Someone Else's Dreams: Part I
By: Paco Aramburu

It was all the fault of the real estate agent.

Marta Alicia pushed me into the car. "We have to see this house. This is the one."

And we drove and we drove. I checked on her; her long, delicate fingers of one hand were choking the other. "Where is this place again?"

"Saint Charles, I told you."

"Do we need a passport?"

"Stop it! It's not that far."

"From Saint Charles, but from Chicago?" She didn't find my ramblings funny. "Also, I don't trust saints. There's something wrong with someone who wants to be too good —"

"That's Farnsworth! Turn there."

The house, a dark brick mansion cocooned in a giant, green nest of maple and oak trees, had been built before the Civil War and, as we walked through the overgrown garden, I expected Uncle Fester to open the heavy, creaky front door for us. Marta Alicia liked it immediately. She said she felt a "connection;" while I just hoped that the electricity was connected. Inside, except for the lack of a pipe organ and a dungeon, the mansion did not contradict my expectations and provoked my wife to several squeals of delight over old, dark furniture left by the dead owner and ornamented woodwork snaking over and under the stairs and transoms. There was a tarnished plaque that read simply: Ishtar. "That's the name of the house." The Agent apparently thought it was a good thing. "I took the liberty of drafting up the contract," as a reem of tightly written paper manifested under my nose. "This house is the only one to make your wife happy. Look at her."

Ever since high school, when I watched her coming into the English Lit class, landing softly next to me with a honeyed quality to her movements, to her glances, to her voice that still disturbs me. Since that day, I had made it my life goal to make her happy.

We were coming from Waco, Texas where an old house means it's from the 1960's. Because the corporate office had insisted on us using that particular Realtor, and Marta Alicia liked the property so much, I said yes to the mortgage, and to the hour–and–a–half commute.

Soon after we settled in the house, we heard what the creaky floors were saying, what the whispering eaves were hissing on autumn nights, and why the carved daemons and fairies on the bannisters were smiling at Marta Alicia, who had taken to wearing white gowns and to gliding throughout the house, caressing the wooden creatures.

I was informed that the room with a large portrait of an oddly dressed elderly woman with a lazered stare denoting either anger or an urgent need of a toilet, was called a parlor. Although I thought parlors were rooms dedicated to receiving people, I noticed how my lovely spent long hours sitting on the worn–out red, damask chaise lounge facing the picture, hands gathered in her white lap, losing herself in a new reverie.

I was relieved that she had stopped watching those shows about reality wives when we came to Ishtar, but this place had turned her into a zombie. I sat next to her, my hand on hers, her long jet–black curls framed her Roman profile, her eyes now lowered indicating she was ready to listen.

I wanted to shout, what's wrong with you, but I forced my voice down to a classical music broadcaster level. "Honey, why are you watching that portrait?"

"She talks to me, Chuck. She's telling me she has stolen the mes and she plans to let irrationality rule the world until we re–build better human conditions." The corner of her mouth didn't quite smile.

"What's the mes?"

"Those are rules, nature laws, social institutions …" She lifted her sight again to engage with the disturbing portrait.

Desperate to bring Marta Alicia back to our normal ways, I decided to get rid of the old woman and to replace her with another painting. A painting that would not converse with any member of my family.

The next morning, after visiting the frame shop and the hardware store, I came back armed with a hammer, the best nails money could buy, and a painting of fruit next to a bottle of Chianti. First thing, I removed Our Lady of the Commode to the basement. Leaning on the dusty brick wall downstairs, she looked even more constipated than the day before. Back at the parlor, standing on a short ladder, I calculated where to hang the new fruity art and I hit the wall with the business end of my nail. It cracked a little, then a piece broke, then a large piece of dusty wall crumbled, and another crack ripped the wall all the way to the ceiling. With nail still in hand, I tried to keep the left side from falling, but the gypsum collapsed onto the floor until the entire wall disintegrated and lay at my feet. The noise brought Marta Alicia down from her bedroom. "There's a desk there." She sang like she had seen a magical lamp.

I looked at her, but she focused on what was behind the wall. I said, "that's just what we need, another room in this house."

"There's a book. You're supposed to read it." She was radiant, eyes greedy for what they saw.

I asked her, "What do you mean I'm supposed to read it?"

"All I know is that it's for you to read." She left me alone.

I inventoried a square wooden table sustaining one large book. The space had been painted black from ceiling to floor and had no windows that I could identify. I walked in and read the well–worn, gilded letters "Vademecum of Rites & Oneiric Summoning." The cover was of a red that, not unlike blood, had taken on a coagulated brown tone. When I opened it, the arthritic sound of old paper and dry glue let me know that I was interrupting a long slumber. Being that the book weighed at least sixty pounds, I felt it would be more practical to bring the wet vac rather than move the fragile, heavy tome.

That night, I went outside to get the pizza from the mailbox. Since my wife moved in, she had stopped cooking and since the delivery man was scared to come into our front garden, we arranged that I would leave an envelope with his money and he would leave the box on top of the old, brick and mortar mailbox up front. I also picked up a letter from corporate praising my decision to buy Ishtar. "Why do they care?" I exhaled coming back in.

Sitting at the long table, candelabra and white linens between us, and eating pizza out of the box had to be the most ridiculous scene ever. And yet my wife looked at me and raised an eyebrow. "You're all dusty. Don't worry, I'll wait for you."

"But I don't w — "

"Chuck! Are you going to sit down to dinner like that?"

"It's pizza!"

"It's dinner."

I trudged to the bathroom to wash.

When I came back, she had already divided the pie and placed the halves on paper plates accompanied by white plastic forks and generic paper napkins. The life of the one percent, I thought.

When I sat at the head of the table, I saw Marta Alicia between flickering lights that made her many shadows dance on the walls "I was really mad at you when you removed Ishtar to the basement. She's —" "I thought the house was named —?"

"Ishtar is the … lady in the portrait. She is the seed and the fruit." She put her pizza down and sat back in her chair. "Anyway, I feel she and I have a connection."

I had never heard her talk like that. "I noticed that you spent a lot of time watching it and that had me worried."

"It's hard to explain, but I feel I lived here, that I know Ishtar from before. I remember those creatures on the banisters that you make fun of all the time. I don't know how else to explain."

"Like déjà vu?"

"I knew you would trivialize it. No. It's a memory with … with feelings. Anyway, I want you to read that book. It may help us understand what is going on with Ishtar and me." She made a sweeping gesture to indicate the house.

"Shouldn't it be you who reads —"

"It's got to be you. You're smart, you will be objective. I may get lost in these old memories that … that I never had before."

That night, our Lady of the Commode appeared to me in a dream. It woke me up in a sweat and, for reasons that I still don't understand, that lazered stare of hers scared me enough to arouse childhood fears of my eternal inadequacy. So, I got up and tip–toed down the creaky stairs to end up in the parlor. With the aid of a long extension cord and a lamp, I began to read the book. The first few pages featured vivid color illustrations of planets, an odd eight–pointed star and what I assumed were goddesses, daemons and stylized plants as if they grew out of the pages.

The first text page had a title in large print:

Book One Oneiric Augury

Praise be to Anu, source of the enduring flow of life Master of the righteous armies.

Verily the light has befallen on Ishtar the maiden of darkness mother of the fish and the river the soil and the fruit the snow and the cloud.

That pretty much was the first page. The writer believed in all these gods but, apparently, not in commas. The next page became more specific in terms of what the book was about.

Every page started with:

Praise be to Ishtar.

Rivers flow spheres move in the ether the firmament alternates nights and days without bestirring a consciousness they lack.

Ishtar gilds the soil with a seed inside earth to grow life aplenty in the manifold of summer.

A few pages later there was a chapter on magic.

Casting Spells for Eternal Life

Praised be Ishtar Sedu Vadukku Ekimu Gallu Ishtar Sar–ziri Kusu and the God of air with the uncertain name.

Ishtar sayeth to deliver us another neck to boweth under your blissful yoke to show your favor and grace and to assent to your commands

Ishtar conjurings investeth man with the breath of a pure lass to imbue the One with a new life to last thousand cycles of the moon.

When the moon retireth to the dark–ness tie the hair of a pure lass elevate two plumes of phoenix over her transom and spill blood of basilisk as goeth back the star of Bel.

I looked up some words in the dictionary. Oneiric meant that it was about dreams. Like the dreams I had of her Magnificent Annoyance. The couple of times I asked Marta Alicia about her dreams she changed the subject. My life up to that point had been driven by action, like in judo, I had countered with silliness the onslaught of the mundane. Having never paid serious attention to the written word, I was now facing something written long ago that spoke of spells and control of others' dreams. I was too scared to face the fact that the old text spoke of what was going on in my house, with me and my wife. Were we the necks that boweth under the blissful yoke?

After I finished taking notes from the book, the well–oiled gears of my life returned to their synchronicity and my wife made me think she had lost her obsession with Ishtar, the house and the portrait. Days followed one another and turned into weeks. Until one morning, the house was surrounded by the multicolored leaves of Fall — the previous night all Americans had stayed up late to watch Trump win the election — I found a pamphlet stuck to the garage door from an "Assembly of the Pure Presence." It said something like: "Open the Agasayam Gates with your Heart. Leave your ocean of turmoil behind and share with the Angels the re–creation of Life and rebirth. From the darkness of the soil comes the leaf that searches for the sun…" The rest of the flyer had been ripped. It made me remember some writings in the book; the book that I had this, yet unexplained, compulsion to copy.

When I came home that night, I asked Marta Alicia what that was about. Her smile and her glance took such a sweetness that I couldn't help imitating her.

"I found them through Ishtar. We meet on Mondays." She had a thousand–mile stare and thousand–watt smile.

"For how long? And why Mondays?"

"It's the day of the moon, the day of Ishtar."

My knees gave out, I sat down on a wooden chair in the kitchen. Looking at her glide barefoot over the stone floor so peaceful and happy made me feel like a total buzzkill. Her body insinuated itself under her flowing white gown as she drained the steaming potatoes, for she had taken to cooking again. "Why didn't you tell me you joined a cult?"

She turned to me with a smile, a large knife and a tomato. "The word cult comes from cultivate. We are … farmers." The knife cut the redness in half. She took a half in one hand and brought it to her nose. "Farmers of souls."

"You never said anything to me; you kept it secret."

"They came a couple of months ago. They wanted to see the book of Ishtar." Her half of the tomato was leaking onto the counter

"They came here? Strangers?"

She smiled. "Our leader, Matt says it's a great privilege to be the chosen ones. The Holders of the Book. He said he works with you."

"Our leader? You have a leader who works —"

"You eat this half I'll have the other. We'll share its secret." She extended her long, wet hand with the half tomato in her grasp.

To join in her fun, I said, "It'll be like eating the heart of an angel."

Horrified, she retrieved the fruit, eyes wide open, her dark wavy hair flung around by wet hands. "How can you … forgive us." She looked heavenward. "Angels are not to be … ay dios mio! How could you?" She ran away leaving me to a new silence in the old kitchen.

I took out my mobile to call the pizza guy.

Her forgiveness took some time, but she finally became the person I had met originally, if I ignored that she attended this weird fertility cult. Until one night in the Spring. Just as I had done for a decade, after donning my pajamas, brushing my teeth, and kissing my Marta Alicia good night, I went to sleep.

I had grown accustomed to falling asleep to the sound of her sweet breathing. The night that began everything for me, I had a seemingly inconsequential dream. In it, I walk into my bathroom and see myself in the mirror. My reflection looks like someone else entirely. I see a face drawn by wrinkles, crowned with gray hairs that barely cover his skull and a pair of bloodshot bluegray eyes void of expression. Two blonde little girls — I know they are his grand–daughters — come in giggling, hug my legs and, giggling, lope away. I look at the mirror and, even though I am touched by their sudden appearance, my reflection remains focused on something inside those eyes that are locked into a steely purpose.

With morning, common sense took over. My routine of shower, shave, clothing, coffee, bagel, kisses, car, train, walking, and green room setup continued. In the lunch line in the cafeteria, my friend Diego was right behind me. After I told him about my dream — while I'm realizing that it wasn't that extraordinary a tale — a voice next to me said, "you were having someone else's dream."

I turned around and recognized the man in the dream. My knees gave gave way and I almost fell on the floor. I made a desperate inventory of all his features. A cold sweat assured me that his was the man. He held a plastic tray with a bowl of green gelatin, a sweaty glass of cola, and what appeared to be the Stroganoff of the day. With that same steely stare, I saw in the mirror, not waiting for a reply, he walked away. Imprecations about me holding up the line broke my enchantment.

"That's Gierko, Matt Gierko." Diego whispered as if he had seen Jesus walking on water. "Our new CEO."

"Really?" I unsuccessfully searched for the man among the multitude in the lunchroom.

"Hey! Staying here for dinner?" The gravel voice of Bertha, the lunchroom attendant, dragged my attention from dreamy executives.

Back in our studio, my mind was only capable of thinking why I had a dream about our new CEO. A CEO who I had never met and who heard what I was saying in line. Matt was his first name. Matt like the cult leader.

A few nights later, another dream stuck with me, repeating itself night after night for some weeks.

My steps take me onto a barely drawn mulch path that penetrates a lush growth of green brambles surrounding crooked trees suffocated by vines hungry for support and for the light that filters here and there through the humid air of a summer afternoon. My hands push aside low branches to make my way on the trail along the river.

A week into this recurrence, I asked Marta Alicia what was Matt's full name.

"Gierko. Matt Gierko. What are you gonna do with that information?"

The next morning, I confided in Diego who, after I finished my tale, remained uncharacteristically silent until quitting time, when he stopped me with a hand and said: "Your story today, sounds like Ronan Park."

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