Then Connie had a nightmare, a dream that turned into a nightmare.
She was with Michael, out of doors; they were digging something up. Together they found a bunch of dried flowers, or herbs, with a note or label attached to it. Connie knew it was a poem she’d written about Michael, or for Michael, years and years ago. The writing was tied to this bunch of herbs and wild flowers, and Connie was giving it to him, when Mikey said, why don’t you read it through first?—as if there might be something unpleasant or unexpected. Connie said, do you think I can decipher it? She’d forgotten what it was that she had written; she tried to ‘read’ the bunch of flowers, but she couldn’t remember the names; then it was a picture of flowers, with writing on the back. Another woman, Ruby perhaps, was there; they were cooking the ancient ears of corn they’d dug up, boiling them in a big pot of water, and eating the corn, Connie said, it’s been buried—what, 18 years, making mental calculations of the time passed. Thinking of Egyptian tomb paintings, she said, the bouquet will fade now. But the other two were finding living things inside the corn—a frog, then two frogs, large and dark and wet, squeezed up inside the corn cob, as if hibernating. There was a mouse, their prey, and the huge frogs hopped, plopped slowly away. Ruby said, and these two mice, but they weren’t mice, more like two beautiful orange and tortoiseshell cats, or kittens, folded up and over each other, sleeping. But when they moved they were long, suddenly, they moved very fast, like a streak of colour: ferrets. Connie tried to open the door into the house to get away from them, but they rushed suddenly at her, they ran right up the door beside her, where they hung, side by side, clinging with their claws. Connie was terrified. She saw their long bodies in perfect focus, hanging on the door, and sharp teeth and claws and beautiful bright patterns of their fur. She heard someone say, it’s really a typical rat thing, and she climbed onto a chair, wondering how they were going to get rid of these things, when they clearly weren’t going to be able to kill them.
Connie woke up and immediately remembered everything. The dream was like a bunch of flowers, she could tie a thread to each element, and follow the thread to a list of words. Something had been buried for 18 years; something was terrifyingly alive. She wrote it all down, diligent in her self-analysis. She wanted to know.
1. Archaeology: to read the events or objects of the distant past, reading meanings into bits of memories. The difficulty of deciphering the past, making connections between then and now.
2. The tag or label was like the blue circle from Mikey’s mobile, the one with the writing on it, the one she’d kept.
3. She couldn’t remember writing a poem for Mikey, but there was the poem she’d written to Basil—for Basil, or about Basil—Basil with whom she’d been so passionately in love, when she was 16 and 17, Basil who’d broken her heart so completely, beloved Basil; she’d written a poem for him relatively recently, although thinking about it she realised it was more than ten years ago, now, she was 23 or so, when he’d reappeared, and they’d had this brief affair. (Basil had ended up going out with Hope Lewis, too, eventually, it was amazing how almost everyone ended up going out with almost everyone, eventually.) Anyway what happened was they’d had this little affair a few years ago, to make up for it all, she thought; he’d taken her to bed and made love to her beautifully, as if to compensate for all the pain he’d caused her and the brutality of their clumsy, silent sex, their terrible virginity. In this poem she’d written. Connie described herself as a goblin, crouching like a frog in the corner, a goblin of malicious intent crouching in a corner of his life, watching his success, wanting still to break his heart, like he broke hers, and recognizing why, she wrote in the last line: because I still want you. Frog in the corn-er.
4. Frogs are amphibian, like the foetus, under water in the womb.
5. In William Faulkner’s novel, Sanctuary, a corncob is used as a penis-substitute, or phallus, in a rape. It is very shocking and violent.
6. Kittens: the description she’d read recently of a child putting her hand on a man’s genitals inside his trousers and saying it felt like a nest of kittens.
7. Some medieval peasants thought of the uterus as a frog, which could creep out of a sick woman’s mouth into a nearby brook, and swim around for a while, before crawling back inside.
8. Connie’s own “frog face”: her wide mouth, turned up nose, her mottled skin, “green around the gills.”
9. Among certain circles at St. Peter’s, “frog face” was a highly ironic term of endearment, like “slug-features” or “fatty.”
10. Connie’s current practice of swimming, 800 metres every other day, breast stroke kicking her legs like a frog.
11. Connie’s frog-like position, as she fucks William, crouching on top of him.
12. In Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Shirley, there are two women protagonists, one of whom leads a completely repressed, retiring life. At one point she compares herself to “a frog in marble.”
13. P.V. Glob’s book, The Bog People, which Ruby Powell first showed her when she was about 13 or 14. She’d shown her the photographs, of people buried in the bogs of Denmark, people who’d died two thousand years ago. The bodies were dark and shiny, perfectly preserved in the wet bog, the skin like leather, tanned by the bog water. The Tollund Man was found naked, with a little cap on his head, a noose around his neck, and a long leather belt around his waist. He was lying curled up on his side, as if sleeping.
14. When they opened up the Tollund Man, the scientists found his last meal had consisted of perhaps a special gruel or bannock made from the seeds of all the local plants, plants these Iron Age people wanted to return, to grow again in the spring. This meal confirmed the archaeologists’ view that many of the bog people had been sacrificed as part of a ritual that took place in deep winter, a ritual to renew the spring. It seems they were killed and then buried in the bog, the seeds in their stomach as if planted in the body in the bog.
15. The fertility grave: that’s where you bury the sacrificial object, in order to ensure the return of fertility. Grave fertility: that’s when the burial site erupts, surging with emotion. Grave fertility problems: that’s when you can’t find the fertility grave, that’s when you’re your own sacrificial object, that’s when your fertility gets buried, and never comes back.
16. Ferrets: beautiful and violent, vicious. Ferrets are down your trousers, and they’re red-eyed and sharp-toothed and clawed, and they hurt things, hunting their prey.
17. Ferrets defy gravity, clinging erect on the door. The violent phallus, again, cf. Freud: “… the remarkable phenomenon of erection, around which the human imagination has constantly played, cannot fail to be impressive, involving as it does an apparent suspension of the laws of gravity.” Interp., p.518.
18. Connie was phobic about rats, it had been severe at one time, crippling, but she was much better now. Nevertheless in dreams it was a way to make her wake up, to bring the nightmare to an end. In the dream the mouse was nearly a rat, but became kittens, then ferrets (worse), and finally the voice clinched it: rats, and she woke up.
19. Once Iris Gowing told Connie that she’d seen a rat on Charing Cross Bridge. Connie could never walk across the bridge again without thinking of it.
20. The frogs were inside the corn like the bog people in the bog and the foetus in the womb, but, if that’s the case, it’s a horrible baby, the frog baby is monstrous and frightening. The frogs were hunters, also, like ferrets, because the mouse was their prey. Froggy will a-hunting go—except it was a-courting, wasn’t it? She couldn’t remember.
21. In The Bog People, the woman goddess was represented by a sheaf of corn, an image of fertility. There were photographs of a wooden phallus stuck in the earth, with clay pots around it; the caption said it was an image of the goddess. Thus the ear of corn with the frog inside was an image of female fecundity, possibly, that was also phallic, powerful, violent.
22. The list of the names of wild flowers, the names of the seeds the Tollund Man ate, and “a scrap cake put out for the goblins,” present-day relic, or trace, of the offerings to the goddess.
23. The problem of calculating distance in time, like Professor Glob proving the Tollund Man was really 2,000-years-old, and hadn’t just been thrown into the bog recently.
24. The more pressing problem of reading, deciphering this poem she’d written that was somehow also a bunch of flowers and the image of a bunch of flowers. When you’re learning to read, it’s like learning the names of things, you remember the names, (cf. thing—presentations in Freud.) But reading isn’t really like that, because language isn’t about naming. She couldn’t remember the names of the flowers, so she couldn’t read the poem.
25. The only bouquet she’d kept was from her sister Hilary’s wedding, it was baby’s breath, or fog, as Italians called it, or baby’s tears … . She couldn’t remember its proper name: tiny white flowers in a cloud, the bouquet sat, stuck in a decanter, on the dusty top shelf in her kitchen. The poem in the dream became an image of flowers, and she couldn’t read the flowers because she didn’t know how to, the language of flowers, and then she couldn’t remember their names, either, maybe the names would make sense, love in a mist, baby’s breath, fog.
26. Fog, bog, Glob, frog, goblin.
Turning the dream, or her analysis of the dream, around and over in her mind, Connie found herself thinking about Michael Stour. She hadn’t seen him in years. She wondered if it were possible to contact him, if it would be easy, just call directory inquiries and get his number in New York.
Then she remembered: he was supposed to be dead by now. His father had this bad heart, and Mikey was supposed to have this same bad heart; his father died when he was in his early thirties, and Mikey was supposed to die too, when he hit 30 he was meant to keel over and die one day. Schoolgirls, Hope and Connie would discuss this heart of Mikey’s in hushed tones, deeply impressed. His father’s death, and his own impending death, lent a gleam of glamour to Mikey, putting his teenage misdemeanours in an epic light. Mikey Stour was very tall, and very thin; he had pale blue eyes and beautiful hands, and he seemed to think that the appropriate line to take was: “hope I die before I get old,” too fast to live, too young to die, etc. He embarked on an unwavering path of incessant multiple drug use and abuse, as if to guarantee the doctors’ mythic predictions of an early demise.
Romance always buries death at the heart of love. Romance loves graveyards, excessive drug consumption, poison. (The day Mikey fell for Connie, they went to Highgate Cemetery.)
When they were 13 or 14, schoolgirls talking, 30 was impossible to imagine, as impossible as their own deaths, and Mikey’s bad heart, his putative early death, merely painted a lurid glow of romance along the edge of his presence, like a bright shadow outlining his body.
Like a scar, a limp, like a beautiful Russian sailor with silver teeth, Mike’s mythological “bad heart” was the flaw in the perfect image, the shine on the nose, the tiny rupture that allows desire to fix and hold.
How old are we? Connie asked. How many years have passed since then? Who’s dead and buried, who’s buried alive, frozen in memory outside time, who’s coming to life again? (“You seem to be killing off all the life that’s inside of you,” the trainee analyst said, gently, when Connie told her about the abortion.)
Mikey was dying; his heart, his self-destructiveness, his junk. Then (apparently) Mikey decided he wanted to live. Ruby told Connie about it. He’d cleaned up his act, put on a little weight, got down to work. Maybe he was surprised to hit 35 and still be alive.
Death seems so romantic until you get anywhere near the real thing, and then it’s only terrible. Maybe, Connie thought, the romance is there precisely in order to veil the terror of the real thing. It’s necessary, maybe.