I had the most unusual and vivid dream the other night, and promptly wrote this down when I got up. Its not a story, but a fragment of one. I don’t have any idea who the protagonist is, beyond what you can read here, and I have no idea what his story is, or where its headed.
Stories are like that for me. They come on in inexplicable ways, and often the only way I get to discover the plot, is to write them. A bit like reading a mystery that you also happen to be writing.
I have another story that started from a dream like this. It eventually ended up being The Peaches of Saint Ambrose. Whether this particular story ends up anywhere I don’t know. I’m neck deep in half-finished stories, and need to focus on finishing many of those before starting on this. I just thought it would be fun to show you what I start with.
And note: this is unedited beyond my simple spell-checker.
Story Fragment from a dream
It was Christmas time and a friend of my Mum’s was visiting. They had been close mates in University, or so I later learned–I was too young at the time to make such distinctions. All I knew was that he was a fancy Director of several well received plays in London, for which he gathered no small respect from the family, and the servants, and that he was different.
He arrived in the evening, well after dark, for my first recollection of him was of our butler Harold taking off his coat in the entryway, and seeing light snowflakes falling through the open door behind him in the porch light. Mum rushed past us to embrace him warmly, much like she did our father when ever he was away, and then she drug the man into the main room where there was a party going on in his favor. I remember many toasts, and backslaps. Everyone seemed quite proud or happy for him.
Later that evening the Lady’s Maid, Sophie, gathered us up and tucked us into our beds, as our nanny, Mrs. Perkins, was away for the holiday.
The sounds of the party still going on in the distant hall must have lulled me to sleep, for my next memory was the shifting sounds of a lady’s skirts swishing past as someone strode swiftly down our hall. Then my ears detected other noises; a soft voice here, a door creak there, all sounds that were familiar, and yet also somehow wrong.
I got up, putting on my robe and slippers–without any help, something I was quite proud of at the time–and quickly made my way downstairs. I followed the noises to the small courtyard that separated the main house, or the keep as we called it as kids, from the guest quarters. The door to the main guest room, the one we kept for special visitors, was wide open, and outside in the cold air huddled most of the servants. Mixed with them were the dull colored uniforms of the local constable, which I could just make out in the thinly lit night sky about an hour before dawn. It had stopped snowing in the middle of the night, leaving the sky open and clear. Among the people standing there I discovered my mother, with her ungloved hands at her sides in the bitter cold, and her face a white mask. I put my tiny hand inside of hers, feeling the cold of her fingers as she gripped my hand tightly, and lead her through the open door.
I was always a curious child, and when I discovered something of interest, ignored all entreaties from servants and family alike until I had searched out my quarry. This case was no different. Mum had always encouraged me in my little pursuits, much to the chagrin of the staff and of my father, something I was sadly never able to thank her sufficiently for later. This time it proved fortunate for it established a habit in the staff that allowed us to enter the room against the voicing of the servants and the investigators. They were so used to me having “my own way” that they put up little resistance.
Inside we found the rooms clean but in disarray. Uncle Stephen, which is what we called Mum’s friend, must have unpacked only a few things, and then sent the servants back for the night. I saw a half filled wine glass casually set on an end table, a brightly colored ascot discarded nearby. The type of thing that Harold would have made sure was tidied up in the morning before breakfast. Seeing them out like that was more disconcerting than the uniformed investigators asking questions, or the worried faces of the staff.
We walked right by the open door of the bedroom which was filled with people surrounding the bed. Mom clenched my hand at the sight of Stephen’s body covered completely in sheets, but I pulled her on towards the next room. It was there that I found what I was looking for.
The room was a dressing room attached to the main room by a large wooden door, which was fortunately closed at the time. Uncle Stephen’s bags and cases were laid about, some of them still unpacked. What drew my eye was a stack of thin papers, books I was later to find out, laid on top of on of his cases, and neatly wrapped in a bright blue ribbon. Under the ribbon was a small tag reading “for my lovely Kate,” in a small neat hand. I field a shudder in Mum’s hand, but continued on in any event. The ribbon opened with a gentle tug of my free hand and exposed the papers fully. It was a stack of several small books, more like pamphlets in size, on top of a few very large ones. I set the smaller book aside to reveal the larger ones. The first book was a large folio titled A Medieval Tracing Book, the font of which still sticks in my mind of being exemplary of the Art Nouveau period. I opened the cover to discover page after page of die-cut shapes stamped into thick paper, their faint outlines barely visible in the room’s light. There were castles, and fairies, dragons, and knights. I recognized the type of book immediately as they were the kinds of shapes Mum used to cut out of felt for use in our puppet theater. Daisy, Freddy and myself spent many a lovely hour making up grand stories with those shapes and our puppets. It was one of our favorite games. I had often wondered at the source of those shapes, for much as I loved my Mum I recognized even then she did not have the quality of drawing necessary for such marvelous props.
I felt such a stirring of my heart at the moment, for I recognized in an instant the mysterious source of our props, and yet held the certain knowledge of their demise–both of which lay within the body of the man cooling in the bed next door. It was a moment of discovery for me that is hard to describe. At once both joyful and yet bittersweet.
It was with this feeling that I closed the cover of the folio and placed the smaller pamphlets on top. A casual glance at these revealed another mystery. Like the folios they were old, their paper yellowed with age, but in otherwise excellent condition. The pamphlets appeared to be small plays by their layout, but the titles eluded me. One was called “A Man Called Dick,” another was, “A Horse in my Mouth.” They were words I recognized, but they did not make sense to my child’s mind. Both were authored by the same man, one Richard A. Johnson. It was a name I did not recognize, nor would I until much later when a ribald comment brought forth the titles to my then adult mind, and I suddenly understood their significance.
I remember placing the pamphlets back on top of the folio, and replacing the ribbon as best I could with only hand. Mum remained next to me, glassy-eyed and silent, watching my every move as from a distant peak. When I lead her outside to the coming dawn I had no idea that Uncle Stephen’s last gift to her would be confiscated by the authorities as pornography, and kept away from the family until they were returned to us, many years after her death.
Perhaps this was the saddest part of all, for I’m quite sure, had she kept these books in our library, she would have chanced upon them in her later years, and they would have filled her eyes with fond memories. And I have no doubt Uncle Stephen would have liked to be remembered in exactly such a way.