Oscar once read that we all dream in black and white. If you asked, and I have, the name of the book, he couldn’t tell you with anything resembling certainty or accuracy. Something something dreams and stuff, the science of understanding your brain’s hot nonsense, you know, a real academic tome. He had even less recollection of the author. He was relatively certain it was written by some guy, unless you asked him on a weekend, when he became very nearly positive it was the handiwork of that one lady. You know the one. And I, no reasonable human beings accurate description of a modern skeptic, stood arms crossed, on the precipice of Oscar’s unfounded faith, his absolute confidence in a half-remembered book, about to rip it open, but not apart.
It was a bad idea, but the kind that is so phenomenally ill-founded and wrong-headed that you feel it sitting on your chest at night. And you can delay it, but that’s all you’re doing and you know it. The kid was in my blood. I tasted his blood on my fangs,had absorbed it into the whites of my eyes, exploded in burst vessels and wasted veins. I had to see him. And then I would understand. And if I understood, the sickness would pass. Once upon a time, I slithered my way out of the garden, tearing my stomach to shreds on thistle and want, with nothing but my own gumption and spite, in search of a good time. I listened to Nero fiddle in 5/4 time, and tapped my feet recklessly to the matched rhythm. Toppled empires, fallen monarchs, broken homes, broken hearts and broken bones, all sat rotted in the wake of my merry way, and I never thought twice about names, their faces, their stories. Presumably, they all had them. I never bothered to learn them. But this boy, his strange, slender smile, the crunch of his bones beneath my teeth...what possible life could be led with this infection vibrating every cell of my being into frenzy. Into destruction. Into thinking that a truly, desperately, wildly bad idea was my best option? Oh friends. Oh enemies. Oh children. Beware the boy that turns all your best instincts into crawling, drooling idiot-stupid.
If it seems that I am delaying the gristle, the meat, the technicolor folly of that first dream, know that it is because I dance as delicately as these old bones will allow on that fine line between delaying and savoring. I know what is coming, the flavor beneath the skin, washing our tongues in memory and regret. The moment it all changed-what a stupid fucking thing to say. That’s true of literally every second of our lives, but we’re so committed to the notion that our entire lives hinge on one decision, on a single second, on something we can blame on fate and noise. I don’t believe in fate, and noise has no impact. This is the moment I’ve chosen, and I’m done delaying. Oscar’s waiting.
I slipped in on a Tuesday night. Well, technically morning, but the people who consider 2 a.m. morning are monsters, and we will harbor no arguments from them. They may kick rocks kindly, and no one will ask questions, we will leave them to it. I stepped softly; I had no particular knowledge of or against some sort of cosmic council monitoring this sort of thing, but I imagined that if they were out there, leaning over too small screens, exhausted because the kids won’t sleep, they would be pretty pissed about what I was doing. Oscar was dreaming about swimming. He was older than I remembered, but the passage of time has always been a unique challenge to us. We don’t bother marking it; the minutes and hours and years pass, and who cares? They come again and again, and all that truly changes is technology. Well, and hairstyles. Technology and hairstyles are the only two constant inconstants. But Oscar, the extra meat trimmed from his frame, his hair longer, wavier, rendered in grey scale, Older, wiser, maybe, though who the hell knows really, but whatever he had lost or gained, his eyes opened as wide as they had the last time I saw him, the blood of his congregation covering the soles of his chuck taylors. It wasn’t memory, exactly, something more primal and basic. I knew again that sense I felt on the fairgrounds the first time I saw him; a desire to devour, but also to preserve, to protect. I felt my entire being rip at seams I never knew existed, and drip new colors out onto the earth, mix into the sand and ground seashells to create a paste that rendered red useless, blue obsolete, green, tired and played out. Oscar stood on the beach, sepia and color blind, trying to reconcile the variant of his usual Tuesday night dream. The girl, because here, in this dream, I was a girl, though a wolfish girl, legs a little too long, my nose, beneath my touch, a bit too sharp, the angle too hard. The strange hues that shot from her fingers and spread like a forgotten circulatory system through impossible avenues, unspeakable blood vessels.
He narrowed his eyes at me, at my skin, shimmering opalescent hues in the fading background of the familiar, and I saw a moment of recognition. A spark of familiarity.
He approached me slowly, and I felt the body-MY body for the moment, for these purposes, until it was taken from me-tense in direct, mathematical relation to his nearness. A step closer, and my calves seized. Closer yet, and my thighs burnt with resistance. I finally understood fight or flight. THIS was what it was all about, and you know what? Not as fun as advertised. I could have ended it then, but his face; older, harder...I wanted to know the experiences that carved the little ridge across his nose. The mistakes that led to the scar on his upper lip. I dug my toes into the sand and focused on the burn of the grains in the webbing of these feet-MY feet for now, and until they were ripped from me by an alarm. 7:05 and two snoozes would never be enough time.
“It’s you.” he said, and I think he meant it.
“Is it?” I said, and it was stupid, so stupid, and this, kids, is what I was warning you about.
He nodded. “I don’t know why I’m dreaming about you.”
I shrugged. “You’re not. You’re dreaming about swimming. I invited myself.”
Oscar shook his head, his dark waves new and familiar and the reason I left the garden, the reason I skipped Pompeii before it turned me to an ashcicle, rabbitted a happy path right out of Centrailia, just to see those waves carried on a soft breeze of his own creation.
“You’re a dream.”
“I bet you say that to all the girls.”
He approached cautiously, and now I felt it in the base of my spine.
“You’re not a girl, though, are you? That’s the proof that you’re just my creation. Just...my mind.”
“No, that’s dumb.”
“Yeah, it’s dumb.” And it WAS dumb. It was “oh this house is just old so why wouldn’t there be a loud clanking noise” dumb. It was thirsty, clawing, desperate to make it make sense dumb. I loved it.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not dumb...you know what’s dumb? Fighting with your own dream. That’s dumb.”
“Ok, so don’t fight with me. That’s fine. But I’m not your dream. You might be mine, but I’m not yours.”
“Then why do you look like...this?”
I had been wondering more or less the same thing. Well, less. But some at least, and let’s take what we can get in these trying days.
“There, I will grant, you seem to have some control. I guess you want me to be a girl. And that’s fine with me, I have nothing against being a girl. I’ve been one before.”
He shook his head, watched the colors creeping closer and closer to him, stretching out in trembling branches, aching to brush his skin.
“I don’t...I’m so confused. You’ve been one before?”
“I have. I have been many things before.”
And though I had no reason to be so forthcoming, well, I was feeling pretty chatty, It was a Tuesday night and I had nowhere else to be, and god knows, I had years and years of never talking about this to anyone.
“What….are you? I thought you were the Wolf.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I was that too.”
“As in, ‘in addition to’?”
Oscar threaded his fingers through his hair, and stepped back from the slowly reaching network of alien colors, created in his image and memory.
“I don’t...I don’t understand what’s happening.”
I spread my hands. It seemed to be a universal symbol of “be cool, baby, I mean you no harm”, and I really wanted him to feel ok. This was his dream, after all. And if a man can’t feel safe in his own dream, where can he?
“You don’t need to be afraid.”
“I very much am.”
And I hated that so much. The idea that I was the root of his fear, the cause of his pain….and then again, I was angry, annoyed that I felt this remorse. I, who had fed off pain and anguish and feasted on fear...once again, healed by this man and his wide eyes, his delicate posture, his unspeakable, irritatingly perfect bone structure.
“What can I tell you? What will make you feel ok about this?”
He closed his eyes, and a burst of brown-red touched his eyelids, slid beneath the skin.
“What. Are. You.”
What a tedious question. Ask me anything. Something interesting. Something worth knowing. But this?
“Oh for god’s sake. What am I? What are you? What is anyone? What a stupid question!”
“Oh, a second ago it was all ‘what can I do to make you feel better’-”
“Alright, don’t get defensive-”
“You called me stupid-”
“I called your QUESTION stupid-”
“It’s a reasonable question!”
And now, nothing was going as I planned, not even a little, not even at all.
“Alright, it’s not a stupid question”, I lied. “But it’s not an easy one. I am...what I am. I mean, I’m...this.”
He shook his head, and opened his eyes, now a brilliant, burning hazel.
“I don’t know what THIS is. I know that the last time I saw you, you were a wolf. You were killing...everyone. Everything.”
He rubbed his hand over his face.
“I struggle with that every day.”
Seriously. I kept him alive. What’s to struggle with?
“You killed my family. You killed my friends. My neighbors. Why let me live?”
“Because...you were you. Are you.”
“And what does that say about me?”
And I had no answer. I have no answer. Only that Oscar, there, at 16, at 22, at 34, at 46, and eventually, inevitably, at 65, was someone who needed to be in the world. Not for the world at large. But for me.
“I don’t know what it says about you. I didn’t really consider the you of it all. I just...I have been around for a long time. Too long maybe. Not nearly long enough also. And for the first time...I thought that maybe if there was no you, I would like there to be no me.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think I understand.”
“Would it help you at all to know that I don’t really understand either?”
“Not even a little.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.”
I could feel tufts of fur burst out on my body. He wanted too badly for me to be the wolf again. And yet….I remained bipedal. My bones were a woman’s bones. My face,a woman’s. If I felt the urge to howl, well….don’t we all sometimes?
I let the head-my head-fall back on the stem. The neck, I guess.
“You want a straight answer. Ok, that’s fair. But you know who I am.-”
He shook his head.
“-no, you do. You knew that day in the fairground, otherwise, you would have run, and I would have eaten you, and we wouldn’t be here now, and wouldn’t that just be the tater tots? Please don’t play dumb with me.”
A growing pool of red-purple crepts slowly towards his feet.
“I read once”, he said, soft and just a little bit broken, “that we all dream in black and white.”
I lifted my head. “I’m not a dream.”
He looked me in the eye. “I’m starting to see that. What do you want.”
“I want to tell you a story. I want to show you something.”
Oscar nodded. “Ok. I’m listening.”
I smiled. I prepared. I chose my words.
“She had no love for the Dewey Decimal system”, I said, but before I got any further, before the color crept into his cheeks, the crack of the alarm tore over the beach.
7:05 on a Tuesday morning.