anxiety and the sensation of mystery? How had the man in my dream entered my real life? And how could he speak naturally, simply about usual things? I tried to concentrate on the sense of his words, expecting to find hidden meanings in there. But there was nothing. They were simply talking about the exact area of the lands he'd sold, about prices, about the inventory of his household which was going to scatter to the four winds in a couple of days."Horoviţ is coming tomorrow," said Iorgu Ordeanu, "I'm handing everything over... He kind of took me by surprise, the merchant! I am packing now what's left of my stuff. It's really hard. I'm alone. There's no one to help me... It's a sad moment when you have to leave the places where you grew up and make place to another owner, in your room, where your bed used to be."I felt his voice was trembling in the end. But my friend paid no attention. His mind was to his business. "Master Iorgu, those dark-bay colts, I hope you haven't sold them, have you? I could offer a good price myself if..."For a moment I felt a slight despise for the way he broke up this brutal haggling.His haste not to miss any opportunity seemed to me entirely similar to the greed of Horoviţ, the Jew, who was going to take over the remnants of this ruined household, the next day. I would have probably expected more delicacy in this abrupt passing from the expelled landowner's sadness, not shared with anyone, to the business matters.That's why I gave up listening. I stepped aside, my hands behind my back, and leaning against a tree, I stood watching. There was no doubt: he was the very man in my dream. His thin-cut figure, with tired bluish eyes under gray eyebrows, his habit of pulling out hairs of his gray mustache, while talking, the thin tie knotted over the high, rigid collar, which showed the metal end of the button, these old-fashioned clothes, brushed to the last trace of dust, well, everything was familiar to me down to the smallest detail. Again, I was terrified by the idea of going crazy.The brownish doggie sat in front of me, his head unmoved, staring at me with his hazel, lashless eyes, piercingly attentive.I pushed him aside with my foot. He ran a few steps away. He stretched in the shade, his muzzle on his legs and started staring at me again. He was the dog in my dream. Besides, his name was Soliman. My ears started to hum. I took a few steps. The palms of my hands were burning for the pressure against the bark of the tree. The traces of the rough bark were visible on my skin; I rubbed my hands to bring the blood back.I made for the shallow pond. Behind me, my friend and Iorgu Ordeanu were bargaining on the price of the horses; I considered it useless to witness their business talks.The path with creeping portulaca was taking me among those stones for the first time, and yet, I had the troubling feeling I had walked there before, the same way. I stopped by the shore, near a rotten-boarded foot bridge. A green, golden-glass-eyed frog stood still, hanging its very small legs at water level, unmoved, like a gymnast on an invisible trapeze.Like then, I had once looked at that water, with its greenish, scale-like vegetation above, which opened here and there into transparent water spots. I could remember that hallucinatingly... I stood right there, by the pole tied with a torn piece of rope, near the mint bush. A salamander sneaked from under my feet, with its black and yellow body, with the tail flattened into a thin crest like that of the fantastic reptiles depicted in fairy-tale books; I startled, slipped, and shouted; the old man had come from the end of that very alley, accompanied by his brownish dog; he gave me his hand and pulled me out of the water, all soaked and covered by water weeds. The doggie fawned around me, sniffing with his long muzzle... I then woke up, my teeth chattering...How clearly I remembered that dream, as if I had just recovered from it! I also remembered that morning when I woke up with me child's heart still throbbing with fear...I was saying my prayers on my knees, on the unmade bed. I used to repeat mother's words, line after line, but my mind was elsewhere; I could see Catinca through the window, bringing from the cellar a plateful of wild strawberries and two green soda bottles."What are you looking at?" my mother scolded me.And then, I started saying it quickly, in order to get it ended: "...and do not take us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil. Amen..."When I was through, as I raised my eyes to the icon of Saint George, in his trellised armor, piercing the monster with his spear, the salamander in my dream suddenly came to my mind, as well as the fear of drowning, and I started to cry, softly, my forehead against the nut-tree chestboard, which was smelling of paint and wax."What about this nonsense?" my mother had asked kindly, reprovingly looking at me in wonder.I told her the story of my dream, about the man with the brownish doggy, Soliman.Mother stroke my curly hair: "You're a big boy now, you needn't be afraid of the monsters and events of your bad dreams. Life has in store for all of us enough monsters and events, even worse than those..."Then I dropped everything, forgetting the whole story, with the child's happy easiness of