Author: Cesium

I started making a map of the places in my dreams.

It used to be that more often than not, when I fell asleep I’d find myself wandering the streets of an old new city. I’d ride the 88 bus alongside a gaggle of frat boys in dresses heading to a Mardi Gras party, speeding eastward down the parkway to the bridge, lonely lampposts flashing above us beneath a totally black sky. I’d descend the escalators below the glass pyramid in the plaza at the river’s bend, schooling like fish with the masses of noonday shoppers, down to the graceful concrete curves of the multilevel platforms and the trains that came trundling in, every six minutes during peak hours, like clockwork; and I’d ride them west till they emerged from the ground along the shores of the new district, past the casino tower glistening in the sun, and the sea birds circling against the sky. I’d step into the intercity rail terminal, the long straight hall built of soaring glass and wrought iron straining against gravity, venerable only by local standards, the trails of steel converging from points inland to meet, parallel, at the bumpers beneath the grand staircase. I didn’t know, in the dream, whether I was going to board any of those trains. I didn’t know if there was anything beyond the city — or, rather, I knew my subconscious would be able to make something up, if I headed out past the dockyards and the industrial zone and the suburbs beyond, but it didn’t matter. I felt the lifeblood of the city flowing and I was part of it.

So each morning, before I got out of bed, I’d grab the drawing pad from my nightstand and try to remember where I’d been, which side of the river, which colored subway line and which numbered bus. I penciled in major roads, the ring highways, the boulevards and bridges, the tunnels beneath the water, and I scrawled a grid of connecting streets where I felt they must have been. I started making a map of the places in my dreams, and I always felt a thrill when I slept and dreamed of an intersection I recognized, a segment, a station between places I knew, anything I could use to anchor myself, to push into the blank spaces, and perhaps, one day, fill out the whole map.

In April my job requirements changed. I got more stressed and worked longer hours. I was a mess after I got home, and I changed meds on my psych’s recommendation. I slept more soundly, after I’d adjusted. But I didn’t dream for two months.

Then one day, I forgot to take my meds. The next day, I forgot again. And after I’d collapsed into bed that night, I found myself back under the glass pyramid, in sunlight filtering through grimy panes, just beginning to taste summer’s heat. But the escalators were stopped and barred with yellow stanchions. Aboveground, there were few cars, and fewer buses. The small knot waiting forlorn at the bus stop turned as one to watch me pass, their gazes accusing but resigned. I hurried past, but everywhere people looked at me the same.

Had I done this? Had I had a duty to this place that I didn’t even know about? I awoke around two, my blanket lying in a heap on the floor. Had the city’s lifeblood ceased to flow when I was gone? I fumbled for my meds, choked down the pills, and sat on my bed, despairing about what I should do.

Well, I pulled my old laptop out of the closet and downloaded a city sim off Steam. I spent the hours of the night transferring the outlines from my drawing pad into the game, hoping, desperately, that I could get it out of me and into something that didn’t rely on my brain. When it was finally running, I deposited the laptop on a corner shelf and buried my face in my pillow. I didn’t want to face them again. I made a map of the places in my dreams, and I haven’t dared go back since.