Dreaming with Borges
Plenty of thanks: To the Lurkers without whom this would still be bits n pieces on my hard drive. To C for continued bouncing privileges. To Zanz for giving me ideas. To Lyn for still putting up with betaing me.
Warnings: The usual. Shifting tenses. The occasional use of the f-word and beyond. Slight misuse of Mayan anthropological works. The one-shot stand-alone fic that continues growing like Audrey II. And I probably messed up Lyns good beta again. *sigh*
Feedback: Always welcome.
And the disclaimer: Not mine. Dont own them.
To say it is disconcerting to have a cheerleader spilled over your desk, well, is to say something Id never thought Id even thought Id think. I wince down at the quivering mass of flesh in a tight Rainiersweater getting violently up close and personal with my stack of 210 essays. Particularly when said cheerleader is not there to fulfill any of my prepubescent fantasies that involved the entire 1982 Raiderette squad.
"Look, Ms. Boyer, its just the first paper. If youll just calm down we can go over why you got a D-minus and next time youll know better how to tackle"
The institutional-looking clock bolted to the wall is ticking away pointedly. Simon expects me at two. Tick. Steven expects me at six. Tick. Jim expects
"But Mr. Sandburg--" She takes a kind of sighing asthmatic gasp before gulping in enough air to continue softly sobbing. "You even marked down my title."
"Thats because youre going to college in America, Ms. Bo-- Mindy. Look, A-N-T-H-R-O-P-O-L-O-G-I-E is a perfectly acceptable spelling in French, however were in Washington State and therefore I expect you to spell it"
"Its not French! Its right down in University Village!" A well-manicured finger manifests too close to my eyes for focusing to occur. "I bought this there. Its a meditation ring from Bali." Other well-manicured fingers give the silver ring a twist while the usually perpetually cheery voice breaks again. Im living a movie and its my damn luck its Anthropologically Blonde. "Its supposed to spin your worries away."
In the background the clock gives another tick.
"Im sure it is." I hold up my hands in the universal gesture of student placation. "Look, why dont I give you some extra-credit reading and that way you can restore a few of those points?"
"Yeah. I have a list. I can recommend Gun, Germs and Steel or if youre looking for a more feminist slant on things" Running mascara has given her a serious Alice Cooper look. I press the whole list toward her. "Just take some time, look it over, pick out a couple and then come back and well discuss what would be the best choice."
She sniffs a little and rubs a black tear track until it looks like Ive been administering corporal punishment for substandard essays. As she shuffles out of the room I see Dr. Willoughby staring openly.
I need a whole gross of the damn rings. Ive got way too many worries to spin just one.
Henris on his way out of the bullpen but he swivels long enough to grin and say, "Captain wants to see you."
Ah my hopes for actually eating the lunch Sally packed for me die. Its a shame to miss it because when Sally packs a lunch its not peanut butter & jelly its honey-glazed ham on petite rolls, an equally diminutive cup of artichoke salad and some kind of double chocolate brownie that will even get Jims distracted attention.
My life is now full of bizarre incongruities. Custom-made Limmer hiking boots. A leather backpack. Internally Im still dorky Blair Sandburg; externally, I look like a model for Sharper Image. Piece by piece I find my possessions magically transformed. The laptop. The car. New jeans hanging in my closet. Old jeans mysteriously sucked into the private Ellison wormhole from whence they never return.
Piece by piece, just as I feared, I am slowly disappearing.
Simon starts without any friendly preamble. "You know those beatings down in No Mans Land? Weve had another one."
They let the perps out of jail or theyve drifted back from wherever theyd been more recently terrorizing. If Simon was right. Or theres something more esoteric. Some timing we have yet to get. Damn.
"Just the victim. Shes in the ICU over at General."
"Angel Perez, age twenty-four. A couple of convictions for crack. I want you to get down there and see if anyone will talk to you. Rafe didnt get anywhere."
"You sent Rafe?"
Sending a man who spends that kind of money on clothes to a homeless shelter was not going to facilitate communication. Trust me. It was time to dig out the old copy of Hebdiges Subculture: The Meaning of Style and suggest we have a little lecture in semiotics.
"And now Ive sent you," observes Simon, his brow arched coolly.
Although apparently corrective action has already been taken and Im it.
Its late when I get ho back to the Ellisons. As the car rounds into the driveway I try very hard not to think that I found an assault investigation a welcome distraction. I tick off another little piece of my soul gone AWOL.
I dont like who Im becoming.
I dont like that Jim has stopped becoming.
I find him and Lisa sitting yoga style on the cold garage floor, Lisas hand wrapped around his wrist. Its way past time for her lesson to be over. I can hear her sighing softly. Jim rocks his upper body ever so slightly, unattentive. Lost in the world of private sensation.
The downward spiral we are on must have had a beginning but I no longer know if Jim reacted to my pulling away or I reacted to his.
There is anger there. Anger thats expressed in the malformed sculpture Jim has repeatedly created. Abstract and dark. The wolf and panther no longer rising out of undifferentiated clay, but falling into a painful twisting of stretched bone and muscle. As if, in the next moment, they will be torn limb from limb into formlessness.
Ive tried to find that hope I felt at New Years but it seems to have disappeared along with those New Years resolutions no one keeps.
Some inner voice I dont want to hear will break in and chime that this is my fault but I can silence it with statistics on the unlikelihood that Jim would ever completely recover.
Steven and William arent unhappy. The limited conversations they have with Jim are more than they expected. They havent noticed the degeneration in his art. Dont seem to sense that Jim has slipped imperceptibly away again.
"Hey, Jim." Lisa draws back as I take up station on Jims other side. "Sorry Im late, big guy. Simon sent me down to the docks."
I exchange a glance with Lisa and know she knows as well that Jim is slowly retreating.
"What did you work on today?" I try for falsely cheerful but dont quite seem to make it.
Lisa sighs again and I can tell by the wrinkles on her forehead that whatever happened, or more than likely *didnt* happen, was not good.
"Yo, Jim." I do what I find myself doing more and more these days. I cup my palm to Jims chin and direct his gaze. Blue eyes flick to mine for a brief second then unfocus again. The water is deep and wide and Jim is slipping back under it.
There are things we can do. Things we havent tried. Medical things I didnt want to subject Jim to. Maybe a PET scan to see what kind of brain activity is going on. To see if the wall Jim has hit is organic, that we get only this and nothing more.
But I think I know, down deep, that isnt the answer. That the sculptures didnt begin to deconstruct and Jim stop learning because a lifetime of overload had left Jims brain physically damaged.
"Come on." I haul him up by one arm. "Lets go get dinner."
He follows me docilely. Halfway across the yard he lifts his face to the darkening night sky and for a second he is there and he looks at me when I reach back to take his arm.
Its then that I realize I havent remembered dreaming in weeks.
Those existential panic things? I think Im having one at the Ellisons kitchen table -- over baked chicken and smashed potatoes.
How does one become a shaman? Jim knows. Jim knew naturally. Jim was born too well connected for the world the rest of us inhabit and had no choice in turning to an inner world. All Naomis New Age lectures notwithstanding, I am a decided extrovert, taking my inner state from whats around me. An observer and a scientist, not a mystic.
I dont know if Jim has actually been trying to guide me the only way he knew how, using all the communication skills he could muster. I have seen his hands make half-formed signs only to fall to his lap as he rocks in frustration. I was thinking these were problems of retrieval, of distraction getting Jim before he could complete the action. Sensation forming a wall through which he couldnt break.
I think now that Jims wall may be me.
Steven is cutting up Jims meat, wrapping Jims fingers around his fork. Everything looks like its being performed in slow motion in a soup of viscid air. I watch as he guides Jim to spearing a hunk of torn meat. My breath wants to come in sharp, short gasps. My mind flounders for something concrete.
Think Sandburg. Think.
You cant have a scarily sublime moment with the numinous over Sallys honey-roasted chicken quarters.
This cant be happening now.
As soon as Steven lets go, the fork drops from Jims uninterested fingers to fall with a clang on his plate. Blue eyes that have been shrouded and dazed for days are suddenly looking at me with startling clarity.
Jim knows something is happening. Jim knows
The table tilts. Theres a loud buzzing in my ears and in my limbs. I dont feel myself fall but I realize Ive been caught. I hear Jim moan grievously. And then everything is dark.
Dank. Dark. The smell of sluggish water. The same sensations greet me regardless of whether my eyes are open or closed. I see nothing, hear nothing but the soft drip of condensation falling into deep pools.
"Where the hell am I?"
I speak, mainly, to hear something else besides the rhythmic plop of water into water.
The voice is as smooth and ebon as the pressing darkness.
"And who the hell are you?"
"I am called many things. I am First Jaguar, born of Hun-Nal-Yeh and Ix-Chel. I am Panthera onca. I am Borges spotted tiger the one of Amazonian tangles and the isles of vegetation that float down the Paraná." Movement displaces the press of air close to me and I draw my arms against my chest, instinctively making myself smaller against the approach of a large predator. "I was the familiar of First Lord. In his imagination I climbed the Serpent Tree and caught Seven Macaw with outstretched claws and thus the world was resurrected."
"Jaguar? Jims jaguar?" I strain my eyes but a coat of black against black is a rendering of invisibility. The dampness embraces me in its cool grasp. "This is where you speak to Jim?"
The voice is roughed warm and moist against the vulnerable skin at the back of my neck. "To Jim I do not speak in darkness."
This leaves me a little relieved, that this is not where Jim goes when his eyes lose focus and he rocks. "So, why is it so dark now?"
"This is a sacred cave. Kunil. A place of dreaming. In these black pools is death transformed to life."
Pools of transformation? "The Sentinel Temple was said to have two pools. Filled by the dark, bloody water from the mouth of the Transformation Serpent."
"This is a place of your making. Your akbal. Your darkness. This is as you dreamed it. You have read much. Learned many tongues. With Enqueri, with Jim, so many words are not necessary."
"You speak to Jim." This is my opportunity. This is what Ive needed to ask. What Ive feared asking. "What do you say?"
"We speak of sak-nik-nal. The white flower. We speak of his soul and yours." There is hot breath at my ear. "Enqueri came unprepared and alone. He was not ready. It was not time. Souls are indestructible but they can be scattered. Fear can shatter them and their pieces fall to the path and await a shaman to see them. With proper preparation and the cooperation of the subject, they can be found."
"Youre saying Jim the damage, it can be repaired?"
"The most important interaction in all the universe is not between objects, but between bound souls."
"So, what do I do?"
The air currents in the velvet blackness stir a little.
"Hey! What do I do?"
There is a hiss of breath and the soft pad of near-silent steps. "Listen."
"Listen to what?"
"Listen to your soul."
And then the darkness is a vortex, spinning.
There is growling. And jostling. And more growling. And, when it registers, the sensation of being dragged across carpet which is enough to get me to crack my eyelids open. Im rewarded by the unfortunately familiar sight of chair legs and the odder sight of William and Steven peering at me, their heads at impossible angles as they bend under the leaves of the table.
"Wha" is all I manage to get out, but its pretty intelligible conversation actually for a guy who last time he remembered was talking to a jaguar in a wet, dark cave.
I fumble at the strong arms locked around my chest until I can turn enough to see his face. "Jim?" His eyes are closed, his face contorted in concentration. "Hey, man. Why are we under the table?"
"Jim! For the last time, let go of him!" William locks a hand around my ankle and for a second I have vision of being split like a wishbone, the Ellison with the bigger piece getting his hearts desire.
"Its okay!" I kick my foot out of Williams clutches. "Just give him a minute."
"Blair, you passed out."
"Yeah, I got that part. Just give me a little time with him. Im okay."
Seeing the faces retreat above the table, Jim relaxes a bit, loosening his grip. Theres not much room under here even for me and Jim has his six-foot frame curled next to one ornate table leg.
"Hey, big guy." I manage to wriggle out of his grip and get to my knees. Jim starts to move a hand in some kind of sign then balls his fist and thumps his chest in frustration. "Hey no. Its okay." I wrestle his hand open and place his palm against his sternum, translating. "You. Jim."
Tentatively, gently he presses the same palm over my heart. "Me."
His eyes close again and he shakes with some inner exertion, his mouth moving silently for a second before he vocalizes softly. "Ccccc ca cat."
"Yeah." Its all I can manage before all this weird synchronicity.
"B blair. One. Mmm me. Ca cat said ya...youd cc ome."
"I did. Im here, Jim. Im here." I wrap my arms around hisrigid shoulders and feel small tremors shudder through him. He leans his face into my neck, a lone tear slipping from his cheek to burn through the fabric of my shirt. I try to hold him against the shaking but it becomes more pronounced, no longer something that can be controlled. An inarticulate cry is moaned against my neck.
"Steven!" I try to protect his head from the buffeting threatening to send us both into the hard wood of the table. "I think hes having a seizure."
Chairs are thrown, literally thrown across the floor and the heavy table lifted away from us like its not solid mahogany. Hands, either Williams or Stevens, help me uncurl Jim and lower his trembling body to the floor, his head still cradled in my hands.
"Paramedics are coming." William kneels beside me and I finally realize it was Steven who helped place Jim in a recovery position. Eventually the quaking slows, but Jim is out, unconscious or zoned. I brush a finger over his eyebrows without response and he is blissfully unaware of the sudden rush of noise and bodies that is the fire department arriving to save the day.
"He has a history of epilepsy -- petit mals, though, never this," William reports unasked.
I blink, trying to regain some control over my thoughts. Jim doesnt have petit mals. Jims a sentinel and he zones. Therefore, Jim doesnt have epilepsy. Except this was no zone. This was a full-fledged grand mal seizure.
"Medication?" asks the paramedic, dutifully recording the history of epilepsy Jim doesnt have.
"No. The side effects are worse than the seizures. Jim is autistic and possibly brain injured; he has bad reactions to a lot of medicine."
I try not to seethe. Jim is not autistic. He is not brain injured, either. I truly believe that. Hes overwhelmed by sensation over which he has almost no control, but given someone with a friggin clue what they were doing, Jim would be functioning, hell, possibly excelling.
Jim starts to come to just as one of the paramedics wraps a blood pressure cuff around his arm and his immediate reaction to being touched by unfamiliar hands is to scramble for me and Steven. The attempts at examination which ensue are finally brought to a halt by William, who signs refusal of treatment forms with longsuffering patience and promises that hes calling the family physician immediately.
It takes William and Steven both to bodily separate him from me. The whole time Sally has stood with her back to the built-in bookcases of the dining room wall and her hand pressedover her mouth. I hear William muttering something as he and Steven get Jim to his feet but I only have eyes for Sally.
"Did Jim ever have a seizure before?" I correct myself. "A grand mal like this one?"
Sally shakes her head.
I trudge upstairs to Jims room. Across the hall in his own bedroom, William is requesting a house call, something only the rich would even think of these days.
Jim is barely awake but he rouses enough to weakly sign "cat" and I shush him with an old Naomi-phrase and lower his hands. "I hear you, Jim. I hear you."
I straighten the bed cover and look up to see a tense Steven keeping vigil over us both. "Among many peoples, the Hmong, the Akawaio, epilepsy is a sign of shamanism."
If Id known William was in earshot I would have saved that little piece of information for later discussion. I have carefully not mentioned things like cats and wolves and South American shamanic animal companions.
"I dont know who you think you are, but its not a fucking blessing!"
Steven sighs and goes after him. Im left to comfort a reawakened Jim and mutter under my breath. "But it could have been. It could have been."
Im also treated to Williams rant in the hallway that serves mainly to agitate Jim and me, both. Something about me trying to push Jim to some goal only "the crazy kid sees" and ruining all my good work in the process. I shush Jim and curl up next to him on the bed. William cant have much worse of a hissy fit if he finds me than the one hes already emoting. And, though for the life of me I dont know why, its my presence that works magic on Jim and is probably the only thing that will get him to sleep tonight.
"They ate each other."
This is not exactly the explanation I expected from Peter Reid, ABD.
"You just distilled the entire Mayan belief system into cannibalism."
Okay, I didnt get much shuteye last night after being roused by Steven so the doctor could wake Jim as well -- just to declare he could find nothing wrong and then suggest anticonvulsants anyway. So Im a bit snarky. But I expected the campus Mayan expert to act a little more expert.
"Well yeah." Peter scrubs a hand through lank, blond hair. "Look, its like this the Zinacantecos"
"Highland Maya of southeast Mexico, right?"
"I see youve read your Vogt. Anyway, taking the Zinacantecos as an example, they believe you have two kinds of soul and the kind your cat was talking about was called chulel. Its invisible and pretty much indestructible. But you can lose pieces of it. Witches can steal them and sell them to the Earth Lord, or, you can just have them scared out of you. Chulel can get kind of temporarily damaged but its really eternal. So when a person dies, this soul hangs out for a while but, eventually, it goes back into the pool and waits around for the ancestral gods to put it into a new body."
"Reincarnation." Naomis been there, done that.
"Mayan style," agrees my fellow anthropologist. "Anyway, the thing is that everything, or at least everything important, has chulel you, your dog, your fire, salt, musical instruments. Oh, and that thing the cat said about the most important interaction being between bound souls? Thats almost a direct quote from Vogt. So Im thinking you had yourself one hell of a dream, but that Mayan companion spirits, theyre just not up on their modern anthropological case studies. Anyway, the primary conduit of chulel is blood. Spill blood and you render back to the gods a little soul-stuff."
"Better to spill your enemies, though. And having a little meal with the Gods is a good thing."
"Isnt it always?"
"Okay, so youre thinking I had one freaky dream while I was under a 19th century mahogany dining table, by the way and that I dont need an anthropologist, I need a psychiatrist."
Peter just shrugs at the self-evidentness of it all.
"Okay, just one more thing and Im gone -- the bound souls soul pairs?"
"Well, I guess you could say the second type of highland Mayan soul is paired with a chanul, a supernatural protector, usually taking the guise of a wild animal that shares your chulel from birth."
Another thought comes to me. "He said something else white flower?"
"Sak-nik-nal? Expired, the white flower thing. Theyre on the world tree. Look like white flower things." I raise an eyebrow at his erudite vocabulary. "The first human souls, created by First Father when he made the World Tree theyre like the Trees blossoms. They just kind of grew there until the gods figured out how to make bodies from maize so thered be a host to put them in."
"And, if you passed out and dreamed this stuff?"
"Id think I was spending way too much time in Hargrove, man. Way too much time."
"What is this?"
Im trying to go to the studio to look in on Jim but Steven has diverted me into the den.
"Its a check."
I can tell its a check. I am well aware its a check with more zeros on it than I ever thought Id see on a check.
"And Im holding it, because?"
"Dad, he he thinks its time you got on with your life."
"My life? What about Jim?"
"Hes very pleased with the way hes responding to Lisa." Steven sinks down on the couch, his hands folded between his knees. "Look, Blair, right now he thinks youre becoming a bad influence on Jim."
"A bad influence?" I realize Im parroting whatever Steven says but my brain is in complete neutral. "Im a bad influence? Ill have you know I sure as hell wasnt seeing talking black jaguars before I met Jim."
"And thats exactly the problem. If youll just cut down on the dream-shit, I think itll all work out."
"That stuff you call the dream-shit its the only thing Jim had left. The only place he had to turn after his father lefthim in the oh-so-not-capable hands of Haverick Rutherford. Its the key, Steven. I dont know how and I sure as hell dont know why, but thats where the answer lies. William can dislike it all he wants, but the only place Jim finds existence safe is with that damn cat. It doesnt have to make sense to William or you or me. It just is."
"Blair " in a fit of pettiness I jerk away from Stevens grasp. "I love Jim but hes a lot to deal with. Im eternally grateful for you giving this much of him back to us. But I dont want to see you give up everything just to sit in this house and play babysitter. Let someone else take the load for a while. Go write your diss. Give Dad a chance to get over the seizure thing " His hand waves like there arent words for describing the events of last night
Stevens eyes look tired. Only a decade in the business and hes already Williams resigned hatchet man.
"Oh God." I numbly card both hands through my hair, letting the check flutter unattended to the floor. "At least let me say goodbye to Jim."
"Look, hes with Lisa. You know how he is. Itd probably be better if you just took the opportunity to leave."
"Leave," I hear myself mumble. I need to see Jim, to make sure hes okay, but its a selfish need. If Jim picked up on what was happening, if there was some altercation between William and Steven and me if this is happening and I cant stop it, subjecting Jim to it would only be cruel. "Yeah. Right. Okay."
I pick up my leather jacket only to realize I dont even own a stitch of my own clothing any more. "Uh, I " I look helplessly down at the khakis Im wearing. "Ill send these back." As I bend down to snag the backpack, also not mine, I try to swallow away the strange choked feeling blocking my throat. "This too, Ill uh "
Steven presses the check back into my hand, along with the car keys.
"Keep it, Blair. Hes got more than hell ever spend and youve given us something priceless."
The Ellisons top-grade hardwood always seemed so sturdy. Its confusing why I seem to be sinking into a spinning hole like the Earth fell out from under me. Its not like I havent been tossed out of houses before, sometimes with Naomis wardrobe pelted after us. Its not like I havent left behind my share of pets that were never really my pets, father figures that were never really my father, brothers and sisters that were never really my siblings.
Steven takes me by the arm and tugs me gently toward the door. "Its for the best."
Even these monosyllabic utterances are almost more than I can manage. I want to sit down. I just want to sit down. If I sit down the world might stop spinning.
"Youve got my cell number, right? Cause I need to know if anything happens to Jim "
"Ill call. I promise." All the while Steven is gingerly pressing me down the front steps. "Its going to be fine, Blair."
"No." I shake my head, curls obscuring my vision. "No, its not. Go look at his art. Look at it!" Ive regained my voice but its shaky and verging on panic. "Hes not all right! Hes going back."
Steven nods but its probably just to placate me.
"You need to rest, Blair. Theres reservations at the Cascade Suites. Ill have your clothes delivered. Stay there as long as you like, the bills on me."
Im gently prodded into the drivers seat. Steven even straps the seatbelt around me. This is how the Ellisons get rid of their problems. They strap you in a brand new sedan and send you for a nice stay at a four-star hotel.
"Just try it, Blair. If if theres a change in Jim, Ill call you. I promise. Youve wanted out of here, Blair. I know you have."
Oh, God, I have.
I cant think anymore. I just need to lie down. I just need to get away from all this incomprehensible stuff.
The key is cool in my hand.
I start the car.