Dead or Alive
Dreamed 1948 by Nancy Price
Source: Acquainted with the Night by Nancy Price (1949), selections from an experimental dream journal she kept for one year.
Last night I saw three fantail pigeons on the strawberry bed of my old home; one was pure white, the others flecked with buff.
"Where do they come from?" I said to some unknown person, a woman who was picturesque but untidy and none too clean, a pale creature both in dress and personality. I particularly noticed her dirty cream socks over buff stockings.
"That is my 'Troutmet'," she replied soundlessly. "I lost my 'Troutmet' you know, but she comes back to me. That white pigeon has Troutmet's soul."
She then went on into a long dissertation about Troutmet and why she knew her soul was in that particular pigeon. I was bored and walked away, but when she had gone I came back and picked up the white pigeon. It was quite tame and I could do anything with it; the others had departed. I noticed that her feathers were covered with thick white powder.
"How much do you think she's worth, what will she fetch at your Christmas sale for the theatre? I would like her," said a man who appeared from nowhere. "She has the star you see--she has touched the moon, you will never be able to keep her because she belongs to the moon and will not stay long anywhere here. You had better sell her at once." The pigeon seemed to smile and flew up into space.
I then moved to a cherry bed, six long rows of enormous dwarf cherries the size of plums, dark and luscious, growing as strawberries near the ground. I saw a blackbird on the bed.
"I shan't tell," I said.
"I don't like them," he said, "you try."
I put one in my mouth but found I swallowed the stone, it was impossible to prevent it, I tried six times but always swallowed the stone.
"That is what happens to me," said the blackbird, "and they are not sweet, no not a bit sweet, perhaps that is why they are all untouched, nobody wants them. I suppose you know," he continued, "that you are dead. Hasn't anybody told you, didn't you hear your funeral service?"
"Oh really," I said, "was that mine? I heard the organ and the bell tolling but I was so comfortable in this hammock. I wasn't curious and I hate funeral services, anyway, but they made a mistake, I am still alive."
"Yes, isn't it funny, they often do that. Lots of funerals I watch but the people are alive--perhaps only blackbirds can see them."
"Well, I am no ghost," I said, "but horribly sleepy, you might give me that piece of cabbage--it always revives me; I am too tired to move, put the leaves under my head, Burtra, that is your name, I think."
"Yes, and you know the meaning of course--nothing without meaning." [I knew the meaning then but not now.]
"Here is your cabbage," said Burtra, giving me a very prickly holly sprig.
I rose in a second and jumped so high that I landed right through the greenhouse roof beside Father and our old gardener.
"Good gracious! I thought you were both dead," I said.
"Didn't the blackbird tell you that you are also dead? Now help us to get these plants in order, they have been neglected."
I smelt all the lovely mixture of scents I knew so well in that greenhouse, geraniums, ferns, choice roses, primulas and above all the acacia for which Father had the high greenhouse built, the acacia which was the wonder and pride of the district and the joy, for in acacia time any who wished might come and take away great sprays--never have I seen a tree like it. I buried my dead face in the loveliness of its scent and softness.
"I shall keep you always," I said.
"I know--my scent is everlasting," said the tree. I was not in the least surprised that bird and tree could speak and that I understood.
Father and the gardener were still busy. "Can I help?" I said.
"No, you are not ready yet, we'll get on better without you."
"What a muddle this dream is, for I am sure I am dreaming."
"Everything is a muddle, you see you are not all collected, dead, asleep or alive--not nearly all collected, and it's difficult to find the pieces, birds pick up quicker, have you noticed--but man picked up death first and he has too much, he's always throwing it about and then other things pick it up. An awful pity he happened to find death first."
"The thing I like best about dreams is waking up." I said, "I am so confused and bothered in dreams."
"Do you ever wake up?" said my father. "I never woke."
"Nor I," said the old gardener, "but I be most awake along o' plants, three long breathings, smell all on 'em, you'll never get rid o' smell, very, very, deep breathings."
And I woke breathing heavily, or am I awake after all?
He was right about the scents, I have them continually with or without visible cause.
Price means the last line literally. While introducing a second dream from the borderland between life and death, Hail and Farewell, she says:
I have constantly been troubled or pleasured by what I can only call scent impressions, but these have not always been sweet. I am often suddenly conscious of the smell of a pipe, cigar, cigarette, coffee, even beer or spirits. These may come upon the instant in an empty room or in the open air; most frequently the sweet smell of mignonette, one of my mother's favourite perfumes. Roses, jasmine and violets are three other flowers I recognise, and I am often conscious of an exotic Indian perfume I do not know. Strange to say upon occasion others who are with me are also aware of this sudden inexplicable scent. This is actually no more startling than many other facts of life, but perhaps less frequent; which is why I have noted it as peculiar.
Infrequent and peculiar indeed!
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