One of the great pleasures of winter is to look in on homes through lit windows to the furniture and apparel of strangers, as you walk through empty neighbourhoods alone. Winter air has a particular quality which clarifies your sight as you gaze through the glass: it is like the spaces that make up the emptiness of a house have suddenly impressed themselves on reality’s surface. Lanterns made up of the distance between shelves and hallways hang into the night, patrolled by strangers. A boy in pajama pants drinks milk at the kitchen counter while his mother, seated on the couch, does something with her hands.
Last night I dreamed that I was running through a forest trail, a trail marked out by concrete barriers and lines of bright, industrial cord. Running was a struggle: I had started with two other people and I was either struggling to keep up or worried that I was so far ahead they would never find me.
I kept picking up iPhones that had fallen out of the loose pockets of other runners. They were gold, just like mine. I put them in my own loose pockets and kept running, wondering whether I would keep the phones or return them to their owners. Or whether I would lose them myself. The phones were always turned on, in the middle of typing a message, as if their owners were only slightly ahead of me on the trail, but I never saw anyone as I was running.
Earlier in the dream I was in a large house. I was living with someone else, a man. He was a family member but I’d never seen him before. A travelling salesman came to our door and tried to sell us six volumes of a famous book about the moon or about nature that I’d always wanted to read. I think it was Silent Spring, but Silent Spring if it also talked about planets and astrology. Aliens and existentialism too, maybe. It was clear to me that only the first two books were the book I wanted, which I knew could not be more than two volumes. The other four volumes were garbage editions of Shakespeare, size eight font, no line spacing. Possiby inconsistent scholarship.
The man who lived with me excitedly told me he was going to buy all six books. That we were receiving some kind of “deal.” I said that we would only purchase the first two books, at a slightly reduced price from the one the salesman—a junkie, to be honest—was offering. The salesman insisted that we take all six and that we pay full price. He might have even raised the price, saying he had more volumes of the book I wanted at home after I pointed out that the others were not Silent Spring.
I told the salesman to leave. He paused by a bookshelf and told me that I had some books that would do well on the antiquarian book market. He then remarked that one could easily break through the window on the front door. My brother or cousin told me we should just buy the books. I grabbed a broom and chased the salesman away, telling the man I lived with afterwards that sometimes we have to be firm to protect what we love, even if doing so is scary and against our nature. That if we give into our fear we only mark ourselves as targets to be stolen from later.
I don’t know what the dream meant, if anything. The man was one of the two people I had lost in the forest. You were the other runner, you or someone else. I saw you from a distance: receding behind me or charging ahead. I was alone when I woke up.