It’s like being a missile in one of the early video games that goes off the right side of the screen and immediately reappears on the left.
I’m driving a big car through partially irrigated terrain. Or it seems as if I am. Chills come in waves now, down then up my spine and down again and up and across the top of my head. I’m rolling through what looks like the San Fernando Valley, except that there are citrus groves in every direction and the whole region looks more rural. My first emotion: desolation. The word “marooned” pops into my head, and I know what it’s like to be alone in the world. These feelings hit me all at once, like snapping out of a daydream to realize you’ve wandered away from familiar paths onto a dark, forbidding landscape.
Only I’m still dreaming. I have to be. None of this is possible. My problem is that no matter how hard I concentrate on waking up, I can’t do it.
I pull off the road at a Dairy Queen and, startled by the odd sound of my own voice, order a cone from a pretty brown-haired teenage girl dressed in a pink angora sweater and black skirt under a blue-checked apron.
She smiles brightly at me. “That’ll be twelve cents, sir.”
Behind her, on the wall, is a calendar. I can’t make out the day or month but as I fish into the pockets of the baggy seersucker suit I’m wearing, I see that the year in this dream is 1956. I guess it’s spring—according to the feel of it—although it’s hard to tell in Southern California. If it is Southern California.
“Pardon me. Can you tell me the name of this area?”
Her smile remains bright. “Sure. The town right over there—well, kind of a town—is La Vieja.” She points behind her.
I pull a quarter out of my pocket and hand it to her as she gives me my cone. “That’s a lot of Dairy Queen for the money,” I say.
She looks doubtful. “You think so? They raised the price last month from ten cents. My mother won’t come here anymore.”
I use a world-weary smile and join her on the other side of the issue. “Yeah, a buck doesn’t go very far these days.”
She serves up a little hum of agreement with my vanilla cone and thirteen cents change. “There you are, sir. Thank you. Come again.”
It crosses my mind to grab her by the shoulders, shake her firmly and say, “What the hell kind of a dream is this?” But she is so young and sweet, and I don’t want to alarm her.
I get back in the car, noticing it’s a tan Oldsmobile 88, and drive on along the country desert road in the West San Fernando Valley. I don’t know where I’m going. It’s as if I’m not dreaming but am newly awakened to discover myself, not driving this car, but as a tongue-tied passenger in the back seat of a speeding limousine whose destination I don’t know. There is nothing I can do about it and no way to get out. At the same time, I don’t want to get out. It is simply my path for the moment and there’s no point in fighting it. I remember going to Saturday matinees when I was a kid, peeking out between my fingers at Godzilla on the movie screen. It’s like that, too. I’m scared to death, but I have to know what’s going to happen next.
Glancing at the rearview mirror, I see the Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains to the south behind me.
I hit the brakes and pull to the side of the road. I turn off the engine and swivel the mirror to look at myself.
It is not Jack Cade.
But whoever it is, he is definitely wide awake.
I wish I’d stopped in at Carmine’s Car Wash for the free psychiatric help. I’ve paid too little attention to such needs—probably why Sophie is leaving me. From the moment I got the pawn ticket, my life has been moving in slow motion. Now it has decelerated to a bare crawl. All my boundaries have become blurred. The boundaries between the boundaries have become blurred—between now and time past, between day and nighttime, between what I wish for and what I get, between who I am and who I think I am. And what I wish for now is that it could all be simple again, and that I could be in some warm, friendly restaurant with Sophie, sipping coffee and feeling … unafraid.
And now, reductio ad absurdum, what’s left of my mind conjures the final image of my nightmare: someone sitting in a rocking chair, lit by a single lamp.
I look again at the image in the mirror. The notion that I might possibly be conscious and now no longer one but two people slowly begins to turn itself over in my mind like a loop of film in a projector without a light source, and I’m helpless to provide one. One thing I know: This is beyond doubt not a man in a typical state of twilight sleep.
I stare at the man in the rearview mirror for I can’t imagine how long. No illuminating thought comes to me, except that we seem to be traveling together, this Richard Blake—if that’s who he is—and me. We are, for the moment it seems, chauffeur and visitor. But it’s as if there’s a sign that says Don’t talk to the driver. And Richard, the driver, won’t or can’t talk to me.
I continue staring into the eyes the way Maggie Partridge stared into mine. She used the word “miracle,” then dismissed it. She said miracles only appear to be miracles because of our selective perceptual filters. I examine the face of the man in the mirror.
What would I have expected if I could have imagined this? That Richard would look like Jack? The truth is, if my eyes are giving me accurate information, Richard is better looking; not exactly an Adonis, but a solid leading-man face and head attached to what appears to be a well-toned body. He has deep-set hazel eyes, a straight aquiline nose a little on the generous size, good cheekbones, utilitarian mouth and chin, and thick brown hair brushed back from his face. It occurs to me that I could have borrowed this guy’s looks for a couple of movies I was up for in the early nineties. We’re about the same age. I could have done worse. The only thing I might have tried to do something about was the lack of humor in his eyes.
But that’s not so surprising. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out Richard may not be finding this to be an amusing experience.
Why doesn’t he speak up? Are these my thoughts alone? Does this other … person have no say in his own life? If I am now myself, Jack Cade, sharing a body with this Richard Blake, is he letting me control him? In any case, he doesn’t look like a miracle, he looks like a … guy … and for sure not a guy in a dream.
But between me and me, what does it matter? The business I’ve spent almost all my adult life in is, face it, escapism. I and whoever this is I’m being carried around in—this Richard, I guess—we are a study in escapism. We seem to be coming together to play one role for the moment. No! Two roles.
Driving again, feverish as Frankenstein’s monster out on his own for the first time, I take a right turn off the road I’ve been on and head northwest. The San Gabriel Mountains rise from the desert floor ahead of me, richly mauve and purple, and more vivid than when I last noticed them on the way out to meet Maggie Partridge, only about three hours after my wife told me she thought we needed some time “away” from each other.
I make another turn, drive through scrub bush and scattered boulders for about fifty yards, then pull to a stop, partly in the shadow of a scrawny yucca tree. I reach into the back seat, grab a case of geologist’s tools, open it, and find exactly what I somehow know I will: a couple of short-handled shovels, some hand hoes, several other small digging/scraping implements, and seven or eight variously configured files.
There is some quartz on the underside of a sandstone cluster at the bottom of a crevasse beyond the yucca tree. I work my way down and proceed to harvest as much as I can.
I am a gemologist scrambling around an arroyo, collecting a kind of quartz I’ve never heard of before—desert rose. It is gray-lavender, and the variety I’ve found is so granular that it’s used mostly for decorative purposes and has little industrial value.
“It’s got to be a dream,” I say out loud, recognizing but not recognizing the voice.
I hold my right hand with my left to pinch it.
I feel a ring on the ring finger. I hold up my hand and stare at it. It looks like Jack Cade’s alexandrite.
But that’s impossible. I bring the ring closer to my eyes, squinting at it. “It’s im-fucking-possible.”
I turn, lose my footing, and lurch off to do what I know I have to do—travel with Richard Blake. He’s alive in there; he’s going to do at least some of what … he’s going to do. But I have a say in his life.
Then again, I don’t know. Right now, it’s obvious Richard Blake is due somewhere, and I don’t have any choice but to go along for the ride.
I pack up the quartz in small plastic canisters and drive off, still heading northwest in the Valley.
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