There is music on the streets of the Tenderloin at night. It sounds like Armageddon mixed with some lower ring of somebody else’s hell. It does not make for sweet dreams. A little tender night music does not make for peaceful dreams: the screams and the grunts of male flesh pounding male flesh, chasing female flesh, chasing a bag….chasing a dream that has washed up on the streets and got grubby and wasted and full of lesions and sores and open wounds. I wake up with a start as loud bangs flash through the night sky. I partly wake up to the noise of someone trying to kick the metal security gate in, and can’t find the energy to rouse myself and look out the window to see how worried I should be. I live in someone else’s hell, but still my apartment, my little room, beset on all sides by the attack of a society breaking down at the seams, is my sanctuary.
I often dream of the Void. The Void is not a pretty place. It is barely even a place. There are no walls, no floor, no ceiling, no sky. It is pure infinite perfect blackest black. It is the absence of anything at all. There are no other people for the most part. There is no grid, nothing to locate yourself with, or walk to, nor away from. There is no reference point. It is distilled nothingness. Sometimes in these dreams that start in the Void, this in between space, this borderland zone between this world and the others, spring a leak. Sometimes there is some kind of dark unseeable barrier. For a place of perfect darkness it is perfectly lit. I can see everything. If I am lucky I find myself beside a door. There is only one door. It is smooth and wooden with cast iron braces and studs, and a lever-handle which can be pushed down to open it. The door exists in the void, providing an exit, or an entrance depending on your point of view. Most of the time it leads to A New York. Not the New York. But A New York which is its perfect incarnation, with perfect weather. It is always spring or late summer when the light is perfect and the heat and the cold doesn’t oppress the body and make the soul shiver or beg for mercy.
I open my door and it leads out into a perfect little cozy restaurant, tables laden with booze and food, and a band of interesting people occupying the chairs. A friend of mine gets up, just raises himself to his feet in a polite acknowledgement of my existence, greets me and motions to an empty chair, and I sit and talk and laugh and do inexplicable things. Sometimes I pop out into Central Park, opening the door from the void only to walk out of a restroom in the park, to go and sit and feed the birds and talk with a friend, sitting on a springtime bench with the blossoms starting to open on the trees. Sometimes it is Macy’s and dresses for all tomorrow’s parties, and make up and confections of beauty that I am really not interested in, though my blonde companion is beyond joy rifling through all the good things money can buy on the Upper East Side. But not last night. Last night as I went to sleep with the tender night music and the staccato punctuation of violence building into a steady beat, I hoped for some rest, instead I got some horror.
Back in The Void again. The pure velvety soft blackness of nothingness surrounding me, I looked over to see a friend I often see in my dreams, over in the distance. He had a panicked look on his face, his mouth opened into the ‘o’ of horror that people fail to hide when they are scared. I became rapidly aware of light spilling out behind me, and turned around. That is when I saw it. My door was off it’s hinges, laying splintered suspended in the void, and in the space where it should have been, was a door shaped rift, buckling and bending at the edges, ragged and breathing, pulsating with energy as if it was about to collapse in on itself. The rift was spilling light. Beyond it was not a definite step into a bar or a park or a store or a recording studio, instead just beyond it lay chaos in the form of light. In the light images and shadows and colors swirled indefinitely. Nothing could be seen or made out in the brilliant haze of possibilities. My friend’s shouts disappeared into the vast emptiness of The Void, and all that remained was the light of chaos and a shadow standing behind me. A shadow in the form of a man, and the man was forcing me through the opening where the door should be. I had no option but to move forward. I could not resist.
I fell out into a brilliant early summer’s day. The trees around me were in their green coats, and moved gently in a soft breeze. The grass under my feet was dotted with daisies, and the dirt path was rich with dank green moss. I could see a small fenced yard in front of me, with a shack-like house set a little back from the path. The white paint peeled from its wooden walls, the front lawn was slightly overgrown, but full of flowers. A black and white cat sat on the doorstep licking its paws. I turned around to see two small boys, Hansel and Hansel, blonde and pink skinned and innocent and tender-aged, about five years old and seven or so, standing together, looking back towards the house, and immediately I felt afraid. I knew I was dreaming but I couldn’t stop the nightmare unfolding.
A woman was walking towards them, trying to get their attention. I looked around trying to see another adult around, and stood there uselessly in my ghost-like presence able to watch, much like standing in the middle of a movie, instead of watching it on a screen. There was no one else. Just me watching, the two boys, standing and the woman walking towards them. The woman was middle aged, dressed in a summer dress an apron protecting its infinite whiteness. Her nose was bulbous and turned up, her skin waxy and white and powdered. Her lipstick was perfect, a coral slash across her face, light brown hair tied back in a neat bun. Uneasiness filled the atmosphere. Nothing was ostensibly wrong, yet everything had the air of violence about to explode, that tension born out of a threat about to be brought into reality, the unease that comes from millions of years of evolution that has not wiped out our ability to feel danger and evil when it is about to attack.
“Why don’t you boys come in for some bacon and eggs?” the woman said lightly with a friendly smile playing sneakily across her face, and a large metal spatula in her right hand. The boys didn’t run, but instead turned towards her.
“No thank you, our mother makes us eggs all the time, and we are not hungry.” the younger one replied. He was bolder than his older brother who was standing there, holding the younger one’s hand now, not sure whether to run. He had the look of a boy who knew he shouldn’t be where he was, let alone alongside with his little brother. He had the look of a boy who had just had a premonition of danger yet was stuck in the moment, in total inaction by a deadly combination of politeness and fear.
The woman didn’t pause. The dream took a sinister turn. My dream-self stood next to the boys, unable to stop the horror of the nightmare unfolding. In the same instant this expression of pure evil brought the heavy metal spatula down onto the head of the smaller boy, cutting him from the top of his head, across his forehead and eye. Blood drenched his face and the older boy screamed. In the distance a grown man was watching this unfold. I tried to wake myself up, shake myself out of it, but no go. I was deep in someone else’s hell. The next thing I see is water with no shoreline, either a big lake or an ocean, and the sun going down on a strip of sandy soil that faded into rocks and boulders that piled up on the water’s edge, and the older boy and the woman shoveling dirt into a hole. The evil woman was patting the soil down, as the boy stood there crying.
A fragment of ash fell from the sky and stuck to his lip. I could see smoke rising to the side of me, coming out from a bonfire of sorts. As the ash drifted onto his lip his face transmorphed from human to ape. He devolved before my eyes, his human-ness starting to be removed from him. His jawline started to jut and those brilliant blue eyes turned to an intelligent and sad brown with large dilated pupils in the center of them. His boyish smooth skin became peppered with animalistic whiskers and dimpled with the enlarged pores of a monkey. He sprouted white fur around his neck and his hands clawed into clever mobile paws. Still the ashes and the tears rolled down his face. I turned to him in horror, as the boy drifted away.
“He isn’t dead is he?” I asked in sheer horror, not quite able to believe that I had been trapped in this nightmare from The Void. He nodded his head as his blonde hair fell to the floor, “Yes. Yes. He is dead. Dead.” The boy who was turning into a monkey turned to me and nodded his head again. He did not speak again. The woman who was utterly human, no demon nor monster, just pure mundane evil, grabbed the boy’s hand.
“Come along, Monkey!” she chided him. “Time to go home!” With that she led the boy by the hand and down the path. The dream faded out into the next scene of the infernal movie. The boy was sitting on a dirty old sofa. The room was messy and full of horded objects and trash. A TV cord trailed across the floor leading to an old fashioned boxy set that was showing a VHS video of some Steve McQueen movie. The bearded man who was standing in the distance was sitting watching the show with a beer in his hand. The boy had shrunk to the size of a small marmoset, still wearing the same clothes he had been trapped in. She was beating the boy and roughing him around. He bit her hard on the hand. The man ignored them and watched his show, as I watched this infernal movie play around before me.
The woman yelped, startled by the pain, and dragged the boy towards the basement stairs where she shoved him roughly into a metal cage, of the kind you keep an animal in, perhaps even a pet monkey. She pushed him in, and he barely fit, as she padlocked the door shut and turned the lights off, leaving me as the only light in the room. The boy whimpered as I lifted the water dropper bottle, the kind you use to feed animals with, and filled it from the faucet with water and handed it to him. He looked up at me and said two words. “Help me.” His face flickered between ape and boy and back to ape again. I tried to reach out to hold his hand but the dream moved me on. I knew I had looked upon evil, and there was nothing I could do about it.
All of a sudden I was back earlier in the day. The boys were looking out of the window of their neat apartment out onto a grassy courtyard, with houses built around it. The room was bright and tidy and clean. I heard their mother’s voice tell them they had to stay in front of the house if they wanted to go out to play. Why do children never do what they are told to do?
I woke up feeling a strong tap on my shoulder, as if someone was in the room with me, even though there was nobody there. The room felt as if it was full of ghosts and they all wanted my attention.
The clock flashed 1.50am. I jumped up, turned on the light and grabbed my mug of water from the table, gulping it down greedily. Outside the Tenderloin erupted in chaos and violence. Screams of the destitute, yells of the saints of the perpetually furious, mechanical noise of smashing metal, revving engines and the destruction of the City around me provided the soundtrack for hell, as the tears fell down my face. I want to save everybody. I want to save all of them. I want to stop the pain and the suffering and the evil from happening. I want to exorcise the horror from my brain. I wonder why me, me who has never hurt a soul, never raised her fist in anger, sometimes has these terrible nightmares and I can’t stop them from happening. There is poetry in the violence and the suffering, and perhaps by writing it out I can neuter it, transform it, control it. Stop it.
I wonder what tapped me on the shoulder, waking me from one nightmare into another. It felt like chaos made real – not bad, not good, simply neutral. The sky looks different today. The day and night are gradually merging into one dangerous dream here in the City. The barriers are breaking down between the day people and the night people, between this world and that. My dreams are full of mundane horror. No stylish switchblades, no stylized artfulness, just mundane terrible destruction of innocence. The shadow from my dream is following me, like a petulant child, like Rimbaud staring out from that photograph, wild and terrible, free to destroy and free to create: free to tap me on the shoulder and tear Void Doors off hinges and leave them shattered in the Big Nothing. Perhaps that is the task in hand, to be free. Free of it all and move forward from this point sinuous like a live wire, transmitting the suffering that other people cause.
The tissue lays bloody on my pillow. My hands are swollen. My body is on fire. Sometimes I feel as if I could wriggle free of it all and walk off into The Void to set about fixing that door. That tear in the fabric is where the light gets through. The light is not always a safe thing to let loose.