A nightmare, some help, and a flower
June 5, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Last night I had terrible dream. I don’t know why it was so awful. Since my bad dreams linger, I was sure that the whole day was ruined. But I appear to have gotten some help.
In the nightmare I tried to call my mother on the phone. The need to connect with her was so powerful that it made me panicky. I felt like I was going out of my mind. I dialed her number without knowing what I’d say to her.
After one ring, a voice said, “Mike Cook.”
I almost started screaming. I knew I’d dialed my mother’s number.
“Oh,” I said. “Isn’t this— I— Aren’t—” Suddenly I didn’t know how to form the words to ask him who he was and what he was doing at my mother’s house.
“Mike Cook,” he said again, calmly but ironically, as though he were making fun of me. He sounded exactly like Dick Cavett.
I thought it was Cavett, playing some kind of joke on me because Mom had been a huge fan of his, and now he wanted to torture me. In my career as a music journalist, many people had confessed that they hated their fans. I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Cavett. How often could he harass someone whose mother had been a fan and had died horribly?
Finally I got my mouth working. “Isn’t this CeeCee Wictor’s number?” I asked.
“No, Mr. Wictor,” he said. “There’s been some kind of mixup. Why don’t you try calling again?”
“Thank you,” I said and pressed the switchhook to break the connection. When I lifted my finger, instead of a dial tone, I heard, “Mike Cook.”
“I just hung up on you,” I said.
“Well, nothing’s working right, Mr. Wictor. Try your call again.”
This time I hung up, took my hand off the receiver, waited a few seconds, and started to reach for it. Before I could pick it up, the receiver said, “Mike Cook. It’s still not working, Mr. Wictor.”
I was nearly hysterical. How did he know I was reaching for the phone? Could he see me? When I tried to speak, all I could do was moan.
“We have to get someone to take care of this, Mr. Wictor,” the hung-up phone said. Then I realized the voice was coming out of the radio, the computer, and the TV too.
“Mike Cook,” it said. “Still not working, Mr. Wictor.”
I woke up drenched in sweat. My pillowcase was on the floor, stripped off the pillow, so I must’ve been sleepfighting with it. The dream upset me more than I can describe.
After a cup of coffee, I turned on the radio to hear the newscaster talking about how Harvard had confirmed that a book in the Houghton Library is bound in human skin.
Scientists and conservators carried out a series of tests on Houghton Library’s copy of the French writer Arsène Houssaye’s “Des destinees de l’ame” and concluded with 99.9% confidence that the binding material came from a human.
According to the library, Houssaye presented the text, described as “a meditation on the soul and life after death,” to one of his friends, a book-loving medical doctor, in the mid-1880s.
The recipient, Dr. Ludovic Bouland, bound the book “with skin from the unclaimed body of a female mental patient who had died of a stroke,” the library said.
Bouland left a note in the volume explaining what he had done.
“A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering,” he wrote.
The news announcer was giggling, so I turned off the radio. I imagined what kind of person would bind a book in the skin of a female mental patient who died alone and unloved, and what kind of people would think it was funny.
Then I remembered the last time I saw Mom conscious, when I gave her the proof copy of Chasing the Last Whale, and her hands were shaking so badly that she could barely hold it. I knew she had only days if not hours to live. Later that night she went into a coma.
I’ve been working on a novel that’s going to be the ultimate act of banishment. In order to banish something, you need to feel it. The last month has been terrible.
As I sat there pondering the giggling radio announcer and my dying mother, I felt worse than I have in years. I’ll admit it: I felt suicidal.
What the fuck is the point? I thought. What is the fucking point? Why do I bother?
A gigantic bubble of pain started expanding throughout my body…and then it vanished. Just like that it was gone, and I felt genuinely terrific. Happy. On a hunch I looked at the clock, knowing what I’d see: 12:05 p.m., the precise time the hospital called Tim to tell him that Mom had died.
Along with my sense of well-being, I had a new, fierce conviction: You must write this book. I heard it as clearly as if someone had spoken it. This demand came from outside of me. It came from my mother. The sense of rightness, purpose, and duty was connected to her, not me.
I also recognized the fierceness. It had a character to it, a tight-lipped, controlled anger unique to one person. The justified rage was the same as the day I saw my mother eviscerate a caller who complained that Mom wasn’t showing enough emotion over Dad’s impending death.
When I went to get my hat to go out and check for a delivery, I found this lying on top of it.
It was sitting right in the middle of the crown. After I made a picture of it with my scanner, I picked it up, and it crumbled to dust in my fingers. I looked through all three of our properties; there are no plants with this little bud. I can’t identify it. If someone knows what it is, please drop me a line.
My mother was a very brave person. She had an extremely difficult life. Many people sinned against her, intentionally and not. She and I didn’t get along, but it wasn’t her fault. Today I found the only photo in existence of her pregnant with me.
There are no others.
This is the second time since she died that she’s intervened on my behalf.
Thanks, Mom. I’ll write the book. Everything’s okay now. I feel fine.
And today I took a photo of the weirdest clouds I’ve ever seen.
Is that you chasing something away, Mother?
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