She Was Queen
The first time she dreamed of her, she never surmised that, in time, it would become a compulsion. It had been one of those glowing dreams, the variety that leave a sugary aftertaste on your lips as you wake up because you remember them with profundity, as though they were real memories. Then, with a little time, they are abandoned to the rising sun and the routines of daily existence. That morning she opened her eyes, unwilling to move the rest of her body, and closed them again. Without the faculty of sight, she recalled everything.
She’d been searching through an archive of Chinese cinema. Obscure films from the 1940’s each labeled with one word: unseen. Behind her, and several stories above, were people writing frantically in notebooks and watching films in narrow cubicles. A group of three were holding hands and staring out the window at the cluster of clouds passing by. From where she was standing the clouds appeared tinged in orange and red hues. As she turned around, with a handful of films in her arms, she heard a familiar voice. Not quite brave enough to seek the source, she placed the items in her bag and headed for the exit. The voice persisted until she made it to bottom of the stairs. There, she halted, and waited for the tap on her shoulder.
The possibility of being in dream marked her with fleck of rapture, a novel excitation at the prospect of seeing her again. But once she turned around and looked into those blue eyes, the memory of her dream life faded. Her real life became strands of forgetfulness. Without these memories, the woman was simply a stranger, someone lost in the large archive library, perhaps needing directions to some other place.
“You have Dream of the Red Chamber?” said the woman.
“Among others, yes,” she replied.
“I wondered if you wouldn’t mind sharing the loaning privileges with me.”
She studied the stranger’s gestures and noticed the black banded watch on her wrist. Such a slender frame. Long fingers and a scent that evoked the impression of Venice Beach. Without notice, her childhood shyness retrogressed, causing her heart to throb vigorously against her chest. As her nerves spiraled, she thought she would wake up in her bed clutching at the pillow. When she continued to stand there, amazed by the woman’s elegant mannerisms she assumed all of it was real.
The intrigue of this woman led her into a grassy plain with a wooden bench. A few meters away she could see the edge of a lake. It wasn’t there when she’d entered the archive library, but somehow it now appeared glassy and pure. Natural. It was easy to accept its presence.
The hours passed without intrusion. She was beginning to believe in this; the suspension of happiness was imaginable. The woman asked her about China; she’d made plans to go next month and wondered about the people and places where she could stay. She grinned as she said this, an obvious strategy to simultaneously conceal some clue and provoke a question. But she couldn’t bring herself to ask the woman anything personal. The idea seemed to imbue her with a sense of despair. The woman took a pen out of her purse and wrote a list of names. She continued to smile as she handed it over. The topic of books had entered their discussion and she was at ease once more.
The woman edged nearer. “I don’t want to be your friend,” she said. “I just want to be your lover.”
She identified the words with an alarming immediacy. “Why…that song?” she muttered, clutching at the fragment of denial still remaining.
The woman whispered, “No matter how it ends…”
She finished the next line, lifting her brown eyes to meet the familiar blue spheres that belonged to the woman she finally recognized. “No matter how it starts…”
She waited for the realization, the sinking feeling that the dream had deceived her once again, to set in and take shape.
She wasn’t sure if it was on her fifth or sixth visit that she ended up kissing Rita in the ivory walled room with peach colored curtains. She looked at her and understood they were already lovers. Two or three dreams ago, they’d had dinner and spend the night in.
Rita’s hand brushed her face. “You remember now?”
She answered with a warm kiss, gentle at first, then with the fervor of new love.
Arriving at the periphery was always difficult for her. She returned each time, with the intention to see Rita, but forgot this once when she was in close proximity. Being with Rita was like reawakening over and over again to the idea of love, feeling its ecstatic sensation for the first time and then comprehending its sacred appearance as it emerges in dreams; the veiled hands of the dream shrouded her eyes, obscuring, sometimes for days, or hours, or mere seconds, the truth of her visitations.
All at once the horror saturated her almond shaped eyes. It had been so obvious. From the subtle remembrance in her kiss, to the words of the song that unlocked the wisdom of this experience. She closed her eyes and felt disoriented. In that moment she finally realized that she’d spent the last eight years of her life with an outsider, a queen of sorts with alluring blue eyes, who strictly speaking, did not exist.