Sunday, May 9 2021


A butcher of dreams

Update: April, 16/2017 - 09:00
Viet Nam News

I made a living by selling my dreams. I had always dreamt vivid, illusory dreams amid my mundane daily life, but I needed money to live.

Iwas somewhat snobby when it came to selling dreams. I found it impossible to stand in a market peddling my dreams like someone selling fish or newspapers. I hid my face and kept my identity secret. I was also afraid of selling at the market, for fear that the other sellers would despise me for my snootiness. More dangerously, they might deride my goods.

I met a man one late autumn day as the rain hammered down while I washiding under his dilapidated porch. Rain water had flooded the small yard. He opened the door to let me in. He gave me a warm cup of tea in a dimly-lit room smacked with colour. I felt as if I was falling into an illusion and then drifting into a dream without images and sounds where he was the lord, holding a worn-down brush that looked like a scepter. I took a quick glance at him. A series of thoughts suddenly flashed through my mind. I tried to guess what kind of a man he was. I found it very hard to classify him. He was like nobody I had ever met. He stood alone in the middle of the room enveloped in smoke. The rain was still pouring down outside.

“Are you still dreaming, lady?” – He asked.

He had broken the silence in the damp-smelling room. I wondered how he had read my mind and knew that I was dreaming. I dreamt frequently. I dreamt every night, sometimes recurring dreams. I existed thanks to the dreams, but it did not mean that I was heavily reliant on these dreams to the point where this man could read it on my pale face.

“What do you want?” – I asked.

“”Your dreams are what I need!”

“What for?”

“To sell these dreams to those who need them”

I did not have a stable job. All my money came from selling odds and ends. I couldn’t work in an office environment as I felt inhibited by strict timekeeping. Watching the clock leaves no room to be cheeky. I had also recently parted witha lover and was living temporarily in my friend’s attic with a black cat. I did not like cats but I had to live with it because I was frightened of mice.

He told me that for a long time, man did not know how to dream. I did not believe him. His body was richwith the scent of a lonely man, smeared with dust and dirt. He was nothing but a piece of rotten meat.

I thought anyone could dream. Dreamswere the right of any man. Dreaming was free. But now, all around me, people were buying dreams for themselves for long lonely nights to make their sleep more interesting. I wondered when man would not be able to dream at all any more.

“My paternal grandfather had wonderful dreams that he made into paintings. I have wanted to be able to draw the dreams of my life. But I’ve never had any dreams!”

“How do you know I dream?”

“You have a silence inside you, large enough for a dream to sneak into, it’s easy to see.”

The rain stopped. I quickly and lightly left the room and ran away from his piercing gaze, the gaze of a lurking wolf.

I was scared of him. Deep inside me, I knew not to trust him. Yet, after a nightmare, I went to see him like a lamb going to slaughter. What did I need from him? Did I need someone to open my heart? Did I need someone to know my value or did I need someone to swank my dreams? I wanted to stand in the middle of the noisy street to yell at those lifeless humans to know that it was me who had dreamt every night and created a world of marvelous illusions. But I had never been able to do it. In hopelessness, I dragged my feet to that musty and dusty house.

He was dressed as a butcher, from head to foot. I sat there, telling him about the grey dream of mine. He took the brush and drew it on the canvas into the form of a woman’s face with red lips with a high nose and no eyes.

“You don’t need the eyes while dreaming!”

“So where are my eyes while dreaming?”

“On the forehead of the man who does not dream”

The picture was bought by a photographer as a gift to his wife for a princely sum. I took the money from selling my dream, from selling part of my soul, with a sinking feeling.

I could no longer keep parts of my dreams for myself. He began entering my world with steps as light as a cat. He asked me not to dream boring dreams. Even my dreams were now being controlled, so what in this world was sacred, I asked myself?

On a sunny day, he asked me to dream about a rich widow, a dream filled with sufferings the woman had to bear from losing her husband. I dreamt about that woman lying naked in a field after harvest. So he took up the brush and drew that woman and an effigy with the face of her husband. They embraced each other in the deserted field. The picture was displayed in her large room where that widow received guests.

“What a charlatan you are!” – I said angrily because he had distorted my dream. But I still took the money from him.

“So, have more beautiful dreams!” – He said, sniggering and went upstairs to the dark room, his own world. I followed him, scolding him without regret. He turned around with icy cold eyes. I quivered and stepped back. Then I ran out onto the street. He was much scarier than anyone I had ever met.

That night I dreamt about a kiss, a shy kiss of a first love. It was so sweet and filled with love. I told him with great joy. He nodded his head slowly and drew the lips drowned on the bed of a swamp.

“Don’t you know romance?” – I asked.

“Isn’t your first love dead?”

A young couple bought the picture when it was still wet. I wondered what beauty they could see in the picture with the dried lips lying lonely in the swamp.

“How naive you are! Man wants to keep all happiness for himself!”

That was a very strange night. I dreamt I was flying amid the galaxy, playing with the stars. I wanted to keep that glittering dream for myself, but he wouldn’t listen. He phoned me, saying that a customer wanted to buy a dream for the cover of a book he had written. I was pleased with that demand, thinking that my dream would become a beautiful picture.

He worked on the picture in silence. It was a picture with two legs swinging on a crescent moon amid the air.

“What about the two wings?”

“No need”

I felt hurt, as if someone was repeatedly stabbing me in the heart. I went home in silence.

The launch of the book was successful beyond expectations. The author became famous. His photo was printed on the background: it was my dream. The author sent me his book as a gift.

In the afternoons while walking alone, I was startled to see my dreams appearing everywhere in the city. I had to turn away for fear that I would see myself. I did not have enough courage to go see him. I often got up late in the morning because my dreams had become ever darker. For a week now, I had not been able to find my cat. Probably it was mating season for the animal. The mice started appearing everywhere. I got angry with them, yelling at them and beating them away until I was exhausted. I lay down in the moonlight. In my dreams, I was turning grey and beginning to crack like a ceramic vase. In the end, I broke into smithereens.

When I woke up, it was noon. In panic, I wondered where I was. I felt I had lost my way since I had met the cold-blooded man. I rushed to him, demanding he return all that belonged to me so that I could patch up the dreams that had been torn apart by him. I threw myself into the dark room and opened all the windows. It suddenly got bright all around the room.There were those two eyes of the first picture and the face of the first love, and there the white wings hung up there in the ceiling. He was lying amid my dreams. Finally I realised that he had survived on these dreams.

“I’m sorry” – He said in a withering voice and died.

Translated by Mạnh Chương


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