It was not what I expected to find. “Last night I dreamed I killed someone.” I was checking a journal I keep to see where we ate those ravioli one year, the ones with the poppy sauce.
A friend of mine wakes up every morning and writes down his dreams. An otherwise right-handed person, he writes about them with his left hand. He’s that serious about his dreams. I’m that serious about ravioli.
The dinner came back to me. A Sunday, flower day in the little town, it was warm enough to eat outdoors. Outside the restaurant, along a line of tables and umbrellas, the street was closed to traffic. It was crowded with strolling couples and families out to enjoy flowers in the square, flowers spilling from balconies, flowers in clay pots on stoops and stairways.
We were finishing an appetizer when my wife said, “Oh no.”
I thought something was wrong with the food.
She motioned at the table next to us. A woman was holding a bird, cradling it in her hands. It was a swallow, obviously in critical condition. I hunted chickadees with a Daisy beebee gun when I was a kid. When the birds hit the ground, mortally wounded, they did that same yawning thing, as if gasping for air.
I refilled our wine glasses. “Don’t look.”
We both took a sip. We both looked.
Our waiter came and set down two dishes and a platter of ravioli in front of us. Over the next twenty minutes or so, the woman used one of the restaurant’s linen napkins to keep the bird warm. She rocked it. She squeezed drops of water from the napkin in the direction of the bird’s beak, which was no longer yawning. We ate our ravioli and drank our wine, casting mildly disapproving looks in her direction. She had to notice. When she held the bird close to her face and blew in the direction of its beak, I thought, What’s next, chest compressions?
Pigeons, Woody Allen observes in Stardust Memories, are rats with wings.
And little birds? Ornate bats.
“Disgusting,” my wife said.
The next morning, beneath the note I made on the ravioli, was that single sentence. Last night I dreamed I killed someone.
# # #
I auditioned to be a murderer when I was in college. That fall I had a course in literature of the English Renaissance. "The Faerie Queene" was on the syllabus, and a lot of poetry, including Shakespeare’s sonnets. The previous semester I’d had one of the Shakespeare courses. Elizabethan English sort of felt like my own. One day the prof announced the theater department was putting on Richard III. Maybe some of us would like to read for a part, see Shakespeare produced as theater. I’d never been in a play, but I had a cool hat. I decided to give it a try.
Over in Sill Hall, I went to the designated office to inquire. “Sign up on the board outside to schedule a reading,” the girl said. She handed me four mimeographed pages, passages to choose from. There was some Richard, some Buckingham, some Hastings and Catesby. I was no fool. I knew I didn’t stand a chance getting a lead or main character of any stature. But maybe something small and pithy. I could be happy with a distant secondary role. I skimmed some lines spoken by an assassin. They looked like something I might want to say.
“Wish me luck,” I said to the girl.
“Great hat,” she said with a smile.
Yes, maybe I could do this.
# # #
Then again, maybe not.
The problem wasn’t reading the words. It was saying them out loud and not sounding like a complete idiot. In Act IV, Scene iv, the assassin, named Tyrrel, says:
The tyrannous and bloody deed is done.
The most arch of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.
Dighton and Forrest, whom I did suborn
To do this ruthless piece of butchery,
Although they were flesh’d villains, bloody dogs,
Melting with tenderness and kind compassion
Wept like two children in their deaths’ sad stories.
There was more. It was a soliloquy about the slaughter of children. For a few days I practiced reciting these lines, mostly in my car (I didn’t want anyone to hear me), trying to find the proper tone of horror and remorse. “The tyrannous and bloody deed is done,” I’d say, then look at myself in the rearview mirror. It didn’t sound right. I didn’t look like a killer. When I delivered this line, I might as well have been saying, “The mayonnaise and mustard sauce is gone.”
The director was on loan from Reading University in England. He was tall and thin, with short dark hair and sideburns, and spoke, not surprisingly, with an English accent. He reminded me of the British character from Hogan’s Heroes, only moodier, darker. For the audition, he and his wife and the assistant director sat at tables they had pushed together in the front of a classroom. There was a dish of chocolate chip cookies on the table. I said my name when I came in, and the director found me on his list. While I read my lines, they looked on. The assistant helped himself to a cookie. How many times had they heard the assassin that day? If it was difficult for me, it must have been torture for them. Somehow, I got through it.
“Right,” the director said. “It’s a wonderful speech, isn’t it?” His wife and the assistant both nodded. “Thanks very much then,” he said. “Check the board on Monday.”
It turned out I got two speaking parts. One of my characters had no name, the other a title, Page. Over the next couple months, I learned that Shakespeare produced as theater meant a lot of waiting, coming to the theater four hours a night to say this line once: “Towards Chertsy, noble lord?” It was my first time hanging around theater people, who all seemed to have emigrated from a strange foreign country where everyone is in character all the time. Even when they weren’t in their Richard III characters, they were in character. Sitting around waiting, I began to have doubts about myself. I was just sitting there. I wasn’t, you know, sitting there, in a meaningful, intentional kind of way. What was my character?
For two weeks or so, near the end of rehearsals, we worked on a battle scene. It was all carefully choreographed. We would fight to the death in slow motion, with a strobe light to enhance the effect. I’m pretty sure I got to kill someone. I’m also pretty sure I was one of the first ones to die, a directorial decision I completely respected.
My biggest moment came in Act IV, Scene iii, when Richard III motions for the Page (hey, that’s me!) to approach him. He says:
Know’st thou not any whom corrupting gold
Would tempt unto a close exploit of death?
Down stage, right at the edge of the orchestra pit, Richard said these lines to me every night. And every night, when he did, he reached out, grabbed me by the throat, and scared the living crap out of me. He was a real actor (whom I have seen on TV for years since). If I didn’t respond, he tightened his grip on throat.
The casting, it turned out, was pure genius. Leave it to the British guy to know these things. I was supposed to stutter and croak in the presence of this malevolent force.
I know a discontented gentleman.
Gold were as good as twenty orators,
And will, no doubt, tempt him to any thing.
His name, my lord, is Tyrrel.
That said, I was dismissed to seek out the assassin, who would commit a tyrannous and bloody deed. And I waited, hiking up my tights, getting ready to kill and be killed.
# # #
When I ask my friend if he thinks dreams mean anything, he looks startled. Then lights go on inside him. It’s precisely the way I would react if someone asked me how I feel about risotto with truffles. Yes, he says, dreams most definitely mean something.
We talk for a few minutes about my dream, or the trace of it left scrawled in my food journal. He’s read Jung. We have all these potential selves inside us, Jung says. They speak to us in our dreams.
“So I could have a killer inside me?”
“Sure.” He nods and begins to smile, pleased with the thought. “A little one,” he says. “Why not?”
Killers inside us. I wonder what the woman dreamed that night, if she dreamed of giving life. Maybe she dreamed she revived the swallow, that it soared from her hands and became a brilliant flower in the cloudless sky above that town. Or maybe she dreamed it awakened, yawned, and flew into my face, clutching at my eyebrows with its claws.
Or maybe she dreamed that it swooped down on our table, snatching ravioli with poppy sauce from my plate, and flew away. That would have killed me.
About the author:
Rick Bailey's creative nonfiction has appeared in Writer's Workshop Review, Smoking Poet, Ragazine.cc, Defenestration, and other literary magazines. He teaches writing in the Detroit area. Time permitting, he takes travelers on one-week excursions in Italy, focusing on churches and museums, local culture, and heroic eating.