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The Tales of Lofar No. III

It didn’t happen right away, finding him. I was duping myself, believing it wouldn’t be difficult, that he would appear on his own volition. In hindsight, I should have known I was lacking the courage equal to the task: to confront him on my terms. I was afraid, to tell the truth, that he would become the dreamer dreaming me or we would both end up in the same dream being dreamed by someone else. After his disappearance in the intervening years, I didn’t think of him at all. Too much time had elapsed between his last appearance and the course my life had taken—starting a career and raising a family. I don’t remember the moment when I began to think about him again, or of the different disguises he used to trick me into believing he was a man of triple intentions. At least I wasn’t that dumb. I knew he was the same man. And I was relieved with his, what seemed to be, final disappearance. He was a trauma in my life, so he could be banished forever as far as I was concerned. Maybe the children got in the way. Maybe they were the foil he couldn’t get around. Maybe they were too much competition.

I confess that I couldn’t concentrate on my work for weeks at a time after his appearances. It was the same recycled drama, happening the same way over and over again. He always provoked trauma. Then he would disappear. So, I had to ask, Why was I thinking of him? And to what end? This riddle engaged me in a tautology of my own making. I should have said good riddance and be done with it, given how much he had interfered in my earlier life. The longer I had been without him, the easier it was to overcome the dissonance he had stirred up. Now, I was summoning this dream figure and forced to question why I was chasing him. I didn’t understand his previous appearances, but I thought I could summon the courage that had, up until now, forsaken me. It was a question of my right to be. And just the fact that I was thinking this way deepened my resolve to find him.

The house was still. Our children were off to college, and my husband was at a science conference. He had invited me to come along, but I declined. I told him I was backed up in my work, but that was a poor excuse for not going with him. I could have finished it in one of those private rooms they provide at downtown hotels while he was attending the lectures and seminars. I didn’t tell him the real reason. When I told him years ago about the man, he insinuated I was making him up. I didn’t make that mistake again. My husband didn’t need to know that I was getting intimations that the man was near: He had been drawing closer to that plane of dreams mystics surmise really exist (naturalists call it hogwash), in which some actors are invited and others just show up. I had thought he was one of the latter, but I was wrong. He wanted to be invited. Maybe he was upset that I had not paid attention to him.

On the third night of my husband’s absence, when the silence of the house enclosed me, the dream broke open and I was left with the enigma of what I had been facing those previous years. I wasn’t just looking for him because I wanted to find him. I had to find him. It came down to this: Was I going to live according to my own merits, or was he was going to dictate, like the authoritarian I thought him to be, decrees I would of necessity obey. I was scared. I even considered going back to the beginning and signing a truce with him, one that I knew would work in his favor because then he could come at will, and I would muddle through my inner struggle that seemed to go nowhere because it was, hardly ever, a substantial break with entropy. Furthermore, he would defeat the meaning in my life that had accrued a normal, welcomed sustenance. No, I would not allow that to happen. I would gather the courage to be aware and alive. I would go head-to-head with him, like a gladiator without a weapon. He was the antithesis of who I was, the antithesis of existence itself. It was, I came to understand, a leap into the unknown.

Even if I had spent a year devising an elaborate invitation with all kinds of reasons, I would never have dreamed that it could be so easy. It was as simple as falling asleep on the sofa in the silence of our house, bereft of a single soul—except the dream and me. To this day I do not understand why he appeared as a disembodied voice, but I was not going to second-guess him. I could feel a spark of invincibility that I had not felt since I was a nine-year-old girl who believed she could conquer the world. As incorporeal as it was, the mellifluous voice disarmed me, and I followed it into the woods, which led to an open meadow (so cliché, I thought), in the middle of which was a still lake. It looked like a painting I wanted to hop out of and willingly take my leave, but I was not yet ready to follow that path. I was not going to be a coward, I told myself, and repeated it like a mantra to bear witness to the scene unfolding before me. At the water’s edge was a small boat but big enough for two. Soothingly, the voice told me to get into the boat and to row toward a large boulder on the other side of the lake. I couldn’t see the boulder from where I was sitting, but as soon as I rounded the lake the huge rock was staring at me, transforming into a phantasmagoria of dreamscapes leading me to my future where there was no escape. I was transfixed by the impalpable nature of the voice and, at the same time, captured by the tangible circumstances in which I was embedded.

As I listened to the voice, I detected a familiarity I had heard in the past. I desperately tried to place it, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to pick through my memories. Even given this feeling of familiarity, I didn’t trust it. Maybe trusting is a peculiar condition you grow into, a facility that hasn’t come naturally to me. You learn how to do it. But what are the ingredients in a life that give way to trust? I wanted to trust this voice (I didn’t have much choice), and in my urge to feel safe I compared it to giving birth to my children, an experience strange and unfamiliar, but one in which the macrocosm and I were connected by an umbilical cord stretching to the outer edge of infinity. There I was, delivering my children in this tiny microcosm, and, at the same moment, enfolded within the fundamental nature of reality. I can say, without reservation, that I felt safe knowing there was something larger than I and I was connected to it. Still, it was a once-and-done epiphany and no doubt I was lucky to experience such a rapturous one, but I am also sorry to say that I didn’t capitalize on the insight. Why didn’t I live up to the potential given to me? Why had I lived, to tell the truth, a coward’s life? I couldn’t dwell on my present circumstances in that light—that of the coward’s path—and by necessity had to think only of why I was in this dream, a disembodied voice showing me the way. Suddenly he began to sing. It lulled me to sleep, so rich and liquid it was. The voice nudged me in my back, warning me it was dangerous to fall asleep at the helm. I woke up and saw that I had dropped both oars. That’s when I saw the boulder about twenty yards away, opening up like a curtain as the show begins.

We—the voice and I—entered through the split. The voice directed me to row slowly forward, to look straight ahead. Soon enough I saw a cave just five feet in front of me, and I felt a cold breeze as we entered the cave. Gripped with fear, I tried to adjust my eyes to the darkness, but it was a futile attempt to get my bearings. Then, of all things, the voice began to hum, and before I knew it I was on the verge of falling asleep again. I was powerless against this voice. It nudged me again, this time in a deep voice, slightly angry, the opposite of the beckoning honeyed sound I had heard at first, and the nudge combined with the anger almost caused me to fall out of the boat. I don’t know how he did it, but the voice caught me and set me upright in the helmsman position. It warned me to look straight ahead and pay attention, because if I fell asleep the third time I would ruin everything that it had planned for me. I didn’t want to hear this—what it had planned for me—but by now I had only the narrowest glimpse of who I was or had become. I didn’t know anymore. I had been stripped.

By this time, the voice had total control over the circumstances in which I found myself. It told me to row (now using the mellifluous voice that had lulled me to sleep) through an opening into a narrower cave, a branch far interior from the opening. I could almost touch the sides, but I could at least see where I was going. Cold and shivering but fully cognizant of my surroundings, I had no idea where the voice was leading me. Really, it made no difference. I had no means of escaping. Then I saw it, an open-air fire just ahead. It seemed like a miracle, this fire. I dropped the oars and dragged myself up the bank and sat down, mesmerized, embracing the heat emanating from it, no longer hearing the voice dictating to me directions or admonitions. I looked around for something to eat, but there was nothing that seemed edible. I saw plant-like specimens growing in the shadows along the walls of the cave, but I didn’t have the energy to examine them. And I wasn’t willing to jeopardize my newfound freedom from the voice, or my position at the fire, or satiate my hunger with a poisonous plant my mother had instructed me never to ingest because it would do me in. Little did I know in the seconds between this thought and the sight of the figure walking toward me my world would be altered in surprising ways.

At first he was a thickset shadow, moving slowly about four or five feet on the other side of the fire, and I didn’t see him whole until he reached his arms out toward me, across the fire, as if to welcome me like an old friend. Then, he sat down on the damp floor of the cave, only the fire separating us. I could see him clearly now, the man I had seen twice before. The man I had been looking for. He rubbed his hands together above the fire, as I had done, and I saw the bulk of him reach the ceiling of the cave, his rounded shoulders corresponding to the shape of the cave’s walls. He seemed much altered since the last time I saw him. Older, bigger, slower. He didn’t say a word. He just looked at me. I wanted him to say something, so I could hear his voice. Would it be the same voice that had led me to this cave, to this fire? I began to tremble, thinking this was a movie dreaming me and I would not escape either the movie or the dream or him. I opened my mouth to speak, but he shook his head and then got up, moving away from me, stumbling over the rocks lying on the floor of the cave and disappearing into the darkness.

I sat there, waiting, determined to say a few words to him, to persuade him that we needed to end this relationship once and for all. I wanted him out of my dreams, out of my life, and was gearing up the nerve to give him a stern lecture. I would tell him that all of this was unnecessary, and I didn’t need him any longer. He had taught me not only to understand what courage is but also to behave as if it were really an intrinsic, necessary part of me. It was a great lesson, I would thank him profusely, but now that I had sufficiently learned how to use it he should please disappear forever from my dream world. He didn’t want to hear it. He had other plans for me, plans that were not, surprisingly, unsatisfactory to me. It was just a different way of getting me out of his dream world as well. He wanted to resolve this thing we had going on as much as I did. We had, at the least, a mutual understanding that we wanted to be rid of each other.

He returned with an iron grate that looked like it could be displayed in any showroom, possibly as an antique; the design was unlike anything I had seen on a typical barbecue grill. Placing it over the fire, he extended the four legs and set a large bowl filled with water on it. From my vantage point I could not see what was inside, but I heard something thrashing around. He looked at me and smiled, and then he pulled a fish about six inches long and placed it on the grate, the fire the right height and heat to grill the fish. Then he grabbed another and then another until eight fish were lined up on the grill. They looked like they belonged exactly where they had landed, and nowhere else. I didn’t know the name of the fish, but I couldn’t have cared less by that time. I was hungry and I wasn’t going to entangle myself in a conversation with this man about the names of these fish or where he had gotten them or whether he had designed the iron grate or where he had gotten the iron in the first place. It was as it was and I wanted to eat. I smiled and he returned the smile. He knew I was hungry and I appreciated his gesture.

He offered me a fish with the head intact. I had never eaten the head of a fish, so I carefully picked out the bones before putting it in my mouth. He had already swallowed a whole one and was opening his mouth to ingest a second one, when he stopped to watch me as I concentrated on my mission. He didn’t say a word. I was thankful he didn’t criticize me, but I was not going to eat a whole head of fish with bones. I noticed his manners were quite civil, even though he belched a bit after eating four whole fish, and, in clearing his throat, he made a sound that echoed off the walls of the cave. He stood up and stretched, bumping his head against the ceiling of the cave, and then he sat back down, crossing his legs like he was getting ready to meditate. I was surprised he would adopt such a position, because it belied the brutish nature of his dwellings and was incongruent with my previous observations of him, even if they had become dimmer with time. I had to re-evaluate the status of this man. Was he a stalker or a guru?

He looked at me. What do you want? he asked.

I was flummoxed by his bluntness, but I shouldn’t have been. He wanted to take care of business. I had to give him credit. His voice was the same as the voice that led me here. I wasn’t surprised.

You are the voice, I said.

He nodded. Yes, you gave me permission to visit you. I’m impressed.

Yes, this is true, I said. I invited you. But I didn’t expect a disembodied voice to lead me on a journey to this cave. I took a deep breath and continued. But now I am face to face with you. I needed to find out who you are.

I understand, he said, but I wouldn’t have shown up without your invitation. You told me to come.

But I didn’t invite you when you first appeared. You were stalking me and you caused my husband to be irritated with me.

That was not my fault. Why did you tell him?

I couldn’t answer that question. I didn’t know myself. You scared me, I said. You caused me many sleepless nights. Sometimes I didn’t even want to shut my eyes because I was afraid you might come. I didn’t know if you were a dream or a hallucination or something else entirely.

He shifted his body and placed his hands over his heart. I’m sorry I caused you so much suffering, but it was you, even then, who had invited me into your dream world. I couldn’t do anything about it. I was forced to come.

I stared at him, unbelieving.

He continued. You see, I am not an object that could infiltrate your world willy-nilly, sneaking around like a thief. I am not a thief or a stalker. I do not go wandering around in other people’s dreams, unless I am—

I interrupted him. I didn’t know anything about you, so why would I have invited you? You didn’t have to come.

He shook his head. You shouldn’t be so perplexed. You have known from the beginning. You just didn’t want to know. Over the years, when you were raising your children, starting your career—and I must say you succeeded extremely well—and in a loving relationship with your husband, you didn’t need me.

This was true. I didn’t need much during those intervening years. I steeled myself to ask the next question, to staunch the tears that were coming. My heart was aching. All those years, without you. It was a blessing. And now.

Yes, you needed to find me again. I wanted to help you, to reconcile and end this relationship. The dream world is not make-believe. Sometimes you need to trust it and see where it leads. Unfortunately, we got tangled up at the beginning and you couldn’t find your way back to yourself. You had other things to do. I would have kept coming if you had invited me, but it is better that you didn’t. I wasn’t the person I am now.

But you’re not a person. I was practically yelling at him. You are a figure in a dream. And I am the dreamer. I am the real person.

He looked at me, as if he were looking through me. Then, why are you here? Why are you in my dream world?

I didn’t know the answer to that. I had to get out of the dream. This is what I knew. I had to flee, to get out of the cave. Things were getting dangerous.

He saw I was agitated. You are feeling danger. I am sorry, but perhaps you should have felt danger a long time ago. You would have saved yourself a lot of trouble. And you would have found the answers much sooner.

I needed to extricate myself from what was turning into a bad outcome, a very undesirable one I had not anticipated. I needed courage. What was I doing here?

You want to get back, he said. I will help you.

I wasn’t going to plead with him. I needed to keep myself intact, whole. I want to return, I said.

He stood up and put his hands on my shoulder. You do not need to be afraid anymore. You will be safe in the world. Do not dream me again. It is up to you now.

I nodded. It was up to me now.

  1. This was a highly enjoyable read. It is so well done that early on I thought that this man was dreaming her as well, and then I found that that was true.
    I am very interested in what comes next, but I also feel a satisfaction that I have gotten this far in the story and am contented by what is happening in the story…

  2. The essence of this tale originated when I was nine or ten, eleven or twelve—sometime during those years. Then, I wondered, Am I being dreamed? If so, who is the dreamer? I thought about this supposition a lot. The man in the “Tales of Lofar” is not the amorphous dreamer dreaming me during my childhood, but there is a link somewhere. Perhaps the dreamer dreaming me was concretized in the man “Lofar.” They are the same and entirely different.

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