Thursday, April 27, 2006

Inevitably, he began to dream of rivers, or perhaps of a single river, unimaginably long, its source as impossible as its mouth, ceaselessly changing, ceaselessly the same, its black waters concealing impossible depths. He dreamt of a house on the bank of this river, a wooden house with open sides, among trees, the damp wood of the house no less alive than the wood of the trees, the wind tumbling through the branches of the trees the same wind that tumbled through the house, and the rush of the wind making the same sound as the black water rushing over the rocks of the river. For the house was close enough to the rapids for the river's spray to drench its posts and walls; but also--for such is the unstable topography of dreams--the house was on a great height overlooking the river, so high that the river's course was spread out below as on a map, a line of black or of gold traced through the green fog of the forest, black or gold, depending on the angle of the sun. And at this height the winds were warm and seemed tinged with pink and gold, but lower down, among the trees, where the wind gushed along the course of the river, the rays of the sun did not reach, it was always dark and damp and chilly in the permanent weather of this dream. It was always dusk, never day, and in the dark beneath the trees, along the forest floor muffled with dead leaves, it was always silent but for the sounds of the wind and the river, no birds called, no insects hummed, and the dark air was heavy with the weight of that silence.

From this house on the height above the river he would plan his journey, unfurling old maps that sometimes matched the river he could see far below. He did not know his destination, but he knew it lay somewhere along the river, further than the maps showed; he did not know when the journey would start, but he knew it would be soon, and his knapsack lay on the wooden floor beside him, half open, clothes and other things spilling out onto the floor. He had many visitors in this house, perhaps, because he could hear their voices, perhaps from another room, though it sometimes seemed the voices came from the trees, people chatting and laughing and never calling his name; but he was also a stranger in this house, he did not know what had brought him here, could not remember finding his way, and though he searched and searched his maps, turning them round and round on the table in the fading light, his face inches from the old, creased paper, his maps never told him where he had come from, and all they showed was the river, a long, meandering, spiralling line of black or of gold, the names of its islands and banks and tributaries unfamiliar and unhelpful, its many channels crossing and weaving so that it was not clear if it was one river or many, and the river of his maps only sometimes matched the river he could see outside, far below, and he did not know where the maps had come from. And though night never fell, night was always about to fall, it was always the moment just before he knew dusk had become night, and then in the wooden house with open sides on the bank of the river, so close that the spray from the rapids drenched the posts and walls of the house, he would shiver and listen to the rushing water falling on the rocks like knives, and wonder if it would rain that night, and, if it rained, how high the river would rise.

Sometimes this dream turned into the dream of nothing, which was an older dream, perhaps the first dream. It was a dream of falling asleep, of the moment between waking and sleeping when the dreamer must let go of things, of even the thought of sleep. Except he felt something in his arms, his arms were wrapped around something, something invisible without form or weight, a nothing, except he felt it in his arms and he tried to hold it fast, but the nothing in his arms seemed to grow bigger and bigger without ever changing, and he tried to hold it fast and stop it from growing, but because it had no form or weight it was unstoppable, and could not even be held, and then he realised he was sinking, but through a vast space so dark and empty he barely knew he was sinking, as if he were sinking through the very nothing he was trying to hold fast in his arms.

He wanted to let go, to stop trying to hold this nothing. Later he would know he did stop, because he did finally fall asleep, but he never knew how, and each time he had this dream he believed this was the time it would not end.

This was the oldest dream and the worst one, because it was really a dream of never sleeping and never waking. It was a dream of always being in the dream itself, in the impossible space between waking and sleeping, of always sinking and always trying to hold fast in his arms the nothing that could not be held or stopped. As a child, he had this dream nearly every night, and then for many years it had gone. Now the dream came back.

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