Louie had always had lifelike dreams, but he’d never had a dream continuing over several nights, like chapters in a book—not until he visited Dreamland.
Of course, he didn’t know the name of the place at first. To him, it was just a normal dream, except it felt more real. He could feel the wind and smell the grass—those kinds of details usually didn’t register in his dreams.
It was so real, in fact, that if it hadn’t been for the sky, Louie probably would’ve had a hard time discerning whether he was actually dreaming or not. The sky in Dreamland was the only sure telltale sign, because it was always a wrong color.
In the beginning there weren’t any other people around. The dreams took place in a town where Louie would wander about all by himself. It was actually kind of boring.
But then the man in blue started showing up.
Louie would notice him now and again, but never up close and always just in brief glimpses. Sometimes he was standing on the corner of a street, sometimes by a tree in the park. There wasn’t anything threatening or scary about him; he was just a regular guy, always smiling and always dressed in the same outfit: a sky-blue suit.
The first time Louie spoke to the man was in a playground. The sun was shining, the bugs were buzzing, the grass had been newly mown, and the sky was pink like candy floss.
Louie had just sat down on the swing when a voice behind him said: “Hello, Louie.”
Louie gave a startle and almost fell off the swing.
The man had just appeared out of nowhere, like he had dropped down from heaven.
“How do you know my name?” Louie asked.
“I’m part of your dream, Louie. I know all the things you know.”
“You seem familiar. I think I know you from somewhere.”
The man went and sat down on the swing next to Louie. “Well, of course you do. You’ve been here in Dreamland before.”
“That’s what I call the place.”
“Oh. But, no, I mean before that. I think I know you from the real world.”
The man tilted his head. “Is this world not real?”
“It can’t be real, it’s just a dream world—you just said so yourself,” Louie pointed out.
“I never said dreams aren’t real.”
Louie looked at the man, swinging gently from side to side, trying to figure out if he was being serious. “You talk funny,” he remarked.
“It’s quite normal to talk a funny when you live in Dreamland.”
“Do you live here?”
“Don’t you ever get lonely?”
“A little. Luckily, I have a visitor.”
“But when I wake up, do you just stay in here?”
The man nodded. “I stay in here and wait for you to come back.” He breathed deeply, got up and straightened his jacket. “Well, it was nice to meet you, Louie. I hope we can continue our talk the next time you come by.”
“Why not continue now?”
The man shrugged and said as if it was self-evident: “Because you’re waking up now.”
Louie opened his mouth to answer, but realized he was suddenly in his bed. It was morning.
“Mom,” he said at breakfast. “Do you want to hear about a strange dream I had last night?”
“Mmmm,” his mom said. She was busy rummaging through her purse.
Louie stirred his cornflakes. “I dreamt I was in another world. There was a town but no people, except this one guy dressed in a blue suit.”
“That sounds exciting, Louie. Listen, have you seen my lip balm?” Mom started going through the drawers.
“I haven’t seen it,” Louie said. “Do you think dreams can be real, Mom?”
Mom looked up. “What? Real? No, of course not. It’s just dreams. Darn it, how can a lip balm just disappear like that?”
“Perhaps it’s still in one of the boxes?” Louie suggested, pointing with his spoon at the two big cardboard boxes by the wall.
Mom considered for a brief moment, then she went to look in the boxes.
“The man in my dreams reminded me of someone,” Louie went on. “He’s tall and has brown hair. He smiles a lot, and he has a space between his front teeth.”
Mom stopped searching and looked at him. “He has what?”
“A space between his front teeth.” Louie grinned. “Like me.”
Mom came closer, eyeing him thoughtfully. “Who did you say that man was?”
“I don’t know. But I think I saw him somewhere. What is it, Mom? You look worried.”
Mom sat down next to him. “Louie, do you remember how your father looked?”
Louie thought for a second. “Nah, not really.”
“But you’ve seen pictures of him, right?”
“Yes, you showed me one a long time ago. Why?”
Mom’s eyes moved for a second. “I just thought you might …” She sighed and stroked his hair. “Forget it, Louie. Eat your breakfast.”
Louie ate his breakfast. But out of the corner of his eye he noticed his mom wasn’t looking for the lip balm anymore. Instead, she just stood gazing out the window.
“Do you miss your father, Louie?” she asked without turning.
Louie was surprised; Mom never spoke about Dad. “I don’t know,” he said hesitantly. “Do you?”
“Sometimes. But it’s no good living in the past, right?”
Louie knew that was the only correct answer, whenever his mom told him it was no good living in the past. It was curious, though—she almost sounded scared, when she said it. Louie didn’t really get how you could be scared of the past.
Mom went out in the hallway. Louie heard the door to her bedroom close.
He finished his meal and rinsed out the bowl before going to his room. He got his bag and sat down on the bed, from where he could see out into the hallway.
A few minutes later, Mom came out from her room. She turned her head and saw him. Her expression was for a moment strange. Then, she smiled. “Don’t forget your swimwear. It’s Tuesday.”
“I remembered, Mom.”
She looked at her watch. “It’s time to go. I just need to pee, then we leave.” She went to the bathroom and closed the door.
Louie got up and slipped into his mom’s bedroom. He looked around and noticed the bottom drawer of the dresser being ajar. He went to open it very carefully. It contained only towels. But when he lifted the top one, he found a framed picture lying face down. Louie took it and turned it over.
It was his parents’ wedding picture.
Louie stared at it.
Although his suit was white and not blue, there was no mistaking it: Louie was looking at the man from his dreams.
Louie now knew who the man in blue was, and he planned on telling him so as soon as he saw him again.
He got the opportunity a couple of nights later. He arrived in Dreamland on an evening where the sky was the color of desert sand. He met the man in blue at a cobbled square next to a big fountain.
“Good evening, Louie,” he said as he came walking over. “Welcome back to Dreamland.”
“I know who you—” Louie began, but interrupted himself as his courage suddenly failed him.
The man looked inquiringly at him. “Who I what?”
Louie was afraid to say it. He didn’t know how the man would react.
“I know who you remind me of,” he said.
“And who might that be?”
“My dad. In fact, you look just like him.”
“Yes. I’ve seen a photo of him. By the way, I never got your name?”
“That’s right, you didn’t. My name is John.”
Louie gasped. “My dad’s name was John!”
The man raised his brow. “Really?”
Louie bit his lip, then decided to take the chance. “Maybe … maybe you are my dad.” He added quickly: “My dad died when I was little.”
John smiled. “In here, everything is really two things, Louie. What you see and what you want to see. For instance, have you ever seen a fountain where the water turns into marbles?”
Louie turned around and stared. The man was right: water spurted up into the air, but on the way down the droplets turned into tiny, see-through marbles, which glimmered in the light of the setting sun before dumping back into the water and sinking to the bottom.
“Wow, how did you do that?”
“I didn’t do anything. You’re just seeing what you want to see.”
Louie admired the magical fountain. Then, he looked back at the man in blue. “So, you just look like my dad? Because I want you to?”
“Does that disappoint you?”
Louie shrugged. “A little.”
They stood in silence for a short while.
“Let’s take a walk,” John said. “I want to know what happened since the last time we saw each other.”
“You do?” Louie asked with mild surprise. “Well, there’s really nothing exciting to tell. I’ve just been to school.”
“Tell me about school, then. What’s your favorite subject?”
“Science,” Louie said immediately, as they started walking across the cobblestones. “I’m also fairly good at math, but it’s just not nearly as fun.”
“What’s your least favorite subject, then?”
Louie thought about it and said: “English. We always have to do grammar. Our teacher’s name is Josephine, and she only picks the most boring stories for us to read. And she always asks questions, like: ‘Why would the main character say that?’ or, ‘How do you think he’s feeling on the inside?’” Louie shrugged. “How should I know? I didn’t write the story.”
“Maybe Josephine is trying to teach you to read between the lines.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means finding stuff that’s not being stated outright, but is still there. Those things are often the most important part of the story.”
Louie chewed on it. “I think I get it. You’re a lot better at explaining than Josephine.”
The dreams about the man in blue continued. Sometimes a few nights passed from one visit to the next, but Louie always ended up going back to Dreamland sooner or later.
He somehow never got bored in the company of John, although John spoke very little. Louie, on the other hand, talked like a waterfall. Whenever he would finish, John had a new question. Louie had never met a grown-up who would listen so intently.
The more time he spent with John, the more he reminded him of his father. Not just from the wedding photo, but also the small things he would do. How he moved his lips just before he spoke. How he always blinked twice.
It seemed odd that Louie was reminded of a person he didn’t remember. But he was.
About a month later, Louie once again told his mom about the man in blue, and this time she reacted even more strangely than before. They were sharing a pizza in the car on their way home—it was one of those days where his mom had to work late, and Louie had waited at the after-school center.
“You sure it’s the same dream?” she asked.
“It’s not the same dream. Well, in a way, I guess. But something new always happens.”
“But it’s the same guy? This man in blue?”
“How many times would you say you’ve dreamt about him?”
“Mmmm. I don’t know.”
Mom took her eyes off the road to look at him. “Twenty times?”
Louie took a bite of his slice. “More or less.”
For a moment neither of them spoke.
“Do you know his name?” his mom asked.
“It’s John. Like Dad.”
“So, it is your father.”
“No, he just has the same name. And he kind of looks like him. But he says he’s not him.”
They stopped at a red light. An old couple crossed the road. The light changed, and his mom set the car in motion, when a teenage girl walked out into the crosswalk. She was wearing a headset and stared at her phone, oblivious to the world.
“Goddamnit,” his mom said, stopping the car abruptly. “Watch where you’re going, young lady!”
It wasn’t until his mom gave a short honk that the girl looked up and realized the light was red. She hurried back onto the sidewalk.
“Some people are a danger to themselves,” Louie remarked.
Mom turned her head and looked at him. “What did you say?”
“I meant her, Mom. Not you.”
“Where did you hear that expression?”
“John said it. I told him about that time Ron climbed onto the roof of the bike shed to show off in front of the girls and then fell down and broke his wrist.”
Mom drove on. She seemed to be trying to study Louie’s face and the road at the same time.
“I’ve got a question for the guy in your dreams,” she said. “If you dream about him again, would you ask him something for me?”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Ask him who Capella is.”
“Who is it?”
“Just ask him, please.”
Louie didn’t really get why his mom was suddenly interested in his dreams, but he was going to do as she asked.
That same night he got the chance.
“Capella is your mom,” John said with a twinkle in his eye.
Mom dropped the electric kettle, causing steaming hot water to pour out over the kitchen counter. She spun around and looked at him. “What did he say?”
“He said you were Capella,” Louie repeated hesitantly.
“He didn’t explain to you what the name means?”
“No. Mom, the water is spilling onto the floor …”
Mom took a dishcloth and mopped up the water.
Louie fondled the edge of his T-shirt. “Is something wrong, Mom?”
“No, no. Everything’s fine.”
“I thought you dropped the kettle because of what I said.”
She came over and knelt down in front of him. “You didn’t do anything wrong, okay? I’m not mad at you. But I need you to tell me something. Did you already know that your dad used to call me Capella?”
Louie shook his head. “I never heard that name before in my life, Mom.”
“A hundred percent.”
“All right, sweetheart.” She smiled briefly and got up. Apparently, she didn’t want the tea anyway, because she just went straight to the bedroom and locked the door.
As Louie lay in bed that night, he somehow knew he would visit Dreamland again.
From the bathroom he could hear his mom talk on the phone. She always went to the bathroom to talk whenever it was something she didn’t want him to hear, or when she wanted to smoke. She said she didn’t smoke, but Louie found cigarette butts in the toilet now and then.
He only picked up some of the words, but it was pretty clear his mom was angry. It was probably Aunt Tina she was talking to; Mom was often angry with Aunt Tina.
“… I told you, there was no one else … no, not Mom, either … you sure? … then where could he have heard it from? … I swear, if you’re lying to me, Tina …”
Louie let his eyes wander across the empty bookcase. From the ceiling hung a naked lightbulb. The books and the lampshade were still in the boxes in the corner. Louie wasn’t sure it was worth the effort to unpack. They had already stayed here for four months, which was longer than most places.
He turned onto his side and studied the pattern in the wallpaper. He had looked at many different wallpapers. In this one he could make out a cloud and a tiger and a motorcycle with only one wheel. His eyelids started to get heavy.
A moment later he found himself in the park in Dreamland.
It was a lovely afternoon; the sun was shining and the sky was the color of rye bread. Louie saw the man in blue sitting on the bench underneath a big chestnut tree.
He went and sat down next to him.
“Hello, Louie. Nice to see you again.”
John smiled at him, curiously. “Why do you call me that?”
“Because you have to be my father. Only my dad called my mom Capella.”
“I’m part of your dream, remember?” John said, extending his arms. “It’s all taking place in your brain.”
“I thought so at first,” Louie admitted. “But I didn’t know the name. So you couldn’t have gotten it from my brain.”
John smiled. “You’re a clever boy, Louie. I would have waited a little while longer before telling you. I wanted to be sure that you were sure. Like I said, it can be difficult to tell the difference between what you see and what you want to see.”
“So … it’s true? You really are my …?”
Louie didn’t know how to react. He had often wondered what it would be like to meet his dad, and now he was sitting right next to him. In a way.
“You told me so much about yourself,” his dad said, getting up. “Perhaps you want to know a little about me?”
Louie followed him, as he wandered to a lake where a swan couple was floating around amongst the waterlilies.
“How did you die?” Louie asked.
“Your mom didn’t tell you?”
“I think it was some kind of disease. She said something once about the last days being really tough.”
Dad nodded. “I died from cancer. I got the diagnosis when you were only ten months old, and I died shortly after you turned one.” He looked like he remembered something. “Do you want to hear one of the last memories I have? Your mom baked a cake and brought it to the hospital. I had to blow out the candle for you, but when I did, you started laughing like crazy, so your mom lit the candle again, and I blew it out once more. I think we did it like ten times. You laughed until you were red in the face.” Dad chuckled.
Louie looked shyly down into the grass. That was such a nice memory—why had his mom never told him about it?
“Did it hurt to die?” he asked.
“I didn’t feel anything. I was very weak and slept most of the time. Sometimes I would sleep for days on end.” Dad seemed to be slipping away into memories. He was almost talking to himself now. “That was when I started having the dreams.”
They came to a wooden bridge leading to a small island in the middle of the lake. A flock of ducks were lying in the reeds, basking in the sunlight.
Dad stepped out onto the bridge and leaned against the railing. Louie followed him and looked down into the water. It was clear enough to see the bottom and the goldfishes which were swimming about.
“Dreams about your grandmother. My mom. She started showing up in my dreams, always wearing a pretty blue dress.” Dad glanced at him. “Do you know how your grandmother died?”
Louie shook his head.
“It was a car accident. I was only fourteen back then. I always missed her a lot, so when she suddenly came to me in my dreams, I was very happy. I spent a lot of time with her. It was a relief, too, because here in Dreamland I wasn’t sick or afraid.
“Towards the end I started preparing for death. It was incredibly hard to have to say goodbye to your mom and you. I didn’t feel like my life was over, not by a long shot. It was all very unfair. But then your grandmother told me something amazing one day.”
Dad produced a lump of bread from his pocket and tore it into halves, handing one to Louie. They started crumbling the bread and letting small pieces fall into the water. The ducks got up and waddled down to the brink.
“She told me I could live on if I joined her in here. You have to understand: at that time, I slept almost around the clock, and I spent more time in here than in the waking world. I somehow felt more at home in here—that’s why I made the decision.” Dad was out of bread. He brushed off his hands. “I felt ashamed because I left you and your mother before it was time, but I was afraid of dying.”
Louie realized he too was out of bread. The ducks grabbed the last pieces and looked eagerly up at him. He turned to his father. “So you didn’t really die. You just went to this place.”
Dad leaned his back against the railing. “I died all right, but only in the waking world. Here in Dreamland I have lived on for eleven years.”
“How about Grandma? Is she in here too?”
Dad shook his head. “Sadly, she disappeared shortly before I met you for the first time. I don’t think she will be back.”
“Then why did you and I meet? I mean, how did it happen?”
“Suddenly one day I just saw you. I understood right away who you were, but I decided it was better to hold off on telling you all of this until we knew each other a little better.”
“But why am I here? I’m not sick.”
“Apparently, you don’t need to be sick to visit Dreamland.” Dad shrugged. “I don’t know the rules, and I don’t know who makes them.”
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