Alfred Peabody was a faithful husband in his second marriage. He couldn’t help himself. He was too happy with his spouse. Oh he had occasional fantasies about other women, but he really only wanted to be faithful and happy with his spouse, whom he truly loved. He wanted nothing to upset the felicitous routine of their household, the breakfasts when they talked of the day’s projects and the dinners when they came home from work (which for each of them was highly rewarding) with their scattered commentary of events on the day’s news, talk of art and politics, ideas and family history, books and friends and friends’ books, their altogether comfortable and stimulating intellectual, sentimental and physical life together—and that included a good healthy sex life! Make no mistake about that! Alfred was a potent lover and his spouse was a lusty lady. In fact, they were regarded with envy for their easy intimacy by most of the couples who frequented them. They had that sleek look of sexual and emotional self-realization. It might even be said that they pursued erotic pleasure together with a gusto that was characteristic of their lives. Besides the intellectual and aesthetic convergence of their deep interests, they shared a seemingly never-diminished, indeed ever-increasing sexual passion. In a word, their lives together were harmonious. To friends—and they had a broad, distinguished and lively social circle—who inquired curiously how things were going for them, he would invariably answer, I only love her more with every day that passes.
Until, that is, Alfred began to have the dreams. The first one he remembered—they blurred in his head—happened about two years ago. A dark and troubled dream: he visited his first wife. An older woman he had loved and lived with years ago. The separation was bitter: incompatibility, sexual deprivation, infidelities, harsh words and endless bickering. Separation is doubtless too neutral a term. He had walked out on her; it was a bloody tearing apart... No doubt he had his reasons, but the manner of his leaving had been unforgivably abrupt. Cowardly would be more accurate. He had walked out without a word. The dream reflected the turmoil that had followed. His former lover was lost somewhere, betrayed, at the end of darkness. He sought her out. And awoke bloodied, weeping and horribly guilty. He walked out of the dream and it was as if his fingers were being pulled out of the end of his hands; as if they were being clung to by the dream.
He tried to put a good face on it for his spouse, but for days carried about the dead weight of remorse. Days passed, weeks, and the memory of the dream drifted away. His good and harmonious life with his young spouse flourished. They gave a party and went out to parties; at one of these a friend of his wife’s said to her, Sonia, you and Alfred always seem to enjoy yourselves with such panache together, you are a living reminder for me and so many of our girl-friends that a happy couple can actually survive today, is it real? He is the sweetest man alive, she answered, besides, we have the most delightful sexual complicity—aside from the ideas and conversations that excite us both! Later that evening, when she and Albert danced together in that near-trance of perfect coordination and improvisation of fun that struck people about them, Sonia told him of her friend’s remarks, and Alfred said as they swept by the flash of friendly faces and affectionate glances about them, Darling, I think it’s because besides being lovers, we are the best of friends and we delight in discovering every new day together... And Sonia was in blissful agreement with her lover, that companionship was as intrinsic as their erotic relationship to their happiness. That evening he had melted into the voluptuous embrace of drowsiness after an hour of the most delicate and provocative erotic touching and play with his beloved Sonia that left him gasping for orgasmic relief and her with girlish cries and moans of astonished pleasure. They seemed capable of constantly surpassing their previous erotic delights.
He should have been forewarned by the dark velvety edges of sleep. As he was drawn over them he felt himself literally “fall” into another state of consciousness. Deep in the penumbra of dream, he again met with the ghostly shadow of his former lover: moans of loss, fragments of conversation that frayed in the speaking, sorrow and regrets that cut to the quick. When he awoke in the predawn hours the sheet under his face was wet with tears. His breathing came in painful spasms. He listened in relief but also with a stab of guilt to the steady peaceful purr of his lover. The thought of his cruelty to the woman he had once loved made him bleed from an interior wound.
Through the next months of the ever-renewed intellectual excitement and mutual gaiety of their life together, partying and reading and erotic play, travel and work decisions and shared reflection on intellectual and emotional issues of importance to them both—he was still occasionally plunged into these dream-encounters with his ex-lover as into a fathomless ocean.
The dreams were not repetitious—they evolved subtly. Crushingly guilt-ridden at first, he awoke from the dreams overcome with remorse and self-loathing. It was increasingly difficult to conceal his preoccupation from his sweet Sonia. Inevitably it clouded the normally bright life of his days with her. The nights, however, proceeded with their own strange undertow. Astonishingly, the dark knots of guilt began to loosen in the dreams. A look of kindness on his ex-lover’s part, a forgiving word, weeping together in a fleshless embrace, these refreshed his parched night-soul. He began to awaken with a tremulous smile, his face still wet with tears, but no longer of lacerating self-accusation. Of course he was aware that his relations with his ex-wife—with whom in fact he had no communication—in reality had not changed at all. But they were changing in his heart.
Life with his beloved and sweet companion, Sonia, did not change: they went to the theatre, they made love impetuously, their conversations with each other and with their close friends delved ever-deeper into their psyches, they made merry partying, they danced with wild abandon, they laughed at and with each other, they were physical, they were mental, they were emotional—their lives accelerated—yes, that was it, the days appeared to flash by.
Every night as he lay back in his bed and waited to fall into the abyss of sleep, it all suddenly slowed down. He came into the substance of time, of life, he felt. He was soon carried from the shore of waking awareness into the shadows. Here in the dreams, night after night he met with the not clearly discernible but deeply moving figure of his former lover. Her words, the few words he remembered, echoed after waking, and each gesture, bizarre as these were in the dream-place, occurred with a solemnity and duration that had disappeared from his daytime life.
In the mornings after he disengaged slowly, regretfully, from the dream, the filaments of its images still clinging to his mind’s eye, he would sit on the edge of his bed, and look forward to the day ahead of him, and mull over the cargo of work and projects that awaited him in his study or of outings with Sonia, or of visits to friends, and these interested and pleased him, and he would discuss them over breakfast with his unfailingly sweet wife, and walk out later into the bright day of the city he loved, to have a coffee in the sunshine at his favourite café and plan his work, and that evening, as he sat on the edge of the bed again, getting ready for sleep, he realized that the cargo had already passed, and that the next day would be precisely the same, like clicking the light on and off. Only when it clicked off, he rolled with the wave into the timelessness of another dream.
The dreams became ambiguous, troubling. In one dream he is on a train, many people he knows are travelling as well, then the train stops and people get off and on and the situation changes altogether. He pauses for a moment at double facing seats where four people are eating fruit. Terribly thirsty, he asks if he might have a small piece. An older woman offers him a slice of melon but someone objects and she withdraws it. He hurries on with a slightly sarcastic smile. When he gets to the next car, he finds that the older woman who offered him the fruit has hurried after him and now apologizes, insisting that he have a piece. They sit and talk. She says how happy she and her husband were to have met him and his wife, referring to his ex-wife however. They chat a while and he does not mention that they are separated. Finally he leaves to go back his car. It is dark and he gets into bed—and takes his ex-wife’s hand as he does so. He lies down beside her. It is totally sexless. Sonia is sleeping in another bed in the same room. I cannot even dream about returning to this former relationship, he thinks, and with such intensity that psychic lines boil above his head. I must work this out, otherwise I’ll go mad, he thinks. He becomes aware that he has put himself in an impossible situation with his ex-wife in his bed and his wife, Sonia, sleeping next to them. How on earth am I going to manage in the morning, he asks himself, when I wake up? Meanwhile great waves of emotion sweep over him.
These were the dreams of reconciliation. They were endless, night after night. He and his ex-wife spoke in them, embraced in tears, but they were always sexless, which calmed Alfred’s growing sense of unease toward Sonia. He was no longer depressed—on the contrary his bad conscience regarding his behavior toward his ex was at last assuaged—although nothing had changed in reality of course! But each day rushed by even more swiftly as he looked forward to the next night and possibly another dream. When he actually thought about life with his ex—and of course she had been brought back to his mind by the dreams—he remembered the miseries of that marriage and knew he would never want to go back to his former lover. And the happiness of his life with his Sonia continued unabated. Although their days appeared to pass in a blur, like one of those ancient “cinematic-books” where you flip the pages quickly in order to get the illusion of moving figures. Until once again he came to the stillness of life of sleep and dream.
Then one night he had the following dream: he flees from Sonia in the car, and comes once again to his ex-wife’s home. For the first time he admits to her that he has dreamed of her a hundred times—and that he loves her—and for the first time in a hundred dreams, he begins to undress her. She tells him that she doesn’t wish it, and gently repels him. But she loves him, she says. Then he thinks he hears a noise come from the little garden in the back and, terrified, believes that Sonia has come for him—and that she intends to murder him—or both of them?
When he awakens from this dream, his heart is pounding with fear—and guilt? He glances toward his wife sleeping peacefully next to him, a girlish flush on her cheeks that touches his heart. And he slowly recovers, telling himself that never will he return to his first wife; that it would be madness in light of the misery of that marriage and of the happiness he has with his Sonia. Indeed, it would be a betrayal of her love and trust in him. And in any case, there has been no change in his estrangement from his ex, she is making her own life, having affairs and doubtless wholly uninterested in having anything to do with him. Nonetheless he continues to have the dreams, and slowly they become more passionate and fleshy. They sometimes involve exhibitionistic situations and even orgies. He now lives only for these nights of dream, and his “real” life with Sonia, his work, his friends, his projects slowly drift into irrelevance. Finally he can no longer keep his obsession from Sonia, and after much agony they separate.
Alone in his new apartment, which he has not bothered to furnish, which appears stripped of life, he can only await sleep. He does not dream; neither that night, nor any other night. His nights are black, blank, and pass instantly. His days are empty. He has no illusions about his ex, and of course she wants nothing to do with him, why should she? The world has moved on. Life has moved on, except for Alfred Peabody. He wonders, will he begin to dream of Sonia now?
ALAIN ARIAS-MISSON was born in Brussels and grew up in New York City. He spends his time between Paris and Costa Rica. His novel Theatre of Incest was published by Dalkey Archive Press.