In the dream we are in the back of a station wagon – like children, little kids – it’s ample and we’re lying down in that long rectangular space, like a coffin. When we arrive, the door opens and we step out; who has been driving us? I look at you standing there and I am you. I feel it; we are so alike. And then we are in your room. I’ve never seen it, of course; it is your childhood room, where you’d tell stories to your younger sister, deep into the night. It is small and cramped, just as you’ve described it. But in my dream it is long too, rectangular and narrow, like the back of that station wagon, like that coffin I can’t stop thinking about. And so I wake from your room, force myself awake. My heart. I wake up panting, and my heart, it is racing.
You read, curled up like a cat in one corner of the couch. You read voraciously. Once in a while, as you read, you make low noises in your throat, sounds you are probably not aware of, but which I note. They say something to me about you.
Sometimes you get up from the couch and sit at your small desk and start typing, writing and writing. You work on a typewriter because it gives you some distance, you say. It keeps things from getting too close, too intense. The sound of the letters hitting the page, the time it takes them to get there after leaving your fingers, the sound of it when they land, the clacking. It’s the only way you can write, you say, some distance. I sit at my computer, my desk across the room, my back to you; my writing is silent by comparison. Sometimes we work like this for hours and hours on end. I leave the room more often than you, leave the apartment, go outside to see the light, and when I return you are still there, hunched over the noise of your writing, of those letters hitting the page.
This is when you are happiest, you say, our backs to each other, both working away. Or else when we are in bed, in each other’s arms, telling each other things, talking in whispers though we are alone. After your father died your sister would come into your bed and you would tell her stories, things you’d make up. You would work hard to make the stories turn out okay, though what was driving you at your core was terror. You never told her this, how hard you worked to make those stories okay. She would settle into sleep, and you would be overtaken by that deep dread.
Often, I fall asleep before you do. But sometimes when I wake in the middle of the night I look at you there, on the other side of the bed, all curled up like a baby, curled into a fetal position, or like a cat, the way you lie on the couch when you are reading. Once or twice I wake to see you sitting on the chair in front of me, the dawn rising all around you, you bathed in its soft yellow light… staring at me. I was just watching you sleep, you say through the thin haze of smoke. I see the cigarette in your hand, and realize it is that which woke me, the grey smell of fire. You are still staring as you take another hit.
The first time you disappear I am terrified. I call your sister and she says there is nothing I can do. When you come back, days later, I am angry and you tell me you just do that sometimes.
Well I don’t like it, I say. You turn to me, Of course not, you say. Of course you don’t. It must be terrible for you. You are so tender as you say it. You kiss my hair. I can see that you know it is awful; I can see your concern. Why can’t you help yourself?
I am not quiet. I know of quiet people, writers who extricate themselves from life, who live in the woods, or near the sea, and work and work and think. I want to be like that. I want to be like them, but I am not. I get angry. I scream and cry. I throw myself at you.
This was not a dream: We were in a group, people drinking, scotch and champagne. It was a celebration. You were sitting with your hand on her knee and though I didn’t know you yet your fingers were long and when you kissed the side of her head. I looked away.
Your eyes are big and dark, they are black, almost, and even when you smiled at me at the end of that night, those heavy lidded, deep-set eyes looked a bit sad.
You rushed at me at the end of the night. I had just met you. And as I was leaving you came from out of nowhere and grabbed my arm and kissed at my cheek and said good night. I was putting my coat on. You were excited and you just missed my mouth. I really enjoyed talking to you, you said. Though we had barely exchanged a word. I hope I run into you again, I said. You never know, you replied. You never know when I’ll show up. And then I finished adjusting my coat and when I turned toward you, you were gone.
Did that really happen? How could you appear and disappear like that? My coat partially on and the place dense with music and talking.
We end up together. We drive to the desert. You say you knew this. At that bar. That we would some day be together. In the desert you tell me about your father. I want to say I’m sorry. I want to take you in my arms, but I know that there is nothing I can say or do to match what you have just told me and so I lie still and silent there next to you. At some point I reach for your hand, and you let me take it. And like this we lie on the hood of your car, looking at stars, for a very long time.
Sometimes when you have to do things, the things a son must do for a father who died long before his job was done, your rage turns inward and you become grey and flat. The greyness fills our car as we drive delivering his paintings to a collector two states away, a 7 hour drive. The collector will want to talk about your father. You will avoid this. The flat grey is palpable in our car, but I know I cannot say a thing and so I stare out the window, wanting to cry. How will you ever move beyond it if you cannot speak it.
Once, in a Japanese restaurant the couple two tables away from us sat quietly fighting. It was strange, for it was a silent battle they were fighting. In a crowded restaurant where everyone else was loudly talking. My eyes were drawn to that woman’s eyes, which were red and wet with tears. The man just stared at her, for long periods at a time, every once in a while trying to wipe her face for her; she wouldn’t let him, kept pulling herself away, her black shoulder-length hair falling onto her cheek, dipping into her mouth. I tried to look away, but couldn’t. I ignored my meal, ignored you, in order to stare at the two of them.
It was me. I was crying and talking, with you looking on. Yes. I remember now. I was angry. I was louder than I should have been, in a restaurant where everyone else was nearly silent. You kept trying to reach for my face, to touch my face, my long dark hair wet with tears and sticking to the sides of my face.
You remove a strand from my cheek. I don’t like it when you disappear, I say. You turn to me, Of course not, you say. Of course you don’t. You look into my eyes. I am crying. It must be terrible for you, you add. You are so tender as you say this. I reach my mouth up to you and you kiss me for a long long time.
In my dreams, these dreams I have, I am either dying with you, or I am on a boat and you are sinking deep into the water below me, and I know I cannot pull you up. This, or else you are leaving; you are far out of my reach. I do not chase you because I know it will not make a difference. I am passive at your leaving because I know there is nothing I can do. Still, I want to be able to chase you. I want to make a difference. Better yet, I want to be the one who gets chased. I want to say no, and have you run behind me begging me for words. I want you to tell me your terrifying stories and for you to know that I can take it, that I can listen and absorb your dread. But I am not really like that. I am not a silent listener. I am not kind and gentle that way. I am not merely receptive. I yell at you to wake up; I tell you that you must; I am not patient in your slow death; I am not quiet in your self-imposed coffin.
Veronica Gonzalez Peña is a novelist, playwright, and filmmaker. Her novels, twin time: or, how death befell me, and The Sad Passions are both published by semiotext(e). Most recently her play, Neck of The Woods, directed by Douglas Gordon and starring Charlotte Rampling, premiered at the Manchester International Festival. WORK, a puppet show written for Wyatt Khan will be premiering at Performa in November. Additionally, she is in post-production for her film CORDELIA, which stars Michel Auder and Servane Mary.