Variations on a Theme

Not long ago I dreamed I was at home, downstairs in the I living room reading a book. Suddenly I am startled by the smell of smoke and I look around, spying flames licking up through the cracks in the floorboards. The cellar is on fire!

I rush to the cellar door and open it, getting blasted by the flames that pour out. Stepping onto the stairs that lead down, I fall through into the inferno. Scrambling to get up I run through the fire and find an extinguisher. After combat that seems more futile the longer It continues, I manage to put out the flames.

I try to discover the source of the fire, but to no avail. I poke around for hours, dreading to think that it could have been spontaneous combustion; for this would mean that the fires could break out again at any moment, consuming the entire house. Sadness strikes me when I imagine the loss of the old and valuable books in the attic.

Another time I dream of living through several scenes in my daily life and getting exhausted. I realize that I am in danger of dying from depletion of elan. But a strange thing occurs, and like a one-celled animal I watch dispassionately while my body splits in two. The other body laspses into a coma, and I catch it as it drops to the floor and stow it away In the closet. I am dismayed to think that my time is still limited, that the split has just staved off same kind of reckoning, and that I must find something to recharge us both and catalyze reunification. What’s worse is that it is clearly impossible to get enough extra life for the recombination. The clone body lies forgotten but once in a while I check on it. I am filled with fear at the thought that if I ever do manage to revive it It will become angry with me for my neglect.

Recently I deamed of looking into a mirror. “Funny,” I think, “I can’t see anything.” I flip on the light switch, and it horrifies me to find that I’ve been murdered. My face is bruised and the back of my head is gone. Only shreds of flesh and dried blood are left. I turn off the lights again, feeling ill at the sight of my blasted brains, and wonder how I am ever going to reassemble the drying flecks of matter that must be on the floor. “This is going to get in the way of my normal relations,” I recall saying to myself. “One can’t just wander around looking killed.”

In a fourth dream I happen upon a man drowning in a river, and rush in without thinking to save him. After inmense efforts I drag him to the river bank, where he falls to his knees and thanks me profusely. Before I know what I’m doing I slap him on the face and say, irritably, “If you thank me for saving your life you are far from enlightenment.”

John told us around the coffee bar several nights ago about what Ardrey thought. He figured decay was inevitable but I objected that obsevers can always conclude that civilization is falling apart.

“If everything beside the status quo is judged barbaric,” said Bob, concurring, “then of course it looks like a descent.”

Still, said John, Ardrey’s model is a good one. Take the example of the rat population where they all live in a huge cage, and there are tunnels leading out to smaller cages on a periphery. “Dominant males will station themselves and their mates at the end of each tunnel,” John told us. “From time to time males from the center colony come out, but they leave, or if they stay they don’t even try to mate with the females there… ”

“Travelling salesman,” Bob interrupted, laughing.

“And then at regular intervals the children leave and go to the center places… ”

“Life in the big city!” I yelled, scoring a point.

“Right, yeah. There’s all sorts of aberrancy in the center, where the population density is high.”

He pauses to eat some of his hamburger. “And then when it reaches a certain point it seems that everyone gets a cue to go berserk, and there is mass violence. Inexplicable because there really isn’t any revolutionary lucidity about it, there aren’t any organizations, correct lines, it’s just time to kill and be killed.”

“Chaos,” Alan popped in. ‘’The return to formless chaos.”

“The individual is negated by the invisible-but-rigid social structure,” I offered.

“What happens on the outskirts then?” Bill asked.

“Well,” said John with a smile, “they barricade themselves, buy lots of guns, and form survivalist groups, showing no mercy on the ones that wander out their way.”

“All dressed up and nowhere to go,” said Bob laughing. We all sat and stared at our plates for a while.

When Matthew and his parents arrived, talk turned to the tone of his Strad, and plans for the Berg concerto he was planning to perform. We listened to his report on the latest chapter of Spengler, which he was reading during his leisure hours, and I promised to bring him a tape by the Ramones.

In another dream I am behind the control panel of an enormous, powerful machine. I sweat with dread, knowing that I am charged with important tasks. But I do not know exactly what I must do. On the screen in front of me I monitor various scenes, and by playing with the dials and switches I can call up any images I choose, real or fantasy. I discover that certain controls have an effect on the scene I watch, and I feel like a movie director. This fills me with terror.

It is then that I find that one of the dials can bring me schematics and diagrams; another formulas and functional derivation tables. I spend time with geometric patterns and graphs in motion, with spheres and N-dimensional constructs. This terrain is safer because it is clearer, but more dangerous because the finest error has broad effects. I begin to feel pain as if being tortured. When I blur the images the pain recedes and I can continue to work, but if the images get too vague I lose all control over them and they take on a life of their own, incomprehensible to me. I let go of the control panels for a while and look around; I’m locked in a cage. When I turn back to the screen it is flashing “CORONARY” in red, and I wake up.

Originally appeared in Inside Joke #21

archive: minifictions

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