The Passage

I found myself in an industrial facility in the far North, near the Arctic Circle.  It was a vast installation of steel beams, steaming pipes, and concrete tanks built on the icy shore of a dark waterway.  It was a station that had been established to keep the passage clear of ice for the ships passing through.  I went down to the water and watched the ships go by.  They chugged along against the smoldering red glow on the horizon, and I could see the cranes and claws and machinery hauling the ice floes out of their path.  It was an awesome, massive operation, slow and methodical, an automated process neglected at the end of the Earth, moving through its ceaseless cycles in the eternal twilight, somewhere far, far, away from the living world.

The facility itself was a labyrinth of cold steel and rust.  I wandered through it trying to see if there was anyone else around.  The snow crunched under my feet and more flakes swirled in out of the dark, carried on a biting wind.  I called out and heard my voice reverberate off the tanks.  I was about to mount a flight of metal stairs when someone emerged from the shadows beneath it.  It was large woman, much taller and broader than me, and she had on a thick parka with a fur-lined hood.  She told me that she was the only one that worked at this facility.  She ran it all herself, tightening valves, checking gauges, keeping all of the machinery fueled.

She explained that the passing ships never docked there, but she would sometimes have brief contact with them over the radio and she could hail them out there on the water with a flashing beacon and they would respond with a low bellow of their horn.  That was all the human contact that she had.  Even the occasional supplies that were brought to her were loaded onto a pallet and attached to one of the cranes by a hook and lifted right off the deck of the passing ship without the ship stopping or dropping anchor.  There was just that half hour of radio contact with the captain and then he would chug off again into the darkness and the static.

I asked her if she had things here to keep herself occupied.  She nodded abruptly and she said that she did, but I could see that she was lying.  I could see that she hadn’t been prepared for the loneliness and the cold.  She couldn’t have fathomed it beforehand.  She had brought nothing with her.  I could see that she slept there under the stairwell, under the light of a single bulb shining somewhere far above, casting the long deep shadows that were all around us.  She slept there on the ground with her coat pulled tight around her against the cold.  I could see that that was all she had.  There was a twitch at the corner of her mouth.  She was getting to where she couldn’t take it anymore.

So I decided to start bringing her things.  I brought her a music box the first time I came back, and the second time I brought some hardback books.  I never thought to ask her what she might want or need.  I’m not sure that she would have admitted to wanting or needing anything.  But she thanked me for everything that I brought and I saw the warmth returning to her face and her eyes.  I brought her a large book about the history of art, illustrated with pictures of famous paintings.  I brought her a hand knitted blanket.  I brought random photographs and postcards.  I brought records and a record player.  I brought anything that I could carry in my hands that I thought might brighten her life a little.

One day I brought her a coffee maker and a can of coffee, and she insisted that we have a cup of coffee together.  She took me to a little apartment that she had made for herself in the lower decks of the facility.  She wasn’t sleeping in the dark stairwell anymore.  The door to the apartment was a metal hatch, but it was surprisingly homey inside.  It was warm and she was able to take off her coat.  I looked around at the books on the shelves and the little lamp with the stained glass shade by the chair and the picture frames propped up on the table under the lamp.  I heard the music coming from the record player, the soothing play of the piano keys.  I saw the lit candle mounted on the wall.  I hadn’t realized that it had all amounted to this, that I had brought all this one piece at a time.  There was a porthole window at the far end of the room and I could see the ships passing out there on the water against the red horizon.

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9 thoughts on “The Passage

  1. You are such a nice person in your dreams. I'm often egotistic, angst-ridden and self-seeking in mine, making me wonder if the persona I write under is a sham, and whether my real-life presence is a slightly different sham.

    But I'm done with analysing dreams anyway. Things get more Whitmanesque: “I am large, I contain multitudes”. We are all connexted, let us not distance ourselves from our faults.

    special note to Beer From the Shower: love it, am not worthy to comment actually on your site. You have a character called Bryan. Is that the BMW Bryan?

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  2. No, that's his name, or at least, one of their names.

    Why be done with dreams? For that matter, why deem yourself unworthy to comment somewhere? That doesn't make a lot of sense.

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  3. I do hope you continue to share your dreams from time to time. Although, I do agree with you about the analysis. Dreams (or stories in general) don't primarily exist to be analyzed; they exist to be experienced.

    But with dreams, people go right away to what they mean. And when it's YOUR dreams, they want to know what it means about you. But I don't post these things because I want to be subjected to public psychoanalysis. I post them because they're experiences I want to share, stories I want to tell.

    I toyed around before with the thought of somehow trying to remove the idea of dreams from the equation here, maybe something as simple as removing or changing the subtitle, “A Dream Journal”, because to some extent the fact that these ideas originate with dreams is incidental to me, as incidental as the source of any story for any writer. It's something for the back of a trivia card: ” Such and such writer got the idea for such and such while having a conversation on a bus with someone during a cross country trip.” I keep the idea of dreams here, though, as a framing device, or a hook to hang the picture on. These pieces ARE best understood as dreams, but they don't necessarily have to be understood as MY dreams, or being exclusively about me. In fact, the less they're looked at that way, probably the better.

    Take Catcher in the Rye, for instance. It's a first person story, and very personal in nature. It COULD have originated as a dream and still be presented as is without a single word changed (just as stories like The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, Stuart Little, Sophie's Choice, and The Terminator were based on dreams, just to name a few.) Suppose tomorrow an article came out saying that the whole thing was based on Salinger's dream. Does that HAVE to change how we approach the book? Do you we now have to become armchair psychologists and make it about HIM and making it strictly about his experience and picking apart his psyche?

    You dig what I'm saying?

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  4. And a final note regarding meaning.

    I do try to shape these things into something intelligible, or course, but I really only care about that to the extent that it helps in sharing that experience and trying to make it relatable. If we can follow what's happening in a narrative and if it feels meaningful, then our imagination and emotions are more engaged with it.

    But to some degree I think that feeling of being meaningful can be more important than the meaning itself, because that engagement is really the main thing. In fact, I tend to think that the greatest works are art are the ones that engender a powerful feeling of meaning while simultaneously making it extremely hard to pin down exactly what that meaning is. While, on the other hand, if you don't have that “meaningful” feeling, you listen all day to people go on analyzing something and talking about how it's so profound because of this that and the other thing and you won't buy a word of it because you're just not feeling it.

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  5. I do indeed dig, and increasingly feel the same, in relation to writing generally & not just dreams or anecdotes of personal experience which may be partly fiction, or indeed cannot help being so.

    I wonder if one was to use the word “message” rather “than meaning”, it gets clearer?

    A message might be sent and received without sender or recipient being able to analyse it.

    They often call it poetry, but it can apply to prose too.

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