from The Book of Blaise
In daylight I can always tell when Blaise is upset. The face gives it away. At 4.32am, however, I have to rely on vocal hints. Sobs. Suppressed sniffles. The rustle of yet another tissue being removed from its box. Often all three in that order. Sob, sniffle, rustle. Sob, sniffle, rustle and so on.
I mention this because it was now one of those 4.32s. Sob, sniffle, rustle.
Before the next sob I placed my left arm on her pillow and she moved towards me, throbbing gently in her grief. I said nothing, contenting myself with giving her silent support. I like to think I’m good at this sort of thing.
Masterful yet gentle. What’s the word I’m looking for? Empathetic. So there she was and there was I.
Sobbing. Sniffling. Rustling.
Time passed. 4.33. Sob, sniffle, rustle. The silent empathy patently wasn’t working.
‘What’s the matter?’ I said.
‘Nothing,’ she whispered. So I went into my there-there routine. There there. There there there. She moved closer. Interesting how a man thinks of carnal desire at this point. I thought about it. Based on previous experience I suppressed the thought. There there, I continued. There there there.
‘It’s just,’ she sobbed, ‘I had a very upsetting dream.’
Now here I could help. I’m very big on dreams. ‘I see,’ I said. ‘So what was it about?’
‘Oh, nothing,’ she sighed. ‘It was – it was just a dream.’
‘There there,’ I said. Then I waited.
‘I was asleep,’ said Blaise.
‘I know,’ I said.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I mean in the dream.’
‘I see.’ This was in danger of getting complicated.
‘I woke up suddenly,’ she said. ‘Someone was throwing pebbles at the window.’
‘That’s modern life for you,’ I sighed. ‘Maybe we should move to the country. So, was I still asleep?’
‘You weren’t in it,’ said Blaise. ‘It wasn’t that sort of dream.’
I was a bit taken aback by this matter-of-fact response. Still, it was her dream. Let her sort out the pebbles. I removed myself mentally from the dream bed.
‘Go on,’ I said, in my best dream-therapist’s voice.
‘It was a four-poster bed,’ said Blaise. ‘Sort of nineteenth century.’
I added four posts and adjusted the time frame but said nothing.
‘I lit a candle,’ she continued, ‘and tiptoed to the window.’
‘The moon was shining on a placid, melancholy ocean.’
I was having to work overtime on the visuals, but gave Blaise her head.
‘A young man stood in the moon-kissed garden. Apple blossom everywhere. He was about to throw some more pebbles.’
I may have stiffened slightly.
‘Young?’ I said. ‘How young?’
‘I don’t know. Sixteen?’
‘Hardly a man, then,’ I said. I was on high alert. A sixteen year old boy? I wasn’t in it? Not that sort of dream? I didn’t like the sound of this. That said, it’s difficult to have a free and frank exchange of views with your arm in the there-there position. So I said nothing. Just brooded quietly. Blaise, on the other hand, seemed to relax into her narrative. Almost as if
I wasn’t there.
‘He had the most beautiful soulful eyes,’ she said. ‘And a flop of dark hair that – oh, it was so poetic.’ I need hardly add that I used to have the most beautiful soulful eyes. Not to mention a flop of dark hair that was oh et cetera. But there we are. I wasn’t in the dream. I gave Blaise the metaphorical floor. ‘I think he may have been consumptive,’ she continued.
Oh, please. Consumptive? I gave up. ‘He said,’ wept, yes, wept Blaise, ‘he said he’d loved me before time and would love me after time.’ I was tempted to ask about the bit in the middle, but Blaise wept on. ‘He – he threatened to kill himself if I didn’t return his love.’
Silence. I waited. Nothing. ‘So you said?’
‘That’s when I woke up,’ sniffled Blaise.
‘So you said nothing.’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘I might have said I’ll think about it.’
And then – brace yourselves for this because I found it difficult to believe myself – Blaise fell into a deep, untroubled sleep. I, in contrast, lay awake for the rest of the night, my thoughts dark and malevolent, my arm stuck in the there-bloody-there position. Not that it mattered much. Due to a lack of circulation beyond the left shoulder, it died at 5.02.
Next day, Blaise, thanks to a long lie in, was all sweetness and smiles. I, on the other hand, festered. Nothing too obvious. More of a slow burn effect which brought out Blaise’s maternal side. ‘What’s the matter?’ she said.
So she went into a female variation of the there-there treatment. The stroking of the hair. The comforting kiss on the cheek. The cuddle. Interesting how a man’s thoughts turn to carnality at such moments. I know mine did. But I also continued to fester. My mind worked over the salient points of Blaise’s dream. The soulful eyes and flop of hair. The consumption and the emotional blackmail, and then, to top it all off, ‘I’ll think about it.’
The last bit must have popped out involuntarily. Blaise disengaged. ‘Think about what?’ she said. I reminded her of the denouement of her dream. ‘Oh, that,’ she said. ‘I’d forgotten all about it.’ I refreshed her memory. The bullet point version. ‘Oh, right,’ said Blaise. ‘Poor boy. I mean, I was old enough to be his mother.’
‘Perhaps,’ I replied, not un-icily, ‘that was the attraction.’
Blaise giggled involuntarily. ‘You’re not jealous, are you?’
‘Don’t change the subject,’ I said. ‘Certainly not. However, if you happen to meet the young reprobate again, tell him you’re spoken for.’
‘Meet him again?’ Blaise spluttered. ‘A dream is not a film! You can’t just assemble the same cast and shoot part two.’
I lowered my eyebrows for effect.
‘I did say if.’
Well,’ said Blaise, ‘if by any chance we meet again I’ll pass your message on. Happy?’
‘I’m always happy,’ I said darkly. ‘It’s my nature.’
Blaise’s laughter suggested that she, at least, had made a full recovery; and there the matter rested. For then. I may have brought the subject up once or twice during the course of that evening. Dreams, after all, are pretty indicative of something or other to do with the subconscious. Example. I had a dream once in which my penis had turned into a cigar. One of those large Cuban ones, for those interested in such matters. Recently lit. I still have no idea what, if anything, the dream was trying to tell me. Having said that, I’ve always been secretly pleased it wasn’t a Slim Panatella. But I digress.
The following morning I brought Blaise a cup of tea in bed. The rattle of the saucer may have woken her. Difficult to tell. But she opened her eyes like a startled sparrow. ‘You again,’ she yawned. To be fair, it wasn’t the first cup of tea, but we won’t go into that.
‘Well?’ I said.
‘Well what?’ Blaise sat up.
‘Anything further on the dream front?’
‘Nothing to report, I’m afraid. I expect they didn’t get funding.’ If this was a reference to the film version it was in pretty poor taste. I decided to let it pass.
‘You’re quite sure,’ I said.
‘Quite,’ she said. ‘And please don’t stare like that. You look like Bible John.’ I didn’t know who Bible John was. Possibly a relative. But I caught my reflection in the wardrobe mirror and disliked him on sight. I smiled genially. Blaise studied me as she sipped her tea.
‘Grimace,’ she said. ‘Lovely word. I must use it in a poem.’ There was no point talking to her when she was in this sort of mood, so I decided to go about my business. I had just reached the door when she sighed softly into her cup.
‘It was only a dream,’ she said. ‘Really.’
‘Ah, but was it?’ I said. I decided to leave it there, and was about to close the door for dramatic effect when she put her cup down on the bedside table.
‘Hold on,’ she said, placing her fingers to her temple. ‘I’m getting something.’
‘I did have a dream last night. Yes. It’s all coming back to me.’
I closed the door and moved to the end of the bed. ‘And?’
‘Shhh.’ Blaise was concentrating hard. ‘He was in it. Yes. That’s it. He came back. The boy. He came back the following night. More pebbles. Or did I just leave the window open and wait? Anyway, he came back, that’s the important thing. Apparently the consumption had been a misdiagnosis. He just had a slight chest cold.’
This sounded like a real breakthrough. ‘Go on.’
‘Wait. It’s coming. Yes. That’s it. He’d decided to join a closed order of monks.’
‘What? Like – Cistercians?’
‘Could be. He didn’t specify. Just said they were closed. Then – what was it he said then? Yes. That’s it. He apologised for his little outburst the previous night. Said he’d been running a temperature.’
‘Sounds like a very verbal dream,’ I said.
‘I’m a poet,’ said Blaise. ‘I work with words. It’s bound to have an influence.’ I supposed so. ‘Anyway, we shook hands on that and promised not to keep in touch. You know, what with him being enclosed and everything.’
‘You shook hands?’ I said. ‘I thought you were upstairs.’
Blaise may have looked startled. If she did she recovered quickly.
‘It was a bungalow, silly. You know. One of those seaside towns. Probably Largs.’ She patted my hand. ‘So. Nothing to worry about. THE END.’
Hmn. It certainly had the ring of truth. I’d been to Largs off-season and anything was possible. I felt reassured. We had our old relationship back. Or so I thought. The following afternoon, however, I was forced to reassess. I’d just arrived back from a trip to the library. Blaise was in the living room. She was in high spirits with person or persons unknown. I closed the front door softly and kept a low profile as I negotiated the hall.
‘So I said He’s joined a closed order of monks,’ said Blaise, ‘and that seemed to do the trick.’
‘Brilliant,’ said the voice of her best friend Faye, and they were both tinkling merrily when I opened the living room door.
‘Not interrupting anything, I hope,’ I said. ‘Do carry on.’
They didn’t. Faye stood up to give me a kiss on the cheek as if the world hadn’t just shifted on its axis.
‘So,’ I said genially. ‘What’s all this about monks?’
I’ll say this for them. They both had the good grace to freeze. Blaise recovered first. ‘I see,’ she said accusingly. ‘You were listening in.’
‘Not so,’ I said. ‘I’m afraid I had no control over the volume. Nor,’ I continued wittily, ‘did there appear to be an off switch.’
‘Well, anyway – ’ Blaise began, intending no doubt to bluff it out. Faye put a hand on her arm.
‘No,’ she said. ‘He’s right. We have an issue here.’
‘We?’ I said. ‘We?’
‘We,’ said Faye. ‘After all, I’m not a Jungian analyst for nothing.’
I folded my arms meaningfully. ‘Really?’ I said. ‘A Jungian analyst? Last time you were here I could have sworn you said you were a nutritionist.’
Faye waved nutritionist away. ‘I dabble in nutrition,’ she said. ‘Strictly mealtimes. Jungian analysis is my passion. With a bit of that other one. You know.’
‘Freud,’ said Blaise helpfully. Was it my imagination or did Faye look genuinely relieved.
That’s the one,’ she said. She lowered her voice. ‘They didn’t get on,’ she confided, ‘So I’m not, strictly speaking, allowed to say his name.’
I was referring to Anna,’ said Blaise. Faye looked blank for the merest hint of a nanosecond.
‘Ah yes,’ she said. ‘Anna. Seminal. Quite, quite seminal.’ She slipped her arm through mine. ‘You know,’ she said, as if Blaise was somehow excluded from the conversation, ‘a quick session might be the very thing.’
‘If anyone needs treatment,’ I all but snorted, ‘it should surely be the person who had the dream.’
Faye poked my ribcage in a very unladylike manner. ‘Do you question my methods?’ she said, dropping her voice, for some reason, to a male register.
‘But won’t it tire you out?’ said Blaise. ‘Faye has chronic fatigue syndrome,’ she explained.
‘Nonsense,’ said Faye. ‘I’ll take the couch. Now scoot,’ she said, waving
Blaise away. ‘This is confidential.’
Blaise scooted. Faye settled herself on the sofa, while I sat on a straight-backed wooden chair and awaited further instructions.
‘So what’s the procedure?’ I asked. Faye seemed momentarily thrown by the question.
‘Tell me everything,’ she said. ‘Leave nothing out.’
‘You mean – ’ I began.
Faye put her hands behind her head and prised her shoes off with her feet.
‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘Absotootley.’
I had a certain understanding of the procedure, mainly gleaned from New York Jewish cinema and, indeed, the New York Jewish novel. Not to mention the odd short story, TV series or play. Also New York Jewish. So I began at the beginning. Bit of prehistory for contextualisation purposes. Birth. Early years. Education, trauma of. Failure to observe Hanukkah because both my parents were goyim.
Throughout all of this Faye lay still, eyes shut, her face a mask of total concentration. I’d sailed through my early years with aplomb and was about to enter the choppy waters of adolescence when I noticed that Faye’s breathing had become regular and potentially intrusive. I coughed politely.
She sat up with a how-the-hell-did-I-get-here look.
‘I take it you missed all that,’ I said. Meaningfully.
‘Pas du tout,’ she said. ‘It’s how I work. Why do you think they call it dream analysis?’ She wiped the sleep from her eyes. ‘But do go on.’
‘Where was I?’ I asked. Rhetorically as I thought.
‘Masturbation,’ said Faye.
‘Adolescence,’ I replied coolly.
‘See?’ said Faye. ‘I was listening.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Anyway, time’s up.’ She yawned, stretched and stood up. ‘Interesting. Very interesting.’
‘So what do you think?’ I said.
‘Whoa there,’ said Faye. ‘Not so fast. I have to process the information. This could take years.’ She pinched my cheek playfully and made for the exit. ‘Same time next week?’
‘Now just hold on a minute,’ I said. ‘I need something now, Doctor. This is driving me crazy.’ And I don’t know what it was – most likely the unintentional but legitimising use of the term doctor – but she turned and walked back to the couch.
‘I can see that,’ she said. She sat down, suppressed a yawn and stroked an imaginary beard. ‘Now let me see. Hmn. Interesting. Very interesting.’
‘I know,’ I said. ‘We’ve had that bit.’
‘Quiet please,’ said Faye. ‘I’m processing.’
That too, I thought, but what can you do? ‘Sorry.’
Faye suddenly sat up. ‘Got it,’ she said. ‘Now why didn’t I think of it before?’ She made eye contact for the first time. Pretty frightening, to be honest. She’s an odd woman. ‘The young boy,’ she said, ‘is you.’
‘Me?! But – what about the monk bit?’
‘Monk shmunk. Forget the monk bit. Blaise was lying. The point is, the boy was you. Because you and Blaise are soul mates, linked to each other before time and after time. Not to mention the bit in the middle. So the young boy in the dream is you, desperate to make a connection with the woman he won’t meet in the real world for many, many years and after much, much searching.’
You mean – ’
‘Yes. I do mean. Remember your adolescence. Were you happy?’
‘Only when I was – ’
‘Exactly. QED. I’ll invoice you. Better still, give me your bank details, I’ll invoice myself.’
Costly it may have been for a two hour session, but I was greatly buoyed by this excellent news. I was that boy. Beautiful, soulful eyes? Flop of hair?
Yes, indeedy! That was me all right.
‘You’re looking very pleased with yourself,’ said Blaise as we lay in bed that night. ‘So what did your analyst have to say?’
‘The confidentiality of the couch,’ I said. ‘Remember?’ I ruffled her hair affectionately. ‘Sweet dreams, and if you happen to meet a certain person, be my guest.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Blaise, but before I could elaborate she was sound asleep, a soft smile on her full and honeyed lips.
Faye dropped by the following morning. I found them giggling in the living room. They stopped as soon as I sauntered in. ‘Carry on,’ I said. ‘Don’t mind me. Or perhaps I should say’ – and I aimed this one squarely at my analyst – ‘don’t mind us.’