Ash and Pomegranate Trees
rating: +12+x

When I find cremated dreams, it is often in velvetbacked theatre seats. Or in plastic lawn chairs, set on sunset beaches glazed with pearlescent sand, or in thick cheap grey memory foam office chairs stationed in front of decades out of date Mac computers — still that creamy off white loved by the whole of the nineties — or in airplane seats sticky with grease and the long-dry salt-sweat imprints of countless bottoms. We do a lot of sitting, as a species. I thought I'd find more memories in wedding lawns and the chairs stacked behind the venue sheds, back when I was still new to this, but I guess the only people making memories there are the couple to be, and sometimes not even that. I went to a few weddings, to check that I wasn’t missing anything, and really it’s just the spouses dropping dreams to the ground — and even then, sometimes it's just one, and sometimes neither. Most everyone else is either there as a courtesy or brought along for the food.

Relationships are weird.

The dreams weren't always cremated. I guess that's why my profession is so new. When I collect them in my bell jars and phials (bought from Goodwill 50 percent off!), it is with careful care that I scoop and cap them and bring them to my car. They didn't get anyone to love them before, so to encourage alien wishes to grow from them I treat them gently. I think working physical stuff from dreams happens best if the dreams remember that they were once valued and can be valued again. The smell of pomegranates is like ash and sweat and sweet lemon peel combined. I bring the vials from there into the apartment, up all those fire escape concrete stairs going up thirteen stories even though the landlord calls it fourteen, vials clacking all that way and scaring me deep enough I get nightmares of endless grey powder falling down down down from cracked and shattered jars, each particle hitting the earth louder than a bomb. I don’t drop them now. Used to, when I was an apprentice to the trade of dream reuse, and I still have burns down my arms from that. But never since I grew up. Involuntary exposure took care of that, I think.

The pomegranate trees are the easy bit. I lug the boxes of grey-and-sparkle vials into the sunroom – used to be my kitchen, but you gotta work with what you have. Did you know that cremated dreams look a lot like that layered sand kids make at the craft fair? Grainy photos, sepia-toned not with age but from sun exposure, hang on the wall above my workstation, and below that I arrange, gridlike, abandoned dreams, bottled: layers upon layers of silver freedom and opal acceptance and sapphire love, all coalescing together into burnt piles where they were derealized, only to be scooped and sorted on my countertop. Behind me, shading my skin from the sun, are the pomegranate trees. They are so hungry, always. They can’t go outside. They will wait; for now, I must work.

I mix people’s dreams together, their ever large layered pile of dreams from throughout their whole life into one big fluffy pile like raked autumn leaves. Some days the pile is mountainous, and other days it is a line thinner than the cheapest string of coke. The sun and her shadows are forgotten as I work, pulled up in my seat at the countertop; the grow-light LEDs at my back illuminate the clutter, and the space is shared by my grove of pomegranate trees and their burgeoning fruit like fists bloody and freshly ripe from punching. Always fruiting, never blossoming. Sometimes they smell good. Mostly I don’t notice. I sort the powdered dream ash with hands, then fingers, then tweezers deep into the night, working by polaroid-developing redlight after the LED’s day-timer ticks into its nightly extinction. Usually, I make my final pile at sunrise, rainbow sorted from the stillbirth of forgotten memories and then, of the dreams, spread by particular desire, but not always. I always wondered why people don't fill up their dreams in life. A mystery for another day. Grey never suited me, but what would I know of my own dead dreams? I couldn’t see them, after all. Nobody can.

The times when I don’t have enough to feed the trees, I go back outside on my bike, on public transit, in my neighbour’s little Cessna she calls Bessie which I fly on my expired pilot’s licence that barely covers the little prop plane, and go out in search of events that make people abandon their dreams. Sneak into boardrooms with stiffly plush chairs imprinted with clenched muscles, sweatstains all down the back of the black pleather rough at the edges where the occupants ground their nails furiously into the foam lying below. Scoop up the dreams from beneath the chairs, and a little of the foam too. Scrape them up, shining blue with a desire for love half-blown by the wind from the oil-black beaches where turtles used to come. Catch dreams from skyscraper balconies, from subarctic research stations where interns found out they wanted to go into engineering instead but still had six months here and were far enough in their field anyway so why don’t they just graduate and make some money and maybe come back to what they really love later.

I go out hunting in the woods, find a mangled deer walking stiffly with an arrow in its side, look in the tree and find a hunter there dead by heart attack: plump under his wool coat with a compound bow still dangling loosely from his fingertips. Yank the arrow and patch the deer, because it’s the right thing to do — and here’s the funny thing about dreams: they don’t come from the head. They don’t come from the heart, either. Poets would be so mad. Dreams come from all sorts of places, like sweat; it’s just different with each person. With the hunter, I unbuttoned his brown aviator coat and his jeans, leaving him in his briefs in the cold. His dreams, green and red, had collected in his armpits. Funny, that.

I had a friend once in college, OD’d. Street stuff, maybe, mixed with whatnot. Maybe she didn’t get the dose right, I don’t know. She had just wanted to try it, I think. Graduation a week away, friend told her she’d gotten the right stuff. Point is, the EMTs didn’t get there in time. Nor did I. Walked in, and the room was just freezing, you know? And quiet. The way only death can make things. She had always called herself an angel. A Chemistry major, brilliant platinum blonde hair and the hardest student I’d ever met. Jacked, too, went to the gym every day. Muscles like a tiger. And you know what? When her body cooled and the teens playing at being adults in their paramedic costumes were done, I asked for some time alone and turned her over. Hair sprayed out like a halo, full of static electricity on the fir floor. And on her back were two jagged lines like the Cascades. Dream dust, cremated along with her mind after all that ecstasy. Something in me said that if she had wings, they’d be socketed right there with a whole bundle of muscle. That was the first time I’d found cremated dreams on my own. After that, it got easier. But I digress.

Those are the times I need to go out again: when I don’t have enough charged dreams — too much ash, not enough sapphire or ruby or gold or whatnot, not enough of people’s desires and passions. But sometimes, on a good day of collection or after several days out in the weather and the temperature and the sun or lack thereof, I have enough to feed the pomegranate trees.

I stretch at the counter. It’s a long task, sorting, but now there are neat piles of wealth-loving gold and freedom-seeking sapphire and all the rest, every other colour and spectra of desire out there in the world. Some are so uncommon I lump them together: the glass, the four-dimensional, the impossible blues and pinks. The shifting elements: fractal dreams of those from other worlds and lost in our own. Charon doesn’t mind when those are lumped together. So I scoop each element and the rare ones into their own piles, into their own vials after that, and attach them like IV bags in their bell jars wired at the top to keep the rats out to the trees and link up the tubes.

It’s not a special moment. Or it shouldn’t be, when I hook them up. All the work is done; I just need to wait now for the trees in their little pots barely large enough not to be called Bonsai to bloom and fruit. No need to worry about pollination; the dreams work for that, somehow. I don’t know how it works, exactly. My dreams are full of bees, though, so maybe that has something to do with it. Not everyone can be an ash-dream collector, in the end.

And then time moves on. I collect more dream dust the next day, and then the next, and switch out the now-empty bell-jars for fresh ones to glitter in jewel tones nobody else can see (thank goodness for that; I’d have been busted long ago if not saved by that sweet mercy) and burn away the hours, the days, the seasons. And at some unknowable point, I wake one day to the smell of gold, and know it’s time.

Lugging the dream-laden pomegranates down the stairs is never fun, but it’s oddly exciting, really. At the bottom of my apartment building is a cave that leads to Hades. Not the god himself, mind you, but his domain. The Underworld: Hades. The folks there don’t like it when you call it anything else. Which is understandable really, because who wants their home for the last eight hundred years being called by the wrong name? Rude tourist, that’s what they classify you as if you do that. Not that most are eight hundred years old — most walk into Lethe to start their rebirth after a few hundred years of catching up. No new people they remember, see, and too many new fashion and language trends to keep track of. Tends to wear on the mind and spirit, after a while. Not that I spend much time talking to them, though. I mostly stay on the outskirts. Near the River Styx.

I bring coins, of course. It’s not superstition, as much as my overland friends like to prod at my pockets and jest at how I carry hard cash when I have a credit card, and I just laugh and tell them it’s for good luck. See, Charon likes tips. And it’s not so much that the guy would do something bad to me if I didn’t — we’re good friends now, have been for a few hundred years (his time) or twenty (my time) — it's that to be honest, he could use the money. Not many people die with gold under their tongues these days. So I bring it for him, and we share a sour orange smoothie with lemon zest — his favourite treat, and mine too after the first few trips after finding out that the other Hades shops were out past Elysium, where I couldn’t go — and I drop off the cargo, plump and full to bursting, pomegranates grown on dreams, streaky and slick like someone dipped them in a bath bomb of oil, the most alien colours and sometimes shapes indescribable at the post office. Mundane, I know, and I agree, really. It’s at that point every year that I get this feeling I’m back in the overland, just dropping off some mail. I love the post office for that. Everywhere you go, it makes sense and is efficient, albeit in its own slow and plodding way. Everyone gets their turn. Every package gets to where it should be, even if it accidentally gets routed through New Zealand a few times in the process and arrives slightly battered and rain-damaged with inspection stamps from France, Russia, the United States, and Canada alongside a number of smaller, less identifiable ones. I still have that package somewhere. Probably in the attic. Sometimes I wonder if they scanned it with radiation, and if so how many times it can be scanned before it needs to be put in lead for wherever it’s placed for long-term storage. Sometimes I wonder if the one in my attic should count for that.

Small thoughts aside. Postal offices tend to do that to me. I get back to Charon, chat idly under a sky filled with wholly alien stars hanging too low to be real but too high to be identified as fake, and drink my smoothie, which has not melted since I left to drop off the pomegranates. Perks of Hades.

And then I go back across the River Styx, give the rest of my coins save for one to the loitering souls who didn’t have anything to trade for passage — it’s not just coins, these days. Charon does his best to accommodate the generations after Greece who weren’t buried with coins, but sometimes people really can’t pay, and he has to leave them on the opposite shore. Even divine beings have to eat, and boats aren’t tended to for free. As I understand it, pitch is stupidly expensive in Hades, to Charon’s chagrin—

—and I make it back up the staircase, legs aching, back throbbing, spine wailing, and collapse into bed. I flip my calendar to a guess of the date — tomorrow I’ll check the time, the date, whatnot, get some pictures of airline tickets or whatever and toss my clothes around like I’ve actually travelled. Keep up appearances. Eventually, overland postal services will mail me compensation from Hades, in the form of a cheque or a mysteriously and recently unveiled highly valuable artifact museums would die to have (or pay $5000 or so if I promise to let them have it for keepsies). I don’t check my phone, since my flip phone dies so fast in Hades, it’s not even funny. — and after all that, after all the thinking and what-ifs and slow fuzzy forgetting of conversations I had with Charon, the spirits, the things in the Styx, what types of dreams I sold, exactly, to the spirits of Hades who so desperately want to remember what loving and caring is actually like, slowly eliminating the dawning-upon horrified realization that the gods have gotten lonely and bored, have become like my chemistry major friend from college trying ecstasy, MDMA, LSD, whatever she could get her hands on because she had gotten good enough at life that she felt like she was just going through the motions, needed drugs to feel happy and sad and afraid and alive again — I forget all of that.

My body stills. Tomorrow, I will collect fallen dreams, and in doing so I will make a few more of my own. And days will pass and I will do the same, and days will pass and more of that same will occur, and I will visit Hades sometimes but not always. And eventually, after all this, my ashes will fall to the earth: when I become disillusioned, when I fail in my duties, when I die. That’s okay. One day, we’ll all be ashes.

Sometimes I dream of the sea. But I’m a dream gatherer, a pomegranate grower, a history collector, I think fruitlessly. The dreams come anyway. What would I be if I couldn’t burn away the ship-loving, sailing-prone parts of myself growing every time I go to harbour for fish? A sailor, probably, but then what would become of the part of me that was a dream gatherer? What would happen to my pomegranate trees? What of my dusts, my vials, my trips to Hades? And what of the parts of me that want to be a pilot, a writer, a designer? Would those be unable to be burned away, too? Would I become a thicket of growths, each overlapping the next, all too dense and blocking out the sun but by some tragic misfortune unburnable, forever tormented to live in the dark? I would become nothing if I were that.

That’s the purpose of dream cremation, I think. The death of dreams is a necessary thing, refreshing, a controlled burn of the self — a tragedy, but one that makes fresh ground for burgeoning wishes and blooming desires that could not prosper in the thorns of the understory. A stagnating forest is the deadest that can be; a still ocean is a broken ecosystem. People are meant to evolve, to change, and that necessitates the losing of dreams, I believe. The collections on my countertop often come from tragedy, but you know the most powerful sources of dreams? Birthday parties. Places where children and teenagers and even adults decide their futures based on a sudden absolute love for science or a jagged and powerful desire to become a skydiver. And because that day is decided to be special, they blow out a candle and a new dream bursts into bloom in their chest, scorching out all those little buds that would have become a life of teaching or storytelling or construction or deciding. And maybe that’s a good thing.

As I lie there in bed, each and every night, it’s on my mind: preservation shouldn’t be sacred. Memories can be cherished, but life is a wild and wriggling thing, and to contain it in stagnation only leads to endless recital and despair. The breaking of old dreams is necessary for the making of new love and life and joy. To me, that’s where our prayers should lie.

I close my eyes, this and every night, and with the weight of the world off my shoulders from the feathery lightness of forgetting the old to make way for tomorrow, I sleep. Pomegranates, full to bursting with promise, sway above my head.

And I dream of everything.

Sweet dreams are made of bees / who am I do diss a bee / travel the world and the seven bees / everybody's looking for some-bee

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License