New York Dream.
(Late October 2016)
A late summers afternoon in Wokingham, my hometown until the age of eighteen. I’m standing in the front garden of our house, by the driveway, looking over the fence at the world. A man approaches from the flats opposite, he is dressed in black jeans and black sweatshirt and is carrying a case of spanners, it’s Lou Reed. I know him from the neighbourhood, at this stage, the dream does not tell whether it’s as the rock star Lou Reed or just Lou Reed who lives across the road, but I know him somehow, and there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary for him to speak to me.
“ Hey, can you come and help fix my car?” he asks. His flat New York accent is exotic for the Home Counties.
“ I need to jack her up, but she’s heavy, and I don’t want to tear these stitches,” he says, putting his hand to his chest to indicate them. His fingers are spotted with engine oil.
I know he has just has a liver transplant, and that it is unusual for him to ask for help. He usually keeps himself to himself. Perhaps his true majesty is seeping into the dream now, because I am excited. I realise what a privileged position I am in. I agree at once, and follow him.
His car is a giant, a black 49 Dodge, stunning and pristine, a real American beauty. I’ve never seen him drive it round Wokingham, and I wonder how he got it here without me noticing; it must weighs tonnes. The hydraulic jack is hard work, but I manage to get it lifted. He slides underneath with his spanners and fixes whatever it is that needs to be fixed. There is not much conversation, I am smart enough to know that one wrong question, about music, or just about anything other than the matter in hand, and our bubble will burst. Right now, me and Lou Reed are fixing a car.
He looks frail, not unexpectedly, and I am worried he’ll hurt himself. He senses my concern, and says he’s fine.
Once the Dodge is fixed it’s mission complete, and I think he’s about to send me home, but he doesn’t. We walk out of the garage onto blazing white asphalt, the sun beating down. It’s extremely hot, and it’s clear we’re not in Wokingham anymore. In the distance the New York skyline juts up, mauve through the smog, and closer by, the sea glistens, and warehouses and water towers shimmer in the heat haze. I think we’re on Long Island, but the brilliant white and blue makes it seem almost Aegean.
Lou has a basketball and asks if I want to play – in exactly the way you’d hope he’d ask, not too friendly, take it or leave it detached, and not really caring one way or the other…except you know he really wants you to.
” Hey kid, wanna make some passes?”
He throws the ball at me, bouncing it once on the ground. I catch it at chest height and throw it back, but not too hard. He throws it back harder. The sound it makes hitting the bleached asphalt is hollow, and rings with a slight ricochet from the garage door. I see Lou is sweating, and wish he’d take his top off, but I know it’s not my business to suggest it, if he wanted it off he’d take it off, he just keeps passing the basketball and moving further back, enjoying the game.
“ Throw it harder,” he commands, but I am worried about his stitches. If he reaches too high, his wound could open, it’s only been a few months – he’s not exactly convalescing.
“ Don’t worry about me,” he says, and he means it, and he’s not a man to be argued with.
He doesn’t say much, except for the odd remark about the catches and throws, but I don’t mind, I’m just happy to be here, but trying not to injure him. Sweat runs down the deep lines of his face and glistens above his lip. He squints at the sun’s glare – no shades to help him, his eyes tired, yet determined. He looks uncomfortable, and I think we should stop, but he forces himself, and me, to play on.
He slams the ball hard so that it bounces above my head and silhouettes against the sky. As he does this, I notice a single cloud in the distance, behind his head. Its vapour swirls in tendrils, weaving celestial shapes. The Lady of Shalott appears, her sepulchral beauty blown by the breeze, her hair and gown spiralling in ghostly wisps. Transfixed and enchanted by this divine apparition, I stop the game and shout out.
“ Lou, turn around, look up there, it’s beautiful!”
He seems sceptical, as if I might be trying to pull something, as if I’d dare. Maybe I’d used his name too freely?
“ Look…in the sky, please!”
“ This better be good,” he says.
It’s not the quickest one hundred and eighty degrees I’ve seen. As he turns, the vision changes. By the time he sees her, she has distorted into a ravaged, ancient whore, beckoning with claw fingers, and rubbing her crotch obscenely. Lou looks at me like I’m a total idiot.
“ You think that’s beautiful?”
“ No, you missed it, you didn’t see it before.”
His thin lips pull a half smile, and he stares right into me. There’s a weary kindness to his expression, like a teacher explaining to a pupil who’s not quite up to it. He closes his eyes for a moment and places a hand on my shoulder, and gestures towards the spot where the cloud had been.
“ You know what that is don’t you?” he asks.
“ No, I don’t,” I reply.
I feel foolish, like I’ve disappointed him. I think I’ve broken the spell and finally made him angry. But with his hand still gripping me, he sighs, and with a face of infinite wisdom and utter resignation, and a voice of no expression, he tells me.
“That’s just the Trump signal.”