Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Deite

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Sorry for the silence. I’ve completed the first draft of a book as well as continuing with life in general. At the last Savage meet, instead of writing a new piece, I took the prologue to another book that’s about to undergo its fourth draft. I got some great constructive criticism and encouraging feedback. πŸ™‚

Hopefully there will be another piece for this Wednesday’s meet up in a few days. I just decided it was time to write this since I’m not currently mired in novel-land.

____

Someone woke up one morning and frowned as she sipped her morning coffee.

‘What’s wrong?’ her partner asked.

After a moment, she replied:

‘Something’s gone missing…but I can’t remember what.’

Β *

The young woman hummed to herself as she walked along the street. She was all bright colours and quirk: short blonde hair, rainbow high-tops, thick mascara, shorts underneath a puffy skirt. It was a bright, early autumn day, with magpies in the trees and only a few crisp leaves resting on the pavement. The girl came by a church, where a funeral was in progress, and as she spotted one figure she stopped and frowned.

A man sat on the low church wall, one foot up on the rubbish bin in front. Everything he wore was a shade of olive green, except for his long black coat. He had wavy brown hair that reached down the back of his neck, and a peculiarly ageless face – he could have been anywhere from mid-twenties to early forties. And he had the specific expression that one gains when they are staring in front of them, but their mind is elsewhere around them.

It was a shot of instant recognition, tapping down to the bones, the same instant and upsetting recognition of seeing your own face in the mirror when you’ve forgotten your own ugliness. Still frowning, she approached him.

His eyes wandered up to her, and away, as his attention returned to its previous point.

‘Don’t you thinking people need their grief?’ she asked, hands on hips.

Again, his eyes wandered over her, then turned away.

‘I’m not here for that,’ he said. ‘I’m here for them.

He motioned with his head towards the hearse drivers, standing around in their dark suits, who were oblivious to the two strangers talking about them.

‘Oh,’ she said, because it made sense to eat away the perpetual stress of containing other people’s grief, day after day. It would give them comfort and sanity in this kind of work. It was a good deed, if there was one.

The two of them looked at each other again. She had trapped his attention this time.

‘Dream-eater,’ he said, quietly.

‘Yes?’ she said. ‘And?’

‘I’ve not met one of you before,’ he said.

‘I’ve not met one of you, either,’ she said.

In the pause that followed, three people burst into tears in the church, and a squirrel narrowly avoided being mowed down by a passing car.

Her curiosity was not to be denied.

‘Let’s go get some lunch,’ she said.

He did not assent, but he followed.

Β *

She ordered for them both. He was to have a toasted sandwich, and she was to have a burger and chips, and she ordered him black coffee, because he looked like a black coffee drinker. He was indifferent to her taking the lead.

‘So,’ she said, as the waitress went away. ‘Do you usually hang around funerals?’

‘The parlour workers are my main meal,’ he said. ‘They’re predictable. Regular.’

‘And depressing,’ she added.

‘No, no,’ the emotion eater said, crossing him arms and leaning against the cafe table. ‘Depression is entirely different. Depression…is like eating tar. It clog your throat, and weighs you down, and tastes awful. But a mild recognition of one’s own mortality, boredom mixed in with mild existential discomfort…that’s…nice. It’s like…eating a chicken pie, with a little bit of hot sauce on top. Filling, and interesting.’

She leaned forward, mimicking his body language and squeezing her breasts together with her arms as she did so. She had never had a chance to talk about food with another eater before, and questions bubbled in her mind as she considered what his meals must be like, in comparison to hers.

‘So, the mortality makes it spicy?’

He gave a little smile.

‘In a way, yes.’

‘What about grief, then? Is that like depression?’

‘Yes, except sharper. Sometimes too sharp. It can sting your cheeks.’

He often looked down at the table, or aside to the window, and she sensed a type of shyness, or reticence, coming from him. Maybe that was the difference between them – someone who always had to consider what effect his words and actions might have on others, and someone who could breeze through life in a daydream.

The drinks came. Coffee for him, banana milkshake for her. He asked the waitress for a glass of water as well, and she wondered if she should have anticipated his need, or indeed asked him what he wanted at all. She quickly put that thought aside.

‘So,’ she said, stirring the milkshake with her straw (it was thicker than she liked). ‘What would you say is your favourite emotion? To eat, I mean.’

‘I was going to say β€œhappiness” until you added that,’ he said with another shy smirk. Then he considered it for a moment. She noted one lock of his hair that curled just under his ear, and saw there was no symmetrical lock on the other ear.

‘If I had to say,’ he said, ‘it would be…enthusiasm. As in, when people see a movie or read a book they really enjoy, and they tell other people about it, and they’re filled with enthusiasm. That’s my favourite.’

‘And what does that taste like?’ she asked, curling her hair between her fingers.

‘Like…’

He took a swig of his coffee and smiled at the black water beneath him.

‘…like a chocolate mocaccino. Or a White Russian. It takes like caffeine and sugar and cream. It’s delicious.’

The dream-eater took a long slurp up her straw, noticing how the creamy, fruity taste spread over her tongue. She considered asking about his least favourite, but he had already mentioned depression and grief, and she didn’t want to depress the tone of conversation.

‘So,’ she said, not raising her head from straw-level, ‘are you always sensing other people’s feelings?’

‘Yes,’ he said, turning his eyes to the window. She made a sweeping gesture with her arms to draw him back again.

‘Even everyone here?’

‘Yes.’

‘Doesn’t that get tiring?’

He gave her a very tired smile.

‘I’m used to it. I don’t know much else.’

She tapped her feet together under the table, resisting the urge to have another gulp of drink.

‘So, when you’re in a place like this, do you sit there and look at everyone in turn, and eat all their feelings, or do you pick and choose?’

‘Obviously I choose,’ he said. ‘I’m not greedy. And people come here for different things. A place like this isn’t too interesting,’ he added, glancing at the other patrons: young couples, groups of friends, workers out for lunch. ‘Everyone wants to talk and have a good time. Fancy restaurants – they’re the best for interesting emotions.’

‘Really?’ she asked, beaming at him in the hope that he would give her another speech.

‘Absolutely. Say you go for dinner in an up-market place, you never know what mix there’ll be. Say a couple’s on a date – that could mean a hundred things. They could both be scared and happy and nervous and falling in love – that’s a kind of sweet and spicy flavour. Like cinnamon. Or one could be infatuated, and the other barely interested, and that’s like curry with boiled rice. If it’s an old couple, they could be relaxed and enjoying each other’s company and thinking about past times – that’s like drinking warm tea – or they could be bitter and resentful, like – like expired ham.’

‘Ew,’ dream-eater said, wrinkling her nose.

‘See? And that’s just the customers. Behind it all you have the bread-and-butter boiled-potato boredom of the staff – that’s so common it’s almost tasteless to me – but someone might be genuinely angry, someone else might be relaxed and in the flow, or happy from being complimented. And then there’s the chefs. Don’t get me started on chefs –’

The waitress arrived with their meals. He immediately shut up, and looked out the window as the plates were placed in front of them. The dream-eater cursed the timing. Just when it was getting good.

She ate a few chips before sprinkling salt and sauce all over them. In that time, she came up with another entry into conversation.

‘So,’ she said, gesturing at him with her fork, ‘do you know what everyone in this room is feeling right now?’

‘Yes,’ he said, picking up his chicken toastie with both hands.

‘Even me?’

His eyes flicked up to her, then down.

‘Yes,’ he said, before taking a huge, caveman bite of his meal.

The dream-eater felt a little thrill run up her legs. She asked nothing more for a few moments as they ate, but the need to know more about him overwhelmed her.

‘How big –’ she swallowed her mouthful and tried again. ‘How big is your range?’

‘About fifteen feet,’ he said. ‘Plus anyone I can see. It’s partly sight-based.’

‘Wow, walking down a main street must be really tiring for you.’

‘Mm-hm,’ he said, taking a gulp of his water.

They continued to eat, and she tried to think of more questions for him. Finally, she thought of the perfect one, and wiped her hands on her napkin in triumph.

‘Can you tell when people are horny?’

He laughed – a sudden, unexpectedly loud burst, dissolving into quieter chuckles.

‘Yes,’ he said, glancing around at the people on the other tables. She didn’t care if they were listening or not.

‘Is anyone in here horny right now?’

He only laughed in reply, looking away in embarrassment, hand covering his mouth.

‘So, are there any weird times when people are horny?’

‘There’s someone at every time of day, in every kind of place,’ he said, still smiling hard. ‘You have to be sympathetic – it’s not as if they can control it, right?’

‘So, do you know if they’re having sex fantasies?’

‘I – I suppose I could guess, if they were really aroused and there wasn’t anything obviously causing it around them, ha ha – but not really, no. Why,’ he said, raising his eyebrow, ‘can’t you?’

She sat back in her seat, rather pleased he had taken the initiative in the conversation at last.

‘Not really,’ she said. ‘Fantasies aren’t my domain. But sometimes, I catch a glimpse of them, if someone’s imagining something just as they fall asleep, and it becomes part of them dream.’

‘And sex dreams…?’

She gave him her cheekiest smile.

‘Are you interested?’

‘I’ve never met a dream-eater before,’ he said, finally turning his gaze and his body and his attention fully towards her. ‘And I’ve told you everything you wanted to know. I was hoping you’d return the favour.’

She leant her cheek on her hand.

‘The truth is,’ she said, in a lower, conspiratorial tone, ‘that I can’t usually handle sex dreams.’

‘Oh really?’ he said, leaning in a little closer.

‘They’re too rich.’

‘Rich?’

‘Like chocolate cake,’ she said. ‘They’re like a big, chocolate truffle gateau covered in ganache. Everything is so intense in sex dreams – every visual, every sensation – that I get overloaded after more than a few minutes. So, like cake – so flavoursome they make you feel sick.’

‘Interesting,’ he said, taking a quick sip of his coffee. ‘What about nightmares, then?’

‘Oh they have a huuuuge variety!’ she said, stretching her arms above her head. ‘I mean, some people count anxiety dreams as nightmares, and I have my own bread-and-butter, boiled-potato ones, you know – falling dreams, naked dreams, teeth-falling-out dreams. Then you have some nightmares that are so hilarious in their visuals that I can’t really take the overlying fear seriously. Like once,’ she said, leaning onto the table again, ‘I ate this dream that this girl was having, of a tractor chasing her all over her school. A common, mud-drenched tractor, smashing in through third-floor windows and rumbling down narrow corridors and knocking over beakers in the science lab – oh, I couldn’t take that seriously, even though she was terrified as she was having it. It was like trying to eat, I dunno, steak pie, while someone’s sprinkled icing sugar and jelly babies on top.’

‘And what about the actually frightening ones? What do they taste like?’

He was leaning in closer to her again. She liked the proximity.

‘Depends. Some people have these strange, sci-fi dreams of totalitarian regimes and scientific experiments. They’re strong and harsh and distinct, like…like aniseed, like sambuca. Other ones are dreams about family dying, and I hate them. They’re like eating mud. Probably like grief and depression for you.’

‘Mm,’ he said, nodding.

‘I think maybe the most interesting, and most horrible, ones are the dreams that really go for a person’s sense of self and security.’

She paused, not knowing if she had phrased herself well. When she glanced at the emotion-eater, there was deep interest in his eyes. He was hooked.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Like, the kind of dreams where a person’s mind works against all their weak points. Dreams where a father kills his children, that kind of thing. Horrible situations – like this one, this one boy had a dream where his girlfriend accused his father of raping her, and he didn’t know who to believe, who to stand by.’

She gave a little laugh, suddenly feeling vulnerable, as if she had said too much, opened up too many dark roads.

‘I couldn’t tell you what that tasted like,’ she added, looking at the table. ‘But it stuck with me, I tell you that.’

The conversation died away, and she wished the waitress would come take their plates.

‘What about happy dreams?’ the emotion-eater asked.

She looked up at him, and saw he was still interested. No, he had his head to one side, his eyes slightly narrowed, that little curl under his ear bouncing ever so slightly. He was still hooked.

Bucking herself up, she straightened.

‘They’re not as common. They’re just…sweet, though. Nothing much to say about them. We’ve always more to say about unhappy things, right?’

She took a long, noisy draw of her milkshake, right down to the dregs. He waited for her to finish before asking, ‘What about lucid dreams?’

‘Oh, don’t get me started on those!’ she cried, accidentally nudging her glass with her chin as she jerked her head up. It rocked noisily on its base as she continued. ‘They’re so confusing! One minute I think I’m having a normal anxiety dream, like an exam dream, then suddenly it turns into a flying dream, and then a sex dream, and I have no idea what’s going on! It’s like someone snatching your plates away as you eat!’

‘Oh,’ the waitress said, making her jump. ‘Would you prefer it if I left your plates, then?’

Her companion laughed and laughed. She felt her ears go red.

‘No, no, it’s fine! I…I was just talking…’

Once the waitress had left, the emotion-eater laughed for a moment more, and then they settled into silence. She wanted to get the bill and leave, but she also didn’t want this lunch to end.

‘You must be tired,’ he said, ‘if you’ve been eating all night.’

‘Yeah,’ she admitted. ‘It’s tough, hiding out in garages, and dorms, and trying to keep hidden. Especially now it’s getting cold and I can’t stay outside.’

‘Do you not have a home?’

‘Not so much,’ she said, her eyes drawn at last to the window, away from him. She saw nothing of what was out there. ‘I have a grandpa who’s a dream-eater, and he sends me money, but it’s never enough for a house. Honestly, I mainly get by with sticky-fingers…if you know what I mean.’

‘I’m a therapist,’ he said.

‘Oh,’ she said, wondering why she was surprised that a quasi-supernatural being like himself had a profession like a normal human.

‘It seemed appropriate, given that I’m so good at helping others overcome their unwanted emotions,’ he said, back to his corner-of-the-lip half-smiles. He took another sip of coffee, though it must have been ice cold by now.

‘I thought you hated the taste of depression?’ she said.

‘Confusion and anger are my staples,’ he said. ‘I told you, I like warm, spicy food. Besides, I like being able to do something good with my ability. Don’t you?’

She snorted.

‘No-one cares if they miss their dreams.’

‘One nightmare for you is one less for them.’

‘Maybe I should become anorexic,’ she muttered. ‘Let them have their own nightmares back.’

He smiled and turned towards the rest of the room, eyeing the waitress.

‘I’ll get the bill.’

So he paid for the meal she forced on him, and they both left a tip even though neither of their hungers had been sated by what had been on their plates. Once the bill was taken away, he looked her dead in the eye.

‘What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever eaten?’

She returned his look without hesitation.

‘What’s the worst feeling you’ve ever eaten?’

His eyelid twitched.

‘I won’t tell you that. Not here, anyway.’

‘Same,’ she said, the smile back on her lips. ‘Then I guess we’ll just have to go elsewhere.’

‘I was going to suggest that you could stay at mine tonight – since you’ve nowhere else to go.’

‘Great,’ she said, jumping up from her seat, patting down her skirt at the back as it bounced up with her. ‘I’d like to see what sort of things you like, outside of food.’

He stood up and she felt him look her up and down again, in a different way this time. She ran her hands through her hair and strode to the door, knowing that he was right behind her.

‘It’s a deal, then,’ he said, as they shut the door behind them and met the cold air. ‘Though I’d ask that you don’t spend all night eating my dreams. I rather like them, even when they’re nightmares.’

‘Fine,’ she said, bouncing along beside him, arms swinging at her side, a conscious opposite to how he kept his hands deep in his pockets. ‘As long as you don’t eat my emotions all day, too.’

‘I can’t promise that,’ he said, eyes on the ground, the air of shyness returning to him. ‘After all, I’ve been tasting them ever since I laid eyes on you.’

Neither spoke for a second, and then he raised his eyes to meet hers, worried, sincere, waiting for a response. To her surprise, her shock morphed into pleasure. It was quite nice, after a lifetime of hiding, to be an open book. To not have to say anything, and instead to just be, and know he would understand.

She didn’t speak. They continued the walk back to his home. They laughed.

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Written by G.J.

10/11/2013 at 9:05 pm

One Response

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  1. […] piece is a sequel of sorts to Deite, so you might want to read that […]


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