Dreaming with Borges

By: Delilah

FEEDBACK TO: delilahmirandah@yahoo.com

AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarmsfiction.com/delilah/delilah.html

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 beta’ing 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 Lyn’s good beta again. *sigh*

Feedback: Always welcome.

And the disclaimer: Not mine. Don’t own them.

~oOo~

To say it is disconcerting to have a cheerleader spilled over your desk, well, is to say something I’d never thought I’d even thought I’d think. I wince down at the quivering mass of flesh in a tight Rainier sweater 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, it’s just the first paper. If you’ll just calm down we can go over why you got a D-minus and next time you’ll 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."

"That’s because you’re 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 we’re in Washington State and therefore I expect you to spell it—"

"It’s not French! It’s right down in University Village!" A well-manicured finger manifests too close to my eyes for focusing to occur. "I bought this there. It’s a meditation ring from Bali." Other well-manicured fingers give the silver ring a twist while the usually perpetually cheery voice breaks again. I’m living a movie and it’s my damn luck it’s Anthropologically Blonde. "It’s supposed to spin your worries away."

In the background the clock gives another tick.

"I’m sure it is." I hold up my hands in the universal gesture of student placation. "Look, why don’t I give you some extra-credit reading and that way you can restore a few of those points?"

"Reading?"

"Yeah. I have a list. I can recommend Gun, Germs and Steel or if you’re 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 we’ll discuss what would be the best choice."

She sniffs a little and rubs a black tear track until it looks like I’ve been administering corporal punishment for substandard essays. As she shuffles out of the room I see Dr. Willoughby staring openly.

Fuck.

I need a whole gross of the damn rings. I’ve got way too many worries to spin just one.

~oOo~

Henri’s 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. It’s a shame to miss it because when Sally packs a lunch it’s not peanut butter & jelly – it’s honey-glazed ham on petite rolls, an equally diminutive cup of artichoke salad and some kind of double chocolate brownie that will even get Jim’s distracted attention.

My life is now full of bizarre incongruities. Custom-made Limmer hiking boots. A leather backpack. Internally I’m 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 Man’s Land? We’ve had another one."

They let the perps out of jail or they’ve drifted back from wherever they’d been more recently terrorizing. If Simon was right. Or there’s something more esoteric. Some timing we have yet to get. Damn.

"Witnesses?"

"Just the victim. She’s in the ICU over at General."

"She?"

"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 didn’t 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 Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style and suggest we have a little lecture in semiotics.

"And now I’ve sent you," observes Simon, his brow arched coolly.

Although apparently corrective action has already been taken and I’m it.

~oOo~

It’s late when I get ho— back to the Ellison’s. 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 don’t like who I’m becoming.

I don’t like that Jim has stopped becoming.

I find him and Lisa sitting yoga style on the cold garage floor, Lisa’s hand wrapped around his wrist. It’s 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 that’s 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.

I’ve tried to find that hope I felt at New Year’s but it seems to have disappeared along with those New Year’s resolutions no one keeps.

Some inner voice I don’t 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 aren’t unhappy. The limited conversations they have with Jim are more than they expected. They haven’t noticed the degeneration in his art. Don’t seem to sense that Jim has slipped imperceptibly away again.

"Hey, Jim." Lisa draws back as I take up station on Jim’s other side. "Sorry I’m 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 don’t 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 *didn’t* happen, was not good.

"Yo, Jim." I do what I find myself doing more and more these days. I cup my palm to Jim’s 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 haven’t tried. Medical things I didn’t 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 isn’t the answer. That the sculptures didn’t begin to deconstruct and Jim stop learning because a lifetime of overload had left Jim’s brain physically damaged.

"Come on." I haul him up by one arm. "Let’s 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.

It’s then that I realize I haven’t remembered dreaming in weeks.

~oOo~

Those existential panic things? I think I’m having one at the Ellison’s 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 Naomi’s New Age lectures notwithstanding, I am a decided extrovert, taking my inner state from what’s around me. An observer and a scientist, not a mystic.

I don’t 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 couldn’t break.

I think now that Jim’s wall may be me.

Steven is cutting up Jim’s meat, wrapping Jim’s fingers around his fork. Everything looks like it’s 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 can’t have a scarily sublime moment with the numinous over Sally’s honey-roasted chicken quarters.

This can’t be happening now.

As soon as Steven lets go, the fork drops from Jim’s 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. There’s a loud buzzing in my ears and in my limbs. I don’t feel myself fall but I realize I’ve been caught. I hear Jim moan grievously. And then everything is dark.

~oOo~

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.

"Ak’bal."

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? Jim’s 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 ak’bal. 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 I’ve needed to ask. What I’ve 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."

"You’re 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.

~oOo~

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. I’m 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 it’s 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 heart’s desire.

"It’s okay!" I kick my foot out of William’s clutches. "Just give him a minute."

"Blair, you passed out."

"Yeah, I got that part. Just … give me a little time with him. I’m okay."

Seeing the faces retreat above the table, Jim relaxes a bit, loosening his grip. There’s 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. It’s 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." It’s all I can manage before all this weird synchronicity.

"B…blair. One. Mmm…me. Ca…cat said ya...you’d cc…ome."

"I did. I’m here, Jim. I’m here." I wrap my arms around his rigid 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 he’s having a seizure."

Chairs are thrown, literally thrown across the floor and the heavy table lifted away from us like it’s not solid mahogany. Hands, either William’s or Steven’s, 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 doesn’t have petit mals. Jim’s a sentinel and he zones. Therefore, Jim doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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. He’s 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 he’s 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 pressed over 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 Jim’s 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 I’d 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 don’t know who you think you are, but it’s not a fucking blessing!"

Steven sighs and goes after him. I’m left to comfort a reawakened Jim and mutter under my breath. "But it could have been. It could have been."

I’m also treated to William’s 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 can’t have much worse of a hissy fit if he finds me than the one he’s already emoting. And, though for the life of me I don’t know why, it’s my presence that works magic on Jim and is probably the only thing that will get him to sleep tonight.

~oOo~

"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 didn’t 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 I’m 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, it’s like this – the Zinacantecos—"

"Highland Maya of southeast Mexico, right?"

"I see you’ve 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 ch’ulel. It’s 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. Ch’ulel can get kind of temporarily damaged but it’s 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." Naomi’s been there, done that.

"Mayan style," agrees my fellow anthropologist. "Anyway, the thing is that everything, or at least everything important, has ch’ulel – you, your dog, your fire, salt, musical instruments. Oh, and that thing the cat said about the most important interaction being between bound souls? That’s almost a direct quote from Vogt. So I’m thinking you had yourself one hell of a dream, but that Mayan companion spirits, they’re just not up on their modern anthropological case studies. Anyway, the primary conduit of ch’ulel 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."

"Isn’t it always?"

"Okay, so you’re thinking I had one freaky dream – while I was under a 19th century mahogany dining table, by the way – and that I don’t need an anthropologist, I need a psychiatrist."

Peter just shrugs at the self-evidentness of it all.

"Okay, just one more thing and I’m 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 ch’ulel from birth."

Another thought comes to me. "He said something else … white flower?"

"Sak-nik-nal? Expired, the white flower thing. They’re 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 – they’re like the Tree’s blossoms. They just kind of grew there until the gods figured out how to make bodies from maize so there’d be a host to put them in."

"And, if you passed out and … dreamed this stuff?"

"I’d think I was spending way too much time in Hargrove, man. Way too much time."

~oOo~

"What is this?"

I’m trying to go to the studio to look in on Jim but Steven has diverted me into the den.

"It’s a check."

I can tell it’s a check. I am well aware it’s a check with more zeros on it than I ever thought I’d see on a check.

"And I’m holding it, because?"

"Dad, he … he thinks it’s time you got on with your life."

"My life? What about Jim?"

"He’s very pleased with the way he’s responding to Lisa." Steven sinks down on the couch, his hands folded between his knees. "Look, Blair, right now he thinks you’re becoming a bad influence on Jim."

"A bad influence?" I realize I’m parroting whatever Steven says but my brain is in complete neutral. "I’m a bad influence? I’ll have you know I sure as hell wasn’t seeing talking black jaguars before I met Jim."

"And that’s exactly the problem. If you’ll just cut down on the … dream-shit, I think it’ll all work out."

"That stuff you call the ‘dream-shit’ – it’s the only thing Jim had left. The only place he had to turn after his father left him in the oh-so-not-capable hands of Haverick Rutherford. It’s the key, Steven. I don’t know how and I sure as hell don’t know why, but that’s 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 doesn’t have to make sense to William or you or me. It just is."

"Blair …" in a fit of pettiness I jerk away from Steven’s grasp. "I love Jim but … he’s a lot to deal with. I’m eternally grateful for you giving this much of him back to us. But I don’t 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 aren’t words for describing the events of last night

Steven’s eyes look tired. Only a decade in the business and he’s already William’s 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, he’s with Lisa. You know how he is. It’d probably be better if you just took the opportunity to … leave."

"Leave," I hear myself mumble. I need to see Jim, to make sure he’s okay, but it’s 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 can’t stop it, subjecting Jim to it would only be cruel. "Yeah. Right. Okay."

I pick up my leather jacket only to realize I don’t even own a stitch of my own clothing any more. "Uh, I …" I look helplessly down at the khakis I’m wearing. "I’ll 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, I’ll … uh …"

Steven presses the check back into my hand, along with the car keys.

"Keep it, Blair. He’s got more than he’ll ever spend and you’ve given us something priceless."

The Ellison’s top-grade hardwood always seemed so sturdy. It’s confusing why I seem to be sinking into a spinning hole like the Earth fell out from under me. It’s not like I haven’t been tossed out of houses before, sometimes with Naomi’s wardrobe pelted after us. It’s not like I haven’t 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. "It’s for the best."

"Um. Yeah."

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.

"You’ve got my cell number, right? ‘Cause I need to know … if anything happens to Jim …"

"I’ll call. I promise." All the while Steven is gingerly pressing me down the front steps. "It’s going to be fine, Blair."

"No." I shake my head, curls obscuring my vision. "No, it’s not. Go look at his art. Look at it!" I’ve regained my voice but it’s shaky and verging on panic. "He’s not all right! He’s going back."

Steven nods but it’s probably just to placate me.

"You need to rest, Blair. There’s reservations at the Cascade Suites. I’ll have your clothes delivered. Stay there as long as you like, the bill’s on me."

I’m gently prodded into the driver’s 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 there’s a change in Jim, I’ll call you. I promise. You’ve wanted out of here, Blair. I know you have."

I have.

Oh, God, I have.

I can’t 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.

~end~