Iím awakened by the telephone. Itís Sheila. Sheís 32, no body fat, slim and muscular as a gymnast, bisexual, a Unix administrator with a love/hate relationship with machines. On weekends, she dances at the Scarab--a gay bar in Reading. When Dawn and I were mutual, she was a mutual friend. Now, sheís just a friend.
"I saw Dawn the other day. She asked how you were doing."
"What did you tell her?" I ask.
"Well, I said you were doing all right but that you were spending too much time on the computer."
"How is she? I canít believe sheís living with that well-known asshole, Russ Keller."
"Dawnís OK, I guess. I think she really misses you. But she seems to like Russ/Rose a lot too. He... sheís really changed alot... since she started taking hormones. Heís got bigger tits than me and doesnít shave anymore. Dawn says he hasnít been able to have an erection since they met... Theyíre saving up for the operation."
"Seems like a hell of a long way to go for a girlfriend. I mean, Dawn could have picked up a real woman in a bar, if thatís what she wanted," I say.
I feel compelled to acknowledge this strangeness as if it is all very familiar and acceptable to me.
"I think Dawn is into the whole transformation thing. She talks about Rose like she was her new hero, Ē says Sheila.
"Iím sure he... or she... whatever... Iím sure they have a dominant/submissive relationship," I say.
"Why do you think that.?"
"Since Dawn left, Iíve gone over all the details of our relationship. And the submissive thing is the only fantasy she ever shared with me. She wanted me to tie her up, once. But I had a problem with it... felt like violence to women or something."
"Itís hard to see that in her. She seems so fierce and independent now."
"Yeah, independent of me, anyway."
"I guess youíre not really getting past the hurt, are you?"
"We had a very deep thing. It felt like more than a marriage. It was psychological, spiritual... a bond that seemed eternal to me. I never imagined it would end."
"Well, she does still talk about you like she cares. Maybe itís not over with her either... What else is going on over there? I heard from James Carroll that you were seeing Kay Haring. Isnít she married?
"Yeah. Kay invited me over to their place for dinner. It was weird, since it was our old house. Her husband, Ralph, has changed it a lot. Kayís agreed to meet with me occasionally to help me out with my book. Weíve been listening to my tapes of Keith."
"Thatís fantastic. I checked out the first two chapters on the Web. It seems really deep--the stuff about your dreams, and all your memories. Is that the project you and Keith were working on... or is it something else? Itís hard to tell from the first two chapters."
"Itís continuing the project without Keith. What we envisioned was an all-encompassing thing... like a collaborative art/life/death thing. And thatís what itís turning into. His death was like an ultimate contribution .... Then the dreams started happening on their own. I just started following it out from there."
Every time I talk about this, it seems Iím figuring it out as I speak.
"Way out. What happens when you get up to the present?"
"Every time it gets close, something strange occurs. The first time, when Dawn left, it threw me into a tailspin. I just spent the first few months listening to tapes. I wrote some stream-of-consciousness stuff about Keith and my grandfather. Now, the dreams seem to be taking over, pushing me beyond my limits of understanding. Iím writing about my life now, about my human contacts--you and Kay and Mimi."
"You mean our talks are part of your book?"
"Yeah, Iím looking for someone to help me with some sex scenes. You interested?"
"You know Iíd have to talk to Tony about that, Art. Whoís Mimi?"
"A married... or soon-to-be-separated woman I met on American Line. Her name is Annamarie. All Iíve ever seen is a picture she sent, but I think Iím in love."
"Hey Art, the real world is out there, donít forget about that. You could meet a flesh and blood person, you know. Computer stuff is silicon, electrons, ones and zeros."
"I think itís kind of unreal too. But then, you know, whatís real, anyway? I used to think that about dreaming but Iíve changed my mind about that too."
"Too much, Artie. Iím gonna go put some rivets in my canoe. I think whatís real is getting water in your boat on a ten-mile lake in the middle of nowhere. Weíre going on a trip to the Adirondacks next week. Want to come along?"
"No thanks, Sheila. Mimi and I have a meeting planned for then--in real life."
"Take care, Art. Wouldnít it be better to wait until she gets divorced or something? It seems to me Iíve heard some stories about you and jealous husbands before."
"Yeah, jealous husbands, jealous boyfriends, Iím kind of used to Ďem."
"Anyway, would you like me to pass on any message to Dawn?"
"Whatís to lose, Sheila? Tell her I miss her. Itís the truth."
I hang up. Light a cigarette. Iím trying to recall the details of the dream I was having before Sheila called. I remember it was a lucid dream and reach for my notebook. Before I get very far with it though, the phone rings again.
"Art? Itís Kay. Can you meet me at Mouldey Forest, in the first parking lot, near the Visitorís Center?"
"Sure, Kay. I guess. Why canít I just stop by at your house?"
"Ralph is home."
"I donít feel very comfortable having you come over here right now."
"Well, maybe itís not a good time then..."
"Listen, Art. You said you wanted to see me again, about Keith."
"OK. Mouldey Forest--by the Visitorís Center. I can be there in half an hour."
"Good I sometimes run out there. Iíll wear my running suit."
"Whatever, Kay. Iíll see you at 11:30."
Obviously, thereís a problem. Yeah well, thatís marriage....
The drive to Mouldey is uneventful, my thoughts are racing though. Last nightís dream keeps bubbling up and then submerging again. Iím thinking about Kay, too. During the times Iíve been with her, sheís seemed both distant and yet, strangely available. It was her decision to become some part of my life. But every time Iíve attempted to get closer, her guard goes up. I feel apprehensive about what will transpire.
Within minutes, the mist-shrouded woods of Mouldey appear. Itís a rugged evergreen world apart from the rolling--mostly deciduous--Appalachian farmland surrounding it. On an off-season day like this, easing into the parking lot feels like being the first person to arrive at wilderness camp.
Kayís white Subaru pulls up beside me. Sheís out the door and walking up the path before I can put out my cigarette. Her Lycra running suit is skin-tight, bright purple, and seems way out of place in this arboreal refuge.
She motions me toward her. I follow up the winding path. Itís strewn with straw-dry pine needles and new fallen leaves.
"Nice to see you again, Kay. Thanks for the opportunity."
She smiles and stands wordless before me. It occurs to me how much she resembles Keith. Her slightly rounded shoulders and relaxed body language must be a family trait. The pools of liquid soulfulness that are her eyes are Keithís eyes, through and through. Since she has not yet spoken, I fix my gaze on her eyes. It feels like falling through an endless sky-blue vortex. It felt that way always, when I gazed at her brother.
"I knew Iíd have to see you soon, Art. Iím sorry itís so... pressured."
"Whatís the story? Whatís the deal with Ralph?"
"Ralph is very jealous. Not of you so much... but of anything having to do with Keith. I canít really explain it. But heís possessive in the extreme and very... insecure. I probably wonít be able to see you again, like this."
"You know, Kay, none of this is making any sense. But youíre saying it, so...to tell you the truth, I've been struggling with the way I see and feel Keith's presence when I am with you...and thinking about what happens if I fall in love with you."
"That can not happen, Art."
"I know. That's why I said it."
Surrounded by the climax forest, we move quietly now. Although we are walking through an earthly paradise, a feeling of isolation overwhelmes me. I can hear twigs break, leaves crack underfoot. I sense Kay's mood turning more serious and deliberate. Moving farther from my side, she turns to address me directly.
"The reason I wanted to see you again in the first place was that I had a dream concerning you and Keith. I had avoided you--like the rest of the family. I just canít give you a reason why we were doing it. Itís just that after he died, the lawyers and the foundation and the family were very much at odds over issues of controlling the estate. I think we saw you as a wild card, someone we couldnít control. The others are still bound up in that."
"I figured as much. Iíve gotten no cooperation from anyone. So anyway, tell me about your dream."
"I see my position in the family as the one who was always closest to my brother--in age and point-of-view. I always understood his actions, even when no one else could. Iíd been gradually pulling away from the politics and in-fighting of the foundation... and then, last year, I had this really remarkable dream in which Keith was telling me to approach you with his desire to carry on your project."
"This is weird already, Kay. The whole thing seems to be taking place in dreams. Mine, Dawnís, yours. Do you normally believe in stuff like this?"
"You know, there was nothing Ďnormalí about Keithís whole life, Art."
"Right. He was a spiritual force for everybody he came in contact with."
"People reacted to him based on their own preconceptions," she says. "Our mother is very traditional, her religious beliefs are dogmatic. For a long time it was war in the house over Keith. We all took sides in the conflicts, based on what was going on at the moment with him."
"So you had this dream and thatís when you decided to contact me. And now?"
"Both Ralph and I have been swept up in the pages of notes and transcripts youíve given me. What you two were doing is different from anything else thatís been done."
"That was the idea. It was the whole reason for the project."
"In the dream, Keith said he was trying to contact you by your other name... it didnít work... I said your name is ĎArtí now. He said that wasnít the only problem. He said something about a farm and an old man who had died... that was it."
Iím standing in the midst of Mouldy Forest on a windy October morning, looking into the liquid eyes of Keithís sister. My eyes are filling up with tears. She has no idea....
"Art, what are you feeling?"
Sometimes, I wish I would have died, instead of your brother. Iíve wished it often. I hate this. Itís macabre and it never ends."
Keithís words come back to me like a cold wind:
"Nothing dies. It all just goes in circles."