In old Spanish, to remember means to wake up.
-- Antonio Muñoz Molina
One night last summer I dreamt of my dead Chinese professor. I was in a new city, by myself for the first time.
My dead Chinese professor knelt at the foot of my bed, crying.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
My dead Chinese professor said, "You will never understand Li Po."
I replied, "I have a husband who loves me. Whereas Chinese offered me nothing but tortuous calligraphy."
When he didn't respond, I went on. "I used to wonder if I ever was any good," I asked my dead Chinese professor. He shrugged. "I remember how you made fun of my calligraphy, called them chicken scratch."
My dead Chinese professor cocked his head. His eyes squeezed almost shut and I realized he was laughing. Suddenly, he opened his mouth very wide, and I heard, like a roaring in my ears:
You are desecrating the temple of the holy! You do not belong here. Begone, rank impostor!
"So, why are you at the foot of my bed," I asked my dead Chinese professor. His eyes were the bluest blue I had ever seen, and his hair was the whitest white.
"Why don't you leave?" I asked. "Just stand up and walk out of the room. I'm getting sick of you."
I realized I'd spoken the words in my dream out loud. The echo of my voice reverberated in the stillness. The stillness of a white and empty room. I got up and went to the kitchen, still half-dressed. I began making myself some coffee.
A few nights later, I had the second dream: I was standing in the middle of a shallow river. The clear water flowed around my calves. I felt the cold of pebbles between my toes, and the soft bites of small black minnows.
A voice called out: Careful! The sheriff will come soon with his sidearms.
The speaker was either myself, or a companion I could not yet see.
I heard the voice again: You'll get caught. You have to whisper.
Borne by the wind came the stink of rotting game. Suddenly, the river I was standing in was full of fish, blue-ribbon trout, steelhead trout. The fish made a great commotion in the water, slapping and thrashing.
There was another smell that I could make out: pine needles.
The little nest enclosed beneath my ribs began to ache.
"Are you the Ngalan River?" I shouted. "I remember the farm children splashing in you. But you dried up long ago, and now your deep gullies lie exposed, like the bones of some ancient creature."
Feeling like a sleepwalker, I got up and went to the kitchen and began making myself some coffee.
I had a third dream, almost a month later. In my dream, I had let go of gravity. The earth spun cold and blue beneath me.
For an instant, there was a presence sitting next to me in the car. She was checking her hair in the rearview mirror.
She was saying: This stretch of Arkansas road is marked by its hushed stillness.
And I responded: Once I saw a bowl of apples, the reds and greens polished to a high gloss. I bit one and found it was made of plastic. I wasn't sorry or insulted.
Once again I woke up when I realized I'd spoken the words of my dream out loud. The echo of my voice reverberated in that stillness. The stillness of a white and empty room. I got up and descended the stairs, still half-dressed, went to the kitchen and began making myself coffee.
"Was it a man?" my husband asked.
He was always asking me these strange quesstions
I looked out the French doors. I expected what I saw: a garden.
"Yes," I told my husband. "He and I locked gazes."
"And what else do you remember?" my husband asked. He was watching the TV screen. He was enjoying his little game, asking me questions even though he was not interested in anything I would say.
I tried to give my husband all my attention, but it was difficult. It was like dragging a frisky dog on a leash.
"Are you sure that was all?" my husband said.
"Yes," I said. "Very sure."
"Go back to bed," my husband said. "Go back to bed."
I took a deep breath. "What if," I asked, "I broke it down for you this way?"