The other night's dream took the form of a complete short story. Here it is:
An old man walked down a street by a derelict factory somewhere in Manhattan. As he walked, he remembered when he was a young businessman, and his partner had come to him with a proposal that he buy a certain vacant lot in an unfashionable part of town while it was cheap to do so. He’d hesitated, then agreed to visit the site, which was an undeveloped strip surrounded by large apartment buildings. Looking at it, he had an idea.
Years later, the idea had made him rich. He’d built a small community of luxury houses on the lot and sold them off to millionaire executives. Sure, lots of people would have built skyscrapers, but he’d figured that, his way, he would get nearly as much money without having to spend so much on the buildings themselves.
He became wealthy, but he didn’t live in any of the houses. He kept his modest place in New Jersey and travelled into the city only to do a little business now and then. Looking back, he remembered that as a perfect time -- his house by the sea, his young family, his health; what luck he'd had! And smarts, too, naturally.
Until today, he hadn’t returned to the area since he’d sold the last luxury house. He’d heard that the houses had been torn down in the 1970s and that a factory had been built on the site. That didn't bother him; cities change. Now, though, after everyone he knew had died and his children had all grown up and moved far away and he found himself all alone in the world, he’d decided to take a walk down to see what had become of the old place.
A shut-down factory. Weeds and broken windows.
That everything he might have recognised was gone, he could handle. He’d been expecting that. But that the factory for which the houses had been cleared had itself been abandoned was somehow almost too much for him to bear. He walked slowly on, unable to think of any way of expressing any of what he was feeling, and absolutely unsure whether there would be any point in doing so.
Notes for Freudian Interpretation
I've woken up countless times with the absolute conviction that the dream that I just had would make a wonderful story, only to realise once I wrote it down that it doesn't make sense and it has no proper narrative and why would a cow be sitting in a restaurant anyway?
This one seems to hang together pretty well, though. If you like that sort of thing.
It's inspired by -- or stolen outright from -- the book I was reading right before I fell asleep: Ethan Canin's "Carry Me Across the Water", in which an old man goes from place to place, reminiscing about his youth in Long Island, his family and his old brewery business. It's full of melancholic ruminations about the passage of time and musings about all the things that go together to make a life. There's some dismemberment, stabbing and violent death in it, too, but I hadn't got to those bits when I fell asleep that night, and the prevailing mood of the book is exactly the mood of the dream.
The next night, I read more of the book and was pleased to come across a bit that could have come straight out of the dream. Towards the end, the old man walks through the neighbourhood in which he grew up, which has gone downhill in the decades since he last saw it. He's obviously unhappy about what he sees, but he tries to think himself out of it: "There was enough in the world to feel sorry for without mourning the change of one small neighborhood. People came and went; buildings fell and rose. Sorrow was irrelevant, at least for a thing like this."
That's just what the old man in my dream was thinking. Or, at least, it was what he was wondering whether he should be telling himself to be thinking.
To be fair, an astute reader would probably have realised after 20 or so pages that this was precisely the kind of book where, at some point, the aged hero goes for a wander around his old neighbourhood so that the writer can wring some extra pathos out of the ironic parallel between the character's decrepit state and that of his childhood home, so it's not too surprising that my subconscious, which tends to be more astute than me, was able to predict something in that line.
Another story idea just occurred to me: a man finds that he has the power to predict the future through his dreams, but this power extends only to the plots of books that he's currently reading rather than to lottery numbers, stock market fluctuations or preventable terrorist attacks. He resolves not to tell anyone about his gift, and stops reading books.