Playing Stories — Chapter 9: All I Have to Do Is Dream

Chapter 9: All I Have to Do Is Dream
from a 1958 single by the Everly Brothers
posted 14:23, 30 January 2019

Whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream

For quite some time now, I’ve been dreaming of the same place. They say that you dream about what you want the most; they say that dreams are nothing but your brain trying to make sense of fragments in your brain. But the fragments I hold within me, the snippets of memories and imagined sights: they can’t possibly all be mine. Not when I visit the Hawley Library.

Where did I pick the name? I have no idea, just as I have no idea why it changes every time I visit. That’s the weirdest thing about the Hawley Library. Every time I find myself down on its front garden — lying down on its crisp, green lawn, the phantom smell of the freshly-mowed grass filling my nostrils — I pick myself up to find a different building, one changes every time I visit: a bungalow made of mud, a majestic Greco-Roman pantheon, an Asian pagoda. I had a featureless concrete block from the Bauhaus days just a few days ago: and I hated it, hated every funereal square pretending it was a window, hated its drab shades of off-white — not even painted grey! I prised my eyes open, told myself to wake up, and tried to dream of something else. What good is it dreaming of something if you can’t have it your way?

But then I came back to it last night. As soon as I saw the place, my jaw dropped, my eyes widened — almost opened, even. The Library had leapt a thousand years into the future this time — everything was made of the finest glass, or maybe it was crystal, shimmering tall in the skies. You couldn’t see the corners and the edges: the building simply faded into the twilight, bathed in a dreamy, soothing mix of orange and purple, deepening ever so slowly, almost imperceptible. The last bits of the sun were shining THROUGH the Library, its infinite rooms softening the glare of the sunbeams as they passed through the layers. I always find it hard to tear myself away from the place, but dear God, this sparkling edifice was in a class of its own.

It could be a second, it could be hours before I get enough of the building. But sooner or later the sun sets, and the set of floodlights outside it turn on, criss-crossing the building, highlighting its contours. Through the windows, you see visitors milling round the hallways, their silhouettes almost taunting you with their unknowability. You want to get in, want to find out, so you investigate the ropes and pulleys and elevators that dot the façade — but they’re all decoys, all dead-ends that force you to think about the building and wonder at the secrets within. Nowadays, though, the sequence of the spotlights is almost second nature to me, and it takes me no time at all to find the right panel and slip inside. (Why am I making myself solve unnecessary mysteries in my dreams? God only knows.)

But the best thing lies when you find your way past the silent, faceless guard, and step out of the small funicular that carries you into the dimly-lit bowels of the building. Because the Hawley Library is no ordinary library. It has none of the classics on its morphing shelves: Austen, Flaubert, the author of the Moomin series. For the Library deals in one genre, and one genre only: the inscriptions of our desires.

And yes, this means that every time you enter the library, there is sex. Lots and lots of sex, between people who happened to find each other’s catalogue side-by-side on the shelves. They read a single sentence of each other’s most carnal thoughts, and it just captures them, overwhelms them so entirely that they throw themselves on each other at once, their minds suddenly united in the most infernal ecstasy. They don’t even know each other’s names — no matter. They know that it’s written in the books that they’re going to screw, and they want love and sex and all those unattainable things with this stranger they’ve just met. Rare is the occasion when I don’t stop for a while, watching the tangle of limbs on the polished floor, and — well, let’s just say that I’ve woken up prematurely because of that once or twice as well.

But l’amour physique est sans issue, and there’s more to the library than just sex. So you walk down into the hallways, where almost total darkness awaits: for some reason I’ve still yet to discover, there’s no lighting in between the rooms. There’s just enough to see your fingers or a fellow visitor bumbling in your direction, but other than that… it depends a lot on what design I’ve gotten that night, really. Last night, when I visited — see, this is the thing about dreams, you have to fill in the details yourself — the floodlights were shining warped through the crystal, and it felt so eerie, walking through those dim corridors, seeing the shadows dance on those sparkling walls…

It’s all about instinct in here — there are no helpful signs around, nothing to tell you where the people who dream of money or fame or adventure are kept. The doors here all look identical, and in the darkness it could be ages before you find a doorway anyway. This door here, it could lead to the vault, or the restaurant, or any of the thematic rooms that hold the desires of a people who didn’t even know that they shared the same passions. So I simply walk around in the dark, no longer groping around like I used to when I first came here, but taking long, confident strides into the grey (so dark it’s almost black), turning on a whim or leaping over a ledge without knowing what’s on the other side. And all the time, I’m still looking, for the one room that contains a good, thrilling book, one that tells you every strand of somebody’s story and all that they lust after. I don’t know what’s it going to be either… if a room looks interesting, or if the spine of a book seems to stick out and call to me, then I tell myself to stop, to sit down, and to try and read without prejudice. (I once found my own catalogue amongst the books, and the Inception-ness of it all was so great that I immediately jumped awake. I dreamed of something else for the next two weeks. It’s not an easy task, visiting the Hawley.)

And when at last I’ve found it, I fall backwards, back onto the couch that’s just appeared behind me from out of nowhere. The book is open in a flash, and before I even know it it’s open and I’m drinking in the sentences. They say that a good book is like arsenic: every letter a poison that enters the blood, intoxicating you till you’ve forgotten yourself in the world of the story. But this is more than that, because here defeat is almost instant, resistance laughable. You’re reading those little thoughts that are tucked in the back of the brain, the things that they can’t stop thinking about but would never say out loud, the things they would carry to the grave. Tales of loves lost, of greed and fortune, of the most abominable horrors ever known to man. Mere words on a page — and I don’t know why I’d even feel them, but dear God, when they hit you, they don’t pull any punches.

The sentences continue. The people within get more primal and violent, their desires more desperate. Now they’re pleading with themselves — or to whichever deity they believe in — to grant them their wishes, give them just one chance to satisfy their wantings of freedom or love or material wealth. Without knowing exactly how, I’m crying — real, thick tears, sliding down my cheeks, dropping onto the floor, forming an invisible ocean. Who knows if the people I’ve just read exist? The stories are there, and they drag you down. Then in a flash, the book is finished, and I’m sitting there, staring emptily into the patterns on the walls, my heart wrenched and squeezed out as it’s never been before. The room is quiet and nobody else is there, but I still hear a loud roaring in my ears.

And that’s really why I love being in here. This library gives you not just stories, and not just thoughts. Feelings. Feelings that you’ve never experienced before, that you don’t dare experience when you’re awake. When you’re in here, you see — I don’t even know how to put this in words, really. Everything rushes by so quickly: the linear experience of life breaks down, replaced by disjointed fragments that crowd in all at once. In all these books you see so little of the story, and yet you already feel like you’ve already run past a whole lifetime of feelings. You somehow manage to feel more deeply in here, and no matter how hard I watch the outside world, I’ve never really been as desirous as I am when I’m reading in the Hawley. You think that the stories are over, that you’ve seen all there is to see — but then I come back to the library again, and I find myself reading a whole different story, and I’m broken all over again.

A snap of twig outside the hallway, sudden construction work breaking the silence of the night outside. I close my eyes, telling myself not to wake up. Too late do I realize that this is the worst thing I could have done — everything turns featureless, a black curtain is drawn before my eyes… and suddenly I am thrashing about in my bed, staring at nothing but a dimly-lit concrete wall, devoid of features and story. A sigh and a rolling of my eyes, collapsing back onto my pillow in disappointment.

Lunch in the afternoon with a friend I haven’t seen for quite some time. We’re talking about books we’ve read recently, stuff we’ll have to stock up on for the new semester. “You know, it’s kind of weird that you should mention books… I’ve been dreaming of this library recently, and it like changes every time I visit it. Last night it was this really weird glass structure…”

A clang as my fork drops to the floor. She looks at me weird. “What’d I say?”

Whoa there, sorry about that then. Didn’t know you were hurting from that. Must be difficult.

You still coming over tomorrow? Hope you’re doing okay over there. — Q

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