article by Dani Dumitriu|
A Midsommar Night's Dream
Tim came out of Holly crying inconsolably. He was a latecomer, two weeks past Holly's due date.
He was forced out by oxytocin and the doctor had to give him baby Valium, to calm him down.
As a reminder of his birth condition, Tim had a very unusual birthmark on his left cheek, two little moles
forming a tear about one inch below his eye.
Mostly, Tim's childhood was a blur, both to his family and to Tim himself. Only a small number of poignant
memories carried enough weight to remain with him through his growing pains. Tim's earliest recollection was
from the age of six. Unable to fall asleep one night, the sad little man walked around the house to see what
everyone else was doing. Finding his younger sister Sara and his older brother Michael both asleep in their
respective rooms, he stopped in front of his parents' double mahogany doors. He peeked through the crack;
they were leaning against each other, half-sitting and half-lying in bed, watching something. The screen was
hidden from his view, but he heard a baby shrieking in utter terror.
"It's as if he didn't want to be born, isn't it? Or he didn't want to be here...,"
Frank said more to himself than to his wife.
"Do you think he feels differently now?" Holly asked, she too speaking mostly to herself.
Frank didn't know and he sounded as utterly clueless now as when - his second son's cries having diverted him from the task of filming - he'd asked the doctor if it was really okay to give babies drugs to calm them down.
Tim started sobbing behind the cracked doors but his boy tears were completely drowned out by the baby's. Only when the sedatives ended the cries of the newborn did Holly and Frank become aware of their son's presence. Little feet scurried away and parental feet came thumping after. They tried to tell him that it had been the baby of one of Holly's patients, and that the baby was okay now. Tim didn't argue with them; he knew whose cries he'd just heard. He'd recognized his own desperation, the feeling of not belonging, of being suffocated by Michael's wits and Sara's charms. Holly and Frank never reprimanded Tim for not being on par with his siblings. Neither did they ever tell him they were proud of him, nor looked at him appreciatively, the way they looked at Michael when he'd win a science competition or at Sara after one of her vocal performances.
The next clue Tim had of his own origin came from around the age of eight. From behind the curtains, during one of his parents' dinner parties, Tim once heard a friend of his father's recite a poem about a soldier who dreamt that he was a butterfly, floating over fields of flowers. Upon awakening, the soldier wondered if he wasn't perhaps really a butterfly, dreaming he was a soldier. Something about the poem didn't sit right with little Tim; an overwhelming fear overtook him and he was unable to listen to the rest of the poem. He ran into his parents' bedroom and sat down, legs crossed, in front of the large mirror that was the sliding door to the their closet. He stared at himself and wondered if the other stared at him in the same way. If the he in the mirror too thought he was real. Then suddenly a realization paralyzed him: what if he was the one inside the mirror.
That night, Tim dreamt he was still in front of his parents' large mirror. On the other side was another him, playing with a wooden red horse that Tim couldn't remember ever owning. The other him was boisterous and alive, lifting the toy in the air, making train and car sounds, and talking gibberish in a loud, confident voice. The door opened behind the Tim in the mirror. Tim turned around. His door was still closed. He turned his attention back to the mirror. Tim's mom had come in. Except it wasn't Holly. She addressed the Tim in the mirror, and to Tim's surprise, she too spoke gibberish. The other Tim ignored her and continued playing, with even more fury than before. When his mom left, he finally put the toy down and - with a smirk Tim had never seen on his own face before - looked up at the mirror. Their eyes met, one pair leering, the other displaying the wide-open gaze of a robbed child. Before awakening from the horrible nightmare, Tim noticed one physical difference between himself and the one in the mirror: the other lacked the two little moles on the left cheek.
Aside from the few vivid memories of his own childhood, Tim remembered snapshots demonstrating his complete inconsequentiality in the family. Michael and Sara were tutored at home. Piano lessons, voice coaching, microscopes and telescopes, and there was always a nice Finnish or Russian au pair, who loved to spend time with Michael and Sara because they were such good, wonderful children, but didn't quite know what to do about Tim, who wasn't rowdy or anything, but just a bit strange, the way he rarely played with other children, the way he'd rather stare at things than touch them. Every now and then Holly and Frank asked Tim what he liked to do. They seemed sincere in their quest to engage his interest. They were careful however not to offer suggestions, as it was their firm belief that a child's individuality could only flourish if he or she was allowed think independently.
Except for the occasional time when Holly would run her fingers through his hair Tim felt completely removed from his own childhood, as removed as the countless pictures he took starting on his twelfth birthday, when he received his first meaningful gift, a vintage Canon. Holly had finally set aside her own psychiatric beliefs and talked to a colleague of hers that specialized in abnormal child behavior. Her colleague had insisted on seeing Tim, but upon Holly's categorical refusal had finally said: "Buy him a camera. Let him observe the world all he wants." It proved to be great advice. Tim loved being behind the camera. He was especially fond of portraits and relished in surprising 'his victims.' The camera put a filter between him and the world; things that seeped though the filter were censored, pre-approved, and therefore safe.
Although his academic record left something to be desired by his family, Tim did grow into both a respectful and a respectable young man. He maintained a respectable B- average and was perfectly respectful of the teachers who gave him those grades. He was an average player on a slightly below average tennis team, and a photographer for the yearbook.
As a high school graduation present - and what Tim interpreted as a "thank you for not embarrassing the family" gift - Holly and Frank bought their son a trip to Sweden, including complementary tickets for Billy and Birch, Tim's two closest friends. The trip served the double purpose of graduation present and birthday present. Frank thought the gift especially clever since Tim's birthday was to fall on the same day as Midsommar that year, a major holiday in Sweden.
"Dude, that's awesome!" Birch had exclaimed upon finding out about the trip. Both Billy and Birch came from middle-class families and could never expect to travel outside of the country on their own budgets. "I heard Switzerland is pretty cool."
"Sweden," Tim corrected him.
"Sweden. Whatever. I heard it's pretty cool, dude."
"Oh yeah, Birch, what'd'ya hear?"
"Blondes with big tits and wet pussies," Birch replied, his tongue sticking out, a virgin grin overtaking his face.
"Cool enough for me," Billy said.
Billy was the only one to have already gotten laid. In fact, he got laid quite regularly. He'd lost his virginity during the fall of their sophomore year, to a girl that was so far below most standards that she couldn't refuse the opportunity. Since then, Billy had had a steady stream of girlfriends. He wasn't all that good-looking, nor was he a popular guy per se, but he had honed in on a flawless tactic: to always go for the less than perfect girls, the ones that are kinda cute but definitely nerdish enough for no one to really notice them. Once he'd decide on a girl he'd focus all his attention on her, asking her about her tests, pets and poetry ("Every girl writes poetry," Billy always told his friends). And since the girl wouldn't be used to the attention, she'd inevitably fall for it, convinced not only of his sincerity, but also of Billy's status of being part of the 'cool' crowd, the way he acted, self-confident and commanding.
Birch, on the other hand, was too cool for the opposite sex. The "I'm too sexy for my car"-kind of cool. He had natural dreads - as in: he didn't wash his hair for over a month until the dreads naturally appeared; he smoked a ton of dope, sold even more of it, and his pants never quite reached over his ass crack. Yet in spite of all these apparent flaws, Birch was sincerely surprised over the fact that he had graduated from high school while still a virgin.
Thus it happened that a couple of weeks before Midsommar, three eighteen year olds embarked on their first international journey with only one goal in mind: to get laid. Luckily, Holly and Frank had chosen the perfect destination for them. The locals spoke impeccable English - albeit with an unmistakable accent, knew all the American movies, listened to the same pop as them, and were about three centuries ahead in their sexual revolution. It took the boys four hours to claim Birch's wallet stolen, to deal with Billy's inexplicable allergic reaction to an unknown agent in the impeccably clean Swedish air and to find the hotel. It took them only half an hour at the bar across the street from their hotel for three blondes to appear and squeeze their tightly jeans-fitted asses into their booth. Anna, Åsa and Rebecca talked and smiled excessively. Where were the guys from, what were they doing here, and a few beers later, what drugs did they do? And did they bring any with them?
Rebecca, who was sitting diagonally across from Tim, next to Åsa, let her head fall to the table. Birch, who always carried one drug or other on him, put his arms around Anna's shoulder and whispered something into her ear. She leaned back to look at him, her blue eyes rolling in their sockets. Could she try it? Of course, that was, after all, what he'd smuggled it over for. How'd he smuggled it? Taped to his balls. That's the best way. Anna's eyes widened and even momentarily stopped swimming around while she grabbed Birch's dick. He didn't object. Anna decided she needed a closer look. Her tiny hand slipped into Birch's pants and he let out a deep sigh. Only when her fingers, in search of the hash, got too close to his anus did he finally pull her hand out and told his friends they should all go back to the room. Billy, his tongue held hostage by Åsa, didn't answer.
"There's beer left, dude!" mumbled Tim, examining the third girl, who lay motionless. He'd only glanced at her while she was awake, and now that she was asleep he couldn't see her since her face was covered by hair. He looked at the other two girls, searching for a clue as to what the third one might look like. Couldn't his parents have gotten them separate rooms?
The receptionist watched the group of five drunken teenagers drag a sixth, unconscious teenager across the lobby. She politely asked if everything was okay, if they needed anything, but to the boys' surprise didn't try to take charge of the situation. Once upstairs, Åsa and Anna decided Rebecca should be left in the tub. No, she didn't need to be splashed with water. She just needed a place were she could puke to her heart's content.
No more drugs were necessary that night. The still (albeit marginally) conscious girls were willing, and the boys - well, they were eighteen year old males on a mission to get laid. Seeking to escape the moans and groans, Tim snuck into the bathroom, almost tripping over Birch's legs. At least his friend had been polite enough to lose his virginity on the floor.
Rebecca hadn't moved. Her head hung over the edge of the tub and her shoulder length hair clung to her face. Tim lifted her face and brushed away the sticky hair. Unlike the other two, she was platinum blond, what Tim had imagined all girls to be in Sweden. She was pretty, by far the prettiest of the three; her mouth was well defined, and her nose was tiny and slightly lifted at the tip. Her head hung limp in his hands. He let her chin rest on the tips of his thumbs and formed a frame around her face with the rest of his fingers. He thought of a Sleeping Beauty shot. He considered carrying her to his bed, undressing her, and taking a few pictures of her. Then perhaps holding her through the night. He decided against it. He'd never be able to do that much explaining.
The next morning, the girls barely said a word. No apologies, no seeming regrets; did they even remember what had happened? Rebecca, who'd made it through the night in the tub, walked hunched over, leaning slightly to the left and wobbling every time she changed direction. Åsa and Anna said they'd see them later. Thanks for letting them sleep over. Or whatever. You know, for not having to go home to their parents drunk in the middle of the night.
It took the girls two days to return, boisterous and alive again, each carrying a one and a half liter bottle of Coke, which in reality was actually only about one liter Coke and half a liter Absolute. They passed their bottles around. Birch made a pipe out of the aluminum foil he'd brought with him. He placed a small ball of hash in it and passed that around too. Only Tim abstained.
"The first thing he did when he came out of his mother was some serious dope and now he pretends to be a fucking arrow!" Birch explained.
Rebecca giggled and handed him her bottle. The pipe made its way around the room and for every round, Tim felt himself growing more alien from the group. He decided to go down to the lobby in search of an alcohol free soda. Back upstairs, he walked into a deja-vu. Billy and Åsa on one of the beds, Birch and Anna on the floor, Rebecca out of view.
Tim knocked on the bathroom door. There was no answer. He tried the knob. It was locked. A few minutes later, he knocked again:
"Are you okay in there?"
No answer, but the locked stirred and the next time he tried the door it was unlocked. Rebecca was wedged in between the toilet and the tub, hugging her knees, her face buried in her arms.
"You okay?" Tim asked again.
"I don't know. I should probably not smoked up," she said in a low voice.
Tim went over and sat on the toilet. He put his left palm on her back, hesitant, barely touching her. They sat like that for a long time until Rebecca started sobbing softly. She crawled into his lap, put her head on his shoulder and cried herself to sleep.
"There are two kinds of men," Billy lectured Tim the next day when the boys were alone again. "Those that do and those that think. I'm sure your mind was reeling."
"His dick must have been so hard that she was probably hovering in midair, dude!" added Birch.
Over the next couple of weeks, Tim tried his hardest to become a man that does. His leg touched Rebecca's in the movie theater; they went for walks in the woods and he asked if he could take pictures of her. She offered to take her bra off, and lay on the soft moss. She had the most beautiful breasts. Patches of sunlight and shadow danced over her milky skin, making her nipples alternate between erect and soft. For the first time, Tim viewed his camera as an obstacle rather than as a trusted chaperone.
One afternoon, while lying on a blanket by the ocean, Rebecca got tired of waiting for Tim to become a doer and decided to take charge of the situation herself. It wasn't a passionate kiss; it was more like a let's-get-it-over-with kind of kiss. Then she pulled away and looking very serious, asked him:
"Are you virgin?"
Tim knew that to be a trick question, but was clueless as to what the trick to answering it might be.
"Yes," he admitted.
Rebecca sat up and looked over the dark ocean, her back to Tim. There were things she hadn't told him either. She wasn't exactly free. She loved someone. Someone that didn't love her. She would have slept with Tim, had he not been a virgin. But she couldn't be his first. He needed his first to be someone special. Not an overseas fling with someone who loved another.
"She wants you to take charge, man," Billy advised him.
"Dude, if you don't loose your virginity in this country, where the fuck else would you do it?" asked Birch, and Tim was forced to admit he had a point.
By Midsommar, Birch had moved on to Karin while Billy had moved on to Louise via Katerina. Tim however, had maintained a steady and painfully platonic relationship with Rebecca.
"Why is Midsommar such a big deal?" Tim asked her while they were lying on their bellies in the grass, watching Rebecca's friends and family build a Midsommar Stånd.
"For celebrating the year's shortest night." She rolled over on her back and traced the two little moles on Tim's cheek with a strand of grass. "Actually, for celebrating you."
Tim pulled the grass strand out of her hand. "I hate celebrating my birthday," he said a bit harshly, then, tickling her nose with the confiscated strand, added in a lighter tone: "But if a whole nation would celebrate me... I might grow to like that."
"You're cute," she said and kissed his cheek.
There was a custom for Swedish girls on Midsommar. Between sunset and sunrise they had to pick seven different kinds of flowers and place them under their pillow. They would then dream about their one true love.
"If I dream you, we make love tomorrow morning, okay?" Rebecca said. Tim didn't know to what extent she meant it, but he clung to her words as if they were his lifeline.
"Nyponros, humbleblomster, midsommarblomster, makros, farmors glasögon, smörblooma, och sömntuta," she said, pointing to each bloom in a picture of a flower crown. Her Swedish words, rolling over her full lips brought shivers to Tim's lower back. Later, during the picking, she was quiet, performing the task with solemn concentration, her round little butt pointing to the graying sky. When she finished picking a handful of each kind, they returned to the now standing Midsommar Stånd. People were singing and dancing around it.
"I'm going to make a Midsommar krans for you. For your birthday," she said, and started to weave a crown out of the flowers.
"Will I be dreaming of my future lover too?" Tim asked.
"Sorry, only girls pick and dream."
But he should stay and sleep over. That way she'd definitely dream of him. No, her parents wouldn't object. Her last boyfriend slept over all the time.
Squeezed in on half of the smallest bed he'd ever seen, unable to sleep, Tim decided to put the krans under his pillow. And, as things would have it, he did dream that night. A voluptuous woman with black hair down to her waist and haunted green eyes. She was being chased and asked for help. He told her he'd help her if she was 'the one.' She was. She didn't need to tell him. There was something so familiar about her; her smile, her dreamy yet defiant stare; her willingness - no, her need - to make him understand and believe her. People were suddenly running after them and he grabbed her hand. They weren't moving though. He looked back; a man was holding her from behind, his arm over her shoulder, his hand between her breasts. The woman's eyes stared at him in terror. Tim dreamt himself awake.
It turned out that Rebecca too dreamt that night. She dreamt of Tim and he awoke in her arms. She kissed his neck. She wanted to be his first. Wouldn't that make a nice birthday present?
But the memory of a woman being pulled out of his arms paralyzed Tim. He was no longer a boy needing to loose his virginity. He'd become a man with a dream. A man in a hurry. No, thank you, he didn't want any breakfast.
"So you finally banged her, dude?" Birch asked Tim upon his return to the hotel.
"By the look on his face, I'd say he either didn't - or she had a really stank pussy!" said Billy, examining his friend.
Neither, God dam'it. It was a fucking dream!
"A nightmare?" Birch and Billy asked in unison. They glanced at each other - two experienced men feeling sorry for their virgin friend.
No, not a nightmare. A very vivid dream. A vision from the past. Or a projection of the future. Or something. Some kind of... something.
Billy and Birch exchanged meaningful looks again. Damn, sexual frustration could play some serious tricks on a man's mind.
"Where were you?" Billy asked.
Rebecca's, or course.
"Her parents okay with that?"
Nothing to do with her parents. They didn't care. They're more like Rebecca's buddies. Probably happy if she gets laid-
"Except she didn't get laid?" Billy interrupted.
Listen, this is serious. It wasn't just a dream. It was more. It was fucking vivid. Real. There was this woman...
"You left Rebecca for a woman in a fucking nightmare?" said Birch confused.
Not a fucking nightmare, for fuck's sake. It was almost like a love story. No, not like a love story, cause there was no beginning, middle or end. Like continuous love. Yeah, continuous. Or something.
Tim never saw Rebecca again, although he received a postcard from her a few months later. It was a picture of a Midsommar krans, like the one she'd made for him.
I am in Uppsala with my grandmother. She tells to me that there is one kind boy who dreams on Midsommar. He is virgin in body and spirit and he cries uncolsolable when he looses a piece of himself.
Tim never bothered to find out what that meant.
Neither did he see Billy or Birch after they'd returned home. The trip had served as a highlighter for all the things Tim did not have in common with his friends. For years, he was obsessed with finding the woman in his Midsommar night's dream, carrying his camera everywhere, ready to shoot. His drawers filled up with pictures of voluptuous brunettes. He asked his parents for loans and traveled around the world in search of his 'one,' his Canon as his only companion.
Eventually, the torment began to fade away, ever-so-slowly. Enough for him to take a couple of junior college courses in photography. Enough for him to get a job as a photographer for a local newspaper. And eventually, after years of never being sick or ever using his vacation time, enough for him to be promoted to the foreign section. Unfortunately though, not enough for him to lose his virginity.
And then one day, having just returned from his first job in Europe, a student strike in Budapest, sorting through the photographs he'd taken at the demonstration, Tim found a still frame of his dream. Her defiant green eyes stared right into the camera, her back against her peers, away from the university she was there to defy; defying him; defying his reality.
Tim had never feared his own sanity before. He'd cursed the unlucky star that had placed him in the same family as Michael and Sara, he'd sighed at his mother's relentless psychiatric evaluations, and thought it a bit odd to still be a virgin at the age of thirty. Yet never in his life had he felt anything less than normal. Sure, things were bad sometimes. And sometimes they were good. Good and bad is how things are supposed to be.
So in the midst of his life's first crisis, Tim did the unthinkable: he asked his mother for help.
There had been this girl in Sweden. No, his last job had been in Budapest. This girl was in Stockholm. No, he hadn't been there since he was eighteen; that was when he'd met her and she'd made him a flower crown... But the girl was not important. Well, not the girl in Stockholm. The one from Budapest was the important one. And the flowers under the pillow...
Holly's instinct was to prescribe something for Tim's nerves, but she tried her best to act like a mother and not default into her role of psychiatrist. She searched for her words for a long time, then finally forced out a little speech about the little things that made life worth living, the strange moments that are so very precious because they can offer a glimpse into the secret of life.
Tim went home, grabbed his still unpacked backpack and headed for the airport. He stopped by the newsroom to drop off his photographs. All but one, which he placed in his jacket's inner pocket. On his way out, he told his boss he needed a few days off. No problem. A week if he wants. Just, next time, a little more advance notice please.
For days he walked around Budapest, clutching his camera once more, as if it held the promise of capturing the essence of his reality. Walking and dreaming. Until, on the fifth day, he suddenly walked into his dream's arms, her pulling him by the hand from behind, onto a narrow side street, half a dozen steps up, to a little bedroom overlooking a back alley with flowery sheets hanging out to dry, and there, her eyes diving into his, her fingers ripping his shirt off, and him coming before she had time to undress, and her laughing like a little girl and licking it all up while looking into his eyes, and his dick remaining hard and entering her and coming once more, before he'd fully penetrated her, but still hard, thrusting himself into her, deeper and deeper, again and again...
He awoke. The shower was on and the girl was singing a foreign song. He felt dehydrated but couldn't find anything to drink. From the little window, through the fluttering sheets, he saw a little corner store in the distance.
Tim dressed, listening to the sound of her crystal clear yet incomprehensive voice. Should he tell - had she said her name? Had he? He couldn't remember any verbal exchange and the lack of liquids was starting to give him a headache. They could talk when he got back. He headed out. At the door, he hesitated for a moment, then turned and grabbed his Canon.
On his way to the store, Tim mentally thanked his mother for her words of advice. On the way back, he thought of Billy and Birch and wondered if they'd be interested in hearing from a long-lost friend:
"Yo dudes, guess what? I finally lost my virginity. And you wouldn't believe to whom..."
And then Tim lost the last of it. He remembered that he indeed had confronted his parents when he accidentally overheard the tape of his cries as a baby: "No, I didn't want to come here. I wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted to be in a different house." And Holly and Frank had indeed run after him. They'd consoled and caressed him. At least until Michael had won his next science award. Then Sara had been interviewed for a cover story on young talent in Times. Who could blame them for forgetting to return to Tim?
In the window, through the sheets flapping in the wind, her body glistened, still wet from the shower, her shoulders broad and strong, her back curved, her head slightly leaning to the left, an arm around her waist. He followed the arm to the shoulder and then to the neck and face where he found himself staring at himself. He noticed himself but the other didn't notice him and continued to passionately bite into the girl's - his girl's - neck. His left cheek grazed against her right one, as if trying wipe off a tear; then he pulled back his head, revealing that he indeed had succeeded, as there were no visible moles on his cheek. With a quick jerk he spun her around until she faced the window; he pushed her head forward. She grabbed the windowsill so as not to fall out. His left hand intertwined with hers, revealing matching wedding bands. As he thrust himself into her she opened her eyes and saw the him in the alley and screamed. She screamed and tried to turn around to look at the him inside her, but he held her firmly in place, one arm around her neck. He talked into her ear and she knew who it was and stopped fighting him. She looked out onto the alley again, her haunted eyes landing right into a zoomed frame of the life he could finally steal back. His finger was glued to the trigger. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.