In the Guise of a Child – Chapter 1

by Ed Lataro

Chapter 1 – The Dream

I’m jogging on a path that spirals through a misty forest. As the trail straightens, the sound of crunching pebbles comes from ahead. A woman in a blue sweat suit is running toward a wall of darkness. I have to stop her. I holler and sprint at full speed. She runs faster. With a great effort I close in. As I reach for her shoulder, she vanishes into the darkness.

I woke up grasping for the wall, but my hands only touched air. The bedroom was black except for some faint rays of light around the window curtains. My alarm clock said 3 am. With sweat dripping off of me, I flung the blankets away and rose to my feet. For the rest of the night I stayed up, trying to make sense of the dream.

For two weeks this cycle occurred almost every night. Even on dreamless nights, my sleep patterns became splintered. When rising in the morning, I was irritable and felt tired throughout the day.

After not seeing any progress, I decided to go for help. I contacted Dr. Bill Harrad’s receptionist and got an appointment for three days later.

Seated in the psychiatrist’s waiting room for over forty minutes, I quietly cursed to myself. Minor things like the doctor’s lateness upset me due to my tiredness. To keep my eyes from closing, I read a newspaper article about a 7-year-old boy who drove a car by himself. The kid drove several blocks from his home before his parents caught him.
Just as I was getting engrossed in the story, the receptionist called and led me inside.

The doctor was standing by his desk straightening his tie and tugging on his jacket. He always seemed to be rearranging things whether it was on his person or his office furniture. On my last appointment he had short hair, now he had a wavy Elvis Presley look. Harrad was in his mid-forties, but looked liked about thirty-five.

“So, Roger, it’s been years.” It had actually been six months since my last appointment.

“How’s the fishing lately?”

“Haven’t been to the lake for months.”

“Why not?”

I shrugged.

“How about the job search? Anything promising?”

“I tell people I’m still looking. It’s what they want to hear.” Actually there were no job possibilities available.

“Great. Anything else you’re not doing?” Harrad looked to the ceiling with disgust.

“I’m doing plenty of things.”

“Still Chasing Mary?” he asked.

Mary was a redhead in high school Biology class. At nineteen, I ‘d spent three weeks plotting how to accidentally bump into her at the library. To win her over, I composed a few clever lines of dialog, which I rehearsed a hundred times. I also wrote out an outline of interesting topics to bring up.

When the big day came, my plan went well until I actually talked to her. Within ten minutes I’d pegged her as shallow and self-absorbed, and my attraction for her dissipated.

“So what’s her name this time?”

I explained my dream and sleeping problems.

“You know what it means.” He held an all-knowing smile.

“I do?”

“The perfect woman.” He squiggled female curves with his hands.

“It’s more than that.” The dream was too real, too troubling to have such a simple answer.

“Why wait two weeks to see me? You…” His voice trailed off and then everything went black.

“Roger, are you with me? Roger!” Bill was shaking my shoulders.

“What…” I mumbled, trying to reorient myself. “What happened?”

“You passed out. You almost fell off the chair!”

“Uh… how long have I been here?”

“Five minutes,” he said giving an odd look.

“Well, uh…anyway, what were we talking about?”

“Your next car accident.” He tapped me on the forehead. “Roger, I’m recommending a drug.”

“Drug? What about counseling?”

“We’ll still do it, but you need the medication. It’s safe.” He jotted a note down.

“Safe for you maybe.” I fidgeted in my seat. An unnecessary heart medicine had once turned my old friend Annie to a zombie until she recognized the side effects.

“Alright, no drugs. What about a sleep clinic?”

“Don’t like prisons.”

“It’s not a prison. No one will chain you to a wall.”

“No thanks!”

“Then I want to see you twice a week.”

Harrad had always categorized me as minor risk, someone with mild relationship problems. But now he saw a high-priority client. Maybe he was right. I ‘d never fallen asleep in mid-conversation before. Although not optimistic about Harrad’s bi-weekly idea, I agreed to try it for a while.

Later that day at home I decided to practice being my own doctor. I searched my computer for psychological theories behind dreams. My background was in child psychology, but my courses hadn’t covered much about dream theory.

One website featured a theorist who defined dreams as a theater for fixing interpersonal problems that bothered our waking lives. Was the jogger episode just an unconscious attempt at solving my lifelong quest for a relationship?

After a few hours on the computer I saw nothing but a blurry screen. I was about to quit, when the name ‘Madame Magda – Psychic and Dream Interpreter’ appeared. I laughed and continued searching. With each click of the mouse I was somehow led to another of Magda’s sites. This happened about ten times. Was I delirious? Or had she monopolized the entire web?

So, I thought, why not give this woman a try? I hadn’t done anything stupid in a long time. My last nutty adventure was a 100-mile trek to Philadelphia to accidentally run into Nancy Mason. I wanted to reignite our romance from three years earlier. Unfortunately, when reaching Philadelphia, I learned she was married with child.

The following morning I phoned Magda and briefly explained my reoccurring dream.

“I’m sorry, but I can only see you next week.” She had a mild eastern European accent.

“That’s no good. I can’t wait that long!”

“Please do not yell at me. You are not only customer.”

“Sorry, I haven’t slept right.” I took a deep breath to calm myself.

“I understand. I too have trouble. Terrible since I was little girl.”

“Have you tried any treatments?”

Treatments? I try every treatment. All make me feel worse,” she said with a laugh.

This confirmed my theory. I feared that elaborate treatments like drugs or sleep clinics might exacerbate my sleep problems. By giving so much attention to the insomnia, it would gain more power over me.

Since I felt awkward meeting Magda alone, the next day I called my best friend, Warren. He wasn’t my first choice to invite along. He had no imagination, no flexibility of thought, but all of my college friends had faded away.

We met at a bar/restaurant called the Front Office. The place featured tables resembling desks with executive office chairs. He had arrived early and was scribbling some notes from his accounting work.

“What’s wrong with you? You look like hell,” he asked, sipping a beer.

“Take a guess.”

“Still with the dream?” he said with amazement. “I forgot to ask you. Is she hot looking?” he asked, referring to the dream-jogger.

He couldn’t appreciate my problem. Warren could sleep in the middle of root canal.

“She’s probably from some porno you saw.” Warren turned and stared at a long-legged waitress who strutted by.

“Warren, I have a favor to ask. You gotta come with me next week.” I hailed a waiter and ordered a mug of beer.

“Where to?”

“Gonna go to a psychic.”

“Get out of here. Now you believe in witchcraft?” he asked, scowling.

“I have to do this.” I twirled my mug nervously.

“But why do I have to be there?”

“For protection. She might turn me into a toad.”

“Just stop thinking about women and there won’t be any stupid dreams.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“Roger, you can’t spend your life chasing Lady Guinevere. The truth is God has thrown us a Rubik’s cube. There is no right woman. So go out whoring and enjoy yourself. Guarantee you’ll sleep like a baby.”

Warren and I had argued since we met in the second grade. He had the wrong opinion on everything, whether it was politics, sports or religion. Often I thought he contradicted me for spite, but then he’d always prove to be dead serious.

“Warren, don’t give me a lecture. Are you going or not?”

He followed with a thirty-minute lecture about how all psychics were frauds. After that, he grudgingly agreed to help me.

I didn’t believe in psychics, but I did believe in hunches. Once while at the racetrack I became fixated on the number six. I wagered on the sixth horse for five races in a row and won over three hundred bucks.

Warren stayed at the bar intent on drinking himself silly. I left to visit my parent’s home, which was just a half hour from my apartment. I had moved out five years ago after graduating college and I was pleased they still lived there. This allowed me to visit with ease.

Their house was a nondescript gray cottage, hidden on a block of equally bland homes. Everyone told my father to paint it a different color, but he would frown as if offended. Keeping the house invisible was important to him.

He was in the backyard chopping wood, looking as black as a chimney sweep. Dad owned a gas station and always came home smothered in grease. He worked six days a week for fifty-one weeks a year. My mother and I told him to slow down, but he never listened to us.

“Hi, Dad!”

“Rog, how are….”

He was ready to shake my hand but suddenly remembered, in mid-sentence, that he should be mad at me. He spun about abruptly and walked away, muttering angrily.

“Dad, I want to talk!” I yelled, catching up with him.

“He loses another job.” He said, talking to the sky. “No one goes through five jobs in one year. What are you shooting for, the Hall of Fame?”

Burying me before I even get to the door.

But the old man was just getting started. “If you’d taken accounting like Warren, you’d be all right, and…”

I had gotten a child psychology degree, but finding work in my field was impossible. I wound up taking basic jobs, such as driving a cab and working in department stores. I soon learned that the simpler the job, the lousier was my performance. Maybe I needed the challenge, of more complex work.

My mother, hearing our voices, came out the back door.

“Roger!” She hugged me and spun me around.

“Take it easy” I had to fight off her grip. “So how’s the volunteer business these days?” I asked.

“Wonderful, I’m driving elderly people to doctor appointments with the Red Cross.”

My mother was in perpetual motion. She volunteered at four different organizations and when she wasn’t volunteering, she was out socializing.

“How do you feel? You look so gaunt,” she said pushing back my hair. She led me to the kitchen table where dinner was ready. “So, how are things with Jackie Black?” she asked eagerly, as we all sat down.

“It just didn’t work out,” I muttered

“Don’t tell me you dumped her?” she asked with amazement.

“Can’t you go beyond six months? Jackie was the nicest one yet.”

No, Jackie was the craziest one yet. In all my time with her, I spent $1.65. She would come over and refuse to leave my apartment. We would do two things only—make out without having sex, and simultaneously talk about her hang up from childhood. In between grunts of passion she could deliver a dissertation on how her father’s indifferent, child-rearing methods had scarred her for life.

“I want you to get serious with women,” my mother said, pointing a wooden spoon at me.

My mother had this naive idea I could go to the supermarket and pick a woman off the shelf. She’d met my father as a teenager at a high school dance and went directly from a first date to thirty years of marriage. I wondered how she’d like trudging through a life of single bars, computer dating and now a psychic consultation of all things.

After finishing dinner I went to my father’s computer. Just for the hell of it, I typed in ‘Magda Dream Interpreter’. The search came up empty. Afterwards, I used all combinations of her business name, and still couldn’t find one match. This seemed impossible since the name had so dominated my computer search the other night.

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