Friday, December 01, 2006

Climbing The Dune

I’m climbing the face of a dune.

The sand is reddish-tan, cold and powder-dry under my feet, my hands. The sun is almost level at my back. I know the other side of the dune will be dark.

I follow my shadow up the dune.


“I don’t know. It’s just a dream I’ve been having.”

Caleb shrugs. He’s not particularly interested in dreams. “You think it means anything?”

I sip my coffee. It’s scalding hot and too bitter. Most of my co-workers like it much stronger than I do.

“I guess maybe it means some transition, some big change in my life...”

He snickers. “There could be more layoffs coming.” I glare at him. “Sorry, I know that’s not funny. You could talk to Cindy.”

I stifle a groan. Our receptionist is a big New Ager. Besides interpreting people’s dreams at staff meetings, she’s been known to palm-read customers. Without their consent.

Bitter dust coats my lips and chafes my skin. My eyes itch, but I know better than to rub them. Small rivulets of sand trickle down around me. Each time I set my foot down, it sinks back almost to where it was before I lifted it.

I look up. A faint, very faint, veil of dust is lifting from the dune-crest; there must be wind up there, but I can’t feel it down here.


“So you’re all alone on this sand dune, right?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“So it’s about being isolated...” Cindy peeks at me from the corner of her eye; she, like the rest of the office, was a spectator to my divorce. I can’t really blame her—I didn’t make the divorce, but I did make the spectacle. “And about feeling stuck, or trapped? You said you keep sinking back, like you’ll never get to the top.”

“No,” I say. I can’t tell why that feels wrong, but it does.

“But you have this dream over and over, and it never changes?”

I’m not sure how to answer that. I don’t remember noticing any changes, but there have to be some. There have to be.

Back in my cube, I flip my calendar over and stare, stunned. November was yellow flowers on some prickly-looking desert bush. December is a huge, towering dune of reddish sand, exactly the color of the dune in my dream. The caption says "The dreaming self is the shadow of the waking self. The waking self is the shadow of the dreaming self. In life, the dreaming self is tethered to the purposes of the waking self".

The slope is so steep, I’m on all fours. My hands burn with the dryness. How long have I been climbing?

There’s a rustling, and suddenly the sand all round me is moving, sliding. I cry out in protest, but it’s no use; the whole face is in motion, and I’m scrambling not to get sucked under.

At last the sand comes to rest. The slip zone shows as a crescent of very slightly paler sand, above and to both sides. I know it’ll be unstable for a while. I need to move sideways, get to an unslipped area, start climbing again.


“... so I must have flipped through the calendar when I first bought it, and for some reason remembered that picture. And now I’m dreaming about it.”

“Huh.” Jean fiddles with her napkin, folding the corners into tiny pleats. The quilted paper rustles with a sound like sand. Sand sliding, slipping...

“Hello! Are you there?”

“Uh?” I focus. Jean looks a little worried. “Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

”I said, you bought this calendar a year ago, right? I mean, this is December, right? And you haven’t looked at it since then?”

“I don’t like to look ahead at the pictures,” I say, defensive for no reason. “It’s like looking at the end of a book. It spoils the fun.”

“But you must at least have looked at the back, when you bought it, to see if you’d like it?”

I try to remember. “I don’t think so. It said ‘Desert Blooms’—I thought that sounded good.”

“So there’s flowers in this dune picture?”

“Uh—No.” Suddenly uneasy, I push back my chair and stand up. “Listen, Jean, I’ve got to get back to work. My lunch break’s over.”

Jean looks upset; I know I’m being rude, but I have to get back to my office and look at that calendar.

December’s picture. A round, striped cactus with vivid pink flowers around the top, like a kitschy beer barrel ornament. The caption says something about Arizona.

Am I going crazy?

I’m climbing again. My hands feel scraped and sore. My leg muscles ache. But the crest seems closer. I can feel a touch of breeze on the back of my sweaty neck.

Even the sand feels firmer underfoot; realer. (Why do I think that?) The sky looks bigger and bigger, above; an endless, serene blue streaked with a tinge of red, where dust is blowing from the dune-crest.

I’ll be there soon.


The numbers on the elevator tick down steadily. I’m afraid to look too closely at them, in case they turn into falling grains of sand. I’ve been hallucinating on and off since lunch with Jean. No, before, counting the calendar.

I need to see a doctor. Obviously. Work-related stress. Unresolved issues with the divorce. Easy answers, and they ring as false as the tinny Christmas music the elevator’s played since Thanksgiving. The music which threatens to dissolve into the sound of wind over sand.

Maybe a brain tumor? I’ve heard they can cause hallucinations.

But I can’t believe any of these things. I can’t reduce the taste of dust, the smell of sand dampened with my own sweat, to anything so prosaic. Maybe I’m just not prepared to admit my life is that boring. Maybe I’m tempted by the magic of an exotic place, even if it’s an imaginary place—no, a delusional place.

I push out of the elevator on the ground floor, out to the street, stumbling briefly as the industrial carpet in the lobby gives way to powdery sand. I can’t give in to this. I’ve got to get help before they come and take me away in a straitjacket.

I’ve got to get home.

I’m at the crest.

Before me, the sand falls away into a fathomless darkness. To left and right, the crest stretches away, undulating gently, sharp as the edge of a knife. The breeze is strong up here, cooling the sweat sticking my shirt to my back, soothing the raw patches on my hands.

My shadow falls down into the gloom and disappears. Strange, I thought it was attached to my feet, but it just slipped loose.

I could step forwards and follow it, down and down into the dark.

Or I could turn around and slide down the lighted face, back the way I came. Without my shadow.

Or I could walk along the crest for a while. I might lose my balance, or get caught in another slip, of course.

Or I could sit here and listen to the wind.

7 comments:

Rob Kistner said...

I really enjoyed the interplay between the images of the dream, the vision - and the real life conversation you were having about what you saw.

The imagery of the dream was very enigmatic, mysterious -- well written!

UL said...

Oh you had me biting my nails toward the end, I loved the way you told the mystery, leaving the rest to the reader's imagination.

tumblewords said...

Wonderfully written. The back and forth of real and dream pulsates with feeling, with real and surreal. The ending is perfect!

Mary Timme said...

I think it is terribly difficult to write a good dream scene most of the time, and you did it so well. Wow! Was I captured the whole time.

Thinking aloud said...

Wow!! the interplay of real and dream was perfectly done!!!had me glued to my screen :))

Caty said...

:) Like it very much! the rythm

AnnieElf said...

Loved the interplay of reality and dream and the gentle, rocking rhythm.