Beatrice’s Dream and the Mayan Calendar

Late next morning, over a bacon, egg, and cornmeal pancake breakfast, Beatrice told me her dream.

“I dreamt that we’d been traveling a long time through the desert, covering great distances. We eventually followed a dirt road to the bottom of a canyon and you made a campfire and told me you were thinking of driving home alone and I was frightened because you were abandoning me. Then the Australian guy from the café’ walked up out of nowhere. He crouched over the fire holding half a dozen eggs which he cracked open and fried directly on the coals. And while the eggs were frying and sizzling on the coals the sky turned dark and starless and the Aussie slowly levitated and floated up between the high walls of the canyon like a genie in the campfire smoke. I wanted to comment on that miracle, so I turned to look at you, and you now had the head of a coyote and were wearing amulets made from feathers and shells. You were adorned like a shaman and you held our baby in your arms and I asked you what you intended to do with the baby but you wouldn’t answer me. And I could not see the baby’s face because you were holding it tight and too close to your chest, but from what I could see the baby had long shiny black kind of like Laura’s, like a raven’s feathers. Soon we were standing on the highest peak looking down into the canyon and all the stars had come out, a sky packed with stars, and you no longer had the coyote mask or head but you suddenly threw the baby into the canyon and I was so full of rage I decided to kill you, but then a second after you had thrown the baby it turned into a snowflake and all the stars above us began drifting down toward earth and joined with the first snowflake which was the infant child. It was a gentle silent snow without any wind, and I felt a profound adoration for our child . . . the dream then shifted to my being back at school, teaching, but before I was there I was briefly in the observatory making love to Eve. I was naked but Eve wore all her clothes, her lab suit, and she held me tight as she kissed and sucked my breasts and a minute later it was you sucking my breasts while Eve watched. Back at school I was rushing down this endless corridor, almost like a tunnel, and there were students and teachers and hundreds of people I didn’t recognize standing in formation against the walls and lockers or poking their heads out of classroom doors, and I was hurrying to get away from all of them because they were pressing on me with judgmental and accusing looks and words, and the more I hurried the more those faces and bodies pressed in on me and the long corridor kept shrinking and closing up, narrowing, constricting, with only a pinpoint of light at its end and I started losing my breath and choking and I woke up.”

“That’s an epic dream,” I said, slightly dazed by her narrative.

Beatrice sipped her coffee and said, “There was more but that’s all I remember.”

“Quite a lot, though. Are you always attracted to a woman over a man? Even in your dreams?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

“Eve is kind of plain, too.”

She shook her head, annoyed with my old fashioned attitudes and mores.

“But it’s not all about superficial beauty, is it? You should know that. Come on. You’ll be 40 in half a year and I’m surprised you’ve learned so little about Love. Is it because you’ve been too preoccupied with your telescopes all these years? Kind of a hermit?”

“I’ve had several affairs,” I said, defensively.

“Even worse! And not to mention your failed marriage (though you’re still married). How did you describe it? A ‘dead-end,’ a ‘stagnant morass,’ ‘one-dimensional and repressed?’”

I leaned back in my seat and studied Beatrice and her mercurial, sometimes distancing expressions.

“So this is how you thank me. Must be hormones.”

“Yours or mine?”

“Yours,” I said.

She glared back at me. “Understand that we will not be taking care of this baby together and you will have limited visitation and access. You will have almost no parental involvement whatsoever.”

“I understand.”

“I don’t think you do.”

“Fine, then. Have fun raising my child.”

“I definitely will.”

After breakfast we took a drive in the desert. The desert was rife with flowers at this season: Saguaro and Cholla already in bloom, red, pink and yellow flowers bursting from their prickly crowns; Ocotillo with bright red flowers; Mesquite with yellow blossoms, and palo verde (green hair), golden poppy, lupine and primrose. Although spring season was one of the driest the desert landscape had a sufficient amount of green left from winter, particularly December, the month with the heaviest precipitation. Beatrice and I hiked briefly, following a fairly well-used trail and as we walked in silence the dry brush and soil whispered beneath our feet. We stopped often to look at a flower close up and maybe take a picture, and we didn’t speak other than to comment on what we had just seen. We spotted a gopher, a frozen baby rattle snake and a mule deer.

We returned to the Empyrean. The façade of the main observatory building displayed zodiac symbols from the Mayan Haab Calendar—suns, moons and planets, symbols named Pop, Woi, Sip, Mori, Chen, Yax, Muwan . . . owl, crocodile, puma, turtle, jaguar, bat . . . 19 altogether, seven more than our calendar, but the Mayan calendar was 365-days too and reported to be more accurate. Eighteen of the nineteen months had 20 days and the 19th month had five days. The Maya were able to see five planets in our solar system and Venus held the greatest interest for them. They portrayed the ecliptic (belt of the Zodiac) as a double-headed serpent and they’d also identified at least two constellations: Scorpius and Gemini.

“They had several calendars,” I mentioned in passing. “I think one of them used the cycle of the Pleiades in Taurus and was called the sacred calendar.”

Beatrice said nothing and continued to stare, but soon after, as we were leaving the facade, she said, “I wish I’d brought a sketchbook.”

The real calendars looked like extremely intricate and dizzying mandalas. Several faces appeared in the frieze and stelae but one face kept repeating, the face shown in the center of the calendar—a grimacing, tongue-wagging god, a central figure in most Mayan calendars which looked similar to the mandalas seen in Tibetan prayer wheels, also with their visages of local gods—bug-eyed, comically fierce and leering. It seemed that only Judaeo-Christian devils and demons were humorless (except for Mephistoles in Faust) and we’ve feared them as a dualistic threat to our precious and stable egos. Western religion has tried to banish and deny evil at our spiritual and mental peril, but these pre-Colombian and Asiatic demons are able to wreak widespread havoc, plagues, and collective maladies and curses with something akin to a crazy smile on their face. I felt confused, some unnamed terror in their presence. Since the start of the trip, or earlier, since Christmas Eve with Beatrice, I’d been trying to come to terms with why I always needed to know or figure out a given situation, why my life was so anchored in habit and repetition and control. These Mayan symbols on the frieze and stelae of the Empyrean were telling me the opposite: that there were times I should give in to not knowing and sometimes be afraid, perhaps very afraid. Maybe you had to suffer trials, maybe you had to turn on Fortune’s wheel every now and then, maybe you had to go through loss, fear and emotional pain before you could begin to live. It was worth considering.

And I immediately thought of Bob Lane, dredged up from memory like an unannounced visitor on a Sunday afternoon. It was Easter Eve and I’d stopped in at the Starlight Tavern to take a break in my packing. Gladys had already gone to her mother’s for Easter and I felt like getting out of the house because the excitement of my pending trip made me restless. I was shocked to find Bob at the Starlight, seeing him in an unaccustomed venue, that person-place incongruity in which you need more than a split second to process the incongruity and confirm your senses aren’t subjecting you to a shell game. Bob Lane sat alone in one of the booths near the bar. I had not seen him in half a year, because he only visited the store about twice a year these days and the last time I’d heard from him was over the Christmas holiday when he’d called to announce he would be wintering in Cancun and places nearby, having recently sold his beloved yacht.

“Had this tight little number in Cozumel,” he said, sipping a dry martini.

“Like Wendy?” I reminded him, but he ignored my sarcasm or else missed the point of it.

“Put Wendy to shame. . .what are you drinking, Soren?” Bob waved to the bartender. I ordered a Schlitz.

He still wore the commodore outfit or some kindred version and one of the cuffs was soiled with a frayed edge. Bob’s Hugh Hefner mystique was becoming a bit weary and anachronistic in the 1980s. I could see he’d been descending into a confused middle-aged melancholia. He’d been coming to terms with his own mortality.

“Doing anything for Easter?” I asked him.

“No. . .” A rueful look. “How’s Gladys?”

“She’ll be spending Easter at her mother’s.”

“But not with you. Are you two okay?”

“About the same,” I said, though my answer no longer rang true. Not entirely.

“Seeing someone else?”

“Sort of.”

“Good for you. Life’s too short. Don’t deny yourself anything, anything,” he repeated, gulping the paint thinner gin and raising his glass for another round.

“It’s about fucking time for you, Soren. You know what I mean?” and he actually gave me a wink and a punch on the arm. I’d been party to Lane’s facile hedonist credo for years, but it somehow felt more desperate, centered on the zeitgeist trend of looking out for number one. I mentioned I’d be taking a week’s vacation the week after tomorrow, Easter, and oddly Bob didn’t seem shocked or even fazed by the news. And he understood that I wouldn’t be traveling alone.

“Everyone should be having fun and enjoying themselves,” he said, and that included me too. He knew the store would run in my absence, that I had delegated responsibility and that I always ran a “tight ship” to use a hackneyed Navy phrase. Bob said he would check in a couple times during the coming week and was amused by the thought that his appearance at Brainchild Scientific might elicit questioning stares among those workers who’d never seen him before. He acted relieved and almost excited to be having some involvement with his store again.

We drank in silence for a minute or two until Bob announced, “Nature calls, be right back.” I watched him stumble and weave toward the men’s room, bantering with the bartender enroute. A few minutes passed. The Starlight looked lonely on Easter Eve, maybe a dozen patrons, mostly regulars, scattered among the booths and on a few bar stools. To reinforce the holiday mood, the television above the bar played “The Ten Commandments.” I saw Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea. I began to wonder about Bob Lane. Families were home dyeing Easter eggs and mothers would be setting out chocolate bunnies and jelly beans once the kids had gone to sleep (Bob had largely jettisoned those times from his life). I sensed the cultural hold of Christianity on America. Whether you believed in Jesus as Savior or not, a bar was no place to be spending Easter Eve and I regretted being a part of the desolate and gloomy ambience of The Starlight when I could have been home observing the Moons of Jupiter. But I was happy that I’d run into my boss.

Who’d been missing for about 15 minutes! I approached the bar. The bartender stared at a scene with Heston and the Queen of Egypt played by Ann Baxter.

“That guy left. I saw him go out. I thought you knew. . . ”

“No. . .how?”

“Well your ‘good friend’ and ‘best pal’ (which is what he told me) stuck you with the bill. Four martinis and two Schlitz Talls—$16.50, please.”

So I’d had a disorienting and alien memory contrasted with my present location. I saw the urban East Coast in a whole new light and it appeared a little weird and silly against this world of pueblos, magnified stars and myth. I felt humbled, not as self-centered as I may have behaved back East, not as caught up in fantasy and self-deception.

Beatrice and I visited the Native American Museum and browsed through artifacts, legends, and sepia-toned photographs of earlier tribal chiefs in full ceremonial dress. Pottery, Hohokam vessels, Mimbres bowls, Anasazi jugs, Serapes and Chimayo blankets, bowl baskets, olla baskets, ceremonial kilts, silver in abundance, a peyote church ring like an intricate creature with spanned appendages, figurines and always Kachina dolls, the most intriguing and inspiring representations of tradition, myth and design among the Pueblo Indians. Although we hadn’t talked for most of the day, I could see Beatrice’s fascination with the history and crafts of the local tribes. She strolled from glass case to glass case with that same rapt expression I’d seen playing across her face on the day she’d strolled up the aisle at Brainchild for the first time, stopping to examine every Galileo Thermometer, impaled butterfly and bird skeleton in her passage. Whenever she bothered to look my way a trace of her former anger returned, but it felt more contained, not as harsh, and I figured that she’d probably softened a little since this morning with reminders of my being the one who had made this trip possible for her and her baby.

In the late afternoon we had a picnic at the reservoir. As described by Adam Greenfield the reservoir had been made for the sole purpose of providing water to the observatories. Each observatory required water usage far beyond the capacity of a hydraulic conveyance system going up the mountainside, and wells also would have been terribly insufficient. The reservoir, with its man-made lake and stands of Yellow and Pinion Pine, had become a favored recreation area for visiting and resident astronomers and staff, a place to relax and unwind and have a little fun. Although we were visiting the reservoir in 1980, I felt a pervasive early-60s mood to this spot, as if it were frozen in time two decades ago, in the Cold War, in the Space Race era, in the Camelot era, the Twilight Zone era. The setting reminded me of late 1962, the time I’d begun working at Brainchild Scientific, most likely why I felt this strong connection. Beatrice mentioned that it would be an ideal location for ingesting mushrooms tomorrow night after our final session at the observatory, and she also told me that she wanted to climb Blake’s Peak sometime on Saturday. Beatrice had participated in several rock climbing trips while at Rutgers. I tried to dissuade her. Rock climbing pregnant didn’t strike me as a smart thing to do.

“Oh, Soren. . .”

“I know. ‘The baby will be fine.’”

“The baby will be fine. Thank you.”

I felt the earlier tension between us melt away and our quiet time at the reservoir might have been the reason, I wasn’t sure. It was either the reservoir or the effortless passage of our day. I recalled Beatrice’s dream and my role in it and I felt some remorse for having teased her about her bisexuality. Could it have been my having held the baby away from her and then ultimately hurling it into the abyss that made her lash out at me? She’d said, “Understand that we will not be taking care of this baby together and you will have limited visitation and access.” Her comment had stung me but frankly I didn’t have any way of knowing how our lives would play out with a baby and then a child. Separately, I imagined my going on at Brainchild Scientific, and at home with my telescopes in the “Purgatory of Gladys”; she with Sad Laura and her middle school and middle school students. Life would continue more or less the same. Or so I believed at the time.

We ate dinner at our favorite cantina: tortilla, fried chiles, nopalitos and frijoles, and then drove skyward to the Empyrean Observatory to begin our second night.


Update on Blog

August 5, 2015

All future posts on The Butterfly Nebula will deal solely with chapters and sections of the novel, The Butterfly Nebula. There will be a new web page for general writing and a new blog at some point yet to be deterimined.

~The Author

Summer of 1999

August in Plein Air is the quietest, most dream-like month of the year. Every rustle of sere leaves, every wrinkle on the indigo pond, every nuanced shift of sunlight and shadow, is noticed, marked, deserving of contemplation. A dry breeze rakes the woods and meadows and cleaves the stalks in the marshes. The grass is parched to golden stubble that crunches beneath your feet. The clinging humidity, which had strangled the region in July, begins to disperse here while maintaining its dominion and intensifying in the busy river valleys to the north. The whole world has gone to the beach and at night the lighted shore towns, with their fireworks, Ferris wheels and strolling throngs, glitter like caskets of jewels. But if you head 10 or 15 miles inland the contrast is striking. Here are mostly deserted and sleepy rural scenes. At times you hardly see another soul.

It is a land of berries: the ubiquitous cranberries ripening in the bogs; the blueberries, bayberry, Juneberry. The holly leaves are hot and waxy. There is white oak and cedar and pitch pine. Bunker fish, horseshoe crabs and blue claw thrive in the brackish estuaries. Osprey and heron feed in the estuaries, water droplets cascading like coins from their wings as they lift in flight. And in the groves and barn lofts the horned owl is king.


Ligeia had fled the scene last night. While Tom waited, ecstatic and oblivious, she had nimbly padded down to the first floor and once there pulled on a different pair of slacks she’d secreted in one of the bedroom bureau drawers. She had then slipped out the back door and, avoiding the workers, skirted the perimeter of the Ligeia love grass yard. The getaway car waited for her up the road, and when Ligeia had climbed in the passenger’s seat, out of breath, he’d asked her how it had gone. “I feel like shit,” she’d told him, which meant that it had gone quite well indeed. He’d given her further instructions before they parted, and oddly she was grateful to him, her fingers briefly squeezing his hand to let him feel her gratitude. She liked being told what to do; she liked being guided, without having to think for herself all the time. She made an excellent hypnotic subject, but she was fiercely stubborn and strong willed, and it was this paradox which accounted for the constant knot of tension inside her. Ligeia is the punisher and cruel abuser of herself. Her recent turmoil had little to do with Thomas Valenti. He wasn’t a part of her circle of monsters. She’d felt mild regret over Tom. Rene’ should never have introduced them in the first place.

Since returning home early this morning, she has hardly moved from a corner of her kitchen where she curls slumped naked on the floor into the angle where wall meets wall, a posture resembling catatonia. It is the early evening of August 1 and light outside, but the days, the evenings, have become noticeably shorter, and shadows bleed across the kitchen floor. Three fingers of sunlight, like a military insignia, are stamped to a section of the wall directly above her downcast head.

She is floating out of Time. The Dead burst through sprung snapped floorboards that make gunshot sounds. They pivot on their heels before unraveling upwards through the ceiling in chutes of colder air. A disembodied head trailing blood scuds about the room, bouncing off walls and ceiling. The head is reminiscent of John the Baptist in the famous Moreau painting of Salome’. Leering, it flies at her with a chainsaw hum and then cuts away a second before impact, grotesque and taunting. Amy-Ruth Podhoretz and Lady Nagasaki sit at opposite ends of her kitchen table with a large chessboard placed between them. The chess pieces are random alabaster representations of the various lives she has lived, including her present one, and those of the two players . . . the players are contemplative and infinitely patient in their strategies and moves. The girl wears a yellow pinafore and sits on the edge of the table, her body half turned, her small legs dangling over, kicking. Their faces reveal no gleam of small triumph or furrowed concentration or the stress of imminent defeat. As the ancient Japanese baba extends her arm to nudge a black queen, the radius, ulna, metacarpus and phalanges light up like the end of a tree branch wrapped in the translucency of her paper lantern flesh. . . .

Pawns are lives not fully lived, or lives lived basely with a monistic and myopic purpose. The 16 others are largely random because she possesses too many to draw upon. At times she sees the board from above, her arms and legs flung out, her hair splayed and streaming as if the air is supporting her like a pool of water. Below, on the tesselated battlefield, three-year-old fingers are arrayed against the attenuated brittle digits of the opponent.

Nefertiti is there, the beautiful consort of the sun worshipper, Akhenaton, and so is Theodora, the Empress who began her career as a prostitute and performed lewd comic dances with bears in the Hippodrome. There is a Tartar who guided Marco Polo to the capital of the Mongol empire and Kublai Khan, and a Dutch merchant in what is present day Borneo, and an English sentry who stole the severed head of Oliver Cromwell from London Bridge, a head not unlike the one that presently taunts her every few minutes. There is a voodoo juju priestess from New Orleans, and a late 19th century French poet of the Decadent School, not to mention an Incan ceremonial executioner, a Mameluke, and a New Zealand Maori chief, a famous Bolivian actress and singer, a Tibetan weaver.

Indian spirits are all around her too. On nights in late summer and fall when the wind picks up, she hears the distant beating drums of the Lenni-Lenapi and the colossal breath of the glass furnace in Wheaton Village from the older glassmaking days. She imagines the fiery orange and crimson maw of the furnace and the bulb of liquid glass dangling like a huge teardrop before it is spun on the pontil.

There had never been a tryst with a weightlifter named Paul; she’d simply contrived a clever tale of pubescent love as a snare for Tom. But maybe it had happened after all? Maybe memory had trumped imagination in sexual matters? Or was it the other way around—that imagination had altered and embellished memory, often to the point where remembering details of any sexual experience could be called into question. But if she had told Tom a made-up story, at least the masturbation part of it was true for her, maybe. If the first part of her story had at least hooked Tom, then it was her follow up and commentary on the earlier narrative that had easily reeled him in. His desire for her had been whetted more by her present vulnerability and then she’d gone and betrayed all that. She secretly hoped her exquisite back stab would cause Tom to murder her in a jealous rage, but killing from spurned love was certainly not in Thomas Valenti’s nature.

Shortly before midnight Ligeia slowly raises her body, a whisper of skin abraded within the crease of rough unpainted wood. Her bones and spirit ache and she could be 2000-years old. Wrought to a honed and tempered point of hatred, in her tears and execrations she presently vows revenge. Her fingers reach for the phone until she finally holds the receiver in her hand, its numbers a luminous green like the glacial hue in that house where only yesterday she’d committed her necessary treachery. She dials and waits. She soon hears a voice on the other end of the line, expecting her call.

“I’m ready,” she says.