The Royal Road
This is my response to my own prompt in the Prose Challenge forum: an attempted seduction. It can be either successful or unsuccessful.
“You can go through now, Mr Beresford.” She said it in that artificial over-cheerful tone that seems universal among secretaries and receptionists. Nevertheless I knocked once and waited for a muted “Come!” before gently opening the impressive mahogany door and letting myself in.
Dr. Ellams, or Rita as I preferred to think of her, looked up from the folder that after half a dozen visits I could immediately identify as my case notes and gave me a smile that made my heart flutter. “Good to see you again, Oliver. Do sit down.”
I must be professional about this, I told myself, must keep a respectful distance. She is my analyst and I am her patient. I must try not to think about her in any other context. Or at least not make it too obvious that I am. She waited for me to settle.
“How have you been since our last meeting?”
“Well…” I hesitated, “no real change, I’m afraid.”
“Do you have more dreams to tell me about?”
“Just two.” I shifted in the seat to extract a small notebook from my inside jacket pocket.
“Good. I hope you’re still writing them down immediately The moment you waken. Details fade very quickly and they can be important.” I nodded. “Let me hear the new ones first. Then I’ll try to guide you through a bit of interpretation.”
I opened my notebook, flicked through to the correct page, and began. “I’m walking through a gloomy village street at twilight. The same one as before. No moon, no street lighting. No lights in the windows. Like a deserted film set, or a ghost town.”
“Are there any other people about?”
“What about animals?” I shook my head. “Trees?”
“Yes, tall dark trees along the pavement, hiding the sky – except for occasional patches. Just like before.”
“Not that I remember. I’m hurrying along. I need to get to somewhere. I don’t know why. I know that I haven’t much time.” Rita looks concerned and nods. I can tell that she’s listening very carefully. “The road rises in the distance. I’m leaving the village and getting out into open country. There are hills, and fields with dim shapes in them. Maybe haystacks or bales of crops. Something like that. And the road is rising more and more steeply.”
“Is it a straight road?”
“I think so. Fairly straight. It gets steeper and steeper. I’m finding it quite difficult to walk now. I’m slowing down.”
“Are you trying to get away from someone or something?”
“No, I don’t think so. The very opposite in fact. I’m trying to get to somewhere or something before it’s too late. I’m hurrying towards something, not away from something.” I paused and turned the page. “And now I can see what it is that I’m trying to get to. There’s a little patch of whiteness at the top of the hill. Just a smear of white at first, but as I get nearer to it I can see that it’s a figure. A figure wearing a white cloak of some kind, with its back to me.”
“What do people in white clothes suggest to you? Generally, I mean?”
“Scientists. Doctors. Lab technicians.”
“Okay. Carry on.”
“The figure is too far away for me to make out very much, whether its male or female or how tall it is. And the road is getting more and more steep. I’m having to slow down, I know that I’m not going to get there in time.
“Then, something really surreal happens. I’m just getting close enough to see the figure clearly, and it isn’t wearing a white cloak at all. It’s got white wings! The figure is an angel with folded wings. And just as I realise this the wings open and the angel flies away, straight up into the night sky. It’s a glowing white angel! And then I waken up.”
I stopped and put my finger into the notebook to keep my place. “That was it. The first dream. Do you want me to go on to the second one?”
Rita took longer than usual to reply. “May I talk to you for a few moments first? I’m sure you know that the classic interpreter of dreams was Sigmund Freud. He called dreams ‘the royal road to the unconscious’. He thought they were highly significant and he came up with a whole catalogue of very precise meanings and interpretations of what various things in dreams meant. His theories were largely discredited in the 20th century and the general view for a long time was that dreams were just random firings of neurons without any meaning. But in the last decade or two of the 20th century, and on into this one, the pendulum has been swinging the other way. The modern view is somewhere in the middle. We think that many dreams are random in content but that some, especially highly persistent or upsetting dreams like yours, must connect with reality in some way. But the only one competent to find that connection is the dreamer, you in this case. So may I ask you some questions before we go on?”
“I need to find out not what the elements of your dreams mean in any absolute sense but what they mean to you. For example, the dark deserted village has been a recurrent element. And it’s always somewhere you want to leave, to get away from to somewhere better, somewhere more desirable. Do you agree?”
“Yes indeed. It’s somewhere I dislike. Somewhere lonely and a bit frightening.”
“I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but bearing in mind what you’ve told me in previous sessions, would you say that your present lifestyle is something you dislike, something lonely that you would like to get away from? Even a bit frightening, perhaps?”
“Absolutely. It’s frightening because I don’t know how to change it. As you say, I want to get away from it. I’m anxious about the future. The two big relationships in my life have come to nothing, and I may not get another chance. I’m not young any more and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on my own.”
Rita smiled. “Very few people do. But I believe that these recurrent dreams may be an embodiment, a representation of those thoughts. Does that feel right to you?”
It was my turn to pause. “I think you may be on to something there.”
“And the angel,” she went on. “The figure in white. What do you think that might represent?”
“Rescue, I suppose. Salvation. Heaven. Something wonderful.” I hesitated. “Maybe I should tell you about the second dream. I think it might shed a bit of light on things. I’m beginning to understand it all a bit better now.”
“Fine. Go ahead.”
“I’m back on the same road, the dark road through the village. I’m not walking so quickly this time, and the street isn’t deserted. There are figures standing in darkened doorways and under the trees. Female figures. Each woman is on her own – they’re spaced out almost evenly, both sides of the road, about fifty paces apart, just standing and watching me go by.”
“What are they wearing?”
“I didn’t make a note, but it was nothing special. Just regular clothes. A bit formal I think. Long skirts. Dark colours that looked grey in the dim light.”
“Do you walk past them all?”
“For a while I just walk slowly past them, then I decide to go up to one of them and talk to her. But as I approach she turns her back. I don’t get to see her face. It’s obvious that she doesn’t want to talk so I leave her and cross the road to talk to another of them. Same thing. As I draw close she turns around and I don’t see her face either. I don’t give up, I try again and again, but every one of the women I approach turns away.”
“How do you feel about it?”
“Hurt, I suppose. Rejected.”
“Is that something you often feel when you’re awake?”
“Well, yes. You know it is. I’ve told you about the singles bars, the speed dating, the online dating sites. I seem to have lost whatever social skills I once had. People meet me once, they’re polite but they seem to get bored very quickly and never want a second date. I get tongue-tied and say stupid things. I’ve completely lost it. I don’t know how to start a relationship any more. I live in a city of ten million people and I feel as isolated as if I was a hermit in a cave in the desert. You know that.”
“So – how does this dream end?”
“It ends with the angel again. This time she’s one of the women. I spot her from the other side of the street and realise that’s who it is. She’s facing me this time, and she’s all in white, including her wings. I can see them behind her shoulders. I stop and stare at her. I’m almost afraid to approach her because I don’t want her to go away again. I think she’ll turn and fly away if I approach her. But I do anyway. I cross the road towards her very very slowly. She doesn’t turn away. I’m walking at a real snail’s pace, dragging my feet. I go right up to her. She stays there. I’m walking so slowly I can hardly balance. I’m shaking all over, so scared that she’ll fly away.”
“So this time you see her face?”
“Yes…I suppose I do.”
“Describe it to me.”
I hesitated. “I don’t think I can.”
She put down her notes and looked at me with an unusual intensity. We held eye contact for a long time. Then her face softened into a smile. We both knew what it was that I couldn’t bring myself to say. The pause was becoming uncomfortable. At last she broke the silence. I had never heard her speak so quietly and intimately before. “You’re my last patient this afternoon. Would you like to continue this conversation while we walk in the park? It’s a beautiful day. And then perhaps over dinner?”
And now Rita is in my arms, her head nestled comfortably in the crook of my shoulder, her clothes neatly folded on one of the two bedside tables, my own flung carelessly on top of the other. We are both quite spent. We smile at one another foolishly and I kiss her forehead.
“That was the most amazing and complete cure I’ve ever had, Doctor,” I whisper in her ear. “Where did you learn that therapeutic technique?”
“I think it was before I went to medical school,” she explains, “on a pile of sleeping bags in the back of 1995 Ford Transit van.”
“Well it was a fine introduction to human psychology.”
“I know. I’ve heard it agued that there’s very little more to understand about the psychology of the human male. But there’s something still bothering me.”
“Really? Nothing whatsoever bothering me. It’s a long time since I’ve been less bothered than I am now.”
“No, I’m serious. I have an instinct for when people aren’t telling me everything, and I’m pretty sure there’s something that you’re holding back from me right now.”
I don’t reply.
“I mean it, Oliver. There’s some very significant detail that you haven’t told me, and I don’t mean about the angel looking like me. There’s something else. What is it, Oliver? Please tell me. I’m your analyst – remember? And I don’t shock easily.”
I struggle with my conscience, underdeveloped as that psychic faculty is in my own particular case. “Rita,” I say at last, “there are some things that a person just can’t talk about. Please try to understand. Let me keep that one tiny part of myself fenced-off. It’s important to me.”
“Not a healthy attitude, Oliver. Things we keep bottled-up always come back to hurt us.”
“No, this one won’t, I promise. Please, indulge me. You’re very clever to have picked it up but it’s something that I can never talk about.”
“Oh all right. But I’m really intrigued now. Maybe some day – when we’re an old married couple?”
“Is that a proposal?”
“Not quite, but I’m not ruling it out.”
“Neither am I.” I kiss her gently on the lips and she responds enthusiastically. She is indeed an angel, better than that, a goddess. But I know that I can never tell her that one missing detail whose existence she has somehow sniffed out. How can I admit to her that I am one of those people who sleeps like a rock, that I have never to the best of my knowledge had a dream of any kind since the day I was born?
You’re a week early, David! 🙂
Am I? Oh dear. I think two of us made the same mistake. Oh well. Press on.
Ho ho ho, very cute! My only reservation was I felt them getting together was rather sudden and not entirely credible. Throughout, we are painted a picture of an unattractive man, unsuccessful in relationships, why should she fall for him so easily? I appreciate you could possibly give me reasons, but that’s not the point.
Maybe you overlooked who the narrator was, and his standards of honesty. It was not I who painted the portrait that was displayed before you.
Thanks for the comment.
I have to agree with Griff, that it seemed unlikely that this would happen – I thought that perhaps it was a dream thinking about dreams, or that the secret was maybe a bit devious, so perhaps expected something a bit more stand-out at the end (“twist” would be the wrong word). Unless I missed the point, that is! Credible dialogue and structure.
Well, Griff commented that their getting together was sudden, but in fact we don’t know the length of the delay between the therapy session and the bedroom scene, but I suppose if it seems sudden that is a defect. It’s supposed to be about a seduction, and his way of going about this was to deceive his therapist by lying about non-existent dreams and winning her interest and sympathy. We don’t really know anything about his real past. He tells her that the two big relationships of his life came to nothing (another sympathy-grabbing gambit perhaps) but we have no… Read more »