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Winter 2008

A Borrowed Dream

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Javier Marías

Although I'm no great fan of people telling you their dreams, especially when characters in a novel or a film do so — why are they telling me this, I wonder, if it's only a dream and we're in the middle of a fiction anyway — today, I'm going to tell you about a dream told to me by my oldest brother, Miguel.

He had the dream five days after the death of our father, who took his leave of this world on December 15, 2006, at around ten o'clock in the morning. When Miguel described the dream to me, I sensed in his account some of his professional and private obsessions, because, although he's an economist, he's best known as a film critic, and I was aware in his description of various "influences": Lubitsch (Heaven Can Wait), Powell and Pressburger (A Matter of Life and Death), Mankiewicz (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, one of my all-time favorites), and even Capra (It's a Wonderful Life). Anyway, in the dream, Miguel saw our mother, who died in the early hours of December 24, 1977, sitting on a bench in La Dehesa, which is the name of the pretty park in Soria, a city where we spent many a childhood summer. My father came strolling along one of the avenues and stopped in front of her; sitting on her knee was our brother, Julianín, the oldest of the five brothers, who died on June 25, 1949, at the age of three and a half, except that in the dream he didn't actually appear to Miguel (who was the only one of us to have known him) in physical or corporeal form; he was simply there unseen. And then my mother addressed these playful words of reproach to my father: "Honestly, Julián," she said, "fancy taking nearly twenty-eight years to get here. Do you have any idea what it's been like, alone all this time with a three-year-old? Come on, you hold the little inquisitor for a while and be in charge of answering his questions. You know what children his age are like, they never stop asking questions, why this and why that. He's quite worn me out." My father picked up the ethereal child in that awkward way so familiar to us four surviving brothers, Miguel, Fernando, Álvaro, and myself, rather as if someone had placed in his hands a pile of plates and he could find nowhere to put them down. Anyway, he tried to justify his delay by saying: "I meant to come much sooner, almost straightaway, but you know how it is, Lolita, one thing leads to another, and there were books to write, and people kept pestering me to do this and do that. So up until now, I simply haven't had a chance." As with Julianín, my parents were both the age they had been when they died, so my mother, who in life had been a year older than my father, appeared in the dream with her sixty-five years and my father with his ninety-one years. "It's odd, isn't it," said our mother, "now I'm much younger than you are. And don't worry, I know what you're like, always in such a hurry when it comes to your own affairs, but with all the time in the world when it's someone else."

It was several nights since he'd had the dream, and Miguel could really only remember snippets, but apparently my father reported to my mother what had happened in her absence and, she, quite contradictorily, on the one hand, listened to him with great interest, and on the other, kept telling him that she knew all about it already ("Don't go thinking I don't know what's been going on"). "There's only one thing I would reproach you with," she said, smiling, "the fact that none of the boys is religious." I don't know about my brothers' beliefs, because we never talk about such personal matters, but it might be true, because I understand there were some mutterings among certain pious, gossipy friends of my father's when, at the two masses held after his death, none of us went up to take Communion. And my parents, of course, were believers. "Maybe," he said, "but they've all turned out pretty well." "And you could have done more to persuade Javier to get married" was my mother's second, mocking reproach. "Well, he's always been a bit of a butterfly in that respect, as you know, and although it's not quite the same thing, he does seem to have paired up with someone now, a very pleasant, cheerful woman, whom I met in fact." "Several of the grandchildren are paired up too," said my mother, determined to needle him a little more, "but not one of them is married." To which our father responded incongruously and untruthfully: "Well, the thing is, you see, only homosexuals get married nowadays," to which our mother, very well-informed on her park bench, retorted: "Don't tell such fibs. Homosexuals can and do get married, it's true, but so can anyone else who cares to."

As often happens in dreams, the scene was a mixture of verisimilitude — of domesticity almost — and the absurd. It amused me to find my father slightly caught on the hop, although for no real reason, poor man, and that he should agree with her that he had delayed far too long in coming to join her. I'm not, in fact, religious, but I do love movies, and I particularly like the movies I mentioned earlier and other similar ones that feature ghosts or people who continue to feel engaged with what's going on in the world they've left behind, and so I found my brother's dream at once amusing and consoling. There is, after all, a territory — if I can call it that — in which all three, my father, my mother, and Julianín, are gathered together, and not just in the same tomb: all three are now the past, a memory, and that, at least, they share in common. And when you think about it, being the past doesn't seem so very dreadful: it's a time, or possibly a place, full of interesting people, as well as some who are much loved.

(Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa)

Javier Marías is the author of A Heart So White, All Souls, Your Face Tomorrow, and numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction. His translator, Margaret Jull Costa, also translates José Saramago, Bernardo Atxaga, Teolinda Gersão, and other Portuguese and Spanish writers.

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