Difference between revisions of "Haniel"

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Latest revision as of 14:28, 29 July 2020

This story first appeared in Whole Earth Review, #78, Winter 1993. Copyright is held by the author.

E-mail to   [email protected]  for info

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Thaisa Frank is the winner of two PEN awards and is the author of two books
of short stories, Desire  and A Brief History of Camouflage.  She neither
affirms nor denies relationships with angels.

E-mail   [email protected]
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She couldn't remember when she began to envy her husband's dreams. Maybe
around the fourth week of pregnancy, after he'd moved out and then moved
back again. Or maybe around the twentieth week, when he wanted to name the
baby after himself, and she said no. The truth is, she didn't remember
because the condition of envy had become a chronic background noise. Her
husband had always had baroque and complex dreams and she'd never minded.
Now her  envy surrounded them both like a hot electric fence.

She could see her husband clearly. He was blond, bearded, surrounded by 
the haze of his dream. He woke up, propped himself up on one elbow, 
looking slightly disoriented. She didn't ask to hear the dream. He told 
her.

This morning his dream was about time travel. He had visited a country 
where people still thought the earth was flat and never traveled far 
because they were afraid they were going to fall off. Since he knew the 
earth was round, he convinced them otherwise, but when they started to 
disappear over the horizon, it seemed he had made a mistake. She leaned 
forward, looking encouraged -- maybe this was a dream of failed 
adventure, after all. But no. It turned out that when everyone 
disappeared over the horizon, they were really flying. Her husband could 
fly, too: As he flew, he saw the entire country below him. Thatched 
roofs. Children with hoops. Quaint little streets. "A fairyland," he 
said, "just like Disney."

He often had flying dreams. They were giddy, hallucinatory, perilous. 
She lay in bed listening and her envy surrounded them.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," she answered.

She smiled, concealing her envy, but he caught it. "Just life," she 
reassured him.

In a sense, she was telling the truth. Their faucets leaked. Their 
washing machine overflowed. Yesterday they'd bought two dozen miniscule 
T-shirts that turned out to be for nine-month-olds, not newborns. They 
were investigating breast pumps that looked like devices from the regime 
of Torquemada. Lists of names for the baby lined their kitchen wall and 
they couldn't agree on any of them.

But in another sense, the truth was only her envy Ñ not any kind of 
envy, but dream envy, an affliction of trolls, gremlins, bats, sad, 
dreamless beings relegated to caves. A dangerous omen. An unhappy and 
violent passion. Her midwife had advised her of this, pressing into her 
hands herbs, amulets, arcane books, a dream pillow filled with lavender 
and sage. Dreams are essential, she'd said. You must work to get yours 
back.

Her husband leaned over and touched her belly. "Whatever happened to the 
good old days?" he asked. It was something he'd been asking for awhile, 
a compelling, urgent question.

"Nothing," she said. "They're here right now." The baby chose this 
moment to shift inside of her. An obscure dolphin. A rumbling miniature 
subway. He was always, without a doubt, the most important person in the 
room, an unruly character, waiting for the chance to speak. On 
ultrasound he was the size of a kitten, his transparent heart no bigger 
than a dime. After they saw him, her husband drew a heart on her stomach 
and kissed it. See. I'm being good now.

Today he turned to her, not unkindly. "You resent my dreams," he said. 
"You begrudge me this little corner of my mind."

"Of course I don't."

"But you do. You begrudge me. I know it."

She said nothing. Under her pillow, she could feel the velvet dream 
pillow the midwife had given her. It was prickly, filled with sage and 
lavender. The sage had come from the Bolivian mountains. The midwife 
found it last summer at the witch's market in La Paz.

"I'm being exemplary these days," he continued. "I've found a crib. I 
went with you to buy those ridiculous T-shirts and today I'm going to 
help you return them. I've even gone to those damn birthing classes with 
what's-her-name."

"Laurel Moonflower," she supplied. Laurel Moonflower was the midwife. 
Her husband didn't like her. He said she was a New Age parody.

"Laurel Moonflower," he agreed. "I've gone there and I've sat there and 
I've admired her models of the pelvis. I've chanted atonal chants. I've 
offered prayers. I've rubbed your back. And you begrudge me my dreams."

I don't begrudge you, I blame you. She didn't say this, but thought it. 
The day after he'd moved out, to a lawyer friend's place on a street 
with the improbable name of Taurus, she'd woken from a dream about being 
trapped in the city of Dresden during the second world war. She was in a 
house, standing by a cabinet full of fragile china, when a bomb fell. 
Cup after cup after cup shattered in slow motion. A miniature china 
shepherdess was severed from her sheep. Plates decorated with flowers 
crashed. This had been her last dream. Now her nights were a blank 
canvas.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"Nothing."

"Are you hungry?"

"Just for grapes. Grapes are all I have room for. It's like someone put 
a grand piano in there."

He went to the kitchen and came back with grapes for her and a huge hunk 
of toasted French bread for himself. He climbed into bed and they 
started to eat. It was a custom they used to enjoy.

"How are the grapes?"

"Fine." In fact, they were too soft.

Since he'd moved back, traits which she'd previously found charming had 
become irritating beyond belief. One surfaced now. The way he crunched 
his toast. Once it was boyish enthusiasm. Now it was greed.

"Do you have to eat so loudly?" she asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you're taking very big bites."

His hand slammed against the white comforter. "I'll eat the way I want 
to."

She waited. The words arrived. "You pig." It was a dangerous thing to 
say. He could call her a pig, too. She looked a lot more like one than 
he did. You're a pig. He could say that. But he didn't. He threw his 
toast on the floor.

"Oh my," she said. "A food fight."

"Spare me your irony." He went into the kitchen for a sponge and soon 
was picking butter from the fringes of the woven rug.

It wasn't a wanted pregnancy. That's how she thought of it now. It 
wasn't a wanted pregnancy, and it was a miracle that he stayed. A lot of 
them don't, you know. A lot of them just leave. But when they finally 
see these wonderful little beings, they always love them. If they stay . 
. . . Laurel Moonflower, the midwife, had told her this last part. She'd 
also said she should be more generous with her husband. Allowing was the 
word she used. For heaven's sake, be more allowing.

In truth, she thought, Laurel Moonflower had problems of her own: Last 
summer, in La Paz, she claimed to have fallen in love with an enormous 
black-and-white bull who lived near the hacienda where she stayed. She 
didn't call it falling in love. She called it a soul connection. I have 
a soul connection with that animal. And it has cured me of my bitterness 
concerning males of every species. Not that the love would ever lead to 
anything. But it was real.

Sometimes the midwife wrote the bull, care of the owner, in Spanish. The 
bull's name was Flacadillo. Little lazy one. The owner said he had a 
deep heart and promised her he'd never be slaughtered.

Her husband continued to clean the rug, muttering damn under his breath. 
Even as he muttered, she reached for a book of dreams Laurel Moonflower 
had given her. The book was old, with a serious black cover, filled with 
symbols and incantations. An appendix listed angels in charge of dreams 
for every hour of the night and day. It seemed they were always 
rotating: this morning, Sunday at eight-thirty a.m., the archangel 
Michael resided. He would soon be replaced by Haniel, who would be 
followed by Raphael. The angels must be exhausted, juggling their 
heavenly schedules. Maybe they forgot. Maybe no one was in charge. She 
lay back in bed and tried to imagine Michael, angel of ice, with fiery 
wings that never melted. She was interrupted by the sound of a knife 
scraping against toast, followed by rebellious bites, her husband eating 
in the kitchen. Soon he came inside, and sat beside her on the bed. He 
was filled with toast and very little forgiveness.

"So," he said. "What's on the agenda for today?" He asked as if he 
didn't want to know.

"Laurel's coming this morning."

"Why?"

"I already told you. She likes to make house calls. To check out the 
vibes."

"I wish we weren't using her. She gets on my nerves."

"Laurel's okay. And we can't do it alone." She laughed. "No one can."

"In that case, I'll dress." He went to the closet and pulled out a 
brown-and-white striped djellabah that made him look like a prophet. He 
put it on, adding sunglasses.

"How do I look? Will Laurel like it?"

"Give me a break. You look awful."

In a fit of nest-building she'd put up lace curtains which made the bare 
trees outside seem covered with snow, the landscape done in petit point. 
He didn't like the curtains. Every morning he pulled them back, making 
the stretch-rods slip. She got out of bed and recovered the windows, 
transforming the landscape back to winter. She wondered if she should 
try to dream: Michael was on for another twenty minutes and then the 
intimidating Haniel, guardian of gates for the west wind, would arrive. 
What would happen, she wondered, if you were having a dream during a 
change of celestial shifts? Would the dream evaporate? Would the angels 
fight to claim it? Not that she believed in angels. She believed in 
accidents, lucky breaks, arbitrary forces of nature. No wonder the dream 
pillow didn't work. One had to be sincere. One had, as the midwife said, 
to believe.

She went back into bed and began to read an old copy of People magazine 
she'd snuck from the dentist's months ago. Two of the stars whose 
weddings had been featured were already divorced, and a prominent 
socialite had died. She liked reading old copies of People magazine: It 
was a curious form of time-travel. Her husband opened the door and she 
snuck it under the covers. He was still wearing the djellabah.

"Laurel's here," he announced.

"She wasn't supposed to come until eleven," she said, making no move to 
get out of bed.

"Well, she's here. In all her glory."

There were two taps on the door, and Laurel Moonflower walked inside. A 
med-ley of crescent earrings, silver bracelets, floral scents, woven 
shawls, velvet paisleys. Laurel Moonflower was large and her flowing 
hair the color of moonbeams. She wore two Victorian lockets and carried 
a carpetbag. "My," she said softly. "What a wonderful room!"

Her husband scrunched over in a straight-backed chair. "Welcome to our 
humble birthing hut," he said in a peasant accent.

"Oh, but it's wonderful," said Laurel, missing the irony. "All you need 
is a picture. Something to look at while the baby is being born." She 
floated around the room, pressing the mattress, touching the curtains. 
Everything seemed whiter in her presence, the trees outside dusted with 
real snow. She sat in the rocker, saying that a rocker was a blessing 
with a baby. Laurel should know. She'd had three children, each by a 
different man.

"How are you doing?" she asked them both.

"Fine," they lied.

"Really? Somehow things feel . . . " Laurel groped. "Not exactly . . . 
mellow. I mean if something's wrong, I'd like to know."

He leaned forward, adjusting his sunglasses. "I'll tell you the truth," 
he said, still using the accent. "Things are not so fine with us in our 
little hut. No. As we near the hour of the birth things are not so 
fine."

"Really?" Laurel looked at him warily. In sunglasses, with his hairy 
legs sticking out of the djellabah, he looked like a strange celebrity 
from People magazine. "Like what?" she asked.

"Like her begrudging me my dreams," he said, dropping the accent. "Like 
her hating me when I have a pleasant night."

"Really?" Laurel looked upset. "What do you mean?"

He paused, plunged on. "She envies me my dreams!" he cried. "Not that 
she'll admit it. But she begrudges me. Talk about vibes! These are 
vibes!"

Over the past months, they'd tried out various names for the baby, some 
of which persisted in the form of errant greetings. From her aunt, a 
check accompanied by a card, saying, Galen, be sure your mom and dad 
have a teddy bear waiting for you when you arrive. From two friends 
overseas, a note: Love to the future Christopher Ñ our favorite warm 
fuzzy of the nineties. These were on the bedside table, reminders of 
near-hits, possible errors, compromise. She swept them off, along with 
the grapes. "I despise you," she said to her husband. "You don't stop at 
anything!"

A silence entered the room. A polite, expectant silence. Laurel opened 
her carpetbag and the air filled with the fragrance of flowers. She 
pulled out sage, dried lavender, rose petals, kept rummaging through the 
bag. She was looking for something, or pretending to. An amulet? The 
essence of an angel? Finally she found a small, dark blue book, the size 
of a postcard. She carried it over to the bed.

"Not another New Age tome," said her husband. "Really, we have plenty."

Laurel turned to him. Her eyes were fierce. "You leave," she said. "You 
leave right now."

He left. Laurel handed her the book. It was the size of a child's story 
book. All the pages were blank.

"What's this?"

"A book of dreams. Your dreams. Nobody else's. You write down whatever 
you want to dream and eventually you'll dream it. Really. It works." 
Laurel looked at her sternly. "Dream envy is a terrible thing," she 
continued. "Dreams belong to everyone. Even men." She paused, suddenly 
looking sad. "Be grateful," she said, "that you share karma with your 
husband. I only have karma with an animal."

It was quiet when Laurel left. The smell of lavender was everywhere. She 
lay back in bed, wondering if Laurel's bull dreamt in his meadow of 
flowers. Of what would Flacadillo dream? Of cows, perhaps, large, 
compassionate, forgiving. Or of Laurel with her crescent earrings, 
staring at him across the fence. Laurel once told her that every night 
in Bolivia she went to the barn where Flacadillo slept and sat opposite 
his stall in the straw. They gazed at each other for hours.

She shifted and the baby shifted, too. The space inside her seemed vast, 
boundless. She got up quietly and took everything Laurel had given her 
from the bedside table: The dream books, the book of blank pages, the 
amulets, the dream pillow.

The hell with dreams, she thought, putting everything in a drawer. I'll 
envy him as much as I want.

Her husband came in. He'd found clean laundry in the dryer and changed 
into jeans. "Let's return those T-shirts," he said.

That night, in the hour of Gabriel's ascendance, she had a dream. Again, 
she was in Dresden during the war. It was night and she was escap-ing in 
a car. A stranger drove. She was painfully aware of the fragile city: 
its statues, its stonework, its houses about to be bombed. At some point 
the car was stopped. Flashlights shone. It was the police. She reached 
for her false identity papers. The SS nodded approval. The car drove on.

The dream made sense, the way an echo affirms sound. She didn't tell it 
to her husband, or Laurel. She kept it to herself. But her husband 
guessed she had dreamt. "You've been traveling," he said when she woke 
up. "I see it in your eyes."

Four weeks ago to this day their baby was born. She wore long purple 
socks, recommended by Laurel, because purple is the color of healing, 
and a renaissance angel in fiery robes watched from a picture on the 
wall. When he saw the baby, her husband cried. You see, Laurel said to 
her with her eyes. When they see these wonderful little guys they always 
melt . . .

Their baby still doesn't have a name, although they're coming close to 
finding one. At night he sleeps between the two of them, in a sense 
unknown, but no longer obscure. And her husband still dreams. He dreams 
of crusades and first ascents and trips to Nepal. He's a juggler, a spy, 
a magician, a tosspot, a clown, a double agent. He has extraordinary 
adventures. But she no longer envies his dreams, having less to do with 
her dream of Dresden than with the baby, whom she pushed out by herself, 
straight into the world. In the morning, when her husband wakes up, he 
still stretches, smiles, pats her on the belly. "Whatever happened to 
the good old days?" he asks.