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by Phil Slattery

 

Abstractions

As Jake lay down in his bed for the night and switched off the lamp on the nightstand, he thought about the date he had had with Rachel a few days previously.  She was a woman of fifty (a few years older than Jake), a little overweight and of too average looks for his usual taste in women, but she had a good nature and had been a good companion.  Jake thought he would ask her out again within the week, but he knew he would probably never develop for her the passion his life had lacked since well before his divorce.  As he pulled the comforter to his chin and drifted off to sleep, he pictured Rachel in his mind:  dark, shoulder-length hair, crow’s feet and wrinkles beginning to take shape, and green eyes¾or were they brown?  He couldn’t recall.  Later, unlike his memories of Rachel, his memories of the dream he had that night were mostly intact and quite vivid, although a good portion of it was fragmented and hazy.

In the beginning of the dream, Jake was walking through a large, open, paved area, perhaps a courtyard, between single-story, white stucco buildings fronted by covered sidewalks.  The buildings reminded Jake vaguely of buildings in downtown Corpus Christi, but they were definitely not the same ones.  Palm trees stood in the courtyard and in the distance behind the buildings while a blue sky capped the scene.

As Jake walked across the courtyard, a woman in her early thirties and a faded muumuu came up to him and they began conversing.  Her name was Rachel and she had the same hair and eyes and a similar face as the Rachel Jake knew, but she was slender and lacked Rachel’s crow’s feet and wrinkles, much more to Jake’s tastes.  Jake could not remember their conversation, but he remembered the emotions it stirred within him. Dream-Rachel was pleasant and smiling for the first half of the conversation and then suddenly became hateful and bitter, when Jake broached a topic he could not recall.  Jake could remember that her anger was not directed at him, but nothing more.  In stark contrast to his usual sexual tastes, Jake found dream-Rachel extraordinarily erotic.   He could not fathom what appealed to him about her. He thought at first it was the way she swung her hair over her right shoulder when once she turned her face quickly to the left, but then he realized it was the unexpected and sudden appearance of her dark side that held him enthralled.  Why it aroused him, he had no idea.  He knew only that a hard-driving, unrelenting lust he had not felt in over ten years stirred deep inside then erupted.  Jake barely managed to suppress a wave of desire that washed through him culminating in an overwhelming urge to grasp dream-Rachel and begin passionately kissing her neck and right shoulder. 

Jake and dream-Rachel continued conversing for a few minutes while Jake strove to endear himself to her while restraining his lust.  He was constantly fascinated by the erratic shifts in her persona from sweet and humorous to dark, spiteful, and vindictive and back.  At last dream-Rachel smiled at Jake and said she had decided to accompany him to where he was going.  They walked off conversing pleasantly.

Jake awoke and looked at his alarm.  It was 5:42.  Jake did not know why he awoke.  The back of his head lay on his pillow and was sweating profusely.  He also felt he was starting to sweat over almost the whole of his body and that his mattress was much harder than he had ever noticed.  Jake threw off his comforter, turned onto his side, and looked at the lack of light around the edges of his curtains.  He wanted to go back to sleep, not only because it was his day off, but also because he wanted to return to Rachel.  He closed his eyes.

Almost instantly, Jake was in a small, windowless room, lying alone in a bunk bed at the foot of which stood a small desk with a lamp.  It reminded Jake of a college dormitory room, but he knew it was not.  He knew he should know where it was, but he could not recall.  He remembered it was to where he and Rachel had been walking. The room had a distinctly institutional touch about it.  Institutionalthat was the word that stimulated Jake’s memory.  He was in a mental institution.  Rachel was also somewhere in the institution in another room.  Jake remembered that he and Rachel had arrived there by train and that his door opened into a large foyer-like waiting room with sofas and easy chairs of a style Jake had not seen since the seventies. To the left of the waiting room was a kitchen for the residents.  Jake thought Rachel might be in her room.  In any case, he would have to search for her.  However, he did not want it to appear as if he were searching for her.  He wanted to appear nonchalant and cool.

Jake opened his door to step into the waiting area intending to check the kitchen first, but there stood Rachel leaning her shoulder against his doorframe.  Her hair was disheveled and she was dressed only in an old t-shirt and panties. She had been listening at his door.  She said nothing, but it seemed to Jake, she had a look of shame as if she were acknowledging without a word that she had been caught in a wanton act of lust. 

She stepped into the room with a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes, put her arms around Jake and kissed him long and hard.  Jake wrapped his arms around her and took three steps back.  They fell together on Jake’s bed and began hurriedly removing their clothes as they started to make love.

Before they finished, something interrupted them. Jake could not remember what it was; someone knocked at the door or there was a disturbance outside in the waiting area or kitchen.  But they both rose and ran outside to the waiting area to see what was causing the commotion. 

Then Jake was riding in the backseat of a 1963 Chevy Bellaire four-door sedan, like the one his parents had when he was a kid.  Jake knew he was riding with five male friends, although he did not know whom they were, nor could he see their faces.  Jake was looking out the left rear window onto a dusty, middle-eastern city of low stucco buildings and palm trees under a withering sun.  His friends were trying to help Jake find Rachel.  They slowly cruised down the street, turned a corner, and on the left saw a single-story building with a dome at one end.  Jake thought it was a synagogue or maybe a mosque.  A long line of people of middle-eastern origin snaked out of a wooden side door and down the street.  Dream-Rachel stood in her muumuu with her arms crossed in the center of the line waiting to go in.

“There she is!” said Jake.  The car stopped.  Jake stepped out and began trotting over to dream-Rachel.

Someone unseen to Jake’s right fired a single shot.  A red splat the size of a dinner plate appeared on Rachel’s stomach.  She fell backwards onto the ground as the others in the line dove for cover.

Jake snapped his head to the right.  A large, muscular Arab man in his thirties with a closely-cropped beard and short hair stood holding an AK-47 with two bandoliers of bullets draped across his massive chest.  He wore black jeans and a black t-shirt. He continued shooting from the hip into the crowd.  Then twelve men jumped him from all directions and wrestled him to the ground.

Jake awoke and could not get back to sleep.  The alarm read 7:16.  He lay in bed for a few minutes thinking about the dream and hoping it could be at least partially prophetic.  He wanted to retain somewhere inside him at least a faint hope of meeting someone like the dream-Rachel.  But on the other hand, he would not want to meet her if it meant her death by encountering the heavily armed terrorist who seemed to have been over eight feet tall.

If dreams were prophetic, thought Jake, the reason would probably have more to do with the subconscious than anything mystical.  Jake rose from bed and went to the bathroom.  As he showered, and later as he checked his e-mail, he thought more about the dream.  Except for Rachel, he could not remember ever meeting anyone who even vaguely resembled dream-Rachel.  And even though he had traveled in the mid-east, he could not remember ever meeting anyone like the terrorist or being in a town like the middle-eastern city in the dream.  But perhaps he had encountered them somewhere and remnants of those memories drifted through his subconscious. Maybe.  Maybe there was a tenuous link between a single human mind and humanity’s collective subconscious or a higher power on the order of a god.  Jake believed in God, but as Jake aged, he found his belief in a link between humanity and God to become increasingly tenuous and frail.

Jake looked outside and saw another warm, beautiful south Texas day of early March.  He had been working hard lately, both at his regular job and at writing his first novel on his weekends.  He decided that today he would relax.  He would run an errand or two in the morning, check the regular mail, have lunch at his favorite Mexican restaurant, and then maybe go to a movie…or a bar.  It had been a long, long time since he had had a beer in the early afternoon in the warm shade of an outdoor patio.  Today, he thought, he would do that. 

At three o’clock, Jake was walking into his third bar, the Executive Surf Club, intent on getting his fourth pint.  Despite its name, the Executive Surf Club was a blue-collar bar, old surfboards hung from the ceiling and walls, which had been decorated with graffiti by college students using black magic markers provided by the owners sometime in the past. Behind its long, mahogany-colored bar were a few dozen taps to dispense a well-chosen selection of domestic beers and imported ales.  Leaning against the bar were several white-collar types who had taken off early from work, a few college kids on spring break, and a slender brunette in her thirties wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt.   She was standing alone with an open space next to her.  She had an uncanny resemblance to dream-Rachel.  Jake felt the coincidence was eerie, but also intriguing.  Jake stepped into the open space next to the brunette, who was facing the beer taps and waiting on her drink.

Jake leaned against the bar and looked at the brunette. When he had caught her eye, he said politely, “Hi, my name’s Jake.”

The bartender brought a pint of ale for the brunette and set it in front of her.  The brunette asked him to put it on her tab, then turned to Jake, gave a little smile and said, “Excuse me. I have to join my friends.” She took her pint and went to a nearby table where two other women were sitting. 

Jake ordered a pint of Bass for himself and stood looking at one of the televisions over the bar while he waited for his drink.  “Oh, well,” he thought, “chalk one up for coincidence.  Thinking a dream might be prophetic was silly anyway.  The coincidence was interesting though.  Maybe that’s how some dreams become prophetic.  A little coincidence and a little desperation make a dangerous combination.”  The bartender set Jake’s pint on the bar and Jake paid.  As he was taking his first sip, someone behind him tapped his shoulder.  Jake turned and saw it was the brunette, now wearing a bigger smile.

“Aren’t you Jake Shaughnessy?” she asked.

“Yes, I am. Have we met?”

“You probably don’t remember,” she reached out and shook Jake’s hand.  “It took me a minute to remember you.  I’m Rachel Kelley.  We met at the Havana Club about a month ago.  I was with Jeanette Lewis.  You were pretty drunk at the time.  I was too for that matter.”  She giggled.

Jake began slowly nodding.  This was not the older Rachel he knew, but the resemblance was close enough that they could have been sisters. “Oh, yeah.  Now I remember.  That’s right. How have you been?”

“Fine.  Would you like to join us?”

“Sure.”

Jake moved around the table to an empty seat on its far side. As Jake started to sit and Rachel introduced her friends, Jake could see the bar.  At its far end he saw a muscular Arab man over six feet tall and in his thirties drinking a martini.  He had a closely cropped beard and short hair.  He had no visible weaponry and wore a black suit with a conservative tie. He looked very much like the terrorist in Jake’s dream. Jake looked at him for several seconds while the ladies chatted with each other, but could not remember ever seeing him before. The man looked back at Jake with a cool but intent gaze for several seconds, finished his drink, set the empty glass on the bar, turned, and walked out the back door.

Jake felt a chill run down his spine as if someone had poured ice water down his back. He wondered if he had seen what he thought he had seen.  For the rest of the afternoon, as Jake sat chatting and drinking with the ladies, he wondered if he should or even could do anything to pin down what was happening that afternoon.  It seemed that overnight his life had turned into a bizarre mixture of subconscious memories, lapses of conscious memory, pent up emotions and desires, desperate hopes, eerie coincidence, and, possibly, metaphysics all swirling together like seven different colors of paint in the same can, stirred just enough with a stick that they formed swirls of color intertwining like fibers in a rope.  Stirred enough, he thought, and eventually they would all blend into one color and he would not be able to tell where one ended and another began.  As Rachel told a joke, Jake looked at her and decided that all he could do was to muddle through whatever was to come, as he did with everything else fate tossed his way, and pray no harm came to anyone.