I had a dream last night. But Emmot did too, and hers was much stranger; Margery and Constance and I all agreed. I heard it from Emmot at noon, when Maud sent me back to Baker’s, again, for having brought home the wrong kind of bread. I was sore angry, for it’s only Maud’s fussiness that makes the bread wrong. But it did give me the chance to hear Emmot’s dream.

Emmot said: “I dreamed I was in a house, like a lord’s house, only small. There was a window glass, clear as water, and outside snow was falling. But inside it was like summer, though there was never a fire or torch. And such furniture — and everywhere soft pillows.

“Then they brought out strawberries, and oranges — though it was dead winter! — and told me I might have all I wished. And oh, I haven’t said, but there were books in every room. And all the people all had gold and silver on their arms and hands.

“And then… Is this not the strangest part? I asked them who kept the rooms for them, and who did all the cooking. And they said: ‘In this house we have no servants. And everyone has gold and silver, Emmot, and books, and a warm room. And oranges in winter. Even you.’”

“Was it not a strange dream?” she said again. And we all nodded, and went away thinking; or at least I did.

As for my own dream… well, last night I dreamed that my mother was alive again, and the baby too: his face looked like Father’s. My mother laughed and said how tall I had got, and like a woman. She stroked my hair, and said: “Don’t be afraid, my Mariot: I know your secret fear, but put it aside. I shall watch over you, and be your midwife and physician at need, so you and your children will live.”

You see how ordinary my dream was. Who doesn’t see her mother when she’s asleep? I know Emmot does too, and Margery. (Constance still has her own mother, but she’s supposed to be due again in the summer, so we will see.)

My dream was not like Emmot’s. Mine was just commonplace; it had no mystery about it, and none of that strange feeling dreams can give you about how there could be a different world, or what things might be like otherwise. So I know there is no point thinking or talking about it any more.

I don’t remember the stairs down, or grabbing my coat, or going out, but I’m part of the procession now. Masked and singing, we walk in a line through the snow. We sing the song that I’ve been hearing in my head since I first put on the mask a few weeks ago, the words that came clearer as the solstice approached.

Repeated for hours, the words become nonsense, then seem to mean something else. My fellow marchers are blurred as if by tears, no matter how much I blink, and there are no tracks in the snow but my own and the drummer’s. After a mile or two, I realize I’ve forgotten my name, and every other memory that isn’t about the mask or the procession is a distant as a dream lost on waking. The wind blowing the drummer’s clothes shows he’s skeleton thin. He grins with all his teeth.

I keep singing, even though I don’t know how much sound makes it past my scarf, which is pulled up over my freezing nose. The ghost-wind stings my eyes and there are frozen clumps of tears along the bottom of my mask. If I don’t keep singing, I know they’ll find me in a snowbank when the spring melt comes, and I wonder if that’s who the rest of the marchers are–recipients of the same mask, who sang and marched until the winter overcame them, and can’t help but come back to walk the longest night.

I can’t stop singing the words that are pulled out of me in an unending thread. And I’m running because I can see the sun’s glow, and I keep running, because the procession will end when it’s up, but the sun gets halfway over the horizon, then I swear it’s going down again, and there are hills, each valley a pocket of night, but we charge up the next incline hoping the sun will be higher, and I can’t tell, it should be up by now, I keep running, and then, at the crest of one hill, it’s the moon, not the sun, and I don’t know how many hours we still have to go. The beat of my heart, and the beat of the drum in time with it, slows back to marching. My feet are stumps of ice.

The drummer drums. I march.

The drummer grins. I sing.

(Continued tomorrow with “In the Bleak Midwinter.”)

“Jordan! Did you pick the cat up from the vet ?” he looked startled, then guilty, then pushed the door shut with his foot. Sounded like she was in the kitchen. That meant it had been a hard day for her, which was always bad news.

“Uh, no. I forgot. I’ll do it tomorrow.” He rolled his eyes, then headed for the kitchen.

“Tomorrow is Saturday. They’re closed on the weekend. You can’t get her till Monday, which is a holiday. So you can’t get her till Tuesday. That’s 75 bucks room and board. I’m getting just a little tired of this.” She was wearing her “get out!” apron and holding a spatula. Batter dripped onto the floor.

“In fact,” she continued, “I am tired of it.” Donna picked Jordan up and dropped him in her purse, which stood open on the table.

Inside, Jordan fell a considerable distance, landing heavily on a red compact. He sat up, rubbing the back of his head. There was a sizable amount of room, far more than he had expected. In the dim light and he saw keys, lipstick, a pencil stub, crumpled pieces of paper, and other things not immediately identifiable. Then he noticed the people. A couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their starched shirts looking a bit rumpled; someone who might have been a repair man or meter reader; a cop; a couple of teenage boys; a well-built young woman with a head full of red ringlets. No wonder he hadn’t been able to get her on the phone.

“Oh wow, Gloria! How long have you been in here?”

“Since the day you cheated on Donna, but told me you weren’t seeing anyone.”

Jordan reached for her shoulder, but she stepped back “Get your hands off me. I think you’ve done enough already. I just thank God we used a condom.”

Jordan let his arm fall to his side and looked away to avoid Gloria’s glare. He noticed four guys slumped around a card table in the shadows. “Who are they?”

Other former boyfriends. She sure can pick ‘em.”

“What do you–? Oh.” Jordan closed his mouth, and they stared at each other.

Darkness fell with a snap.

“What’s going on?” Jordan cried, unable to keep panic entirely out of his voice.

“Brace yourself.”

Jack stepped out of the elevator at the penthouse floor and walked confidently into the middle of a corporate emergency. He didn’t have a clue why they wanted his help, but what else was new?
A twentysomething in a tailored grey suit, her sandy blond hair pulled into a perfect, tight bun, red-framed glasses clearly for info augmentation not vision, moved to block his advance.
“Excuse me,” she said. “You are?”
“Jack Kamata. You pinged me.”
She waited for her glasses to verify his identity, then nodded and turned to walk away, giving Jack a view of even more perfect, tight buns.
He stared, even as she turned to him again to ask: “How up-to-date is your understanding of international currency arbitrage?”
“Don’t know a thing about it.”
“Perfect,” Tight Buns said. “Come with me.”
“Gladly.” He resisted the urge to spank her as he followed, and settled instead for digitally undressing her.
A brief history of Jack:
- Age 18, 1st job: pizza delivery dude
- Age 34, 57th job: water ionizer salesman
- Age 37, 69th job: perspective consultant
He had never held a job for more than a few months, but he thought “perspective consultant” might work out. He wasn’t stupid or inept, rather easily bored, easily distracted, liked to move to different cities, and had more than a passing obsession with the ladies. The poster child for 21st century drifting. In a time where everyone was so highly specialized, he’d become valuable for his lack of deep knowledge about anything.
He sat in the board room and listened as words and concepts that meant nothing to him were bandied back and forth. When it came his turn to speak, he told the room, from his outsider’s perspective, what seemed right to him. Another job, another thousand bucks, and Tight Buns was quite pleased, which got him a keycard to her apartment, and an official unraveling of her hair.
Post-coitus was business-like for her, Jack-like for him.
“You were great,” she said. “Seriously, Jack. I thought you weren’t good at anything.”
“Well,” he said, “maybe one thing.” Then: “Why are you looking at me like that?”
She stared at him with a smirk on her lips, then zapped him her résumé.
A brief history of Tight Buns:
- Age 21, Accounting degree, Columbia
- Age 23, Harvard MBA
- Age 24, US Department of Purposeful Living
“We hate people like you,” she said. “Really, we do. If it’s any consolation, you made it to number 3 on our most wanted list. Quite the star. We really thought you might have no skills at all.”
“Wait just a minute,” Jack said.
“But I guess there is something you can put on your résumé,” she said. “I’ll post my reference.”
“Fuck,” Jack said. It was like a kick in the teeth. He was now certified for real work. Reluctantly, he pulled up a list of available gigolo jobs.
“Can you give me a lift to the unemployment office?”

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