by Keith Miller
“‘Zelzala, they called me,’ she said after a moment. ‘I was a vendor of dreams'” (Miller, 91).
Wow, the last two chapter write-ups have been a lot longer than I intended. Anyway, this chapter is about dreams. And demons. Kind of.
While traveling, Pico hears a howl of anguish and goes to investigate and finds a distraught women. I was surprised by his treatment of her:
“‘Don’t cry,’ he told her, ‘don’t cry.’ and she began to pummel his chest. He caught her fists and held her while she trashed and then collapsed against him, panting. He sat with her til she shivered in the early chill and then put his jacket and his arms around her and recited all the poems he had by heart. How strange it was to hold a woman again” (85-6)
In one way, it sounds like what I’d expect from Pico – thinking about her in relation to him and “how strange…to hold a woman”.
In other ways, Pico shows a surprising consideration for her welfare, letting her get her feelings out and reciting poetry to calm her down. He doesn’t do anything that isn’t, generally, supportive. I wasn’t expecting him to do that. Perhaps after knowing Adevi and Bulaq and hearing Master Rabbit’s tale, he’s learned how to treat women better.
When the woman finally wakes up from a long bout of sleeping, Pico reads her a story, after which the woman tells him that she used to be a dream seller and that her name is Zelzala. She tells him how she was content with her life, living in a somnambulist state, offering dreams to “[m]en and women…[c]hildren…the sleepwalkers and insomniacs, the deranged, the lovelorn [and t]the lonely” (92). And she is content with this, living in the dreams of others when she isn’t awake. That is until a particular customer comes.
He sparks her interest and passion in a way no one else ever has and after she’s offered him his dream from which to choose (planting in one that includes her), she spends “[f]ive night, five days…moving through all the dreams she has stolen from the tall stranger, and when she awoke she knew the spell was broken” (94-5). She can no longer stay in her dream-fed existence. She has to find this fellow.
Her desire for him drives her to abandon her bed of dreams, so she goes out to seek him. She asks in the city where she lives, until an old woman tells her:
“‘you have been loved by a demon. He comes at night to lick and enter the bodies of young women as they sleep and returns to his sylvan abode by day. Many are the girls who have left their lamplit rooms in their nightgowns and walked into the forest seeking that vanished lover, and none has ever returned'” (96).
This seems to be a clear reference to demons as lovers, and especially an incubus. It’s a nod to the mythology of demons, but not an aspect I have much interest in. And even though he’s a demon and has tempted women before, Zelzala is adamant that she needs to find him.
Her drive and the inclusion of a demon lover felt more like a fact of the story than anything I was supposed to care about. And since it was a pretty short chapter, I didn’t feel that Zelzala had much characterization other than wanting to find this incubus.
I had in my outline for this chapter, something about “love as pain” and I’m not sure what I meant, other than loving someone without any concern for the sorrow or misfortune it brings you. I mean, Zelzala is essentially wandering aimlessly through forest to find a demon who may not have any interest in her.
And in the end, does she get what she wants? The text tells us that Pico has a dream where
“A beautiful woman wearing nothing but a faded blue work shirt walks up to the door of a house in a forest and knocks. A tall man opens it, black hair about his shoulders, and he leans and kisses her lips and takes her hand and leads her into the house. They pass through empty room after empty room, the only furniture the angled pillars of dust they set aswarm with their passage. All the rooms are identical and it seems they are moving endlessly into and out of the same room until at last they arrive at a room from which there is no exit save by the way they have come in. In the middle of this room stands a bed with a single white sheet upon it, luminous in the light of early morning. The tall man turns to her and unbuttons the shirt she wears, slowly, as if each buttonhole is a door to yet another room, and when she is naked he lays her on the bed. Loosing the emerald scarf from his neck he tears it into four ribbons and binds her wrists and ankles to the bedposts. Then he begins to undress” (99).
Pico believe it’s a dream that shows him that Zelzala did find her demon lover. And I can only assume (and hope) that what happens is exactly what she wanted.
On a more positive note, I like how she retrieves dreams and how it sounds. For example, she offers perform her service for Pico because he’s fed and helped her. When he agrees, he
“felt a curious sensation within himself as though gentle feelers, the antennae of silverfish or the whiskers of tiny mice, probed the crannies of his body, a sweeping, a dusting of the nerve ends” (96-7).
And I felt that was a very whimsical way to describe looking through someone to see what kinds of dreams would be most pleasing to them.
next week, Pico spends a long time in a city in the mountains
source edited for better definitions
Miller, Keith. The Book of Flying: A Novel. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2004. Print.