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The Meaning of Dreams


Stephen Collicoat

A man went to see a psychiatrist.

'You have to help me,' he began. 'Last night, I had a terrible dream.'

The psychiatrist sighed. 'In my experience, dreams are mostly nonsense. They generally don't offer reliable indications of a mental state.'

'Didn't Freud write a book on the interpretation of dreams?' the man asked suspiciously.

The psychiatrist nodded. 'Yes, but firstly, I'm not a Freudian. Practically no respectable practitioner would claim to be a Freudian these days. Secondly, even Freud conceded later in his life that not every dream is the manifestation of a suppressed libido. A cigar in a dream may only be a dream cigar. No phallic significance at all.'

The patient looked unconvinced. 'My dream meant something,' he said stubbornly. 'I don't care about other people's dreams '

'I had a strange dream once,' the psychiatrist continued. 'I was growing grass in place of hair all over my body. Thick tufts of grass. I tried to shave off the grass but the cut stalks began to ooze sap.'

'Listen,' the man cut in. 'Are we going to spend my time and money chatting about you or are you going to listen and, hopefully, advise me?'

'Go on,' the psychiatrist said coldly. 'Tell me your disturbing dream.'

If the man detected a slight note of sarcasm in the doctor's tone, he chose to ignore it.

He began, 'In my dream I was on board a cruise ship. I was there with my wife. In case you're wondering, I've never been on a cruise and don't intend to go on one.

'We were cruising around the top end of Australia - Arnhem Land - somewhere like that. It was a beautiful boat, quite large, very clean, full of passengers, great service. Everyone was having fun.

'In my dream, I woke up one morning and my wife wasn't there in the cabin. I thought she must have risen early to stroll on deck. I'm a deep sleeper. After a while when she didn't return, I dressed and went to join her.

'The ship seemed very quiet. The engines were running hard, but their sound was muffled. There were no sounds of adults or children playing. There was no sound of crockery or cutlery laid for breakfast. In fact, the breakfast room was deserted and the tables bare. I had left my watch in the cabin, so I didn't know the time. It was clearly morning, but it must have been very early as I didn't see anyone, including staff, all the way from my cabin to the Promenade Deck.

'When I reached the deck, I was surprised to see how fast the ship was traveling. There was a faint smudge of land on the horizon. even as I watched, it became far clearer and much closer. The land leapt toward me.

'Then something, perhaps a cry faintly heard over the heavy thud of the engines, caused me to turn and look back.

'There in the foaming wake were people - a large crowd of passengers and crew. Some were floating while others floundered and sank beneath the churning water. To my horror, I saw my wife frantically waving for help. I saw her face shrink as the boat hurtled away.

'I turned and ran down the deck. I climbed a ladder toward the deckhouse, shouting for help. The Captain had to stop the boat, and turn back to pick up the survivors. There may be still time to save my wife.

'When I reached the door of the Deckhouse, I found it locked. None responded to my frantic knocking. A fire extinguisher was mounted near the door. I wrenched it off the wall and swung it down on the handle, smashing open the door.

'I rushed in to the Control Room to find it empty. I desperately seized the wheel, but the ship held its course. I could now see the brilliant white foam boiling where a coral reef broke the surface of the sea. I turned on or off switches - there were banks of them - but nothing worked. Then, there was a terrible jolt and the ship shook like a wounded animal. I heard the screech of metal being pierced then peeled open. Then the engines stalled. In the sudden, shocking silence, I heard tons of water gushing into the hold.'

'And then?' the psychiatrist prompted as his patient fell silent.

'Then I woke.'

The next day, the man again visited the psychiatrist.

'Last night, I had another disturbing dream. I know that you said I shouldn't worry, but it must mean something to keep having these dreams.'

'Go on', the psychiatrist said resignedly.

'This time I was on a plane. It was an international flight. I was returning home. My wife was back in Australia. I was seated in Economy and had fallen asleep, despite the daylight and the noise of the passengers.

'When I woke, it was still light but there was a deep silence in the plane. All I could hear was the aircraft engine and some distant piped music.'

'Did you recognize the music?' the psychiatrist enquired.

'Yes, you hear it all the time on planes. Frank Sinatra singing "Come Fly with Me". Does that mean something?'

The psychiatrist shrugged, 'Perhaps. Continue.'

'Where was I? Oh yes, it was very quiet. No babies howling. No inane announcements from the Captain or Chief Steward. The television sets had frozen on the face of a newsreader who appeared to be choking. His flesh had turned a horrible mauve colour and his right hand was clutching his throat.

'All the seats were empty. I mean there was all the dunnage of a long haul flight - blankets, pillows, strewn newspapers, paperback novels, children's games, half eaten meals, but no people - passengers or Flight Attendants.

'When I stood up, I was seized by the terrible knowledge that I was in an endless time loop. I walked quickly up the aisle toward the cockpit. As I reached the cockpit door, the plane hit an air pocket and lurched. For a moment, I could see the ground and I noticed something that caused me to look more closely. I saw parachutes, scores of parachutes below me as the passengers and crew drifted down. Except, not all of them drifted. Some parachutes hadn't opened and I could see on the ground pools of blood and flesh where some of these people had already crashed to earth.

'Then the plane righted itself and I wrenched open the cockpit door. As I feared, the seats of both pilot and co-pilot were empty. Beyond me, I saw a mountain looming in the windscreen. Again, I struggled with the controls and again it made no difference.

'Then,' the man concluded, I woke up.'

On the third day, the man went to see the same psychiatrist.

'Another disturbing dream?' the doctor prompted.

'I can't stand it,' the man wept. 'I dreamt that I had a series of disturbing dreams. I kept going to a psychiatrist who knew what was wrong, but he kept sending me home untreated where I would have more dreams.'

The psychiatrist smiled and leant closer to the man.

'What makes you think that this isn't a dream?' he asked.

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