The Interpretation of Dreams

Long before the town of Mijas in southern Spain became a lure for tourists and home to the largest golf resort in the country, a man named Emilio led a quiet life there. He rented a room in a steep unpaved street that led straight into the mountains. There was a library in the town (a small one, of course), and he was its caretaker. “Librarian,” he claimed, “is too grand a word for what I am.” He lived alone though had been married once. It had ended, after only a few months, when the flu pandemic infamously named after his country killed his young bride. Luisa had just turned eighteen. Emilio’s grief dug a deep moat around him. He shunned company. Then fled it. He wandered throughout Andalucia and found employment as a farm labourer (olives, oranges). In Seville he bought a map of Spain and located the dots he’d visited. With a sharpened pencil he connected them. His eye lingered over mountain chains and coastlines. His shoulders and arms bore the weight of his improvised rucksack. And, eventually, his feet found their way back to Mijas. Five or six years had passed; of course, the place was unchanged. His uncle, who sat on the town council, offered him a position – the only position, it turned out – at the library. It was a large room in the basement of city hall. It soon became his second home. Books were his only company; he didn’t even keep a cat.

He finds himself walking through a field of high grass, yellowed and browned by the sun. But there is no sun; it’s a cloudy mid-afternoon in his dream…

The town council granted the library a modest budget, which he used to buy books. He ordered them from Madrid and Seville and from as far as Barcelona. Occasionally, he made small repairs to windows, stairs, whatever was needed; he took his time and never asked the councilmen to compensate him. He filled the few empty corners of the library with comfortable armchairs, giving visitors more reason to linger. He recommended books he’d read and books he knew he never would. Except for Sunday, the library was open all week. Emilio kept long hours; he didn’t even close in the early afternoon when the town had its collective nap. Year after year, the number of library cards he issued to the townspeople grew.

Then came a year of economic devastation. It was as widespread as the epidemic that had robbed him of Luisa. Even places like Mijas, which had little to begin with, were not spared. Emilio was permitted to keep his job for less pay, but the town council stopped funding the library. To his surprise, economic hardship seemed to spawn new readers. The library grew in popularity, but the councilmen refused to restore its funding. They urged the townsfolk to stop reading and start working. Once when Emilio asked for funds to buy new books, one councilman answered that it would be “foolish to pay people to flee from reality.”

Slowly things got better. On Saturday, the market was livelier. More vendors; more plentiful fruit and vegetables. At Emilio’s insistence, the council reinstated part of the library’s funding; it was a meagre sum but enough to make him hope for better days. Sometimes, however, he feared the council would change course and do away with his job altogether. How would a forty-year-old ex-librarian survive?

Then came a succession of nights that brought the same dream. He finds himself walking through a field of high grass, yellowed and browned by the sun. But there is no sun; it’s a cloudy mid-afternoon in his dream; and in the distance, a sparse cluster of trees recall his thinning hair. There’s something familiar about the locale. Following a blurred transition typical of dreams he comes to a low wall of grey stone. It forms a broken circle round a large flat slab that lies half-buried in the ground. A black goat (young, very young, a kid) trots to the flat rock, hops on, and lies there as the wind stirs its fleece. For six or seven consecutive nights, the same dream, the black goat on its stone bed, the same gust of wind. Then it stopped. Losing the dream (which was how he began to think of it) worried Emilio as much as having it. On successive Sundays he went on excursions; he was certain the countryside in his dream was real; he was certain it was somewhere just outside Mijas. He walked all day, and was surprised at how much ground he covered. The land, too, held surprises, a profusion of animals and plants and vagabonds that reminded him of his earlier life. That he didn’t find the landscape from his dream, however, came as no surprise.

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