He Dreams in Monotony


A short story.


The dream was always the same for him now: the idle purchase of some item one day would slowly multiply by crawling twos and fours into a weekly and then a daily ritual, inviolate as the surety of the lethal pull of gravity and the noose, steadily tightening its hold on the hapless dreamer whose purchases came to define and then consume him and fill his house, and then storage units and streets and eventually his town, his country, his continent, and the world itself in the multiplied vastness of an endless set of uniform purchases, self-sustaining unto infinity.

The dreamer was one Mr. Dahlvin, a smallish businessman of stubby build and rather tortured health. In his forty-seventh year and plagued by rheumatism, a salt-crusted kidney, and the sharp odor of fungal infection which emanated from his armpits and inner thighs, Mr. Dahlvin owed his flickering existence to the continual ministrations of ten different doctors in the eight countries through which his struggling import-export business made him continually cycle. Yet all their medications and the constant rumble of a portable home-dialysis kit did not abate the parade of minor ailments — colds, coughs, and bouts of every kind of flu — that relentlessly inflamed his sweaty brow.

It was during the tortured nights of this continual ill health that Mr. Dahlvin’s dreams came to pass. As early as Mr. Dahlvin could recall, his fever dreams had started out as mere labyrinthine constructions, in which Mr. Dahlvin would explore mazes composed of the dingy Chinese Chippendale tea-rooms where he was forced to sip withered green tea from cracked Delftware by an imposing rotation of distant aunts and whose peeling, yellowed lacquer reminded him of his father’s asthmatic, mucosal cough. By his mid-teens, he came to notice with a yawning and then clawing anxiety the profusion of similar objects across the warren of rooms he imagined: some nights he saw the same tea-set rendered in one, then two, then ten different colors across the infinite span of the rooms he wandered.

Other nights in his adolescence produced the duplication of varnished tables, cast-iron lamps, sparkling chandeliers of yellowing crystal, all of which at first arrayed themselves in each individual room before revealing their multiplied forms. The duplication trebled and quintupled into volumes of gasping, stupid matter that made a shambles of the fussy decor the labyrinth’s rooms attempted to enforce: stacks of chamber pots tumbled and spilled their contents all over the cheap oriental carpets, iron railings rusted solid atop each other to form spiky barriers to further movement, and huge battlements of sugar cubes attracted swarms of beady black ants, streaming from the gossamer-wing fragments of wallpaper they had already devoured.

The dream continued to grow and evolve with Mr. Dahlvin’s feeble career and weak, stretch-marked belly. First the rooms changed: the Chinese Chippendale tea rooms gave way to the barren volunteer dormitories for those men of his weak constitution who could not sign up for the military or police corps drafts. And as Mr. Dahlvin moved away from accepting the meager meals of his family’s impoverished table and the gruel of the volunteer corps, so too did his dream reflect his new-found power: he in his dreams soon came to purchase objects of his choice, and would vociferously track them down to the ends of the earth with that awful, snowballing vigor which belied his sickly nature.

In this way, Mr. Dahlvin led his tortured double-life. By day, he bought and sold unclaimed and unregistered shipments at small ports all over Asia and South America before processing them in a dingy warehouse opposite some nameless corporation’s rather historic-looking branch office in Laredo, Texas — and by night, to the low groan of his air purifier and the drip-drip patter of his humidifier, he purchased again without reproach or practical considerations unto insanity. His ten doctors, spanning the whole gamut of medicine, all knew of his quandary and had attempted all manner of therapies to eliminate or otherwise influence the content of Mr. Dahlvin’s wearisome dream.

In this way, he shuffled through his life, tormented perpetually by the stalking shadows of things in his dreams and torturous ailments in his waking hours, and in this way he found his destiny framed. First came the news of his tottering business: the collapse of a faraway shipping company saw him and his tiny operation at once blessed and cursed with the remnants of a vast business empire thrown on the consignment pile. In fevered strokes Mr. Dahlvin expanded his business on the basis of the capital he had gained from this set of transactions: one warehouse expansion morphed into the wrecking balls that saw him tearing down his loyal old buildings for a shining new shipping complex, and as he watched each old wall crumble, Mr. Dahlvin felt the grip of his tortured dreams slipping quietly away.

And as business only continued to grow better, Mr. Dahlvin’s little business soon ballooned into an empire greater than he had ever imagined: the branch office whose iron balustrades and yellowing façade had taunted him for so long soon saw a massive tumor of an addition which converted the whole complex into a massive Frankenstein maze of twisting courtyards, corridors, and vintage lacquered parquet floors. Soon he had five, and then ten warehouses, and in each of them one of his many doctors was based, and as his business grew further and dizzyingly further he found himself swamped in consignments from shipping companies he had forced into bankruptcy.

Aisles upon aisles of wares, of all manner of strange and prosaic items, confronted Mr. Dahlvin in each of his warehouses, each of which seemed almost to bulge at the walls from the sheer volume of the items contained within. Frantically he began to construct new buildings, from new warehouses for the endless wares to storage vaults for his ever-expanding piles of cash to great furnaces for the bills and books he and his accountants had begun to cook. The huge warehouses had turned from grand objects of pride and wealth into monstrous liabilities, and soon Mr. Dahlvin’s furnaces turned to the grim work of incinerating chandeliers and refrigerators, cheap sneakers and fine lace – and the ever-growing pile of bills – to uniform, dusty ashes that themselves multiplied in the skies above his prison of an office and seemed to pile in his wheezy lungs and frail musculature. And as the raging fire in the last of his furnaces spiraled out of control and swallowed his last warehouse, his lacquered floors, and his own gaunt body, he realized too late that his dreams would consume him once more.

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