Monday, September 5, 2022


If Dreams Had Names

It might be called "Bleak House."

I was a young man, just recently out of college.  It was mid-morning of New Year's Day.  I had spent the eve of the day drinking heavily with friends.  That was the usual attempt at manufacturing conviviality and, as usual, it had failed.  I did not connect with anyone, and I was left with a hangover and only faceless memories of the party.

I had not lived in or even seen my family home in some time, but it was clear that I was to be left to live there indefinitely from the start of the new year for lack of alternatives, for lack of funds.

My parents expected me home no later than 2AM.  I had not phoned them to tell them that I would be late.  They would be worried.  I felt guilty about this.  They were old and rather fragile emotionally.

And so I trudged up Cottage Park Road in Winthrop with my sister Denise at my side.  (She had not been at the party and she was soon to disappear from the dream.)  We both remarked that all of the houses on the street had changed, not only to become more ramshackle, but also in fundamental, structural ways, but without recourse to anything that could be called "renovations" or "updating."  Our own house now presented from the street, on our right near the top of the hill, as a big rambling farmhouse with an "Addams Family" demeanor.

In the event, my parents were nowhere to be found inside the house, but it was teeming with Irish immigrant relatives, mostly distant, who appeared to be squatting there for as long as they would be tolerated.  They were dirty and ill-dressed.  They spoke either Irish or an impenetrable English.  

I first encountered the relations in the bathroom area, which was eccentric in the extreme.  As everywhere in the house, the walls were stained a dark brown.  The room was shaped in a circle roughly ten foot across; it had no square walls.  Within the circle was a second, tiny circle in which there were two toilets, back to back and separated only by a low wall.  In fact, the walls of the inner circle were in such disrepair that I could catch glimpses of parts of two women who were "doing their business" back to back.  

The rest of us waited impatiently for our turn.  There were probably six of us in the larger room.  I was more or less pressed, face to face, with two fairly young Irishmen in particular.  Both had what I took to be pencil moustaches, but on closer examination they turned out to be matching thin streaks of dirt on the upper lip.

This was the penultimate scene.  In the last, I was standing in the living room of the house.  Everyone else -- ten or so -- was seated on the floor.  This was what passed for a holiday party it seemed, but there were no refreshments; there was only heavily muted conversation.  Everyone ignored me but for one bespectacled woman in her thirties sitting nearly at my feet, who openly welcomed me.  I said "hello to everybody" in so many words, but no one else responded or even looked my way.  I was, I suppose, the master of the house in my parents' absence, but I was all but invisible nevertheless among the squatters.

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