If you ever wondered what kind of dreams might be summoned after a multi-course meal with half of a chocolate cream pie, hot green chile sauce with pork and flour tortillas drenched in melted butter (and washed down by copious amounts of coffee, beer and, as a delayed aperitif, white wine), I have an answer for you: bad.
And, possibly, illuminating.
In my defense, let me first state that my meals are normally spicy; adding a chocolate cream pie was—as a first course, no less—an anomaly brought about by the absence of my wife’s guiding hand. I was alone, I was stressed, it seemed a good idea at the time.
By midnight it seemed less a good idea. And shortly thereafter the Dark Man came.
He, or something like him, has haunted my nightmares for decades. Though the settings change, alternating from the dark streets of lower downtown Denver to deserted mine compounds in central New Mexico, the core has always been a mysterious figure lurking beyond the boundaries of sight. Or light, as is the case. The figure brings a crippling sense of dread and fear, almost supernatural in its malevolence. He has stalked me across three states and countless nights, and after my late-night three-course dinner he finally revealed himself.
It wasn’t a pleasant encounter. Though the location was sketchy, I remember being struck with a paralyzing coldness spreading through my body as I turned to see a figure standing in the middle of the street, a shape wreathed in a nimbus of black smoke that emphasized more than concealed his presence. Terror overwhelmed me. As my knees buckled, a winged creature swooped down and snatched me to safety.
Next time I skip the coffee, definitely.
As unsettling as the dream was, another has surfaced as a counterbalance. The latest is more of a waking dream, almost wishful thinking though with substance, and it was triggered not by an overabundance of mismatched foods but a visit to Miller’s Flowers and Greenhouses in Washington. Ostensibly I was there to write an article for the local newspaper. Freud, were he around, would undoubtedly discern underlying psychoanalytic causes, all of which hinged on the long cold winter of 2009-2010.
A raw wind sharp as razors flayed exposed skin on the afternoon I dropped by. Trees were barren, their limbs reaching in supplication toward the relentlessly gray sky. The land had gone gray and featureless, and an early dusk was clamping down, but once inside the door a scent of blossoms hung heavy in the air, almost cloying in its potency. And beneath it something else, something familiar if not elusive.
Gene Miller, who with his wife, Midge, owns the business, gave me the grand tour. I was expecting an interview and not what came next: the haunting smell of fresh dirt, potting soil, humid air and a chlorophyllous freshness wafting off rows of green shoots, some of which sported gaudy red and pink blooms.
If the hues and textures were shocking to a color-deprived winter captive, they were nothing compared to the memories they invoked, of gardening under a warm golden sun, emerald lawns sprinkled with dandelions and spreading carpets of delicate purple mustards, the smell of rich raw earth seething with nightcrawlers, even the crisp paper sleeves of seed packets and the dry rustling of multitudes of embryonic promises. And then I saw the tomato plants.
There were only a dozen or so, each about five inches tall, of a variety new to the store. As Gene described it, the plant grows up and out before spilling into long entwined vines studded with grape tomatoes. His imagery was more vivid than he could know, for in the space of a heartbeat my salivary glands exploded with the tart acidic flavor of tomatoes I have known, from tiny cherry varieties to romas, Brandywines, Early Boys and exotics, each with its own unique shape, color and taste. His words fell away and I stood in my garden with a trowel in hand. It was spring and birds were singing and the south breeze redolent of Gulf moisture and the coming summer, and winter was banished to a place beyond our interior world where the imagined is more real than reality, where woods are shaded and gardens heavy with fruit and the Dark Man has no place.