10 May 2005

Sleep be Dreamier, Sleep be Wed
by Dave Eggers

So yeah, I was reading this short story on the train this morning, or perhaps it was the bus, and it made me laugh out loud, so now it's up here with my usual disregard for copyright. It's from a book called "short, short, stories" by Dave Eggers which collects a bunch of short pieces he wrote for the guardian in a slim volume. It's part of the pocket penguin series, which retail for like £1.50 and are terribly handy in their smallness. click here for all of the stuff Dave Eggers has written for the guardian.

Part I

There was a group of people, called the Americans, who once had a very vivid nightmare, simultaneously. The nightmare, which lasted many years, was nightmarish in many ways - but one notable facet was that in this nightmare the vice-president of their country was someone so outwardly and cartoonishly evil that his existence seemed ludicrous and wholly unbelievable, even in a nightmare. In the history of nightmare-villains and movie-villains and villains drawn with crayons by troubled children, this man stood above them all, though he was not very tall. Or maybe he was tall, but it was impossible to tell, given he walked very much like a hunchback, his head set deep into his shoulders and favouring one side. This way of walking seemed suspect, but it was nothing compared with the way he spoke. He spoke out of a small and dark corner of his mouth, in a way that was so comically fiendish that it seemed a put-on. If an improvising actor, asked to conjure a bad man or perhaps a minion of Satan, conceived of such a way of talking, his acting coach would say, "No, no. Pull back. Way back. We're doing the vice-president here - not Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein." But this was indeed the way the vice-president spoke and walked. And his laugh? A mirthless thing, a chilling "Heh heh heh" (again, emitted from a dank corner of his mouth) accompanied by a forced shaking of his round fleshy back. Yes, yes, a fleshy back that was, like the rest of him, always sweating. Or it seemed always to be sweating, every inch of him, oozing with oil and perspiration and, perhaps, small brown-black worms that would leave and enter him via his pores, their bidding known only to him. Was he impervious to death? He seemed to be. Over the years of this nightmare-life, God had tried, four or five times, to kill this man, by striking his heart. But each time the man's heart was struck, the vice-president laughed his rat-rat-tat laugh and shook his fleshy back, mocking God in much the same way that vampires mock certain crosses, or, say, anal leakage mocks olestra.

Part II

The people called Americans could not, it seemed, wake up from this nightmare wherein their two highest-ranking elected leaders were so clearly the wrong people for their positions, so ill-meaning in every way, that the situation defied even Nixonian standards of White House-based nefariousness. The most fiendish player in this nightmare, as we were explaining in the last instalment, was the vice-president, whose name cannot be uttered here for fear of upsetting children and plants and clouds. Suffice it to say that he was more evil than the designers of Happy Meals or the makers of smokeless tobacco, and the Americans dreamt dreams of him, constantly and without end. The Americans as a group were asleep for many years and were experiencing wretched dreams full of exploding children and men beheaded on TV, of ever-present fire and screaming and eyes everywhere wanting murder. The Americans were trapped in, it was thought, one collective red-black dream, and the only way they could awaken from the dream was for most of the dreaming Americans to choose to wake up. But the problem - the very strange problem - was that half of those dreaming chose to remain in this dream. (Did we say dream? Have we been saying dream? It was a nightmare, of course. A nightmare unlike any other, a nightmare that felt like the wearing of a lead cloak without holes for air or sight.) So while about half of those sleeping wanted to awaken, the other half watched, indeed, lived in, this very upsetting dream full of flames and blood and said, "I think this dream is OK", or "This is the best dream to be dreaming right now", or "It would only get worse if I chose to awaken". This was, of course, very frustrating to those who wished to wake up. Those who wished to awaken stirred and turned restlessly. They grabbed the covers, they opened windows, they moaned and coughed and kicked. But nothing, it seemed, would work. The sleepers slept and slept and even, sometimes, nodded and smiled when they watched and listened to the two men leading their nightmare. The two men would say to them, "Have you enjoyed the nightmare thus far? Because if you love the aforementioned exploding children and endless fire, we have more so very much more! - of that, to come."

Part III

The people called Americans continued to sleep. As we mentioned earlier, they existed in a collective nightmare, which was shaped and guided by their highest-ranking leaders, including the most creepy and - overtly, comically - evil-like person to hold high office since - well, the comparison is difficult. Who would compare, in a democracy at least? Would Thatcher rank this high? (Discuss.) Anyhow, this particular wretched person was named Cheney (Dick), and though everyone knew he was a bad man, there was a large group of the sleeping Americans who chose, apparently, to think of him as cute-bad, as opposed to truly bad-bad. That is, they knew that while in Congress he had voted against the honouring of Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela, and for logging the living shit out of every forest known to man, and against pre-school for disadvantaged children and about a thousand other things that seemed reasonable enough to reasonable people. But still they thought, well, yes, he is quite creepy and very evil-seeming in every conceivable way, but isn't he, somehow, so evil-seeming that he's actually kind of cute? Sort of like David Bowie in Labyrinth or Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet? You know, that kind of evil that's so ridiculous that you almost like the evil-doer, because they're so willing to go out and camp it up? This is what the sleepers of America thought about Cheney, who kept them living in a constant nightmare from which they could not awaken. He and his little friend, who looked like a turtle, told the Americans that the nightmare was a dream, that chaos was safety, that blood was gold, that their feet were actually their mouths, that leprechauns were hippos and that cookies were shrubbery. And so many sleeping Americans thought it all so ludicrous that they kept sleeping, as waking up would surely deprive them of such rich entertainment. Meanwhile, the other half of the American sleepers, those who wanted to awaken from the nightmare-dream, were trying like mad to awaken the sleepers and thus awaken the collective body of Americans. All had to awaken at once! And this was very hard, for everyone was very tired. What would it take, the wanting-to-awakens thought. How to rise from this state of near-coma? They kicked and screamed to no avail. They rang bells and threw cold water on the bed. But, in the end, do you know what did it? What woke up the willing sleepers and allowed the nation to rise from this red-black slumber? Neither do I. This story needs a good ending. Please send help.

©Dave Eggers 2004