There’s a house in your dreams, THE HOUSE. It isn’t the same house, except it is. Although sometimes it’s a submarine or a skyscraper, or, in my daughter’s case, a spaceship. There is a story that has to be carried out, in this house. Everything that happens there, you seem to be an outside observer, even when you’re in the dream.
I dream of the house from time to time. I dreamed of it last night. Over the last few years it hasn’t been the house so much as the basement that I dream of. Last night it was the basement again, the cellar actually. I was upstairs, and the person I was with said, “You have to go through the doors,” and I gave them a look that said, “You could be a little clearer, couldn’t you?” and he pointed out of the house at the cellar doors, painted red. The house itself was unfinished, and I jumped out of the framed wall and onto the fresh dirt.
When I was inside the house, the doors were closed; when I came out, they were open. My dreams have a lot of continuity problems at the best of times.
The stairs were those poured concrete ones, sharp along the edges, and oddly (but understandably) new. The texture of the concrete wasn’t Swiss cheese or anything, but the bubbles in it were unpacked with dust or dirt. How often do you see new concerete, so new that there are thin gray skins of concrete around the sides of the bubbles? It seemed alien at the time.
At the foot of the stairs, around the left, was a hole in the wall. Daylight shone in from above; there were also lights strung up along the ceiling, which was higher than it should have been: the place was cavernous and disappeared into a vanishing point, like an enormous mine tunnel lined with cement or like a sewer tunnel, only square. It sloped downward and faded out of sight. Here’s how these dreams usually go: I have to go downwards into a series of basements, each of which leads to another basement, and there is something behind me, chasing me, and/or something ahead of me, horrific but not really fast-moving, which must be seen, because it must, and that’s all there is to it.
This time, someone sat at the foot of the stairs. He was holding a kitten, in a towel. An orange kitten, I don’t know what kind of towel. He was dressed like he was out of The Gangs of New York, with suspenders and maybe a newsboy hat. Maybe I just want there to have been a hat. He said, “They don’t know anything but fear. You have to be careful not to teach them any more fear.” I came closer and the kitten struggled out of his arms and ran away.
Let me tell you what didn’t happen: I didn’t go down the slope. From time to time in the dream, I would know that I had gone down the slope. There was something about a room full of computers, something urgent and plot-related. When I realized I was there, I undid it, so that I hadn’t gone down the slope.
Whatever it is that makes dreams, sometimes I struggle against it. Considering that it’s another part of myself that makes dreams, maybe I shouldn’t. There’s always this idea that your subconscious is right and your consciousness is wrong: but what if that’s wrong?
I crawled over to the hole. It was full of kittens, nests of kittens. In cardboard shelters, surrounded by straw. Old enough to have their eyes open and be cute rather than pitiful. When I reached for them, they moved away. But if I buried my hand in the straw and rustled it around, several pounced. I caught one. It was Siamese-looking, the same as a batch of cats we used to have on the farm. I can’t remember feeling it with my hands, but I rubbed my face in its fur, which was soft, and now I have the feeling that it was my daughter’s hair. I’m always rubbing my face in her hair, to feel it and smell it. I can’t tell you what the cat smelled like. Sometimes I can smell things in dreams, but only if I focus on it, and I wasn’t at the time.
I know the dream went on from there, but I don’t remember what happened. Eventually I woke up. And when I went to get my daughter up, she clenched her eyes shut, so I let her sleep a little longer. First I kissed her head, though, because her hair is so soft. People say the subconscious is smarter than you are, but I disagree. We just have their own kinds of intelligence. The subconscious wants to do the same things over and over. Over and over again.
Help me, my subconscious says. The kittens.