I HAD TO GO HOME, if home is the place where you lived when you attended high school. I was down by the village green at dusk, at that forested intersection of Old Stone Street and Welsh Tract Run, where the constable usually sits in his car eating donuts and waiting to catch a speeder or two. That’s when I saw the tugboat pulling the distressed oil tanker into Sowassetville Harbor. I ran down to the pebble beach and began to walk along it, among the high reeds and tangy stink of rotting clams and seaweed. You could see the stars in the purple sky already, and I noticed the faded writing on the bow of the tugboat that read, SS Jimmy Carter. I didn’t realize that the bay here was deep enough to accommodate a tanker of that size. Maybe it had been dredged? It went right by the Smiths’ place, and then a moment or two later was off Dead Indian Point. I followed that tanker toward the opening to the port, which was where my family still lived, only to learn that Hannah and Lewis had started living with them. These were two high school friends who had married and, basically, disowned me for having abandoned them by not living on the same continent. “You ran away from America,” they had always said. This time they were happy to see me though, while reminding me that I owed them about $700, which I didn’t remember borrowing. They had become proper suburban liberals in the meantime. Lewis, with his graying black beard, had even taken to smoking and gesturing with a pipe. Hannah had made a small fortune advising others on what was wrong with their lives. They lived comfortably and had no worries. The children were being battle trained in lacrosse. All food in the pantry had been certified organic. They wanted the money repaid though. “Pay us half up front, the other half in a month,” said Lewis. O’Mara, another high school friend, was there too. In my time away he had been admitted to the bar and remade as the family attorney. He came out to speak with me briefly, playing with a pocket watch from time to time. He wore a three-piece suit. The family was not ready to meet with me. First we had to reach a binding agreement. O’Mara was also disappointed to see that there was a woman with me, Rakel, who was a psychologist from Denmark. Don’t even ask me how we met or what she was doing there. O’Mara the attorney toyed with his pocket watch some more and studied the strange blonde girl in her tight red sweater. He squinted at her through pince-nez glasses. “Officially, she is not welcome at the coming legal proceedings,” he said. “But she seems nice enough. We might be able to make an exception.” After he went back inside, Rakel and I walked down to the Sowassetville seaport. We admired the rusty oil tanker, and that proud little red tugboat, the SS Jimmy Carter. It was a fine ship, and it had helped this tiny New England maritime enclave avoid an environmental disaster. The crew was being celebrated in port. Someone brought out champagne and the captain was waving his hat. Maybe he could smuggle us out.
Category: dream fiction
I WAS ON MY WAY HOME when I passed by the café. There were colorful balloons tied to the awnings and customers out the door and into the streets, drinking coffee and beer and kombucha, and spooning mouthfuls of creamy tort into hungry mouths. Through the glass I could see them hoisting the girl up and down on a chair. “Twenty-one, twenty-two!” Was that how young she was? She already looked different though. Did a few days really age a woman that much? More mature, I suppose. There was something more captivating about the way her dark hair dangled loosely around her shoulders. The young lady saw me briefly through the glass. “Happy birthday,” I mouthed to her, and she mouthed back, “Thank you.” Then I left her alone again, as I had promised myself, and went along my way. Our new house was in some derelict back district, an old tenement building with crumbling brick stairs. The floors inside were just wooden planks laid out side by side. My ex-wife was in the kitchen stirring a black cauldron of stew and listening to a podcast about the end of the world. When I came inside, she told me to be quiet and that she was very busy. I tiptoed across the floor and picked up a sack of books and was out the door. Chan, my editor, pulled up in a jeep with the top down. He was in the driver’s seat as usual, looking like, well, an editor. He wore his glasses and a crisp white shirt. His black hair was combed back and fixed into place. Chan honked the horn and I left the house and got in. Vahtra, an Estonian hippie percussionist, complete with incomplete beard, tribal headband, and bemused look, was also seated in the back. We began to drive and soon we were out of the town bearing down on the Florida Keys. When we pulled into sunny Key West, we cruised past Sloppy Joe’s Bar. There was a shouting match going between some bearded, Proud Boys-looking figures at Sloppy Joe’s and at Irish Kevin’s next door. You know the types, braggarts with Viking rune tattoos and piercings. One pulled out a semiautomatic and began spraying the Irishmen with bullets. An Irish Kevin responded with a blast from a grenade launcher. Chan just kept driving toward the wharf, as cool as cracked ice. He had said there was a boat that could take us to Havana. “Welcome to Florida, boys,” Chan announced, as we drove through the billowing and stinking grenade launcher smoke. “It’s real fucked up.” Vahtra was in the back observing the scene and tapping lightly on a bongo drum. I think he was high. “Why did you even move down here, Chan,” I yelled. “If you don’t mind me asking.” “For the weather,” said Chan.
SILVER WAS ON the north coast. I had never been there before and I wasn’t sure if it had been named after a precious metal or a popular folk musician. The city was located in the fjords somewhere between the Pakri Islands and Akureyri. The architecture revealed both Japanese and Nordic influences. The rooftops were angular, half Shinto, half Norse. It was dusk when we arrived by train and an orange sun was sinking into the cola-colored sea on the horizon. There were long piers along the waterfront. Vendors were out selling ice cream, painting portraits, and strumming guitars. I took a walk out to the end of one of the piers and climbed down a metal staircase. Then it began to rumble. This was another submarine, right beneath my feet! We began to voyage out into the harbor. There is something magnificent and a little terrifying about the stealthy and quiet movements of a submarine. Once far enough out from port, the one below me began to dive. The water levels rose quickly. The dark and warm seawater pooled at my ankles, then was at my knees. So this was it then, the big end. The submarine was going to go down and I was going to drown with it. Davy Jones Locker. I was somehow resigned to this fate, when the submarine suddenly rose again and returned to port. When I disembarked, I saw that the submarine captain — a certain Peter Townshend, the guitar player for The Who — was wiping his head with a handkerchief and pacing on the docks of Silver. “All my friends are dead! All my friends are dead!” There were tears behind his blue eyes. His face was pink from the moisture. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went and tried to cheer him up.
THERE’S AT LEAST one decent bakery on the Esplanaadi this morning but there are many others. The first one is called Strindberg, and it would certainly suit Mr. Strindberg, should he still be among us. But it’s actually quite gray and stuffy in there, without any clients or espressos, and there is no life in Strindberg this morning at all. The next one is farther along the Esplanaadi, down beside Marimekko, where the window displays are colorful and bright and even the mannequins look lifelike. Joggers and students are out in the park and the neon sign of the Svenska Teatern is glowing gold at the end. There’s something reassuring and supportive about that theatre. Inside the second bakery, a young woman is taking cinnamon buns out of the ovens. She’s dressed all in white and her gold hair is pulled back into a messy ponytail. I watch the girl work and I can almost taste the rich texture of those buns through the glass. From behind, she looks just like Dulcinea. I hope my love helped Dulcinea. Maybe something really bad was supposed to happen to her, maybe Dulcinea was supposed to be struck dead by a tram, but it instead she is here baking because of some positive energy balance in the universe. One of my favorite encounters with her was years ago at the beach. She herself came up to greet me. She was so small in the sunshine that day, and I wondered if she really could be the same vivid Dulcinea, the beauty who fired the ovens of my imagination. She was so small and light that day, but gentle and warm too, like a life-sustaining spark, cupped in one’s hands. “How old was that girl?” my daughter asked when she had gone. “Twenty-four or 23,” I said. The sand swirled up in the wind and then she was gone and I mostly forgot about her. I forgot all about Dulcinea and had no idea what became of her. Apparently, she moved to Helsinki. She got a job in this bakery on the Esplanaadi. She spends her mornings inside, baking the buns behind the glass, wearing that white outfit, and walking to work in the dawn light, past the joggers and dog walkers, and the steadfast Svenska Teatern. I did love her though and still do and she doesn’t needs to turn around to know it. I’m at peace with that all now. Not everything has to be hammered through correctly, you know. Not every shape must fit. Not everything has to be as neat and as trim and as perfect as they say it should be.
i’ll see you in the faroe islands
WE WERE SITTING next to each other in the studio when she told me that she was leaving. Delivered, matter of fact. The young engineer pretended that he couldn’t hear, because he had his big headphones on and was editing the tracks, and making them wet with reverb. His eyes were on the screen. My eyes were on her. I was still stunned by her smallness, and to imagine that she was a full-grown woman, completely bloomed, and that she would never grow any bigger than this. Even when she was an old grandmother, long after I was gone from this world, she would still be this small. Diminutive in the flesh but stellar in the soul. She was so pale with such light eyes, but as sweet and as tart as a red wild strawberry, the kinds that grow out on the islands. But who dressed like that? Wearing those pants? Who held their coffee like that? Who drank it like that, with both hands? She had pretty hands and lithe fingers. She was beautiful. Young ladies drank coffee like that, with fingers just like that, and they blinked wonderfully at the world with eyes like that. She had the eyes of the forest foxes. She looked at the world through her fox eyes and sized it up and then she sized me up. Large, hairy, spent, craggy, but good humored and good natured and well enamored. She told me she was leaving. “I have to go to the Faroe Islands,” she said. “There’s a folk music camp there and I want to work on my music. I need to work on my instrument.” Those islands, those green rocks flung out there in the Atlantic somewhere between Shetland and infinity. She was going out there and of course I was going with her, even if I had to hide myself away in her instrument case. It was decided. I would come too and even try to enjoy the taste of smoked fish. She came to my house the day of the departure. She rang the bell and I heard the bell ring. She was downstairs waiting. I was up in my chaos. There were clothes all over the floor. My daughters were popping their heads out of the mess like prairie dogs and demanding orders of Indian curry. “I want the chicken tikka. And get two orders of basmati rice!” The bell rang again. This was just not going to work out. I was too old and burned out and had responsibilities. I couldn’t even find my shoes! None of them matched up. She buzzed the room yet again. She was down there in her snow boots waiting. Oh, I wanted her so. I just wanted to run away to those islands and vanish into a warm bed of rain-splattered mornings of moisture and everything. I wanted her so, and desperately, and she was right here and it was time to go. The bell rang and I couldn’t find my shoes. When I finally got down, my stuff tossed into a rucksack, journals and such, she had already gone. There was a tiny handwritten note left in the crack of the door. It read, “I had to go ahead, but don’t worry, you can always join me later. I will wait for you and will always be waiting for you. I’ll see you in the Faroe Islands.”
A SWANKY EVENT, with wine and cheese and such, and balloons, but I felt overwhelmed and hid in the men’s room. Into which walked an older woman of maybe 55 or 60. An average Estonian woman, though attractive in her own way, blonde, with breasts, and eyes, and lips, and maybe a soul under her business attire. She was an accountant. She didn’t tell me so, but I just knew. They all have that look, as if only numbers interest them, and not men. Of course, I kissed her. “Why did you kiss me?” she asked. “Because I was desperate,” I told her. We kissed again, and then washed our hands and dried them and left. I left the event and walked into a computer classroom. Rows and rows of PCs. Mostly empty seats except for one. Lata was there, sitting beside one of the computers. She looked at me from behind the screen. “What happened to you in there?” Lata asked. “Nothing at all,” I said. I felt bad for little Lata, as if I had betrayed her with the toilet accountant, and left. Rich, an old friend from my college days, came up to me after that. He wanted to know if I had a recording of a lecture on reporting from the prior week. I said I did, and we began to walk toward my room, which was still in the university’s journalism or J school. Rich walked too quickly and soon disappeared into a crowd, and in the atrium, youngsters began to pester me for autographs. “Justin, Justin! Justin, Justin! Sign here, Justin!” I signed as many books as I could, and eventually reached my room. My mother was there on the couch, reading a newspaper. I began to play with some old toys on the floor behind the couch. Then Lata walked in and started to chat with my mother. Mother said, “Has something been going on between you and my son?” Lata addressed me, in Hindi. “Justin, does she know about us?” I answered her, in Hindi, “Not as far as I know.” “Actually, I do know a little,” said mother, reading her newspaper. I felt alarmed, I felt my inner temperature rise. But Lata and her both got to talking. They agreed that it would be a good idea to go to therapy together.
WHO IS FERNANDO PESSOA? That’s not actually his real name. His real name is something like Paulo or Oswaldo, but pronounced in that juicy Brazilian way. Oshwaldo. He has multiple identities and documents. He claims his father was Jorge Ben. He claims to be a capoeira enthusiast. And also a ninja. He claims to be a lot of things, but he’s really just a criminal. And also black. Though these things are not connected. He is one slick street artist though. I met him in an upscale neighborhood in Santos, down those treacherous mountain roads from big city São Paulo, where he used to sell contraband down by the stinky river. In Santos, it’s nicer and you can smoke pot on the beach and play volleyball with girls in polka dot bikinis and still hear Tom Jobim on the radio. That’s why Fernando Pessoa prefers Santos. There are also fine streets lined with Victorian mansions. These were owned by American plantation owners who fled south during the Civil War so that they could hang onto their slaves for a few decades longer. Brazil only abolished slavery in 1888, you know. This is where Fernando Pessoa earns his money, taking part in what he calls live theatre. He pretends to steal things, and then his business partner Seaside Jair comes along dressed like a policeman and arrests him. Local yuppies come out and are so grateful that they toss money into Jair’s hat. Then they take it back to their little shithole bunker in the mountains and cut up the proceeds. I only fell in with these rogues because I was on vacation and trying to get a picture of the ocean. I wanted to post it on Instagram. There I was, walking along by those Victorian mansions, when I witnessed the Fernando-Jair street play. I followed them back to their hangout, but rather than pull a gun on me, Jair, who has one of those long donkey faces you can’t help but love, thought it would be good to have an Italian-looking policeman as part of the skit. “Just like Bolsonaro!” Then the closet fascist euro bourgeoisie in Santos would be especially grateful and give us even more cash for the arrests. That’s how I wound up taking part in the scam. And once, a business lady from Morumbi even gave me a ride in her helicopter for putting Fernando back in chains, where he belongs. There are perks to this gig, you know. We don’t always do Santos, of course. We work the coast. Praia Grande. Vila Caiçara. Guarujá. Jair even says we should go up to Rio de Janeiro. Or even to Buenos Aires. There is good money to be made in racism, if you know how to milk it. As for Fernando, well, once I asked him how he came to bear the name of a legendary Portuguese poet. He told me he had once been arrested, and the jailer had handed him a copy of The Book of Disquiet. “That is when I started calling myself Fernando Pessoa,” he told me. “That’s when I became him.”
ANOTHER STARTUP CONFERENCE, except the genius organizers decided to hold this one on Cozumel in Mexico during Spring Break. There were booths of tech companies hawking apps but also street vendors selling rice and beans and cervezas. I was searching for the men’s toilet, but this was hard to come by. There were toilets for women and transmen, but none for just men. The women’s toilet showed a figure in a dress, the transmen’s toilet showed a figure in pants, but also wearing high heels. But wasn’t there a toilet for people who wore trousers and shoes? What to do? My father was there, but he was younger, from the 1980s, wearing a beige suit and tie, from those days when he would slink away while we were on vacation because he “just had to make a few phone calls” (he was in sales). I said, “Dad, I can’t find the men’s bathroom.” “Keep looking, son,” he said. “There must be one somewhere.” I came around to the bay side of the island’s peninsula, where the water was calmer, and saw there was an underground tunnel with a line leading into it. I thought it must be the men’s room, but then I saw the figure with the pants and high heels. At last, I decided to relieve myself in the ocean. Sometime after that, we were supposed to leave. Atlacamani, the pretty Azteca goddess of storms, was there seated in the back of an old Model T car, and my father, still clad in his beige suit, was in the driver’s seat. For whatever reason, Zorro had decided to come along and was in the back next to Atlacamani. It was time to leave the startup conference. I loaded up the Model T with casks of good Mexican wine. I had on my old jacket, the one that still has blood stains on it from when I cut my hand while sawing down a Christmas tree way back in ’13. I also had on my rubber boots. Finally, it was time to go. I got into the Model T and my father started the engine. I looked back to Atlacamani and Zorro and they nodded and smiled to me. Thus we sped away into the forever sunset.
the old fireplace
THERE WERE TWO HOUSES at the end of Cliff Road in Nantucket. This is the road that leads out of town and is situated along the bluffs with their long-eyed view of the Atlantic. I was up there at dawn, with the gulls crying, and the sun just beginning to scratch through the haze. The air smelled of the sea and of salt. Both of the houses were quite old. The one on the left was a saltbox from the first years of settlement and the one on the right was covered in gray shakes and had belonged to an old captain who had grown fat and rich back in the whale oil boom days. I went up to the captain’s cottage and knocked and Hanna came to the door. I hadn’t seen her in forever and I didn’t know what she was even doing here in Nantucket. There she stood in an old-fashioned gown with her white freckled skin and tangles of red hair and folds of Irish heft, holding a candle. I turned to leave, but when I did, she somehow materialized on the other side of me, or behind me, so that I turned from facing her to facing her again. This time she kissed me deeply and passionately and the wind picked up abruptly, as it always does when I am kissed so passionately. She led me by the hand into the house, down a hall with paintings of ships on the wall that depicted harpooned whales spouting in agony against rough seas and where the tropical mountainous islands of the Pacific loomed in the distance. We walked to a staircase that had creaking steps. “This used to be for the servants in the old days,” she said. “But there’s a secret room down in the cellar. Nobody will look for us in there.” Down in the cellar we came to the old fireplace with its red arching bricks, and Hanna pushed open a door behind the hearth. “Come inside,” she whispered. “There’s plenty of room for both of us.” Inside we began to make love. My hips rose and there were ecstatic sighs. But then I felt something crunching on my back. Hanna lit the whale oil lamp and its light shone on the floor. Hundreds of gold metallic insects were crawling everywhere. They glistened like coins. “Don’t mind them,” Hanna said. “They’ve always been here. The captain brought them back from the Orient. The whole cottage is infested.” When I awoke, Hanna was gone and so were the insects. The stairs on the way up broke as I stepped on them, and the house was abandoned and crumbling. There were no paintings on the walls, just cobwebs and dust. I was lucky I got out of that condemned, ramshackle house alive.
I WAS BEING FOLLOWED, and by an American. I knew he was an American because his eyes were somehow livelier and more naïve than a European’s, yet also infused with a hint of skepticism, distrust, even a slight confusion, as if he truly did not believe in Europe, and that I also must be up to no good if I had moved to such a place and started such a life here. He was dressed casually and his dark curly hair was much longer in the back, leading me to refer to him as the “Man with the Mullet.” I would notice him milling about the corridors of the office building where I work in the Old Town, which also happens to house the offices of Northman Ventures, a major client. I assumed he represented another firm. This is in an old European city made of solid pre-war buildings and, indeed, ours used to be a Swedish textile factory. Sometimes I would see the Man with the Mullet there and he would look at me in passing as if he knew what I was doing. Unfortunately, for both of us, I had no idea what that was. This went on for several weeks, the run-ins with the Man with the Mullet. One day, when I was certain he was not around, I went by the office building to retrieve a few things. I parked in front and went up the white stone steps. A large van roared up in front and several men jumped out, led by the strange mulleted man. They charged into the building and began removing all the paperwork they could from the offices of Northman Ventures where I had a desk. “What’s this all about? Do you guys even have a warrant?” I said. They ignored me and continued to load the van with boxes. The Man with the Mullet then addressed me. “Did you illegally download music on Napster in the year 2000?” “Sure, I did. But everybody was using Napster in those days.” “Our records show that you downloaded all of De La Soul’s album Stakes Is High. And also, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory. Do you deny this to be the case?” “I think I copied those from a friend.” “You’re in violation of US copyright law,” said the Man with the Mullet. “But so is everybody! We all did it. Everyone had Napster back in 2000.” “You will soon receive a summons and court date,” he said before getting in the van. “But this isn’t even the US! I don’t live in the US anymore!” “You can tell that to the judge,” he said. After the federal agents left, I noticed they had also taken my pants. So I was left standing there in my long gray coat holding my briefcase which, interestingly, they had not confiscated. I went to take the elevator up. I felt troubled inside, wondering if I would really be jailed for using Napster while I was in college. I got into the old-fashioned, creaking elevator and Liv came in and sat beside me. She was the little sister of one of the owners. She had just had her blonde hair cut in a fringe, and was happy to see me. “But what’s the matter with you?” she said. “You seem really worried. Why are you so melancholic?” “We were just raided by US federal copyright agents for something I did in college,” I said. “And also, I’m not wearing any pants.” “Aha,” said Liv. “Now, I see.” Liv put her warm hands under my coat and gave my thigh a squeeze.