|Publisher:||Godine, David R. Publishers, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)|
Read an Excerpt
THE DREAM BOOK
It was August in New York City and everyone who had money
had fled for
places with trees and wind. We had no air conditioning in the ambulance, only
a pile of sheets on the floor to absorb the heat from the engine. My partner
Vince sat in the passenger seat, his shirt unbuttoned to his navel, a white
towel tucked around his massive neck. Vince ran betting sheets for the entire
hospital. The early part of our shift always consisted of collecting the
yellow slips of paper before the totals were due.
I drove east on Forty Second Street as he sorted them into
past Peepland, Loveland, GirlWorld, the bright pink and green lights of the
Deuce which the cops all call The Douche, swirling with every bit of filth
washed in from the center of the country. Out one window was a video store
where an old man died in the booth fucking a blow-up doll, out the other the
all male follies with its weekend bouquet of razor wielding queens. Straight
ahead stood the famous Victory Theater where a hundred years ago The Great
Houdini made an elephant vanish from the stage and four months ago we ran in
to find a teenager lying in the aisle, shot through the heart for telling
another boy to stop talking. The sidewalks were filled with men I knew.
Beneath the Fried Chicken sign was Gluehead, The Boxer leaned against the
knife and magic store window, Roosevelt Bailey and Jean-Paul St-Dizier and a
hundred others who had passed through the doors of my ambulance now walked or
stood or lay on the brightest street in the brightest city on earth.
Finally I parked the ambulance in Times Square. Vince sighed in
concentration, scribbling into a spiral notebook. I watched the news zipper
circle overhead. Tourists moseyed past in blonde clumps, wearing clothes
straight out of the talk shows. They all stared at the ambulance. I tried to
make myself look important and bored, like a medic on TV. But I knew it was
hopeless. We couldn't turn the engine off or the battery would die, it was a
hundred degrees in there and my sweat was attracting every particle of soot
from the stream of exhaust that poured out of our tailpipe.
At last Vince snapped his briefcase shut. "Why don't you
ever bet on the
scores?" he said. "Goody in housekeeping just won six hundred dollars."
"I don't know anything about sports." I fiddled with the
radio. I didn't
really like sports, it was the one area where Vince could outsmart me.
"You don't have to. I have a dream book. Tell me your
dreams, I'll tell
you what to mark off."
He tossed me a pamphlet. There was a picture of a gypsy
woman on the
cover, underneath it the words, “Big Red Dreambook (Protection, Divination,
"No one wins with these things," I
He gave me a pitying look. "Of course they do. This is a very renowned
book, all kinds of people depend on it. I almost hit hundreds of times." He
frowned. "I mean, when you get two numbers out of three, week after week,
that's more than mere coincidence."
We drove to an unmarked storefront on Fifty-first Street where
Vince had to drop off the totals. I sat in the ambulance reading the
dreambook, waiting for his return. "Dreams came to mortal man through
sorrow," the introduction read, "a bitter reminder of the fruit of the tree
of good and evil. In the natural state, there was no place for dreams. Dreams
fill the hollow where God once dwelt." The dreams were sorted by category.
Dreams of a woman. Dreams of the sea.
"The roots of what man knows today as science are buried in antiquity,” the
book explained, “in sorcery, spells, voodoo and dreams. To the man whose eyes
have been opened, dreams are a key to unlock the secrets of the ancients.
They will provide a charm to the luckless child, assist the woman who has
been thwarted in love, protect a man against the miserable people who lurk in
the shadows seeking to harm him."
The radio emitted a stream of chatter from my hip. A woman
who had been
sick for weeks and finally had enough of it, a drunk that toppled over, two
homeless men refusing to leave the bus terminal. I put on my sunglasses and
leaned back, watching the old men file through the battered metal door,
heading for the cockfights in the back room.
My friends all think working on the ambulance must be
dangerous. Stressful at least, like on TV. But it's mostly stupid. And the
hardest part is going from stupid to anything else.
I was dead asleep when we got the call, slumped in the
front of the
ambulance with my knees stuck up against the steering wheel. The dreambook
lay in my lap, falling down under the gas pedal as I jerked awake to see the
moon hanging up there above the buildings like an old hat. The baby lay
between his mother’s legs, a bloody little doll. A doll so tiny he should
have lived inside a bluebell.
"Oh shit," I said. The mother sat on the bed, naked from
the waist down,
her crossed legs smeared with blood. She was a skinny woman with a young body
and an old face, the fat that might have softened it carved away by years of
steady crack use. Tendons twitched beneath her skin, her eyes twinkled as she
cupped her bony hands around a cigarette, lit it, and puffed maniacally.
"They sent a chick," she said from the corner of her
mouth, "far out, you
think you could get me cleaned up or some shit? He don't really go for this."
She motioned to a man who sat on the bed with his back to
her. He was
shirtless, his torso mottled blue with prison tattoos.
"Shut the fuck up, Judy," he
"Shut the fuck up yourself," Vince answered.
The man's muscles tensed, the crosses on his skin jumped, the blue hearts
quivered, but he shut the fuck up. I pulled on my gloves and went to the bed.
The baby lay froglike on the crumpled sheet, its head the
size of a
lemon. I had never seen a baby that small who wasn't floating in a toilet
bowl. The shadow of the liver and curled intestine were visible beneath the
skin. The face was shot through with red arteries and blue veins. Yet there
were all the parts to make a human: Two eyes covered with clots of dark
tissue, and a nose and a mouth, and tiny soft ears folded forward.
I leaned closer, into the smell of sweat and sour blood. I
if it was a boy or a girl. It looked like it could be a boy, but I knew from
medic school that there was a point where they both looked the same, and this
could have been that point.
"It might be a fetus," I said. Vince didn't answer. When I
looked up he
was staring at the mother like she was a roach he was about to swat.
"Huh?" His eyes were floating off some other place.
"Vince, what are we going to do?"
The mother giggled through his answer.
"Are its eyes open?" he said.
"I think it's a boy."
"No, his eyes, check his eyes, are they sealed shut?”
I tore a gauze pad and wiped off the blood that shrouded him. There they
were, his eyes, two dark muddy pools, wide open but there was no expression
in them, as if he were blind. We both stared down.
"We have to work him then," Vince
I crossed the room to grab the airway bag. Crack vials lay everywhere.
Red and green and blue caps like bits of confetti, bic lighters scratched
dull from too much use, a crack pipe burnt brown in the ashtray. There was no
furniture to get in my way, only the bed. The window was open, blowing city
air to mingle with the smells of sex and ashes.
I pulled out the OB kit. The baby had a blue glow from not
oxygen. Every so often he took a breath, his chest collapsing with the
effort. He flailed one tiny arm and touched the woman's leg. She jerked it
"What the fuck you people doing down there, getting an
"Shut the fuck up, Judy," the man shouted. This time Vince didn't correct
him. He called on the radio for another bus to come get the mother as I cut
the cord with a scalpel, picked the baby up and dried him with the towel. He
still didn't breathe on his own. His whole body fit into my hand. I tapped
his foot. He gasped. Two cops walked in.
"What the hell is that?"
"Little crack baby," Vince said.
I wiped the baby's face with an alcohol prep and lay him so his head
rested in the curve of my fingers.
"What'd you call my baby? What'd you call my baby, you
The man stood up and turned around. Jailhouse muscles rolled under his
skin, he had little pig eyes the same color as the baby's.
"That's my son,” he said, “that's my fucking son there
about like that."
The cop pushed him onto the bed where he leaned back onto
his elbows and
watched me. I twisted the smallest mask onto the ambu-bag. It covered the
baby's whole head.
I threw the mask against the wall. Everything was meant
for the world out
in Iowa where they manufactured this stuff, nothing was meant for here. In
five years I had never delivered a baby that wasn't strung out on something.
We might as well have left the equipment downstairs. The OB Kit neatly
sealed, with its blue plastic sheets we were supposed to carefully drape
around everything but the mother's vagina in order to preserve her dignity,
its sterilized clamps and scissors and towels and ties intended to make the
baby's entry into this world as germ free as possible. This was not the kind
of baby they had in mind. No mask would fit him, every tube we had would be
too big. His hand opened and closed and I raised him to my lips and blew into
his mouth. I was afraid that I would pop him, even with the smallest puffs of
air. I knew his skin would split open if I brushed it with my nail, his tiny
arm snap if it rolled between my finger and thumb. He was too small to be in
From his spot on the bed, the father was giving a lecture.
that boy, you better treat me right, 'cause I delivered him. What were you
people, stopping for coffee or some shit? I know how you operate, you're a
bunch of thieves. You know ain't going to be nothing for you to steal here so
you take your fucking time. So I had to do your job, you weren't here so I
had to do it."
Judy ran her hand along his shoulder. "You pulled on him, you weren't
supposed to pull on him baby, I told you, take him out gentle, he's just a
little baby, and you pulled on him and that's probably why he's all sprawly
like that, I never had one come out that ugly looking before."
He slapped her so hard her teeth cracked together. The
cops grabbed him
under both arms and dragged him out the door, his feet banging against the
doorframe, then he was outside and the room shook with the sound of him
slamming into the wall. Judy listened silently. Vince took her blood pressure
"Is he going to be okay? He's my ninth. They all come
early, but they all
lived." She looked at me and the baby when she spoke. Vince spit on the bare
"He's been at a long party,” he said. “Every drug you
took, he took too."
She didn't respond. There were no toys anywhere. No pictures taped to the
wall. Just the crack pipes and the blood.
A different ambulance came for her. I carried the baby to
and breathed into him as the chains groaned and we sunk towards the street.
His skin was more red now than blue. His arms moved slowly through the air as
if swimming. He didn't look like a baby. He looked like an internal organ,
torn loose, squirming in my hand. I pursed my lips as I raised him to me,
tightening my nose against his smell.
By the time we got to the ambulance he was breathing
"I think we can just do the blow-by," I said, handing him up to Vince.
I didn't turn on the siren. He seemed too small to take that kind of
noise. I could see Vince in the rear view mirror, slumped in the captain's
chair, holding the baby up to the oxygen with one hand.
I watched the streets fall away, listening to Robert Plant
on the oldies s
tation, headed towards Bellevue.
"How could his eyes be open? He's so little," Vince
I clicked the music off.
"Do you think he's really awake?"
I thought of his eyes struggling to open as I wiped away his mother's
blood. "I think he is," I said.
Vince was quiet for a moment. The only sound was the
hissing of the
oxygen, and the engine shuddering beneath my feet.
"Hey," he said "why don't we take him through Times
"Times Square?" I tried to catch his eye in the mirror, but his head was
"Cut left, come on, let's take him to see the
I turned onto 46th Street. It wasn't really out of the way. Only slower.
But what difference did it make, we were only taking him to the place where
he would die. He would spend a day or two looking up at a dotted ceiling,
distorted by the curve of the incubator glass. Or the face of a nurse behind
a mask, or a doctor with a needle coming at him.
Times Square was beautiful to children. I watched them
hanging off their father's arms, staring at the lights brighter than any they
had ever seen. They were so entranced they barely even noticed the ambulance,
which was a major childhood attraction in any other part of town. I drove
slowly down Broadway, into the shower of neon. Vince stuck one arm through
the little window that connects the front of the ambulance to the back, the
baby face up in his palm. Light fell through the windshield from the twirling
spheres of the Reuters board, the revolving stock zipper, the giant Pepsi
sign and Budweiser sign and Hertz sign. The baby's mud eyes stayed open,
dyed red and orange and blue, as around us the street crackled and popped,
ripe with the smells of shish-ke-bob roasting, manure from the carriage
horses, incense perfume from the Muslim oil stands.
When we hit the darkness south of 42nd Street Vince pulled
him back. I
watched him settle back into the chair, holding the baby up to the oxygen as
if nothing had happened. As if that was where he had always been.
When we got to Bellevue the doctors put him on a warming
table, the kind
they use to keep boiled potatoes warm in Irish bars. One threaded a needle
into his umbilical cord. Another passed a tube into his trachea and connected
him to the respirator.
When they were done, the nurse put goggles over his eyes,
the kind they
sell at to sunbathers at Coney Island. "Did the mother take a moment from her
crack pipe to name this one?" she said.
She yawned and fiddled with the end of her pen. I felt a
sudden urge to
slap her, to make her see that not everything always comes out exactly how
"His name is Noble," I
She looked at me oddly, then snorted. "It figures."
An orderly wheeled him upstairs. No one asked where the mother was.
I went to clean up the back of the ambulance but there wasn't even any
mess. The mess was all in the room, and nobody was going to clean it up.
"Let's go to the river," Vince said when he came out. So I drove west.
When we got there he grabbed his hand weights from under the seat, jumped the
low wire fence and stood on the sunken concrete at the end of the pier,
pumping his arms in the moonlight. The men who lived there were all asleep
inside their crooked shacks. Water flapped against the wooden beams and made
a sound like an animal drinking. The air smelled salty and clean. I watched
the lights go out one by one in Jersey as Vince did pushups, then situps,
then one-armed pushups until I lost count.
I stared at the dream book. Dreams of India. Dreams of
babies. None of my
dreams were in it. "Naming a baby," the book read, "one's own: 7, 42,1.
Foretells a change in money, or time." Where was, “naming a baby, nobody's?”
Vince grunted as he pushed himself up and down. The sky slowly brightened to
gray. I laid the dream book on the dashboard and closed my eyes. My hands
smelled of the blood that Noble arrived in, my lips held the coppery taste of
his skin. I could still see his eyes, his open eyes that were the only reason
we worked him, staring up at the lights, staring up at me as I breathed a few
days life into him. It would make no difference in the end. What we did or
didn't do. They would bury him in Potters Field in a tiny box with the other
dead babies no one claimed. Small wooden markers above them in domino rows.
Most have no names. Baby Boy 12. Baby Girl 13. Noble would have one name.
Like a dog. I should have given him another, but I didn't think of it at the
time. I wondered as I sat there if he could really see, or were his eyes just
open, like a doll's? Dreams of light. Dreams of frankincense and
shish-ke-bob. Dreams of a medic, reaching into the blood.