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November 10, 2007

Professor Marchant's dream

I decide I have been in this position for some time: motionless, upright, one arm flung at ninety degrees against the panel of an open door. There are people streaming past. None say thank-you.

I find myself burdening their collective multitudes with the most poisonous of glares. The muscles round my eyes tighten and my neck juts. Rolls of skin compress under my chin. I must be really cheesed off. I am not a tall man, but I have a sense of looking down from a great height, the subjects of my gaze far, far removed. My head feels large and airy and vacant. I expect it is trying to escape.

I cannot maintain this. My eyes relax, sliding inevitably away like pancetta off a greased pan. The impression I get of the people is curiously watery, and I begin to fear that what I see, this haze-tinged pastel dribbling of human souls, is not an accurate representation of what is in fact going on. Somehow true sight is barred.  

I pitch my chest forward, substantial with accumulated layers of fine dining and biccies before bedtime, marking my intent to move. My free arm butts the body of the crowd and bounces aside. I watch with the detached interest of a man reading the newspaper of a country in which he does not live, where the satirical cartoon prefacing ‘Comment’ is in black and white and makes no sense.

Filaments of pain begin to creep up from my elbow. I am still pinning the door open, spread-eagled, an anatomist’s carcass. What if one of them was suddenly to lunge at my throat?

I advance another inch, this time holding my arm across my belly. But a wave crest of forward momentum catches me unawares, and within seconds I have become part of the crowd. The insides of my nostrils prickle at the familiar tang of sweat. We acquire planes, our flesh pressed insistently against others. This feels like a warm bath, a long hug, caramel on the tongue. I do not mind that I am drowning.

We surge through the door, where a room replete with faux-wood panelling materialises. Music thunders from aloft. Machines flare alluringly. I recognise this place! It’s the campus pub. Students loll everywhere, part of the furniture. Amidst the dandruff of youthful conversation I feel like an impostor. Cheerily, the pub confides that it too is a master of deception, except in those few golden hours – after it has been vacated by staff and patrons, but before the cleaners come. Then it is finally free to be itself. It spent five hours with a discarded Dover Thrift Hamlet yesterday; doing all the voices, being scandalised by shoddy editing, giggling when Ophelia goes mad. I ask whether it plans to write a letter to the editor, but I soon wish I hadn’t: rounding the corner to order, literary witticisms cloy the air.

I am buying a round for my second year Modernity and Globalisation group. A soft-edged list in my hand tells me they drink Guinness and soda gins. The latter reminds me of my ex-wife, and when I pivot my neck to the table it does not surprise me that a nineteen-year-old version of her is ranged among the rest, teasing Jeremy to pinkness about his broken glasses.

I talk to a girl behind the bar. I say something like, ‘do you find my choice of tie alarming?’ but she smiles and dispenses drinks without comment. Maybe I am not wearing one today. Fingers jammed at a greasy shirt collar confirm. Watching her deft movements in the cavern of bottles and pumps, hair coiled in a basket at her nape, I know whatever I attempt she will not alter her course.

It is unwise to buy wine here, yet I find myself gazing into the oily bottom of a glass of white. Something whiter flashes into the bottom. It is a tooth. Perfectly formed. ‘Someone has spiked my drink!’ I declare, grasping the glass’ stem and raising it to general view. By this time, several more have appeared. They are efficient as microwave popcorn. As they overwhelm the upturned tulip of glass and scatter to the ground, I catch a glimmer of disgust on my ex-wife’s face.

At first I was chuffed that I had to write in the style of a dream for the week 3 assignment. I thought to myself: 'I know dreams. I've had dreams. How hard could it be?' Compared to some of the other styles being bandied about class, I reckoned I got off lightly. Ha ha ha.

I chose to write it from the perspective of an academic, mainly because I had recently re-browsed through J.M. Coetzee's 'Disgrace'.

A lot of people dream about teeth. Classic anxiety dream. A friend of mine was telling me she has a recurring one about her teeth continously tumbling out of her mouth, which sort of inspired the end of this piece. Horrible! I was going to have the Professor's mouth bleeding everywhere, as if the teeth were disappearing from his gums as they appeared in the glass, but I thought that would be just needlessly gory. 

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