I would like to begin this blog with a mention about this itchy patch on my foot... but then again, I could not be so mean to someone who has shown to me so much forbearance. So let us return to Caroline...
The man on the plush velveteen cushion smoothed his moustache (which didn’t need much smoothing, but was an action heavy with significance as it manifested an inner psychological turmoil) and puffed a bubble or two on his nargile. The water in the glass bowl gurgled in a nice soothing way. But what caught Caroline’s eye was that each of the bubbles contained a little world.
The man looked at Caroline in alabaster silence. His eyes hooded, but on fire. He took another suck at the pipe. More bubbles, more little worlds, more unspeakable magic... and with it something else – was it fear? It was like the edge of a cool wind on a summer’s evening, when you want to lie back in a deck chair and watch the bats play among the first stars of dusk and yet you can’t quite relax; you’re not exactly Uncomfortable, but then again you are not entirely comfortable either.
“Look long enough in there, little madam,” the man's voice was soft and as mysterious as light shining through blue glass, “and you will see yourself.”
Caroline swallowed the last of the Battenberg cake and turned her cat-like gaze upon the man. “Why?”
“Because,” the gentleman smoker replied, “everyone is here.”
“How?” Caroline’s curiosity rose and rose like a huge, big, itchy itch. This was turning out to be a most marvellous day. She hopped around on one leg while she scratched an itch on her left knee. It was not an action with which the gentleman appeared to be completely comfortable.
“Because, dear lady,” he announced in a haughty tone which suggested that he thought that someone who scratched scabby knees while he was trying to smoke was neither ‘dear’ nor a ‘lady’, “I am Misteris Q Ventris. I spin dreams. What you see are the dreams of the world; your dreams, the waiter’s dreams, everyone's dreams are here. The dreams of the Queen and her chancellors and officials, the dreams of the fat butcher and his wife (full of sausages and candles and smiles), the dreams of the gentleman tramp snoring among the bracken and blazing gorse; every dream that dances to the music of the heart (which, after all, are the only real dreams). And, with my little parasol made from the woven strands of night, I catch them all and I spin them into new stories.”
Caroline scrunched up her nose in deep thought. Misteris Q Ventris continued,
“Your skies are light with blues and whites and greys, but the sky above me is always velvet black and school-ink blue. But while your roads are tarmac black and wet-slate grey, mine glimmer like silver ribbons under the seasons' moons. For my hour is the hour of the badger, owl and vixen fair and my music is the lantern’s sigh. I have no shadow, but that painted by the moonlight’s smile. My path is lit by marsh gas flare and glow-worm fire. My trees are forever black; in winter they run their bony fingers through the stars and they warm their hands upon the moon; in summer they burst like owl-hooting fountains.
"I travel the countryside, the portways and the herepaths, the greenways and the drovers’ tracks, the packways and the byways and the old-ways forever lost; through the sleep-walking cities and the towns that slumber to the tick of the town hall clock (as round as the moon). I pass silent as a knife through the villages, asleep under steeple spire and village cross, and the huddled hamlets, with their chimneys still breathing the pale-blue smoke of embers in last night's ash, and the farmsteads that ring with dogs’ barks and the smell sweet of cattle and night-scented stock. And every dream – I catch in my parasol.”
“Are there any dreams left in your umbrella?” queried Caroline, straining on tippy toes and trying to peer into the parasol (even though it was furled).
Misteris took another slow puff of the nargile with his eyes closed. “Oh no, dreams are fragile things. That is why you must treat another’s dreams with care. It is a dreadful thing to break another’s dream, you know?” his eyes flashed like a lion, but then, almost immediately, he grew calmer, “No my dear [and this time I think he might actually have meant it!], I only catch the dreams in my parasol. I keep them here in my Gladstone bag.” At which point, he motioned a finger towards a large (and rather battered) brown leather bag, with a large tarnished brass clasp, that was placed beside the cushion upon which he was sitting.
“Are my dreams in there?” Caroline asked, devouring the bag with her eyes.
“They were in there when, after you finished dreaming them, they drifted out from your sleeping head. And I was standing outside, on the glistening rain-wet street among the lamp light and prowling cats, and I caught them in my parasol and then I locked them safely away in my Gladstone so they wouldn’t get broken.”
“What would happen if they got broken?”
Misteris smoothed his moustache once more. “Have you ever had a nightmare?”
“Yes,” she replied, which was true.
“That’s because your dream was broken. They crack very easily, don't you know? If you go to bed with a grumpy head, or fidget and fuss when you should be cleaning your teeth, or even [and I cannot believe that you would do anything of the sort] smuggle up some biscuits to eat in bed and make your bedclothes all itchy with crumbs. Dreams are like eggs with shells of finest blown glass. When they crack they let all sorts of things in. Horrible, Ghastly things, Monstrous things.” Misteris Q Ventris' head seemed to grow, his teeth leered like tombstones, and his eyes grew narrow and blazed red fire. His whole body seemed to expand and stretch as if he was made of elastic and he towered over Caroline in way that was, quite frankly, frightening. Caroline gazed up at him, scratching the scab on her knee, and snuffled her nose. This was all very, VERY interesting and she thought that she wouldn't mind trying to grow like that as soon as she got home. But it was really not the sort of reaction which Misteris was expecting and he subsided into a rather despondent heap, “Well,” he continued with a half-hearted flick of his hand, “that’s what happens. Nightmares are when the bad things get into your dreams. It’s one of my jobs to make sure that doesn’t happen. So I keep them safe in my bag and then I pour them into my water-pipe.”
“To mix them together. It’s an expert job, don't you know? Highly skilled; to blend dreams. You wouldn’t want the same dream every night would you? That would be as bad as having a nightmare. So in here I gently mix them up and spin new dreams.”
“Is my dream in there then?” asked Caroline peering into the glass bowl.
“Oh, once it was, but now it has been melded into something quite, quite different and rather, I don’t mind admitting, wonderful!” Misteris Q Ventris gave a pleased little smile that made Caroline want to hug him with excitement.
“Will I dream it tonight?” she begged.
“Who knows, young lady? Who knows?” he evasively replied, rather amused at the way his young interrogator was hopping from one gumbooted foot to the other.
“How will I get to dream it?”
“Outside your house, below your window, when you are fast asleep – and by the way I can tell when you are really only snoozelling – I will place a handful of dreams into my parasol, lift it into the night sky and then let them fly!!” And with that, he tossed both his hands in the air with such an ecstatic cry the tearoom once more fell silent.
‘To snoozel’ means to scrumph your head into your pillow, put on the most innocent face you can muster, and pretend *tsk tsk* to be asleep.
As you can probably guess, visits from Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, and a rather scrumptious and slurplicious lemon tart (left in the fridge which had mysteriously disappeared by the next morning), made Caroline an expert at ‘snoozelling’.
“So do you make dreams then?”
“Oh, good gracious No! I cannot make dreams; no one can. I mix them, I mould them, I blend them together.”
“So, where do my dreams come from?”
“They come from you of course! They are your older and deeper voices that are uncovered by your sleep; they are like writing that was once on a page, but is no longer there. Some voices will never die. They are too important. Those are the voices that make your dreams. And those are the dreams I blend and shape.
... And now,” he said standing up, “I must be on my way.” And with that he picked up the entire water pipe and carefully placed it in his enormous Gladstone bag.
‘How absolutely wonderful,’ thought Caroline as she watched the man reach down and pick up a wide brimmed slouch hat, which he placed on his head, and then pick up his dream-parasol.