Part 1,Part 2, and Part 3, in which we meet Chloe and Nick and are introduced to the realm of dreams, are found by following the above links. Here is Part 4, in which we meet Sophie.
All photos in this post are by Brzydki Pijak.
The sound of the crickets is deafening, as if I’ve accidentally stepped on a nest of them, if there is such a thing, and they’re all shrieking their mourning and warning to far-flung relations through a secret underground arrangement of hollow, ringing tubes. Something like the bank teller’s tube in the drive-thru lane, 70 screams shoved inside, racing from here to China, the speed only exacerbating the sound. I actually pause to think of the bank as I stand there, one leg floating stupidly in the air while I try to choose the least harmful place to set my foot down, without the benefit of light. Because the forest is as dark as it is loud.
And endless. I feel like I’ve been in the forest forever now, pitch-black, filled with angry sawing, and--
“Hey, hey, lady?” The voice murmurs something in the other direction, something quickly swallowed up by all the emergency-cricket-workers. A hand grips the front of my shoulder, and I freeze. How have I gotten so close to someone without feeling anything?
“Hey, girl, are you alright?” A finger pries at my right eyelid and my hands swing outwards, pushing. My leg continues to wave around, though in smaller circles. Why can I not find the ground with it?
The voice’s fingers move away from my eyes, and I feel the possessing body eject itself from my presence. Judging from the movement of that unintelligible murmuring, he’s shot back horizontally.
But the voice comes back, and the rest of the world comes swooping in with it; just like that, the pieces of my mind reconnect, and I know what’s happening. My foot drops to the ground and I smack my palms over my eyes and rub vigorously. The rough grit of the sidewalk begins to irritate my back, and as my eyes adjust to the dim light of the night around me, I push myself up onto an elbow and then try to stand.
“Wait, I don’t know if you should--”. He stops himself, and reaches out an arm to help me balance, but only manages to push me in the other direction. He overcompensates again, lunging away from me with his hands in the air. A pair of female arms fly into my field of vision, just barely managing to prevent his own backwards sprawl.
“Do you want me to call you a cab?”
I focus on orienting myself towards the sound of her voice. I re-establish up and down, taking in her facial expression as I do so. She mutters something and turns her attention to the cell-phone in her hand, shaking her head.
“I’m not drunk,” I protest weakly, beginning to understand her role, here.
Someone laughs. “Me neither!” he shouts. I try to take in my surroundings. Grass, trees, sidewalks, the three figures surrounding me. The designated baby-sitter has now reached someone and is arranging for my ride.
“Do I have..?” I feel for pockets, realize I’m wearing my pajamas, and shake my head at her. She rolls her eyes.
“Where do you live?” she sighs, one hand over the mouthpiece.
I shake my head again. The more normal this type of activity becomes in my life, the more anxious I become about each aspect of it. It isn’t true that one can grow accustomed to anything. The frog in the slowly heating water doesn’t not notice the obscene temperatures. He simply shuts down. He panics. He realizes there might be no end to this thing that’s happening. I stop my head from shaking.
She shoves the phone back in her purse. “Come on, you can sleep on the couch in the lounge,” she decides. In a practiced motion that completes itself before I understand it’s happening, she pushes herself up under my right arm and begins dragging me along with them.
“Wait,” I mumble. There’s still a part of me that’s trying to remember the dream. I can’t ever remember the dreams, but it seems that if they’re going to drive my life this way, they would have to be important. But I’ll have to clear the sleep fog if I’m going to interact with this force of semi-patient logic that’s hauling me into her wake.
“Wait,” I repeat, with even less energy.
For weeks now, I’ve been coming to in supermarket aisles, stairwells, in a public bathroom my waking self wouldn’t have crossed the threshold of. I don’t make sense anymore, my thoughts don’t cohere, I’m exhausted all the time. I catch myself several times staring at our two male companions as they bark their hysterical gibberish, feeling almost comfortable with its illogic and my total lack of context. Nodding.
Headlights pass through us at rhythmic intervals. There were trees there, I think. I remember trees. Or maybe that’s just because I woke up around some trees. Loud voices. No, no, that’s where I am.
I realize I’ve fallen asleep again when I wake up on a porch swing in front of a very large house. My stomach knots as I try to place myself and can’t. The front door slams and a mildly familiar female face approaches. She peers at me.
“We’re almost there,” she assures me.
I’m not sure what to do with that, so I just nod.
The next time I wake up, it’s to a violent banging on the door. I hear tumbling and yelling and swearing, all mostly eaten up by the thunderous pounding of a particularly blocky, oversized, angry fist on wood. My blocky, oversized, angry fist. The door slams open just as I’m pulling my clenched fingers up towards my nose for a better view. I made all that noise? I look up to see my own confusion slowly turning into someone else’s rage.
“Damnit!” she swears. She pushes her head out into the hallway, then faces me again. I look away, which only allows me a view of the grand number of spectators to this event. I drop my eyes to the floor.
“What?” she screeches at me. I stare at the edges of the sheet she’s wrapped around herself, which drag on the floor. My feet are glued beneath me. I am inside a home. I do not recognize this place. I am not making friends.
“My responsibility,” a calm voice finally takes over my fate.
“Great,” bed-sheet girl snarls, her head lunging back out to take in the speaker. “Nice work.” The door slams behind her.
My head turns towards the sound, even though I’d rather stare the floor into non-existence. The face belonging to the voice is only slightly familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen it before, but I can’t imagine it being responsible for me. Her arms are crossed in front of her chest, but she tilts her head, beckoning, so I follow her.
We descend the stairs quietly, our bare feet against old, but well-kept, polished wood floors. She leads us into the corner of the kind of kitchen that requires a crew of chefs, and loads up a coffee-maker. Then she sits, sweeping her arm out to release me from my awkward, waiting post. I barely pull a chair out and sit on its outer edge.
“You look terrified,” she notes amiably. “It’s not quite that bad.”
“I’m wearing my pajamas,” I explain, after a long moment of forethought that apparently got me nowhere.
She grins, slightly. “Me, too,” she points out. “But it isn’t that late, for a Sunday.”
I try to smile. “I think I’m supposed to know you,” I confess. It comes out like a question.
She regards me carefully. “You don’t smell like booze,” she finally answers.
I feel my brow wrinkle. I must be dreaming. I don’t think any of this is making sense. It would make sense if I were dreaming, though, right? I feel relief flood over me.
“I’m sorry, I’m dreaming,” I tell her, the smile taking over my face. I’m glowing from relief.
“Not this time, sweetie,” she disagrees. She studies me for a few awkward moments during which that relief begins to slowly drip away. I know this is a dream, because I don’t remember how I got here. And I’m in my pajamas in a public place. These are all really good signs. But I also remember Tuesday, being shaken awake on the floor of the cupcakes section of the grocery store by a bitterly amused goth couple. I wasn’t in my pajamas there, but that’s only because I’d fallen asleep at the kitchen table, studying. The smell of coffee draws my nose back upwards, and she smiles gently and gets back up.
“I’m Liv,” she tells me with her back to me. She pulls down two mugs and fills them with coffee. “You have a name?” she asks, turning back to set them on the table.
“Sophie,” I mumble.
“You Ok, Sophie?” she asks, her tone exceptionally mild.
I realize I’m crying. “Sorry,” I mutter, wiping at my face with the back of my sleeve.
She reaches back behind her chair and pulls a box of kleenex out of a drawer. “No need to mess up your splendid attire, there. This is the kitchen. We’re equipped for this sort of event.”
I look at her, confused.
“Is this a sorority house?” I finally ask.
She nods. “You were passed out in front of the library,” she explains. “We assumed too much drink, but I’m guessing we were wrong.”
I shake my head.
She gives me a chance to interject my own version of events, but when I don’t, she continues: “You didn’t have money for a cab, and couldn’t seem to place your home. You mean you don’t remember the incomplete barber shop quartet?”
It makes sense that they keep kleenex in here. As odd as it seems, for a room of such an imposing size, and one filled with black iron objects that should make you think of torture--at least the 50's house-wife kind--there’s something about the air that inspires confidence. Or maybe it’s the table, and the time of day. The sunlight is hitting our corner just so, with a warmth. There’s the coffee, the sense that there’s no one else for miles of hallway, and the already pretty much exposed raw nerve. But there’s also the fact that I have an unkind history with cheerleaders, and my mind feels no large jump between that group and sororities.
“It’s Ok, you know,” she says, after waiting another long while. “Whatever it is, it’ll work out.”
A brittle laugh escapes.
“Who knows where I’ll wake up next.”
She watches me wipe my face some more without saying anything. “You were sleepwalking,” she finally says.
I nod. “You know the toilets at the zoo?”
She waits. The zoo is just what they call the public restroom area at the University pool, which is, well, poorly-located. Go ahead and imagine why.
“I woke up there, last week. Huddled behind a toilet.”
Her face stays carefully impassive, for which I’m thankful. I took the longest shower ever recorded after that event. It was not life-affirming.
“Has this...always been a problem?” she asks.
I shake my head. “I’m sorry. I know where I live. If I could just, If you wouldn’t mind giving me a ride--” I rub at my face some more, and edge a little further off the chair.
She makes no move to leave. “Yeah, Ok. I can give you a ride,” she says, distractedly. After a few minutes of silence, she shakes herself a bit and remembers I’m there. “More coffee?” she offers.
I hesitate. She fills the cup, already halfway back to where she came from.
“I’m not your...responsibility,” I try to tell her. “I mean, thanks for picking me up last night, I’m not sure I would have made it home. But you don’t have to--”
“My brother’s sleeping,” she interrupts.
I shut my mouth. It’s still possible that I’m dreaming. You always think you aren’t, or I always thought I wasn’t, back when I dreamt. Back when I dreamt at night, with my eyes closed, in my bed. I am dreaming, it’s just that everyone else in my dream is awake.
“He fell asleep 7 months ago,” she says.
There’s a panic I hadn’t managed to develop yet. What if I hadn’t woken up, huddled behind that toilet? Would any of the people who don’t mind entering such a place have bothered to pick me up and move me out of there? Or call someone who might? What if I were really still there, dreaming this? A mild dizziness begins to rock my head slightly back and forth, and I scoot a little further into the chair, to keep from falling. My eyes fall to the mug in my hands, which has some kind of writing on it, but it blurs, and I can’t make it out. I find my lips moving in a familiar pattern, and I hear the 3rd bead of the rosary drop with a soft click somewhere in my head.
Suddenly, I realize I’ve been scooting the wrong way, but it’s too late, because my limbs don’t work anymore, but the floor, when I hit it, isn’t really all that hard.
Fiction by Zoe Jordan, photos by Brzydki Pijak. The photographer's portfolio can be found here.