The art of dream interpretation has been practiced by people as long as we’ve been dreaming. Philosophers, scholars, poets and fools have all had their say, composing everything from exhaustive, meticulous dream dictionaries to texts as obscure as the dreams they’re trying to elucidate. For this reason, the question of how dreams should be interpreted has innumerable different, contradictory answers, and, unlike in most such cases, there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to determine expertise. In my humble opinion, for something almost everyone talks about, and does, quite frequently, it seems like we can’t agree on much about it at all.
You can imagine, then, that the act of dreaming, not to mention the process of reading those dreams, is complicated even more by the diabolically delicate and nuanced matrices which together compose the relationship between a Citizen Surveillant and the subject of his or her surveillance. E.G. myself and Zara. For this reason, I choose very early on to simplify matters by leaving the interpretation to others. When it comes to dreams, I just focus on the act itself.
That night Zara had another in her series of roaming appendage dreams. It seemed unremarkable at first, involving nothing more than a basic, sketchy outline of her home along with traces of the strange, thick fog that had made its first appearance earlier that night. Zara was sitting in the kitchen with a turkey dinner before her. She was alone. All the elaborate fixings were presented on exquisite sterling serving dishes: the cranberry sauce glistened in a small, cheery bowl; the gravy boat was anchored by the stuffing; the potatoes, both mashed and baked, stood guard by green beans which, smothered in butter and bacon bits, barely counted as a vegetable. The bird itself was enormous, beautiful, its skin smooth and golden brown. It was a meal the likes of which Zara had never actually seen. Or I, for that matter.
Zara’s eyes danced across the spread before her, and her stomach began to growl. It was not uncommon for Zara to dream about food, but even her subconscious rarely indulged in such an excessive display. She looked around the room, and called out a “hello” to make sure she was a lone, though she knew the answer. She looked down at the full set of silverware that had been laid out for her, and reached for the salad fork. But before her fingers could close around the polished metal instrument, her arm jerked back from her shoulder to the center of her back, leaving her hand empty, and, arm bent at the elbow, awkwardly sticking out to the side.
“Damn it,” she exclaimed.
Not one to back down from a challenge, Zara tried to grab the fork with her left hand, but it too rebelled, this one choosing a different direction: down. It traveled the length of her abdomen, ducked under the table, and disappeared. A moment later she could feel it wrapped around her legs and knew she’d been immobilized. Her right arm, meanwhile, had reached up over her head from behind and down to cover her eyes.
“Hey!” she yelled. “What the fuck! Help! Is anyone home!?”
“Wassup, girl,” she immediately heard. “Look like you could use a hand.” She knew right away it was Asseem.
“Yes! Asseem, thank god you’re here. Help me get these fucking things back in place.”
“Shit,” Asseem said. “I ain’t said I’s gonna help you. I just said it look like you need a hand.”
Before she could respond to this rude, sinister remark, Zara felt a soft but firm pressure on her left shoulder, just the spot her own arm had recently abandoned.
“What the heck are you doing?” she asked, frustrated.
“Now you can help y’own damn self,” Asseem said.
Then she felt it. Or rather, she felt with it. Her new arm groped blindly in front of her, upset a bowl, and landed her new fingers in the mashed potatoes. She dutifully grabbed a handful of the potatoes and began navigating the borrowed limb back to her mouth. The smells of the rich food filled her nostrils, and her stomach ached with hunger, but her new appendage was proving difficult to operate. It swayed and swerved, and the fingers clutched the food too tightly, causing the damp clump to ooze through her fingers and fall to table in dull, muffled thuds.
Losing food frustrated Zara, and she jerked the hand back out across the table, hoping for something more solid. She tried to remember the arrangement of things, but couldn’t picture what she’d seen. Trying to be careful, she moved the arm slowly. The arm, however, had a different agenda, and the moment it touched anything blitzed forward, spilling or toppling or otherwise pushing things out of reach. Meanwhile her own arms gripped her more and more tightly, making her legs begin to tingle, and her head begin to hurt. All this, and Zara began to feel a bit faint, a low blood sugar level exhaustion crawling through her body. If she didn’t eat something soon, she thought, she might pass out altogether.
Frantic, she forwent the slow approach and starting wildly grasping for anything she could find, but still came up empty handed. It was then that she noticed she could no longer smell the food she was trying to eat. She slammed her hand on what seemed now to be an entirely empty table, and began to sob. She felt certain she was on her death bed. Her stomach was making terrible noises. Her head was pounding. Her legs were asleep. It was at this moment when, in a panic exacerbated by rage, she realized what needed to be done. She needed to eat the hand. Zara exerted all the remaining willpower and strength she could summon, and brought the hand slowly, shakily toward her face. But it was putting up a significant fight, obviously knowing what she had in store for it, and as much as she pulled, it pushed. After what seemed like hours, she felt herself begin to weaken, and the hand, now clenched in a fist, inched away from her face. Zara began to cry.
Then, remarkably, the arm relaxed a small but noticeable degree. Right away Zara knew it was because of her tears. The arm was sympathetic! She almost laughed out loud at the discovery, but managed to keep her enthusiasm to herself, and keep the tears in a steady stream down her cheeks. The more she cried, the more the arm relaxed, until she finally felt the direction shift, and move in her favor. It came, almost imperceptibly, closer and closer, and she cried more and more, until it weakened enough that she knew she could overcome it in one, final, forceful pull.
Zara pulled with all her might, and at the exact same moment, the arm surrendered its fight, leaving the fist to careen at top speed toward her face, land directly at the gate of her open mouth, and knock her backward off the chair.
Zara woke up, having fallen out of bed, and moaned.
Jennifer, having heard the sound of Zara’s fall, poked her head in the door and exclaimed. “Are you alright, honey? What are you doing on the floor?”
Zara looked around the room, still shaking the sleep off.
“I’m hungry,” she said.
“Well get up and make yourself something to eat,” Jen responded. She showed no sign of the motherly role she’d played the night before, and though Zara had enjoyed it despite herself, this was a relief.
“Right,” she said. “As soon as learn how get out of bed the right way.”
“Oh, and Zara,” her mother added while walking back down the hall, “there’s a note for you on the kitchen table. It was on the doorstep this morning when your father left.”
Zara peeled herself up off the floor, and grabbed some clothes from a neighboring pile. She pulled a shirt over her head, briefly flashed on her dream, and pulled on a pair of stiff denim pants. She heard the front door slam. The house was empty.
The note on the kitchen was unsigned, but she could tell from the scrawl of her name on the front who’d written it. Zara figured he must still be pissed, which, had she thought about it, she would have expected. Still, it was the first letter Asseem had ever given her without handing it over in person. It was not a love letter.
She poured herself a large bowl of granola and began to read:
Change of plans. Get online and google a chat room called “Single Professionals Seeking Under-educated Partners Who Haven’t Been Taught to Expect Fair Treatment in Matters of The Heart.” Get an account and get someone to meet you offline, tonight. DO NOT TELL HIM ANYTHING. There’s a reservation for you at El Gaucho for 8. Dinner will be paid for so don’t sweat the bill. After dinner take the guy for a walk down on the water front. I’ll meet you there.
If you have any questions, figure it out. This is basically a free meal, so whatever.
P.S. Remember, do NOT tell him anything. Make shit up.
P.S.S. Don’t fuck this up.
“Nice,” Zara said. “Now he’s my pimp.”
She finished her cereal and poured herself another bowl. El Gaucho was a classy steak house just north of downtown, a strange and surreal time capsule containing a life that had long since become entirely unattainable for nearly everyone alive. It was a place Zara had only seen once, and it was only because she’d been snuck by one of the dishwashers once in exchange for a handjob. She’d just wanted a peek, and what she got was an eyeful. Plates piled with unreasonable amounts of food being brought to tables, and plates with equally unreasonable amounts of food left being taken away. She recalled describing it, later, to her mother (who, she also remembered with some distaste, had pressed her for the handjob story, which, to Zara’s dismay, she’d found much more interesting). Her mother had explained Bataille’s theory of potlatch economies, in which waste would often be a primary means by which individuals displayed wealth and established social hierarchy. Jennifer had then proceeded to draw a comparison between the food being thrown away and the semen dispensed by the dishwasher during the ritual of Zara’s invitation to participate, albeit in a purely passive way, in the potlatch economy of the restaurant.
“Mom, Jesus. Give it up,” Zara had said.
“Give it up? Apparently, dear,” her mother said with a wink, “that’s your job.”
It would have been slightly more tolerable if she’d meant it as a put down, rather than as praise. Full, Zara’s mind wandered off the topic of El Gaucho and on to that of the task at hand. She hadn’t used a computer for ages, and her parents”, she knew, was password protected. She considered the library, but there was always a waiting list for those machines, and since they were primarily used by the homeless they were usually disgusting, broken, or both. Could she figure out the password, she wondered? Her parents were often quite easy to read, and Zara half-expected it to be something idiotically crackable, like her namesake.
Zara went to her mother’s study, sat at the machine, and typed in “Zarathustra.” Less than a minute later she was filling in the online application to create an account at SweetSpot.com, where all her spots, it promised, would be sweetened. When it asked her to create a user name, she considered the category indicated by Asseem’s letter, and realized that her real name might not be very attractive for someone looking to meet someone they could emotionally dominate. What would be a suitable name? Something with absolutely no bite, no harsh or jarring sounds. She toyed with Teresa, but even the rigid strength of a “T”, she thought, might drive a man away. No, what she needed was a name no man would associate with mental capacity or emotional depth. She considered using her mother’s name, but couldn’t quite bring herself to it.
“You’re sick, chick,” she said, admonishing herself.
Then it came to her: the perfect name. She quickly typed it in, completed the application, and browsed to the chat room she’d been pointed to.
To her disappointment, there weren’t any other users currently logged in. She typed in “Hello?” just in case, and because she couldn’t think of what else to do. It was still morning, and it occurred to her that she’d have to wait until later that day, or even the evening, before anyone else would be online. She got nervous. What if her parents came home before she met someone? This was a stupid idea. Why had Asseem waited until the last moment to get her involved in this? Had someone else backed out? If so, why? Was there something sketchy about the situation she was overlooking? Something besides meeting a random man in a chat room that specifically catered to creep, and going out to dinner with him the very same night, that is.
Zara looked out the only window in the study. It was small, high, but south facing, and she could just make out the tip of Mt. Rainier in its dusty lower left corner. The sun was shining directly outside, but she saw storm clouds farther off, and wondered if her pleasant, perfectly harmless after-dinner walk along the water would be wet in all directions. This thought was interrupted just before she pictured running for cover by a barely audible, computer generated Bing. She looked at the monitor.
Jake says: Hey there, Helen.
Zara read the simple statement over and over. She realized she hadn’t thought about what, exactly, she was going to say to this person. What would someone named Helen have to say? Slowly, Zara began to type a response, and soon enough she and Jake were in dialogue. They actually wound up chatting for a couple hours. She would never have guessed it, but something about her absurd interaction with this man made her feel unaccountably good. He was rude, pompous, arrogant, and unintelligent. But he was completely attentive.
Helen says: Jake is a nice name, Jake.
Jake says: Thanks! I like it, too.
Helen says: Yeah. It reminds me of something–
Jake says: Me too! What does it remind you of?
Helen says: Uh– I’m not sure. Something really amazing?
Jake says: Exactly! You and I think really similar.
Helen says: I think you’re right.
Jake says: I think I’m right too! Ha! Get it?
Helen says: Oh! I see! Good one!
Jake says: I’m full of them, you’ll see.
Helen says: Well then you’re just the type of person I was hoping to meet.
Jake says: Same here, dollface.
Helen says: How do you know I have a dollface?
Jake says: Just a hunch. Maybe it’s your name.
Helen says: Well, would you like to find out for real?
Jake says: Wow, you move fast! I like that in a woman.
Helen says: I just think you seem pretty special. I’m not this– fast, most of the time.
Jake says: Helen?
Helen says: Yes Jake?
Jake says: I have a confession to make.
Helen says: You do?
Jake says: My name isn’t really Jake.
Helen says: It’s not? What’s your real name?
Jake says: Jack.
Helen says: Well, Jack, Jack is a very fine name, too.
Jake says: It is?
Helen says: It sure is.
Jake says: So, is Helen your real name?
Helen says: —
Jake says: Is that a yes or a no?
Helen says: Yes.