K. S. Anthony

Copyright 2002 by K. S. Anthony


Photo of a St. John's Wort flower. (c)2004 by Richard Loller

This is a true story. I have not told it before and I will not tell it again.

I was 17 years old when I had the dream. I was on a train, alone, but acutely aware of a feminine presence behind me which I could not see. Try as I might to turn to face the presence, I could not force myself to turn around. I would wake with a vague feeling of uneasiness that would linger for the rest of the day and haunt me before I went to bed at night. Three restless nights passed with the same dream, but the fourth night was different: I turned as easily in my dream as I might turn to you, the reader, if you were sitting beside me, to face the presence. It was a female, as beautiful as any I've seen. Her skin, as I would later write in my journal, was like porcelain and her eyes were the color of the midmorning summer sky, a pale eggshell blue. Her hair was the golden, brassy hue that one associates with wheat and people raised in the countryside of old Europe. I stammered a hello, to which she, to my surprise cordially responded. I was enraptured and instantly enthralled. I cannot remember if we talked about anything else, but I do know that I asked her name, to which she replied in a voice that I can still recall, "Sweet." I woke the next morning aching with a longing for someone whom I knew existed only in my dreams, but whom nevertheless, I felt a pained desire for. I moped through the next few days, telling no one and hoping to dream of her again. I did not.

That summer I spent with my brother and his wife in San Francisco. Much of time was spent alone in cafes, reading voraciously and drinking coffee with similar zeal. The temperature was much milder than my home climate, and I took advantage of its graces. My sister-in-law at the time was teaching ESL at a college in a small town south of the city. Bored with my usual routine of solitary caffeine consumption and dollar matinee films at the Strand, I decided to go with her one day. The drive was pleasant, usually about 45 minutes, and the campus was small and almost quaint. It sat, as far as I can remember, on a hill covered with pines, adolescent redwoods and other trees. The air there was crisp and cool with the honey scent of eucalyptus and the tangy, resinous evergreens. There was a tiny cafe down a winding road, and several small gardens lined with various flowers in the brilliant reds, purples and yellows of July, as well as cast iron and stone benches. It was a nice bit of relief from the city to go and walk around this area, with my thoughts uninterrupted, save for the occasional chirping of sparrows or a brief flurry of leaves and dirt from squirrels gathering food. 'd walk around, observing the world around me, then meet my sister-in-law in time to sit in on her class.

It was during the second class that I first saw her. The sounds of the other students laughing and talking in a variety of European tongues dulled to an almost inaudible mumble, and I felt my heart begin to race, then suddenly slow and ache with a familiar feeling of longing. There, seated before me, was Sweet, as real as anything or anyone else in the room. She wasn't joined in conversation with any of the other students, though she sat with the German faction. She simply sat, reading a book, hair slightly covering her eyes, which were indeed the same soft, pale blue as the skies outside. I did not think it was she. I knew with both my eyes and my instinct that it was she.

What would you say if you met someone in "real" life that you had spoken to in a dream? Would you feel some assurance that they too must've known you in their nocturnal life? I felt no such assurance, I knew only that I had to say something and the sooner I did, the sooner I could make some sense out of this mystery. I said nothing at all to her that day. Nor anything the next day.

By the day after that, I had invoked suspicion in my brother. Why on Earth would I want to spend all day at an ESL class? Well, I explained, the Europeans and the Japanese were about a million times more interesting than the city folk, and besides, the city was choking the soul from my country-bred veins. Both things rang true, but I had left out the third reason.

I don't recall exactly how I came to talk to her. I had watched her on the previous days as she walked, sat and read, always by herself, always with a soft, mysterious smile whenever she caught me looking. I believe I was walking along a trail on the campus, plotting my next move (or lack thereof) when she crossed my path. Some pleasantries were exchanged, though I can't see how I managed to say anything with my tongue tied in knots, and we ended up walking together in relative silence. It was not the silence of people not knowing what to say next, nor was it the pained silence of two people who want badly to find a reason to part company. It was the perfect silence of two people simply enjoying each other's company, the warmth of summer and the electric glow that comes when a human circuit is finally completed. I finally managed to introduce myself and asked her name. Her answer was both humbling and strangely amusing: Elke Bitter.

It seemed divinely appropriate that what was Sweet in one world should be Bitter in another. That day was absolutely perfect. She was two years older than I, from West Germany, and was studying in California before entering the University in her homeland in the fall. We discussed Hesse's Demian, German authors, everything and nothing under the sun. I bought her a cup of coffee and we sat for an hour in one of the gardens, surrounded by violets and an emerald carpet of grass, drinking coffee, talking and exploring the connection that had been, perhaps divinely, made. I don't recall going home or anything else about that day. The only things I can remember are her eyes and those few, precious hours.

I knew that I was stealing time from the Gods just as Prometheus stole fire, so I spent the next few days with Elke on campus, drinking more coffee, having more conversations and stealing more time. I never so much as kissed her, felt the touch of her hand only once, but I was content that all of it was a perfect world entirely unto itself.

She left a few weeks later. The last day we spent was much like the first. A comfortable silence only mildly burdened by her imminent departure. The sun stayed out for us one more day and when that day ended and we said goodbye, I knew that 'd probably never see her again. I was thankful for having seen her at all. I dared not ask for more. She wrote once, and I returned correspondence, but I never heard from her again. For whatever reasons, that was fine. I returned home at the end of the summer. That Fall I ended up dating a girl whom I wasted precious, precious time with before finally moving (without her) to California for good. I often thought of Elke long after that summer ended, especially on the days when she lent the heavens the color of her eyes and the air was thin with the smells of Eucalyptus and Pine, soft and aching and sweet.

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