Bookcase Short Stories


(c) Arike van de Water 2007-2009

Yesterday's Dream About Tomorrow

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods. – T.S. Eliot

For my brother, may miracles happen and dreams come true, someday.

A hand crawls to the right side of the bed, groping for something but finding only cold sheets. The hand travels back and rubs a face rough with stubble. Dark eyes open blearily and blink in the darkness tinted with moonlight. A head is lifted up. A gaze takes in the flattened cushions and wrinkles of a bed left in a hurry. A body is lifted up on one elbow, reveals beneath the sheets a bare chest and trousers.

The man on the bed blinks slowly at the empty side of the bed, where his lover should be. His feet swing to the floor and he walks around the room. There is no sign to say she has already dressed and left. Most of her clothes are still there, only a simple robe is gone. She must not be far away then. His feet pad softly on the floor as he leaves the room. He walks down the short end of the hall, to the doorway that opens onto a balcony.

When he appears on it, he blinks again in the moonlight. It is brighter here than it was inside. It casts razorsharp shadows of lighter darkness onto the mosaic floor of the balcony. Only two chairs and a pair of feet stand on it. The chairs are to one side, in the corner that would be shadowed in the heat of day, to give a little relief to the visitors of the balcony. He knows the chairs well, he has often sat in them with her. She likes the view she has from here. It is the view that occupies her attention now as well. He walks up behind her, and looks out over the city.

Dark shadows are interspersed with the dark light of the moon and the small glowing fires in the distance. She imagines the people clustering around the fires like so many moths, huddled close together against the cold of the night. Burning wood offers only a small, human consolation, barely enough to ward off the chill on a night like this. She is focused so intensly on the sight, she does not notice him until he slides an arm around her waist and presses a small kiss in her neck.

“Where have you been, my love?” he whispers softly into her ear. Warmed by the heat of his body, she leans back into it. She does not need a fire as long as she has him. An arm secures her by the waist. His free hand delicately caresses her hair.

“I had a dream,” she whispers back, speaking the words as lightly as she can. She does not want to intrude upon the serenity of this night. He curls a lock around his fingers and pulls it teasingly.

“What about, my love?” he whispers in her ear. The tone is curious, the curiosity of a cat that has wandered into a new place and sniffs every nook and cranny superficially. No gravity weighs the curiosity down. It flits back and forth in the large, empty sky of small talk. She can only look at it from below, from the depth of her mind where her dream took place.

“I dreamt a dream of the future,” she breathed back, wishing him to put a little more weight into his curiosity. She does not want to pull him down forcefully to that place of stillness. He doesn’t hear her wish in her voice. He is too much occupied with pulling at different locks of her hair and putting a line of soft kisses on her skin from her neck to her ear.

Only when he completes his journey upward, he whispers back, “I want to know it. Gush out the worries that wind their way through that beautiful mind of yours. Let them flow out,” a breath teases over her ear at ‘flow.’ She shivers a little. A kiss is pressed to her ear before he continues, a smile on his lips and in his voice. “Your voice entices me, binds me like no rope ever could. Speak, my love, so I can here your speak.”

She sighed a soft sigh of regret. Normally, these words would make her forget about any worries that nagged at her mind and fill them with a more immediate worry, a hunger he would only too gladly assuage. The dream needs to be told, before it flees her mind again like a scared summer bird. She needs to point the bird out to him, so he can tell her she is not hallucinating the beautiful vision of pleasant weather tidings. Someone else needed to remember the dream that might take some of the cold out of this night.

“The dream was about your son,” she whispers, knowing this will get his attention. “He will beget a son, and that child will have a child, and children will be born of him, until, in the end, one will have a child that is your child, and yet is not.” She rests her head against his shoulder. Both his arms are now around her waist. His head is not bent to her neck any more, but staring ahead. Waiting. Listening.

“The dream came to me not an hour ago, as lightly as a feather brushing my cheek. At first I simply saw a man leading a woman on a donkey through the streets down there.” She nodded towards the town below. “Not the same streets, but still recognisable. I realised I must be having a dream about the future-” she pauses uncertainly. The fear teasing at the edges of the memory of the dream stopped her for a moment.

It is a lonely place, amongst the dreams. They reside in the darkness of her soul. When she needs one of them, she has to venture to that hole, and climb in to search for that one dream. Every time she does the others spring on her, claw at her and confuse her until she is lost and had no idea where to go an more in her own mind. The immediacy, the urgency of every dream is depressing. Most only bring bad news, battles or deaths that are bound to happen. This one doesn’t, but still the feeling of the future-dreams persisted: the anxiety something would happen, or in this case, might not happen.

Her lover did not try to distract her. He only gave her waist a squeeze, not telling her to go on. Patient to wait until she had gathered her composure again. It is enough.

She goes on haltingly, her voice still soft enough not to break the serenity of the night. “The roads were full of travellers, but those two stood out, somehow. Maybe they were simply familiar.” She reaches behind her to stroke the jaw of her lover. The man had looked a bit like him. They might have been cousins. “I followed them, invisible, unseen. They were some of the last to arrive of the travellers. I don’t think they had any family to stay with, because they called at inns for a room for the night. Everything was full, though. Eventually, he led her to a stable on the outskirts of the town.”

“What did they look like?” he asks quietly.

She tries to remember, the images are not very clear. The dream is already beginning to lose some of its detail. “The man was dark, coloured by the sun, and his clothes were simple and covered in dust. She was very pregnant, and about to give birth if her cries of pain were anything to go by.”

“And these you say were my kin?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she simply confirms.

“They were not very wealthy, then.” Her lover sounds contemplative. A short laugh. “My house will fall far before it rises again.”

“How do you...?” She isn’t sure what question to ask, but the tone of his voice tells her that he knows more about this than what she has told him.

“I had a private conference with Nathan today. This morning, in fact. He had a message for me.”

“A good one?” She jumps on the change of subject. She needs to tell him her dream, but if he already knows she won’t have to wallow in the fear any longer. She moves to a more positive part of her mind.

“You could say it like that,” he says amused, “You could also say that God has a bit of power.” His tone turns serious, but not more formal. “I retreated into my rooms to pray after that. I needed to thank Him. A lot.” He puts his face in her hair, breathing in and out. “A lot,” he repeats softly.

“What was the message?” she asks him. She reaches behind her again, this time to stroke his hair. A muffled sigh is her reward.

“Ah. It was a bit cryptic…he sounded something like you, in fact.”

“Me? I don’t talk by far as obsure as he does, do I?” She lets her hand fall to her waist again, puts it over one of his.

“The message was three messages, actually. The first part of it was that I am not to make a permanent house for the Lord, to put it simply. The next was about Israel. At some point in the future, we won’t be at war any more. We’ll have a place to live in peace.” He sounded relieved at that. Despite the fact that Israel was prosperous under his reign, there was still a lot of fear for outside threats. The people always kept one eye on the borders. She thought it would be blessing if they did not need to do so anymore. “The third was about…an heir of me, someone who would have an eternal throne and be like a son to Him. There was more, but this was the gist…”

“Wait!” she interrupted him. The words ‘like a son to Him’ had stirred her memory. Reluctantly, she reached back towards the dream. She grabbed it before the other future-dreams could grab her. “He is his son,” she says softly.

“What?” A whisper, shocked, in her ear. His body tenses behind her.

“I told you, he wasn’t really of your line...and yet he was. I – I overheard a conversation between the couple. The man was complaining about how people would gossip about the child not being his. They were still engaged, not married.” She tries to explain as best as she can, but some words were not coming out well. ‘Engaged’ to them merely meant a promise, but in the dream it had almost been the same as ‘married.’

“I see,” he says. His body relaxes a bit.

“There was something strange with the conception. I didn’t hear what.” He is silent again, listening. The lack of words welcomes her to tell the rest of her story in her own way. He understands it is hard for her. She swallows. “They went to a stable eventually, when they couldn’t get any place anywhere.” She picks up the thread of the story, trying to keep it as short as possible. “They prepared themselves for the night. At least, he did. The woman was already in labour, poor girl. She was lying on a bed of straw, panting. And then…” she stops. How to describe it? The dream is already becoming as vague as the others in the dark place. In a few moments, she will only be able to remember fragments: emotions, colours and sounds becoming one ununderstandable blend of impressions. “then he was born,” she says simply, trying to convey in her voice what she cannot in words. The wonder at the scene. Births were always special, but this one had carried an importance that resonated in the bones of everyone present. The animals had been jittery when the couple came in, but as the moment of the birth drew near, they’d quieted down, almost to the point of freezing. The couple themselves had been suspended in a timeless bubble, only focused on each other, seemingly not aware of anything around them, or the atmosphere pressing down on reality then.

Until the man had looked directly into her eyes. The pride of a parent had been in them, but it was tinted with a confidence and happiness that did not suit the occasion. He should have been anxious for the young woman screaming with pain on the make-shift bed. Instead, he’d looked like a warrior after a glorious victory. He’d looked as if he beheld the dregs of the defeated enemy fleeing before his king’s army. The victory already complete but for the victory march.

It had startled her out of the dream. She tells all this to her lover, and he listens attentively. “My offspring will be born in a stable,” he sighs. “Inconceivable.”

“No, simply not conceived yet,” she quips, then turns serious. “Love…do you understand anything of what I said?” She isn’t sure, if the first thing he jumps on is the location of the birth.

“I do,” he assures her. “Don’t worry, it’s simply a lot to take in. The news this morning was just so…amazing. And then you confirm it.” For a moment, he sounds like the man in the dream had looked at her. “It’s just…so different from how I envisioned it. I’ve spent the whole day thinking about nothing but that. I imagine everyone will be quite cross with me in the morning. I thought…with too much pride perhaps…that my line would continue to exist, and that he would be born into an age of strife and solve it, somehow. And make Israel as peaceful as Nathan said. Perhaps it is folly to expect anything.”

“I see,” she says softly. She pats him on his hand absently. “Is it folly to yearn for what is beyond your control?” She asks him. He simply shakes his head. She is content, now. He knows, and she knows what he knows. Maybe it is time to go back to sleep. The night is darkening, the moon is slowly sinking behind the horizon. The fires in the city extinguish one by one. Comfort, temporary as it is, is waning and it is time to return inside. “Let’s go back inside. We can talk tomorrow.” The terror of the dreams that made her flee his room has subsided.

“Tomorrow, yes,” he says. “Back to my kingdom.”

“Yes. Come on. The morning is early enough to worry.” She steps out of the circle of his arms, and tugs on his shoulder. He smiles at her. “We still have a bit of night left. You want to spend it talking, David?”