More Dreams

Another dream log. This one was very unexpected.

I think the first part of the dream had to do with anxiety over my upcoming kidney stone surgery (26 Dec). It kept alternating between this grim city where the poor were being swept away by heavy rains, and a pleasant resort with many people (most of them older) who were going to hold hands and embrace death together. They wanted me there too. We held hands in this sand ampitheater just above a narrow beach. A wave came crashing toward us, massive and frightening. Then out of the wave came a bunch of cheering people and the wave itself disintegrated. I think they were the souls of the dead come to meet their friends and family and take them home. But there was nobody that I recognized.

The next thing I knew I was back in that dreary city next to a manhole cover. Water stood about an inch high above it. I heard the sound of water rushing beneath it, then a thud and muffled screaming. Then blood welled up from under the manhole cover.

Then the dream switched gears again. I was talking to someone and I told them my name.

Theysaid “Oh! You’re Philip K Dick’s daughter!” and I was stunned. I think all I managed was “What!?”

Sure enough, in a magazine from 1980, there was my name in an article about him. Even in the dream I knew this was odd because I was born in 1984.

But somehow I arranged to see him. As in a previous dream, he was still alive and remarried but this time, he was living in a very nice house. We didn’t talk that much but I had the expectation that I’d be back, though why he seemed to think I was his daughter was a question I wanted to ask.

This was a curious sort of thing to dream because I have a good relationship with my father and never felt the need for a father figure. Indeed, during the dream I felt more perplexed than warm.

But I wonder too if this isn’t some harbinger, especially paired with the dreams earlier and another set of dreams from some months ago where I went walking down a beautiful country road carrying my cat who died last February of kidney troubles. I fear I may soon fall prey to complications from the surgery.

It’s not like I can opt out of the surgery either. This stone is big and it’s got my left kidney blown up like a water balloon. It won’t resolve itself; I’ll die of sepsis if I don’t have this surgery.

Please, if you are a person of faith, pray for me. I’m not liking these omens.

Thoughts on my Last Post, Part 2

While I won’t post anything from my most recent novel (keeping with my promise not to promote my published work here), I will share a short story I penned around April and revised slightly in June but have never had the nerve to post anywhere else.

Here is a perfect example of the doomed Englishman archetype resurfacing in my work.  It’s very telling that I had in mind that he was roughly Jack’s age, if he’d survived the war and lived into the late 40s.

Incidentally, the ending was meant to be enigmatic, though at the time I was going through questions about my gender related to the prevalence of this very male archetype in my psyche.

Farewell, Mr. Bagshot

Wandsworth Prison- 18 November 1946, about 7:45 AM

“I must admit this is the first time anyone’s asked for their solicitor,” the warden, a tall, severe man with thick glasses mumbled. “Most of the time it’s a priest they want to see. Do you reckon he thinks you can get him a last-minute pardon?”

A woman in a smart, professional-looking dress walked alongside him, the hard soles of her shoes tapping lightly on the walk past cell after cell. “Not likely,” she said. “Not knowing him.”

“You know him well, do you?” the warden said, arriving at the condemned cell and reaching for his keys, sliding the big heavy key into an ancient steel door and opening it.

“No better than any other client,” she lied.

“You’ve got fifteen minutes, if you’ve got any business do be quick about it,” the warden bellowed, shutting the door of the cell.

The inside of the cell was white-washed with a single window with heavy bars at one end. Little else except a lone cot with a thin mattress, a table, two chairs, and a single electric bulb in a fixture high overhead furnished the room.

Mr. Bagshot sat at the table, looking as well as a man could be in his predicament. He had a smart tweed suit on, with a red brocade waistcoat and a green bowtie, his mustache immaculately groomed into a perfect pushbroom. In his hand he held a glass of brandy that was half-finished. The solicitor winced as the noxious smell of the cheap brandy- the only nicety afforded a condemned prisoner- hit her nose.

“Ah, Miss Moore! Wonderful to see you!” he said, his warmth genuine and his tone strangely calm. “Well, come on, do have a seat!”

She sat down, scarcely able to look at him. What could she say?

“Hello, Mr. Bagshot,” she said quietly, the name sitting heavy on her tongue as she took a seat across the table from him.

“Oh, come now, let’s not be so gloomy, Miss Moore,” Mr. Bagshot said. “My troubles are nearly over. And it’s Jim now, there’s no business left for us I’m afraid, so we might as well talk like two people who know each other, eh?”

Miss Moore fought back tears, swallowed hard and gazed at the rough surface of the wooden table. In it were carved the names and dates of nearly every prisoner who had passed through this cell; the oldest date she could see, stained dark by the passage of time, was from 1893 and the freshest, scratched only an hour before, was an inscription that read J. Bagshot-1946- Innocent.

“I failed you, Jim.” She forced the words painfully, her eyes still fixed on the tortured wood of the table.

“What utter nonsense, Evelyn,” Jim replied with a curious warmth, taking a delicate sip of the brandy and swirling his glass as if he were drinking a fine Bas Armagnac. “They wanted me dead. The truth didn’t matter, they wanted someone to hang for treason and by God, they chose me. There was nothing you could do. I was dead the moment I walked into the Old Bailey.”

The words twisted at her heart, though Jim had spoken them so nonchalantly. “No, I didn’t do enough,” Evelyn insisted.

“What could you have done?” Jim asked, taking her delicate hand and looking her in the eye.

That gaze… that touch… she couldn’t remember the last time she felt this way about anyone. Perhaps her father might have made her feel this way when she was young. Why, oh why did it have to be a condemned man that brought these feelings out in her?

She searched deep… Jim deserved an answer. He didn’t insist upon it, except for the gentle squeeze upon her hand when she was most lost in her thoughts. But as much as she searched, she could think of nothing; it had been a kangaroo court, a show trial of the worst order, and nothing could have saved him.

“I don’t know,” she finally admitted. “I tried everything I could think of.”

“You see? There was nothing,” Jim said calmly. “They wanted blood and they found a chap with the same name as the fellow they wanted. Didn’t matter that Jim Bagshot from Battersea died when the bombs fell on Dresden. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know the poor bugger from Adam. They couldn’t admit a clerical error after they arrested me. They had to have their pound of flesh and by God, they got it.”

The two gazed at each other, Jim still holding her hand, his eyes softly imploring her not to cry, but it was no use. She felt tears begin to fall, and in only a moment he was by her side, embracing her.

“No, no, Evelyn, please don’t cry,” he insisted. “I’ve had a good life. I’m almost seventy now. I buried a wife and two grown children in the Blitz. My heart broke a long time ago, and I mean that in the most literal way! I’ve got a dicky ticker, dear. Grief can do that. Turns it all big and bulbous and useless, like an old cider jug. I’m going to die soon whether or not they hang me. This isn’t the way I would have wanted, but at least it’s quick. I hear Mr. Pierrepoint is quite the expert in these sorts of things…”

“I failed you…” Evelyn repeated, her voice weaker.

“You did no such thing! Enough of that, now,” Jim chided her gently, wiping a tear from her face. “Now, Evelyn, will you deny a condemned man his last request? I want to see you looking beautiful. Please, don’t let tears smudge your mascara and turn your eyes all red… is that what you want me to remember for the rest of my life? Save the tears for when I’m gone.”

“Sorry,” she said, sitting up straight in her seat and putting on a weak smile.

“That’s the spirit,” Jim said, his smile deeper and warmer… how did he do it? There was no trace of fear, pain, or resentment in him though, she reckoned, he must have been in a dreadful state behind that calm exterior.

Jim returned to his seat and took another sip of his brandy, then looked at the glass. “I suspect you need this more than I do, though. Care to share a drink?” He slid the glass toward her, a sparkle in his eye.

Evelyn took the glass. “Thank you,” she said, looking at it a moment.

“Well, go on, drink up, we haven’t got all day… well, I certainly don’t,” he urged her, chuckling a bit at his own gallows humour.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Bah, I’d have much preferred a cigar,” Jim replied.

Evelyn took the glass, held her nose, and drank deep from it, then coughed slightly as the burn of cheap alcohol hit the back of her sensitive throat. “Oh God, it’s horrid!” she said, gagging slightly.

“Yes… not the best I’m afraid,” Jim said matter-of-factly.

At that, the bookcase against the wall slid aside. Three men entered the room. “I need you to come with me, Mr. Bagshot,” said the man in the middle grimly.

Evelyn’s heart fluttered in her chest. “Wait! Wait, please, not yet!” she pleaded.

Jim stood obediently. “Evelyn, it’s no use!” he said as the guards pinioned his arms. “But before I go, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“What is it?” Evelyn said, choking back tears and feeling faint.

The guards turned Jim around and hustled him toward the death chamber where the noose awaited. “I am you!” Jim said, turning his head as far as he could to look at her. For just a moment his eyes met hers- not fearful, but full of earnestness- then they were out of sight forever as a white canvas hood was placed around his head.

“What does that mean?” Evelyn pleaded.

There was no answer. Jim stood tall and proud as Mr. Pierrepoint, the hangman, worked the noose over his head, checking the knot placement. Jim nodded affirmatively, sticking out his chest a bit and turning his nose up as the hangman walked to the lever, his fear betrayed only by a slight tremor in his legs.

Then there was a sharp bang, and Jim Bagshot fell into eternity. It was all over in just a few seconds. Evelyn’s eyes went wide with horror; just out of sight, below the level of that trap door and at the end of that taut rope was the moribund shell of the man who had stolen her heart.

Evelyn felt a tightness in her chest that grew and grew, crushing her until she could no longer breathe. She gasped, her legs buckling as the room began to grow blurry.

Her body hit the floor of the cell, lifeless as the body on the gallows nearby.

Beautiful but Damned

I’ve had this emotional impression that has deep resonance for me since I was very young, but I’ve always had a great deal of trouble describing it. It’s an archetype of a situation that has appeared in lots of media, but it’s always had a powerful emotional resonance for me. Whenever I’ve seen a character in a film or TV series who does this I’m immediately in their headspace.

The scenario: I’m usually an Englishman in my prime, usually well-dressed, usually handsome and full of life. I’ve just been told that my days are numbered, either because of a fatal illness, or an imminent execution, or some other dreadful event that I have no way of stopping.

I don’t descend into panic. I become stoic and extremely sincere, with a “Well, I suppose that’s my lot” attitude. Inwardly, though, I feel something drop, almost like a gallows door opening under my heart.

And yet, revisiting that emotion was always such a bizarre guilty pleasure. It was a feeling that, while not pleasant, felt strangely right in a peculiar way. It was an indulgent, sentimental, bittersweet sort of place emotionally that seemed to come out of a very old-fashioned emotional landscape. In many ways, throughout my life I actually wanted to feel that way for real, to have that moment, to be among the beautiful and the damned so that I could have that sweet moment of poetic stoicism to show the world what I was made of, and be remembered as a portrait of pride with a silver lining long after I was gone.

In the last novel I published (good grief, it’s been over a year! I’m getting slack) I had a character who, faced with imminent annihilation, suddenly stops driving away from it, gets a pack of cigarettes out of his glove box, climbs into the back seat of his touring car, and lights the cigarette, stoically accepting his fate. Of course, it goes somewhere much more transcendent from there (it’s a moment of epiphany ultimately) but that’s the beauty of fiction.

I hadn’t really thought that re-enlisting in 1914 was the source of this, because I had always assumed that it had to have been something beyond my control, a destiny I was faced with.

Then I had a moment today. After speaking at length with my bishop about some angst over having not transcended the bounds of material existence in my last life and my general existential crisis after the death of one of our most beloved parishioners, I took his advice and got out a little (actually, I’ve had both a bishop and a nun tell me the same thing in the last 3 days so I figured it was sound advice).

After mass, I drove south on 99E until I came to the little village of Aurora, OR, which has an idyllic historic district filled with antique shops. I seem to find it easy to meditate on the past in places like those. I didn’t find anything that triggered a strong memory, but when I came across a Victorian or Edwardian portrait of a man in his late 30s or so, his posture impeccable, his chest out, his clothes immaculate, a look of stoic serenity on his features and a soft light on his skin that gave him a gentle glow, it came back to me.

I pictured myself before making the final decision, walking the scenic parts of Hereford, to parks where children played, down by the river where the college boys rowed in the pleasant late summer. But I remember thinking at the time that it was more like Gethsemane for me, because I didn’t have a sense that I really had a choice.

I believed, with all my heart, that going to war was my destiny and I was there, in that familiar emotional space, a man in his prime, beautiful but damned, taking in the thought of my own likely demise.  I was so steeped in the stoic masculinity of the Victorian era I’d been raised in, brought up on stories and rhymes of God and empire by the like of Kipling and Tennyson, that I couldn’t see how it wasn’t the destiny of an Englishman to throw himself into the line of fire for his king. I was sold hook, line, and sinker on what Wilfred Owen called “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori.”

In short, I made a tremendous error in understanding my own free will, and I did it because I wanted to believe I had no choice.  I was falling into an indulgent, self-serving motivation for self-sacrifice.  I was thinking, “Lord, not as I will, but as you will” but in truth, it was exactly as I willed. I had every opportunity to walk away and have a peaceful (if impoverished and boring) life as a retired soldier.  I had a choice.

And now that I know where that emotion comes from- now that I’ve remembered how I turned a stroll in the park into a prayer in Gethsemane 102 years ago almost to the date, I’m left with a strangely desolate feeling about the whole thing.

The Future

I have a hard time picturing much of a future.

 

I envy my friends who seem able to see a way out, who can picture a time when life goes back to normal.

 

I can’t.

I can’t picture myself living past 40, either.  I try to imagine the future and all I see are dead ends, or the inevitable tragedy brought on by a handful of powerful people with no restraint.

There will be another world war, or perhaps another civil war, I keep thinking.  Once again I’ll spend months in a dirty hole waiting to die.  Once again I’ll come back to places I once knew and haunt them like a revenant.  That is, if there’s a world to come back to next time.  With nuclear weapons in the equation, I kind of doubt it.

Generally, I live in a constant state of anguish because I honestly have come to the conclusion that the world has learned nothing in the last century.  And as before- as ever- it will be us innocents who suffer the worst.

I only wish the whole world could experience what I did.  I wish they could remember what it was like to be doomed through no fault of their own, then snap out of their backward ways and live for peace like I did.

But I would starve living on these wishes, and there is no action to fix the problem.

Despair.  I know such profound despair.

 

One’s Own Grave

Today, I designed my own gravestone.

I probably won’t need it for a while, but since being rushed to the hospital I’ve been thinking about how fragile our bodies are and how easily they can give out on us with very little warning.

The design I came up with is a bit unconventional for this day and age.  I went with a coffin-shaped slab like the ones I saw marking medieval burials in many English churchyards.  Where the long-stemmed cross would be, I placed an Ankh-like cross based loosely on one found on a Cathar coin from medieval Languedoc.  Along the edge is an inscription in blackletter characters that reads, in the best Latin I could muster:

“(my name), uxor (my fiance’s name), Flos Auctorem, rerum gestarum, custodes fidem gnostici, obiit anno (year). In vita priore erat comitas sarisburensis. Nosce te ipsum.”

“(My name), wife of (my fiance’s name), Flower of Authors, Scholar of History, Keeper of the Gnostic Faith, died in the year (year in Roman numerals).  In a prior life she was the Earl of Salisbury.  Know Thyself.”

The self-given title “Flos Auctorem” is both a reference to my name and to Count William’s epitaph which calls him “Flos Comitum.”

To me, it’s the perfect mix of demi-histrionic boasting worthy of someone with one foot still in the 13th century, a clear statement that I believe in my own spiritual immortality, and a certain grim finality that says “She’s dead.  Deal with it.”

I have a strong disdain for the twee sentimentality of today’s funeral markers.  I guess that’s fine for some people but I really don’t want my family erecting something with crying angels and sappy pseudo-religious poetry, or QR codes that no one will be able to read in 100 years, or a picture of my classic Citroen as if that was all I had to remember me by.  I just want something outlandish in its extreme anachronism, enduring in its design, and dignified in its execution.

Hopefully I won’t need it just yet.  Yes, I’ve contemplated suicide but never seriously enough to try it, and the idea of dying of a heart condition now, at the age of 31, scares me shitless because I’m simply not ready for that.  I already know what happens when you die when you’re not ready and it’s extremely unpleasant.  I don’t want to go through that again.

The Noose

I have a recurrent, nagging feeling that I died by hanging but I can’t for the life of me remember when.

I had initially thought my mid-19th century life had ended in a noose but I haven’t found a capital punishment case from 1870-1877 that sounds even remotely familiar to me when I read the case studies.

It could have been one of the lives before that one, but it also could have been one of the lives I lived in the 20th century. Maybe it happened more than once; it’s a common way to go.

Mostly, what I feel is how it felt to be left waiting to die. I knew that feeling in 1915 as well, like the heart has physically fallen into the stomach as if it had fallen through a trap door. It’s different from depression; depression is when you feel like you’re falling emotionally. This was feeling like I’ve already fallen and could go no lower, a sort of cold comfort and sense of finality that crushes unrealized dreams under its weight. To wait for your day to die over a period of time begins to warp the mind. I remember going numb, somehow willing myself to embrace this bleak feeling, even managing to smile, but in a coarse and soulless sort of way that was more for the benefit of those around me.

But that’s all I remember: nothing but feelings. It’s lurking there, somewhere deep. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been executed by hanging and I think I’ve got something really dark buried in my past.

100 Years Ago Today

It’s been a hundred years now. A century. Gone. Slipped away. Where am I now, and where is the world in its course?  Are we any closer to finally ending war like they said we would?

Was it really worth it to die that way?

I feel I’ve been robbed of something that can never be replaced.  I can heal but I can never forget.  His life- a life that was once mine- is etched into the fibre of my being now.

Farewell, John.  But not goodbye.  I’m not ready for that yet.

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