So I was sitting on the bus, when this lady came in — black trench coat and black boots, worried expression. She sat down next to me. Didn't say a word, had a thousand-yard stare out the window.
But then she turned to me, and asked where a gal like me was from. I thought she might be trying to assess my ethnicity, but when I said "Cleveland", she said,
As in, Cleveland Ohio?
i wasn't entirely certain. See, I've known many Clevelands.
Yes, and I hated them all.
But we are in Cleveland.
Maybe this one won't steal my sandwich, then. Don't give me that look. It happens. Every time I'm walking down the street, in any Cleveland, I have my sandwich in hand and it goes POOF. And I hear a faint laughter in ths distance, "HAW HAW HAW! What a LOSER! Can't even hold on to her SANDWICH! HAW HAW HAW!" They never let me have my goddamn sandwich. Not once. I pay good money for it and I take it out of the bag and POOF, there it goes. Oh, and they tie my boot laces together when I'm not looking, so every time I get up I have to check the laces beforehand.
So what brings you to this Cleveland, if it besets you?
The same thing that brings me to any city — I'm pursuing a dream.
And what is your dream?
Oh, it's not MY dream. It's someone's dream that they lost. Or they left it behind. Or it was deferred somehow. It festers, then, and gets mean and bitter and lonely. So I pursue the dream. It's tricky to track down -- sometimes it stays in place, sometimes it wanders and causes nightmares.
I have been having strange dreams lately.
Have they been anything to do with overhead streetlights that reach down and grab people's hats?
No, they've been about people disappearing after they leave the room, and I can never find them again.
Oh! That's probably a dream worth pursuing. But I'm on the hunt for the streetlight one, so I'm kind of busy...here's the number for our offices. Call them and they'll send an agent. We would appreciate your help with that one. It could be the big dream we've been looking for for some time.
Offices? You work for a dream-catching company?
Well, it's a startup. It's a company of people, but we're not very big yet. I got the idea when someone read me that poem about dreams deferred —
That one, yes. What happens to a dream deferred, I said to myself, and then I said, that's a problem that needs fixing and nobody's jumped it on it yet. So I gathered my friends, and we talked about life and problems, and we drank a lot of wine and got completely smashed, and then Jill started playing the fiddle, and she was dancing around the room and I could see this glow coming from her, a literal glow, and I said Hey why are you glowing, and she said she had no idea, but then Catarina said, hey, didn't you used to love playing the fiddle? And Jill said, I wanted to fiddle for crowds of people, but I had to give that up because there was never enough time, and I said, hey, it looks like your dream, your dream may be coming back to you, or did we stumble upon it? And I noticed a faint smell of coriander and ginger, and it got stronger when she got closer to me —
And that's what dreams smell like?
Oh, no. The smell always has some coriander, but it's otherwise personal. I have to interview each client to get a sense of what their dream smells like. Sometimes it smells like a concept, like despair or the feeling you get when you step in dog doo a mile from home. Those are tricky. But the dream leaves a strong odor as it wanders, because it's a rotten thing, see. I can pursue a dream by smell alone.
What are you, a dog?
I might have some werewolf ancestry. And I can be a bitch sometimes.
And this dream you are pursuing is...
We prefer to keep that confidential between client and agent.
What about the big dream, then?
We're not entirely certain what it is. It smells really big. I mean REALLY big. If that makes any sense.
Oh, this all sounds like nonsense. But I like it. Please continue. How can you not know what the big dream is? Doesn't the client remember?
There is no client.
How is that possible?
Well, see, James was standing out in a big field with the wind blowing through the grass, and he caught a whiff of delayed prosperity and bald tires, and the smell kept getting stronger, he said, and he was able to pick up hints of confusion and betrayal, and stone and glass and grass and cordite, and a hint of coriander, and shadow, and moldy egg. And the smell followed him back to the office. He said it kept getting stronger, even though none of us could smell it. He started to go nuts. Then Roberto noticed it, and then I noticed it, and then we all started to smell it, and we knew it was a dream worth pursuing, even though we weren't certain what it could be. I had to send out Roberto and James to track it down, and they haven't come back yet or even reported. And...hang on a moment. You smell like bald tires and coriander.
I had no idea. I don't have any big dreams. Little dreams, but no big ones.
And yet, there's the smell of bald tires. Tell me, why do you only have little dreams? Why not big ones?
Because I am conent where I am. I make bank. I build things and sell them, and I'm secure where I am.
Your being secure. I didn't think anyone was secure these days. I thought we were all unsettled. Especially in this country. It's a restless country, full of dreams, full of dreams deferred. I will always have business in this country. Yet, you are secure, and have had few dreams deferred...unlike so many who, due to circumstance, chance, and the daily grind, find that they've left their hopes by the wayside.
That sounds like a city to me. Come to think of it...what if the big dream you're pursuing is the dream of a city itself?
I never thought of that. But how can a city dream?
A city isn't just the buildings. It's the people. Is it posible for a dream to be collective?
We have pursued a few of those, yes.
Well then. You're smelling the delayed hopes of millions of people. Millions of people wanting another chance. A better shake. There are lots of those in the United States. America is a place where everyone believes in that promise. Hell, the whole country is built on promises. The promise of freedom. Of representation. Of prosperity. What happens when THAT dream is deferred? What happens when it gets deferred consistently? I bet, if you send your agents to Philadelphia, they'll pick up the smell of bald tires and moldy egg as soon as they step off the train.
What's in Philadelphia?
Redlined districts. An entire city of redlined districts.
I see. And how is this not your dream?
I don't dream it, I'm part of it. I'm where everyone wants to be. I'm in a place that was promised us all when we were young. See? I can afford to have little dreams. Now, you've got a big dream to pursue and only so many agents to put on the case. Two may not be enough. Five may not be enough. Ten may not be enough. Do you have the time to tackle something as big as the dream of a city?
We only have six agents.
You're in for a tough fight, then. Good luck.
You haven't even asked me if I'm kidding yet.
Is there a sandwich in your bag?
Are your boot laces tied together?
Can you hear faint laughter?
No. All I hear is growling.
It sounds like you're at a crossroads, then. Right here and now. One road is easy and full of laughter and hijinks. The other is scary and shadowy and cold. Which road will you choose?
My leather jacket can keep out the cold, and I can stomp things wth my boots.
But I must complete my mission for my client. Please, call the number I gave you and tell them what you've told me. You're the first lead we've had in a while.
I shall be glad to be of service.
She got off the bus, then. The hour had grown late. Long shadows stretched alongside the dim red light of a December afternoon. With her coat and boots, she almost blended right in to the shadows, but her eyes were aglow.
I forgot to ask her name.
I haven't called the number she gave me. I won't want to find out if all this is true. Truth be told, i was just playing along. But she was on to something, and it gave warmth to my cold heart. To see the young'uns working hard to make things right. Not that I'm any older than her, but I feel older anyway.
I could learn her name, if I just call. And I think I can hear faint laughter, and I have misplaced my sandwich.
Maybe this is a dream I shouldn't put aside.