by J B
Yeah, he was my neighbour. I met him only a handful of times, the first was in April outside the apartment, his bald head perched above that dark wool coat of his. I said hello and he shot me a smile, one that stretched from ear to ear, and one that promptly fell off his face when his gaze redirected down the street.
He really was the first person I met from the building and I think it was another month before I saw him again.
Anyway, one night I hear a knock at my door and it's him. He looks at me expectantly and asks me if I have a cork screw because he's misplaced his. I knew that I had one, but my place was a mess so I closed the door a bit and left him outside. He intimidated me, he wasn't that tall, but taller and much stronger than me, and of course I was always worried living by myself.
I shuffled through the drawers in my kitchen and I found the corkscrew next to a pair of Chinese scissors. When I brought it to him his expression was warm and he asked me if I had plans for the evening. He held out a purple bottle and as I hawed and hummed he started twisting in the corkscrew. I murmured that I wasn't doing much and he asked me to have supper with him.
“It's not much”, he told me. But it was. There was baked fish and fresh bread and some steamed beans and boiled potatoes. He'd prepared a salad with a delicious vinaigrette and while I tried to hold back, I couldn't help gorging myself.
We ate quietly; neither of us seemed good at conversation. But, after some more wine, he started asking me questions. It never really became a true conversation, maybe on my account, but I enjoyed it, the more he asked, the more he demanded. The more he demanded, the more careful he became.
Anyway, the supper was great and the silence was easy. Every bottle we finished was replaced by another, of increasing exoticism and interest. I asked him where he got all these wines from, I'd never had anything like them, and he said he had a friend that was a kind of adventurer, always bringing back some new grape. The problem was, he said, that he didn't actually care for wine much and every time his friend visited, he'd be miffed that the bottles he'd brought the time before and the time before that were unopened and hiding. His response to this was that he was waiting for a special occasion, which, everyone waits for special occasions to open good wine. And here we are, he said, strangers and neighbours, and that's more reason to drink than I've had lately.
He invited me to sit down in an adjacent room. We sat and he offered me a cigarette and when I declined, he perched himself by the window and lit one himself, being careful to blow the smoke out and not in.
“Do you remember your dreams?” He asked me. I told him that I remembered them only minutes after waking, so no. He smiled and paused and after a long drag, he exhaled and told me he'd been having the same dream for months.
He falls asleep but shortly after he wakes up to a knock at the door. He gets up and turns the handle, only to have it break off in his hand. He looks closer, and the handle is actually a mushroom. It feels real, and at first, he just said to himself that it was impossible, he throws the mushroom to the floor and goes back to sleep. In the morning, the mushroom is gone, and he regains confidence. But night after night after night, it's always the same. He hears a knock at the door, gets up and answers. As the nights float by, the dream becomes more involved, more real. He even starts to become a part of the scenery. His bed turns to soil, his body feels like it's no longer his, growing in ways that he doesn't feel are human.
He wakes up in the morning, exhausted. He goes to work and comes home and every night it's the same. He's tried everything, he says, vitamins, medicine of every kind, he's seen therapists, doctors, no one has been of any help. The doctors tell him it's just stress, and advise him to find a good way to relax.
“Last week I had a dream where I woke up, and a tree was growing from my head. I pulled on it but I could feel the roots running through my head and body. It hurt! I was terrified, and I couldn't sleep. I called in sick the next day, and got up at noon and it was gone. These things always go eventually.”
We talk longer but soon he tells me he's got to sleep. I joke and say “what's the point?”, but he just looks worried.
Anyway, that was one of the first and last times I saw him. His apartment became dark and quiet and I didn't see him again until November. He was at the post office and I almost didn't recognize him. Now he had hair, thick eyebrows, and he had a calm look on his face. He smiled as we talk and he told me how his dreaming had stopped.
“Simple. One night I just quit answering the door. That was it. I stayed quiet in bed with my eyes squeezed shut. I was growing like a forest, I could feel it, but I knew that soon everything would die. And it did.”
I tried his apartment again, but someone else had moved in. It was all very strange, but yeah, that was the last time I saw him.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Tree of Life'