As I Opened My Eyes

a writing by David Nathan Petteys

As I opened my eyes, I felt as if I was still asleep. The bed was soft beneath me, yet the smell was sort of stale. Sweat, I assumed, smelling like laundry left in the washing machine too long, and equally as stiff and resistant. I found myself wondering where I was, though in the back of my mind, like some primal instinct, I was aware of my bedroom being around me. Isn’t it funny how upon waking, one thinks the most absurd of thoughts. Residual effects from dreamland seem to spring out at you, as if locked in reality, disappointing you when you realize that the entire journey you had just experience was nothing more than fiction. Something lost forever within the vaults of your subconscious.
Last night’s visions came back to me as I went about my morning rituals: pulling up my sock so that they fit tightly around my shins, shooing away stray locks of hair that had become misplaced while tossing and turning, running from the monsters. Monsters. Zombies I think, but that comes later. First, there is more to explain.
The first thing I could sort from the chaotic blur, upon which so many dream images seem to erupt, was a house on an unknown lake. Think rundown shack and you have the perfect comparison. Shutters the color of rust traced every dark window. No light fell through the panes. The paint was chipped, mossy grey in color. Uninhabited the place seemed. I felt alone, but not without complacency in this solitary awareness.
I stood in the backyard, watching the sunrise over the calm, dark waters. A few trees littered the horizon, chopping the sun into brilliant oranges and reds. An animal sang to the sun and insects buzzed the morning away. I felt calm, tranquil, as if nothing could disturb me. A compulsion struck me, an urge to go inside and investigate, as if the building behind me were not my home but the adobe of some unknown person. Perhaps I even assumed it was abandoned.
The next few moments were quite sketchy, and as I clawed my hair with dirty fingernails, I struggled to place a definition on what, indeed, preceded the notion of entering the lakeside hut. Scattered, unnamable chaos span before my vision. Too much to sift through. Nothing brilliant coming to mind, I focused on the next scenario.
My brother waited for me in the kitchen, his hair the same chestnut hue, eyes were large with curiosity. He said to me, “perfect day for a fish, am I right?”
“Indeed.” I replied. A typical response from someone so lost for words. Most often, I tend to be lost for words. Conversation of the superfluous variety never seemed to suit me. One word answers seem to be adequate, mundane responses to mundane questions.
The last thing I remember about the house, before it shifted entirely into something completely unfathomable—as dream landscapes so often seem to do—was taking note of the amount of dirty dishes left unattended in the sink. A colossal heap, it seemed; although, it was not the number or quality of the dishes which repulsed me to the point of vomiting. It was the awareness that I might have to clean them, suck in my gut, grab a foamy, yellow sponge, and dig away at the crusted spaghetti sauce of what I imagined to have been older than I realized at the time. My brother continued speaking to me, but I couldn’t seem to distract myself from those wretched dishes. Oh, how much I wanted to scrub them clean. Correct them, as if they were mental patients. I felt like a mental patient for even caring about those damn dishes.
Suddenly, the dream changed and I found myself on that miniature peninsula of a backyard, where the grass seemed to sink abruptly below the water’s edge. I had no recollection of my feet straying from the dingy linoleum floors of that kitchen, nor did I make any cognitive appraisal to the dirty dishes waiting for tender hands to correct their flaws and make them useful once more. Nope. I was in the back yard, alone as well. Jeffrey had left me, perhaps deleted from some synapse in my mind. He must not have been crucial to the message I was about to receive.
A fishing rod was placed in my hands. It felt natural and weightless. I had never learned to fish before, but I felt this compulsive urge to release the reel and toss the line into the liquid pewter before me. Immediately, as if evoked by mere thought, something made the surface of the lake shiver with motion. A thing popped from the surface, incomprehensible to any sort of aquatic fauna I had previously encountered. Asleep or wakeful. And instantly, it was lost from the place whence it came.
In seconds—though in reality it probably took hours, knowing the nature of dreams—I felt a swift, abrasive tug on the pole. My immediate reflex told me to jerk the thing toward me, behind me. And effortlessly, the animal lurched from beneath the coldness, sending jags from the very location from which it rested, and evidently attached to my line. It came to my side, rather automatically, as if the weight of the massive entity were equivalent to a mere feather or pebble. No recognition came to mind when I beheld the beast before me. For some reason, sharks and squids came to mind, though I knew no adequate term I could use to pin to such a creature. Its skin was sleek and silvery, dancing in the dawn. Its belly pointed to the sky, mouth open and gasping for air. Air it could never breathe. A fine-finned crest sat upon what I assumed to be the beasts head, slightly resembling those bottom-feeders people put in their fish tanks to clear away the algae. Again, the mouth sucked at the air, loudly.
Then, Jeffrey appeared again, knife in hand.
“Nice catch.” He said to me, materializing at my side.
“So it would appear.” Replied I, adding that insignificant phrase needed to satisfy the questioner, avoid the embarrassment of silence, and keep the rhythm of conversation flowing should I be excepted to speak again.
His knife slit through the fish’s belly cleanly and without being disturbed by internal organs or founts of blood. The details seemed to elude me, once more, as I could not tame my consciousness from what lie within the opened corpse. The form laid still, fetal position with the hands protecting the head from the blade’s rude edge. The form was fully grown, matured as an adult might be. Hair speckled the forearms and spat out from beneath the armpit. Before I knew it, the man corrected his position and stepped out from within his cocoon. I say man because he came, in my mind, to exhibit those specific qualities which seem to distinguish one sex from another.
He licked himself clean. Well, what he could reach with that short neck, and he came over to me, eyes full of lust and thankfulness. Couldn’t tell if he was aiming to kiss me, for I beat him to the task. His lips were salty, smooth, almost as velvet might seem if rubbed against one’s lips. A mood of fear hit me, embarrassment probably. And I retreated, feeling blood sting my cheeks.
A rustle started me into alertness once more. The sound came from somewhere on the opposite end of the isle. I pounced upon it, words like “spy” driving me close to the precipice of madness. However, by the time my body sailed through the air to grab the thing and shake it to bits, it leaped from my grasp and slipped into the water once more. Another bottom-feeder had been watching, witnessing my salaciousness with the covert pride of discovering something it knew it should not see. I felt defenseless. The bottom-feeder had come to perceive my wretchedness, my vile attempts at obtaining what seemed to be my heart’s most latent of desires: kissing this man.
Aren’t dreams meant to help people discover themselves in some way?
I awoke from the reflection, looking into the glass. My face no longer showed in the shine, as it had once shown itself. My features were hard no longer. No longer ridged and rusty, nor turgid nor distinctly male, as I have come to assume they should be. The sun settled to sleep beyond drawn curtains. Perhaps this explained my altered appearance.
However, the person I now saw seemed meek and pale, as tranquil and gentle as the lake in my dream, standing still; still as ever, it should have been, not even a dead leaf’s pressure altering such a countenance, and silver too, silver as the moon before she gives the reigns over to the sun.
My hair seemed changed as well. Black, yet well kempt despite the dim glow of a candle’s face. I had forgotten to extinguish it before surrendering to sleep. Now, the wick dipped over, low and sad, as the wet wax froze it in an arc shape. Smoke streamed from the oval opening as the light disappeared.
Other things were as I left them too. The bedside ewer covered in a sheet of subtle dust, hinted to a lack of disruption as well. The covers upon my bed were still starched and pulled back. My outline stayed within the mattress, as if only a moment before the glass would reflect a notion of the past, a form of quenchless hunger and superfluous inspiration, resting. But then again, it was something of the past. Never to exist again.
But one notion of being, which no glass could ever capture: a dream within the heart, too wild to be kept, too boundless to find time for rest.
Thoughts back then could race for miles as a train on an endless track. I worked so hard with no rewards to boast of should I possess the audacity to flaunt them. I worked so hard to avoid the sting of tobacco smoke in my lungs. I worked so hard to avoid the malicious thoughts which inevitably tend to disturb the incessant path of success, spoiling it with black clouds of worthless gain, purposelessness beckoning beyond every door to the point where men turn locks and throw away keys; lest to avoid the inevitable despair of failure and all of its temptations. Such things are so easy and ready to submit oneself to that one could scarcely decline such proposals; for the pain of progress surmounts the pain of impediment in awfulness; confusing stagnation with prosperousness. Roses best kept wilted, rather than roses living only to wilt. One could find beauty in dust un-swept if they tried.
I think men would rather avoid the realization of failure than arrive in the kingdom of disappointment without luggage and bag.
But as I swiped the dust specks from the looking glass surface, I began to see again that face from the past: the countenance unalterable, strong, and turgid. I re-awoke finding that I had been asleep, exploiting myself instead of an army of patriotic soldiers with vision of peace in their hearts and fire in their skulls.
Isn’t it funny how our minds like to play clever tricks on the ego and place convenient distractions on its path to Ithaca? Our minds like to dwell in misery and intentionally avoid reading the schematics of cruel defense mechanisms. An exile, I have been, only to myself.
However still, if the mirror became clouded again and my dreams filled with bottom-feeders and spies, I should strive to strive, live to unlock, and contrive within myself, the illusion of purpose.
There I had been all along, unpleasantly preserved in visions of self-defeat, pickled in my own childish expectations of burnt gardens and slaughtered fish. I would kiss that man again if I could only dream it.

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