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About the Author
Roberta Allen is the author of eight books, including two collections of short fiction, The Traveling Woman (Vehicle Editions, 1986) and CERTAIN PEOPLE (Coffee House Press, 2007); a novella in short short stories, THE DAUGHTER (Autonomedia, 1992); a memoir, AMAZON DREAM (City Lights Publishers, 1992); the novel THE DREAMING GIRL (Painted Leaf Press, 2000, and Ellipsis Press, 2011); and several writing guides. Allen was on the faculty of The New School for many years and has also taught at Columbia University. She was a Tennessee Williams Fellow in Fiction in 1998. An established visual artist, she has exhibited worldwide, with work in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Read an Excerpt
The girl lies on the bed, propped up on her elbows, looking out the window. The window is wide open. The wind blows through the window. The wind blows her long hair. Her hair is like the waves of the sea, undulating in the wind.
The sea crashes on the stones of the promenade outside the window. She is not aware of the window. She is not aware of the room. She is out there with that sea, with that wind, with the sky that hides in the blackness.
She understands the violence in the air. She is part of that violence, part of that blackness. She screams with every bird in her silence. The wind grows stronger, tries to tear the sound from her, but fails. Still, she lets the wind lift her.
From the window, she can fly with those screeching birds. She can sail over the city: this ramshackle city; this city of rag-covered windows and rotting wood, of peeling paint and broken porches, of sagging floors and open sewers, of tattered palms, of heat, of dampness, of rains.
The rains make her mind murky. When it rains, she sails within herself like a boat that has lost direction; she drifts. The rains haven't started yet tonight. But even on the clearest nights, the stars are vague, as though they aren't sure they want to be there.
Tonight there are no stars. She can't even try to grab hold of them. They have taken themselves away from her. The stars are out of reach. But the wind grows strong, so strong it pushes her breaths back inside her; it yanks her hair hard from the scalp.
In the room her hair blows. Nothing else moves in the room. She is stillsailing in that sky, but she finds it harder to breathe, harder to catch her breath. Very soon now she will come back. It's inevitable. She can't stay out there for long. Her thoughts get in the way.
As though God has suddenly thrown a bowl of water on the world, rain crashes down, but not straight down. Wind carries the water, throws the water every which way, throws the water in her room; soaks the pillow, part of the sheet before she manages to close the window. She is back now; her face wet, her hair wet, her neck, her shoulders, her chest glisten with water. She feels robbed by the weather. She would have stayed out there with that sea, with that wind a while longer. She looks around: there is nothing of interest in the room; just the usual walls and floor and ceiling.
The walls don't reach the ceiling in the rooms of the guest house. The walls stop two feet below: there are two feet of open space where in the night, the thoughts, the feelings of the guests circulate and mingle in the air, affecting each other in their sleep without their knowing. They dream of each other, but forget their dreams when they awaken. They awaken with thoughts not their own, with feelings they never knew they had. They breathe each other's breaths, share each other's sorrows.
In the morning when they awaken, they will pass each other without a word. Or if they talk, hello and all that, they will feel suddenly strange, as though they have been stolen, or else they will feel themselves thieves without knowing what it is they have taken.
When the girl awakens, she doesn't remember anything. It is as though she is alive for the very first time. There is the sea smell of the air, the cries of the birds, the blue sky.
She looks up at the blue sky. She goes into that blue like one who is going home, like one who has been in a dark dream and suddenly sees the light. But the light is blinding. She comes back, back to the voices, to the footsteps in the guest house.
Hearing the footsteps makes her remember. This time there is something nice to remember. It was just yesterday that she met him at the guest house. He came in through the screen door, he sat down with her at the table in the common room, this man she calls the German.
She had wanted to meet somebody. It was lonely traveling by herself. Since the last one left her she has been lonely. But now there is the excitement that comes when somebody new enters her life. There is also the fear.
In the shower in the communal bathroom, she forgets about the blue sky and the sea smell of the air. Her eyes are closed while she washes her body. She is dreaming of him as she rubs the bar of soap between her legs.
When she opens the bathroom door, she sees him there in the hallway outside her room. She's wearing a towel which she pulls tighter when she sees him. She doesn't know what to say. She mumbles something. She's embarrassed. She feels as though he knows her dream as she enters her room and closes the door.
While she dresses, the German waits. He hears her moving about, though her room is so small she can only take a few steps in any direction. There is something, something about her, he is thinking. In his mind, he sees the loose hair, almost as long as his hair, the eyes that seem to be the same color as his own. Sympatico, he called her last night.
He is smiling. This was good, this meeting her here like this after his friend had gone on without him.
She opens the door. He's right there. She's surprised to see him so near. There's so little space between them. She needs to take a deep breath, to step back for a minute.
He's smiling at her. It feels good to smile like this. It feels good to show his feelings. He should probably hide his feelings, he knows that, but today he doesn't feel like hiding anything.
The girl is trying to escape his eyes. They' re so focused, so directed on her. He's trying to catch her, to hold her with his eyes.
A thought passes through her mind: he wants too much. But so far, he has only asked her to have breakfast. She wants to step back inside the room for a moment just to breathe. She needs air. She feels him taking away her air.
Instead of stepping back inside the room, she follows him down the stairs. She is enjoying herself even though this is a little bit scary. Pale green lizards, sunning themselves on the steps, run and hide in the leaves of the garden. He opens the heavy wooden gate, lets her out, then pushes the latch back into place behind him.
The sun lights up his hair. He turns. The long hair moves with him. The long hair shimmering in the light. For a moment, she thinks of horses; their lean bodies, their smooth skin, their long manes.
He is strange to her. In the bright sunlight, she would like to stare at him. But she doesn't dare. Instead, she stares at clapboard houses they pass along the streets.
They reach the bridge. Twice a day it swings open so tall masted boats may pass through to the sea. Like a huge animal, a strange beast, it moves slowly, making its metallic sounds.
She looks through her camera, tries to find the best angle. He is helpful. "A little farther back," he says, with his heavy accent. "A little to the left. There."
Last night he offered to clean her camera. She had watched his hands; big and rough, the fingers thick, but they moved with such grace, such delicacy. She had wanted to touch them.
She is dreaming about these hands as they enter a restaurant on a small street. They take a table by the window. They look at each other, then look away. They see each other even when they look away.
The sun throws its light on them as they glance out the window. He is smiling again. But this smile is different. He is talking about the world with a sly mocking smile. But even when he smiles this way, the girl feels an openness about his face which makes her want to fly right in, maybe settle there.
The waitress comes over. They order breakfast. They are quiet for a while. When the waitress comes back with their food, the German asks the girl a question. But she doesn't hear.
She is dreaming that she and the German are in the jungle. They are walking down a trail. Amid the trees and vines, they are kissing, they are touching each other. They lie down on the damp earth. He pulls off her pants, parts her legs. She's lying there completely open to him, her knees raised. He lies there, looking. He sees everything. He hasn't touched her yet, but he's about to when the German brings her back with his voice. The light in the restaurant seems very bright to her after the darkness of the jungle. She doesn't quite know where she is.
When he looks at her, he thinks of a necklace breaking. He thinks of beads spilling, rolling, scattering in all directions.
He tries to gather her together with his eyes. "Where are you going next?" he asks.
She wonders if he can look inside her mind and see her dreams. "I want to go to the jungle in the north," she says. "Howler monkeys live there. I want to hear the monkeys roar. People say they roar like jaguars."
He is looking at her. He is trying to figure her out. While he is looking, she absently plays with the dried seahorse in the fishnet that decorates the window. She is wishing he would come with her. But she says nothing. She doesn't know how to say what she wants. She's not used to seeing her dreams happen.
He turns his attention to the room. The room is in shadow as a cloud moves over the sun. He looks down at his empty coffee cup, hears the hum of the fan overhead. He would like to go with her and see the monkeys though he's not sure why.
She looks down at her plate. There are only crumbs now. She rolls the crumbs between her fingers. She gathers the words that are hard to say. She says them over and over in her mind until they lose their meaning. Only then can she get the words out. "You can come with me if you like," she says.
The words don't sound the way she wanted. She is embarrassed. She turns away from the German, stares at the seahorse in the fishnet while he looks at her again.
"I would like to come with you," he says. "If you want, we can leave tomorrow." The girl would like to leave tomorrow. She tells him that, but still she thinks about the words that made her feel embarrassed. Even though the words have produced the result she wanted, she is thinking of different ways she might have said them. Even when the sun comes out from behind the cloud, and fills the room with light, the girl is still embarrassed.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Roberta Allen's poetic narrative draws the reader into the dream that is fiction. With vivid, terse descriptions, she takes us to Belize and into the brief affair between two travelers (referred to as the girl and the German). For example, about the German in the beginning of the affair, Ms. Allen writes: 'When he looks at her, he thinks of a necklace breaking. He thinks of beads spilling, rolling, scattering in all directions. He tries to gather her together with his eyes.' And about the girl, Ms. Allen writes: 'She feels as though she knows him, but she only knows her dream. If she didn't have her dream of the German, she would lose herself: she would be like water in his hands.' As the affair unfolds, Ms. Allen explores the boundaries not only between these two travelers, but also the boundaries between individuals, those between people and nature, and those between reality and illusion. How do we and can we transcend the solitary being that we all are? The Dreaming Girl is beautiful, unique, and in its quietness powerful.