I tried to lose myself in the woods again and came upon the grate-covered mineshaft seam, a grid of rebar set above a dark, mysterious hole. It looked like a mouth in the ground yawning, dripping. I balanced on the rebar and leaned down to see what I could see…but got spooked and stumbled off, reminded of that scene in the story It: and what was it about our fascination with drains, caves, and underground holes? Why couldn’t we help ourselves from looking down?
I was stuck on my writing project with a character named Jan Gilbourg, a political conspiracist who fled Sweden to finish his novel and was convinced the secret service was after him. I house-sat for Jan in Port-Vendres the night the power went out and it was just me and his old dog Brickie. Jan with his close-cropped graying hair, the hairs on his nose needing trimmed. In his letters I can still hear the clipped staccato of his Swedish English, his conspiratorial tone, the truth of his government’s corruption and how he would reveal it all before the election. Jan, convinced they were after him even here in the south of France: look, where they broke the lock on the door and rifled through my desk…we weren’t quite sure what to believe. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
The night the power went out I lit candles and stayed up late on the typewriter feeling the same paranoia as Jan. The circling winds and rattling panes. It’s like being there alone I inhabited Jan’s mind, or he inhabited mine. Pacing the perimeter, checking the access points. Jan’s house was three stories high with multiple decks, an elevator, a small patio cut into the side of a cliff. Something about the rock face made me feel cornered, exposed. The look of the obelisk in the port with the clouds racing across the moon and the coming rains. No one anywhere. The first time I’d seen maggots, in the refrigerator, in a jar of fish jelly or some pink, Swedish thing. Reminded of that scene from The Shining when they realize all the writing Jack Nicholson’s done is just mad gibberish. All those pages just patterns of words. And mine about the same, that night.
Now Jan the memory, the character, flickers in and out. And my identity, my realness as a writer, the same.
Charlotte and her fascination with conspiracy theories, one about a man who allegedly inhabits our dreams. Thousands of people have given the same description of him independently. You can find the sketch on the internet: he is nondescript with small, beady eyes and dark, short hair. No beard or mustache. But there’s something menacing about him. Why’s he in our dreams?
Charlotte asks, have I seen this man in my dreams and I say no, worse: I’ve seen him in real life. Many years ago, in Pittsburgh. But he did unspeakable things, he was a really bad man. He’d just sit there in the cafe where I worked with his coffee and I’d sometimes catch him from across the room staring at me. Those eyes, just cold. Like he either had no soul or if he did, it’d been compromised. He carried that behind his eyes. What was he doing in our dreams?
It appeared the cat had gotten sick in Dawn’s office some time ago. I sat on the sofa eating a bagel with almond butter and got the oils all over me. With little concerns about anything there was no hurry, so I just sat there chewing. It was easier to write around writing, to distract myself with holes covered by grates. With no work and just time everything felt harder. It bloomed around me like a cloud and inside that I did in fact get lost.