I’ve been having recurring dreams for as long as I can remember. They begin with me being stalked by a crocodile. When I’m on the verge of being caught, dragged into deeper water, drowned and devoured, I escape up a giant mangrove. There’s usually a harpoon like drone in the branches. Upon command, it skewers my stalker. Nervously, I drag the hefty meal to shore. My newly acquired spear drone hovers beside me, poised to impale any other crocs that dare to venture too close.
By the time I reach the river beach, my eyelids are drooping from exhaustion. I nod off the moment my back touches the soft, cool, sand. Eventually I’m shaken awake by hulking, orange skinned, giants. They’re built like powerlifters. Not surprisingly they struggle to deal with Earth’s gravity. Occasional levitation soothes their burdened joints.
The gigantic, orange skinned, beings fashion basketball hoops from seaweed. They cement them into shape with the saliva of yodelling walruses. The coconuts and pineapples they use for balls bounce off a low lying forcefield thousands of times before finally hitting the ground and cracking open.
As a reward for keeping score of their lumbering basketball matches, they share roast crocodile with me and fashion the beast’s skin into dust jackets for my travel diaries. Although I’m always acting in self-defence, I feel bad. My guilt makes less sense than the dream. I guess the orange skinned giants hail from another planet in the land of nod, but who knows. Whenever I ask them about their past, they say “who do you think you are, our psychotherapist?”
My mind awoke abruptly from the latest instalment of the crocodile hunt and orange giant dream but my body was slow to follow. It wasn’t until I’d showered and dressed that hibernating for a month or two no longer felt necessary. I wandered the streets with no destination in mind and stumbled across some captivating street art. My favourite was the piranha men, ballroom dancing on the back of a confused whale. A busker set up next to it. Her name was emblazoned on the interior of her guitar case.
“I see a red door and I want to paint it black, no colours anymore, I want them to turn black”, Lucy Sarah Diamond sang with a soft dystopian fury. Her hopes and dreams were very much alive, but right now her vocals were redolent of a coffin prison, closer to the mantle than the sun drenched fields above.
“Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire” a metalhead across the road roared. In decibels he was mighty, talent wise he was a mite. Lucy’s vocals stunned him into silence. He stood watching her with the same silent awe as I.
“I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black, with flowers and my love never to come back” Lucy sang in perfect pitch. I got the feeling she was mourning the loss of more than a lover. While she sipped from the lid of her flask, I dropped gold coins into her guitar case.
“What’s your name handsome? How about you come over here and help me finish my breakfast.” she crooned.
“I’m Asamu” I replied, barely able to believe that such a talented and gorgeous creature was flirting with me so brazenly.
“Do you have a last name Asamu?”
I found some confidence “You are inquisitive aren’t you. I suppose it can’t hurt to tell you, as long as you’re not looking for my birthdate and my pin number too. I’m Asamu Ali”
“Asamu, help me out here, I can’t eat all of this. Isn’t it the most fascinating mix of funguses you’ve ever seen? I promise you, they’re all edible. With leafy greens like this we’ll live long and prosper baby. Don’t be afraid, come closer. Wow, what powerful legs you have.” Lucy exclaimed as she squeezed my sprint honed thighs. Running fast was how I got my adrenaline fix.
“What would you like me to sing next Asamu?”
“How about Under the Bridge, by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers”
Lucy’s rendition of the first Chilli Peppers song to catch my attention, during my teenage years, was a heady blend of melancholy and hope that did the lyrics justice. By the time she reached the chorus, tears were seeping from my eyes.
“I don’t ever want to feel
like I did that day,
take me to the place I love,
take me all the way.
I don’t ever want to feel
like I did that day,
take me to the place I love
take me all the way….”
I happily gave her another ten dollars, and watched her slip the note into her floral silk brassiere. It was an exquisite sight, that was enhanced by six months of roaming bushland and beaches, on the far south coast of New South Wales. During that trip it wasn’t unusual for me to go a week without seeing another human being, let alone a delicious, charismatic musician like Lucy.
Lucy looked at me with amused curiosity as I gathered the courage, or the stupidity, to ask if I could slide a larger denomination down her top myself. She glanced up and down the deserted street before saying “go for it”. I didn’t feel like the generous one, as I slipped a fifty dollar note over a towering dark nipple. After furtively glancing up and down the street again, she invited me to delight in her womanly softness. I traced my fingertips over liquid satin, before stretching my hand over the cup and squeezing ever so gently. By the time I’d finished, the footpath was swarming with frantic commuters, shoppers and schoolchildren.
“He’s my boyfriend” Lucy told Darius Fabian, the ruddy old real estate agent, who had witnessed proceedings from his office window. He insisted I’d set a precedent that couldn’t be ignored.
“If you want to transfer one hundred thousand dollars to Youth off the Streets, while I watch, then I’ll think about making your dreams come true” Lucy challenged him. She kissed me passionately, possibly just to maintain the illusion that I was her boyfriend.
“I’ll give you three hundred”, the real estate agent sneered.
“Three hundred will get you a few song requests, C.D’s and the happiness that comes from knowing you’ve given me somewhere safe to sleep tonight”
“If you come to my Double Bay penthouse for the weekend, I’ll give you three thousand and whatever make up and pretty new clothes you want. We’ll eat at gourmet restaurants, with the most delicious dessert you’ve ever tasted”
“This sugar babe is fussy, only the finest Belgian chocolate will do” Lucy quipped.
“If you stick with me you can have all the Beligan chocolate you want darlin, a little padding on those curves wouldn’t hurt a bit” Darius chuckled.
“The coincidence that I grew up in Belgium, with Nigerian parents, was not lost on me. Most people thought I was French, I was surprised Lucy had picked my accent. Absurdly, Darius Fabian seemed to believe I was a member of the local indigenous tribe, because at one point he asked if I’d left my didgeridoo at home. Eventually Darius stormed off, muttering something about seeing to it that Lucy’s busking license was revoked. He came back to hurl more abuse and she responded with a parody of The Angels hit, “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.” Australian audiences are renowned for replying to those lyrics with “no way, get fucked, fuck off” naturally, under the circumstances, Lucy performed that part too.
Lucy’s goodbye kiss was more intimate than the one intended to dupe Darius Fabian into believing we were a couple. She tasted like passionfruit. Presumably she was living the precarious life of a couch surfer, opposed to roughing it on the street, because she smelled as nice as her freshly laundered clothes.
“I’m an art lover, do you have any reccomendations for where I should go first” were my parting words. Lucy directed me towards a former hotel in Alexandria, now known as Quirk Gallery. Just before I turned to walk away, she handed me a poem she’d written, while we ate breakfast together, with her phone number on the back.
You’ve transformed my universe,
from cruel bleakness to euphoric abundance.
Darkness is complemented by heavenly colour,
as gentle as a lovers touch.
Trees move as sensuously as belly dancers.
The gallery’s sandstone curves
pulsate in the star light.
Even the stray bottles seem sentient.
They absorb mourning and celebration,
as fervently as teens guzzle drink.
You’ve transformed my universe
from cruel bleakness to euphoric abundance.
Whether Lucy’s poem was the product of instant infatuation, a more down to Earth appreciation of wonderful moments with a stranger, or not about me at all, I wasn’t game to ask. It was a good approximation of the way I’d begun to see the world around me. I wondered if the edible fungus I’d shared with Lucy was responsible for my heightened senses. Colours were more vivid and numerous. The cacophony of urban noise was a bountiful ore. My ears were extracting the gold.
Quirk Gallery was an eight storey art deco masterpiece, filled with some of the most enchanting impressionist and surrealist paintings outside of Europe. On that Monday morning it was empty enough for the zany marble statues to outnumber the patrons. My first stop, after the cocktail lounge, was a sculpture labelled The Prince of Darkness. The tailor made suit clad devil was busy pouring petrol on Middle Eastern, Tamil and Somali refugees.
This abomination bore an uncanny resemblance to the Minister for Immigration at the time. Sunglasses would’ve been a more effective disguise than the horns and fangs. The illusion of frozen motion was too convincing to be explained by brilliant stone work alone. Whatever was in that salad Lucy gave me, the effects were longer lasting than magic mushrooms.
One room was full of what appeared to be taxidermied extraterrestrials, ranging from what I can only describe as a blue skinned manatee man shepherding amphibious tigers, to slug like quadrupeds, using their tongues to play strip poker. I could envisage them performing surgery with those deathly pale protuberances. According to the other patrons, we were seeing the same thing but they didn’t have the feeling the statues were living creatures pretending to be art.
“Whatever you’re taking, I want some” a girl with a tattoo of Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga making love, half joked.
“No, I can’t say I’ve noticed the floor moving. Maybe there is something wrong with your middle ear” an elderly lady responded to one of my questions.
On the eighth floor, I gazed at a uniformly black canvas in bewilderment. If there had been any suggestion a mystery painting was hidden underneath, or the artist had created sophisticated patterns invisible to the naked eye, I would’ve been instantly enchanted. What was the point? Apparently I was supposed to glean something from the one word title, EPIPHANY. A house painter would’ve been sacked on the spot for replicating such an uneven job. That dastardly darkness was as clumsily applied as shit from a toppled fertiliser truck.
Maybe the art lies in the way the paint was spilt. “It’s all in the wrist” the critics might’ve quipped, if there had been a video of the methods employed. Sadly there was nothing to analyse but a canvas draped in black, it’s runny topography as dull and annoying as an eternally dripping tap. The last thing I noticed, before slipping further into a psychedelic state, was the curtains beneath the painting. I briefly wondered if they were hiding some sort of puppet show. What the hell was in that salad Lucy gave me?
For reasons unknown, I found myself repeating the word topography over and over again, like it was some sort of shamanic mantra. This chant transported me to the tropical darkness within the painting. It was barely possible to discern the forest from the sky. The jungle was a more enchanting mystery than anything in the gallery.
I reached Imagination River and quenched my artistic thirst there. Strangely, the deeper I dived, the less I feared drowning amidst its schools of haiku tattoo sporting Demon Fish. Eventually I realized they were hallucinatory, by about the fourth bite. A hallucination within a hallucination, interesting, I mused as visions spawned by the Demon Fish’s flesh shapeshifted from starfish submarines to cyborg mermaids. Their silver tears froze into the sweetest silk. Intersecting rainbows escaped from their cavernous wombs and multiplied. No colour I’d ever seen bore any resemblance to them. Eating two more of those hallucinatory Demon Fish wasn’t enough to spur the rest into evasive action. What kind of drugs were they taking?
Imagination River transformed itself into a winding fruity cocktail, as confounding as time travel. It seemed I had travelled in time and space. Suddenly I was back in the cocktail lounge, with no memory of how I’d gotten there, any idea how long I’d been there, how many drinks I’d had, or what was in them. Eight hours had elapsed since I’d almost collapsed from boredom, in front of that sloppy eight by ten foot patch of darkness.
I went exploring, to prove to myself I’d ventured beyond the cocktail lounge before. The refugee burning devil and the taxidermied extra-terrestrials were all there. The blue skinned manatee man, shepherding amphibious tigers and the slug like quadripeds using their tongues to play strip poker, did they have sly grins on their faces earlier? Had I left the cocktail lounge bodily or astrally? It certainly seemed like I’d been walking around on both occasions. Soon I was delighting in the creations of the most innovative drink mixers in the country once more.
My favourite waitress’s name was Tiffany. Her entrancing green eyes and feline grace rendered everything else in the universe invisible for a time. She was so fluid in her movements, that she made swiping my credit card and wiping the bar look like world class choreography. Nagging her for a final drink brought out her dark side though.
“For the last time, no I can’t sell you any more of those cucumber, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry and blackberry cocktails, infused with subtle hints of lemon grass, elderflower, aloevera and crushed ice, #### off we’re closed” Tiffany yelled. Why was somone who was waiting so impatiently for me to leave, listing the ingredients in their most complex cocktail?
“I see a red door and I want to paint it black, no colours anymore, I want them to turn black” drifted from the Jukebox like an acrid cloud of melancholy, infected with crippling nostalgia. Suddenly it dawned on me what I needed to do.
“Sir, the gallery is closed” the security personnel barked. My psychedelic state was yet to leave me. The guards had apparently turned into wheezing rottweiler/sequoia hybrids, a surprising alchemy of sorcery and natural selection. They panted heavily, as I ascending the stairs in fours. To my surprise, they sped up like flames bursting from an accelerant. I went to a gear that had them wishing they’d quit smoking.
“I see a red door and I want it painted black, no colours anymore, I want them to turn black” echoed softly off the Victorian ceiling. At last, the solely black painting came into view. It was supposed to have transformed. Disappointment struck, like a slow monotonous hammer. Tap, tap, tap, tap, went the hammer in my tired, tortured ears. The sound of that painting was still as dull and depressing as an eternally dripping tap.
Aren’t paintings supposed to be gushing with inspiration? I desperately needed to hear inspiring paintings and see divine music again, to dive into the cool, rippling, spiralling swirls of stereophonic heaven. I walked up to the one word explanation, beside that swathe of darkness, hoping to find something between the lines. For the first time I noticed the copper coin printed beneath the towering BLOCK LETTERS, that spelled EPIPHANY. I looked closer and spotted the drawing of a tiny lever nestled between parted curtains.
“Hurry up”, the woman from the cafeteria yelled in exasperation. The apparent departure of the shapeshifting security personnel was as welcome as an oasis among aeons of dunes. Had they gone, or never been there in the first place, I wondered as several sculptures in the distance appeared to blink in and out of existence.
I parted the curtains beneath the painting and nudged the lever. The eight by ten foot swathe of darkness rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, to reveal a red door, on a television screen. An explorer who bore an uncanny resemblance to me approached the door, picked the lock and wandered inside.
“Climb in to us”, whispered the optical illusions on the walls.
“What Dreams May Come”, mumbled the star breathing wizard in one.
“First, let this dream within a dream gleam” uttered platinum armoured unicorns.
“Solve me” whispered the towering, draped canvas in the centre of the room.
“Forget him” the platinum armoured unicorns chanted in unison. Their choreography was a form of musical notation, that first manifested as gentle explosions of light, before the orchestra humbling instrumentals arrived. The equivalent in this realm would be a storm dance. The platinum armoured unicorns a capellas, ranged from Elysian dog whistles to angelic baritones. They were as soothing as lying spreadeagled on a tropical shoreline, as the nearest crises dissolve light millennia beyond the sunset.
“I see a red door and I want it painted black, no colours anymore I want them to turn black.” those intense, morbid vocals were as powerful as a supernova dispersing cyclone. I wasn’t sure if they emanated from a speaker nearby or if they were a manifestation of my memory.
“Solve me, solve me, solve me” whispered the towering, draped canvas in the centre of the room.
“Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, for fucksake, I’ve got a wedding to go to” my favourite cocktail waitress screeched, shattering my reverie. She was even sexier when she was in a rage.
With baited breath, my doppelganger removed the veil from the towering canvas behind the red door. He pulled a copper coin the size of a frisbee from his coat pocket and scratched at the darkness, revealing the red door underneath. On the other side of the canvas the red door was ajar.
Inside was a grey skinned, interdimensional traveller, with almond shaped eyes. Glowing purple blood, seeped from its self inflicted wounds. It painted the dripping phrases. “It’s an epiphany Tiffany. Distractions are the most evil infractions. Creativity goes to die in a flood lit room. From the sheerest darkness emerge the brightest lights.”
Night fell on the red door my doppelganger had wandered through. Briefly I saw his silhouette emerge from inside. Then the night was as opaque as mountain of coal. Had my double gone to bite chunks from the hallucinatory Demon Fish I’d sampled? Would he see the starfish submarines and the cyborg mermaids, in Imagination River, too?
As soon as I left the building I tried texting Lucy. I was in such an emotionally charged state that it wasn’t until the sixth attempt I realized I wasn’t making any typos, the phone number was a digit short. Over the next few days I searched for her in every popular busking spot in Sydney, to no avail. I tried every variation of her name on every social media site. By the end of the week I was asking random pedestrians if they’d seen a busker who called herself Lucy Sarah Diamond.
Eventually I returned to The Quirk Gallery. I couldn’t tell you what was in my first cocktail because the list of ingredients was longer than this story. It’s quicker to say that it reminded me of a tropical island paradise, as bizarre as enchanting, the kind of place where interstellar space can be seen on a painstakingly polished turtles shell, if you focus your eyes just right. My second cocktail was more thought provoking than that.
On my fifteenth visit to the Quirk Gallery that month, I followed the eerie, acrobatic sound of an electric guitar. It’s feverish tendrils stretched from the roof to the ground floor. Hooded figures circled the masked six string virtuoso, feigning attacks and retreating. Her cloak was tight fitting enough to reveal her womanly figure. There was a healthy plumpness that was absent the first time we met. After her astonishing instrumental performance Lucy removed her mask. There was something different about her that didn’t make any sense. Eventually I realized it was her hair, it had grown two feet since our first encounter.
We sat down in a dimly lit corner of the cafeteria “I’m not Lucy. She told me that I might see you here. She was so sure you were going to ring her that she wondered if you were dead, like her. I am the demon that grew within her until she was trapped in a cramped isolation cell, in the depths of her soul. I laughed hysterically while she begged desperately for continuing access to her brain. I can’t sing quite like Lucy but she could never play the guitar quite like me. Whenever I need a more intense vocal performance, I revive her for a little while, torture her a little more and kill her again. I get wet just thinking about it”
I almost lost control of my bowels, from listening to the thing that had consumed Lucy gloat. My goosebumps were about to escape my skin and strike the walls like tiny arrows by the time I remembered it was April Fools Day. Lucy was still Lucy. She was just reciting a few lines from an indie horror film she’d co-written.
She continued “I don’t know how my hair grew so fast but I think it’s something to do with the eighth floor of the gallery, a lot of weird things happen there. Then again, I could be wearing hair extensions.”
“What was in that salad you shared with me?”
“Portobello, Button, Gypsy and Shitaki and Morel Mushrooms, with some lettuce, baby spinach leaves and one or two other ingredients I can’t remember right now. I’ve got it written down in my apartment. Why do you ask, have you developed a passion for edible fungus too?”
“I think one of them was a powerful hallucinogen”
“Nope, definitely nothing mystical about the mushrooms we shared. Everyone has the ability to experience alternative states of consciousness, some just don’t know it. It’s not unusual for people to have their first glimpses of other dimensions intruding upon this one, when they meet me. Why do I keep seeing visions of orange skinned giants, holding crocodile skin bound books above your head?”
“It sounds like you’re seeing images connected to a recurring dream that I’ve been having for years. They usually begin with a crocodile stalking me in the shallows of a coastal estuary. I climb a mangrove to escape and find a harpoon drone in the branches. It responds to my voice like a loyal guard dog and spears the crocodile. I drag it to the beach. The orange giants skin it, cook it and make book covers from it. I don’t know why, but I always feel guilty about the whole thing”
“You know what I think Asamu?”
“No, I can’t say I do.”
“I think that in a previous lifetime you speared someone who was hunting you and a tribe of sportsmen convinced you to try cannibalism and sold you the dust jackets they made from the victim’s skin. When you dream about it, it’s a crocodile you speared and ate and the tribe of basketballers are space aliens or something, because you find that way more acceptable than what actually happened”
“That’s an interesting theory Doctor Diamond”
“If you go and see a hypnotherapist who does past life regressions, I think you’ll discover that it’s more than mere speculation”
“Is that so”
“Yep, lets bet on it.”