THE STAR-DUST DREAMERS
As big as the world, Humpetty Dumpetty’s back rose above and about him, wobbling but firmly in place. You could land a plane on it.You could take day-long walks across it and not reach the other side. It would be easier to bicycle to China on a sunny afternoon than to cross this Humpetty’s back. There were no maps, no proper sense of up or down.
“Make way there! Make way!” Humpetty Dumpetty would shout as he knocked over walls and church steeples. “More room! I need more room!” He cast his bad temper about him as he did his shadow.
When Humpetty walked the streets, or wandered in the country, he acted like the moon when it blocks the sun. Darkness went before him, and all the creatures, all the birds that found themselves in this darkness would think it night and do what was proper, that is, immediately go to sleep.
“Wake us up in the morning!” they’d say. “It’s been a short day, hasn’t it?!”
As for people, they would have to turn on their headlights or just play blindman’s buff with the difference that nobody could see. At the very least, they had to get out of the way. It should be said right away, however, that, while everybody wondered about such a bad temper, no one objected to this upsetting of their day. They accepted it like a mountain that you live around rather than try to move – something that has as much right as anything else to be wherever and whatever it is. And so it was with Humpetty Dumpetty.
Now Humpetty had a very pretty wife who, when needed, would give her husband a good scrub-down. This, as you can imagine, was quite an operation, entailing much soapy water, ladders, pulleys, galoshes, rubber aprons, sponges and a truckload of towels. At each washing, she could always count on whoever was around to pitch in. Firemen, shopkeepers, passersby, playing children, interested dogs and cats would gather about, raise the ladders, fill the buckets, add the soap and give a helping hand wherever needed.
Once the wash was done – usually in a park – Humpetty Dumpetty’s wife would bring out a picnic she had prepared: egg and cucumber sandwiches, chocolate cake, lemon pie, butter and blueberry jam sandwiches, peaches and cream and then, with rounded bellies, all the picnickers would settle down in Humpetty Dumpetty’s shade and go to sleep.
They always dreamed and, curiously, they all had the same dream, Humpetty’s wife included. Once again, they brought out the ladders and followed her to the very top of her husband’s back. There she opened a secret door just large enough for one person at a time to enter. Not knowing why or why not, except that to pass through a secret door seemed the only sensible thing to do in a dream, each and everyone, urged on by the pretty young wife, stepped into the darkness.
Now falling through the pitch black, each and everyone underwent a transformation. First, they lost all sense of their picnic bodies. The legs and hands they had used to climb the ladders and plunge through Humpetty Dumpetty’s secret door ceased to exist along with every other solid thing about themselves. Their ability to see, feel and understand, however, remained and they continued to fall through the vast darkness. With very good eyesight, one could detect them as the tiniest particles of what is known as star-dust drifting, drifting down through the endless reaches of space within the mountainous hollow. They might not have existed at all. But then, it may not matter how small you are, as long as you are.
Down, down they drifted, sinking deeper and deeper into the dark ocean of space. When they reached a certain unknown level, they came upon huge snowy birds with coal-black eyes, yellow beaks and snake-like necks. As to how many of these swans there were, it was impossible to say and so one might as well settle on “a lot” – they kept appearing out of nowhere. At their head floated one much larger than the rest – oh five times as large at least.
All the star-dust people now found themselves quite irresistibly drawn to the graceful birds. They saw that each swan was a world of dreams and that they could enter whichever of these worlds they wished. For a dreamer, it was an easy decision to make – like light entering the eye, they entered the dream worlds of the swans, floating into the light of swan worlds. Now the dreaming truly began, everything else having been little more than a process of getting there.
For one, however, the dreaming stopped right here. Humpetty Dumpetty’s wife, having waited until all of the star-dust dreamers had safely entered the dream worlds of the swans, now closed the secret door and … woke up. She, in turn, awakened her husband who never dreamt. They would get their things packed and tiptoe away together as quietly as they could in order not to disturb the sleeping picnickers. As for the cats and dogs, these followed for awhile but eventually lost interest and wandered off in different directions.
This pattern repeated itself wherever and whenever the bad-tempered Humpetty Dumpetty needed to have a bath. With the passing weeks, months and years, his back grew larger, larger and larger, rounder, rounder and rounder. Across the land, more and more groups of picnickers were enjoying a long after-lunch sleep – which seemed to go on and on.
Within the darkness of this mountainous back, innumerable swans, that is, much more than “a lot” twisted and turned through the inky air while at their head one giant swan gravely and sedately led the way. Unless you were a dreamer, that is all you would see. Anyone else would have to imagine all the other things that were happening.
What might one dream if one could choose to dream whatever one wanted? To fly like a canary or to sit with the monkeys and laugh at the people in their funny fur? To build an ice cream man in the summer that will give you a cool, sweet and sticky hug? To have passing clouds drop something other than rain, perhaps grand pianos floating softly down just because it’s so much nicer than falling with a crash or having to wait and have the delivery truck find your door, which is much more trouble? Yes! better to have them come down like snowflakes – enough for you and all your friends, just where you want them, in the park or at the seaside, with a glass of juice on top of each, arranged with two straws – much nicer, much more interesting.
One day, after yet another back-washing, the picnic over and a new crop of dreamers stepping through the trap-door, one jolly looking, very polite fellow turned to Humpetty Dumpetty’s wife just before going through the secret doorway, and said, “After you, Madam, please, after you.” She could not say no. And so, lifting one foot and then the other, she plunged right in.
“Pull the door after you!” she called merrily as she and the handsome young man headed toward the star-dust dreamers.
Once arrived, the pretty young wife and her new friend chose to enter a dream world together where they could hold hands and look at each other – since they got along so well and seemed to agree on practically everything.
When Humpetty Dumpetty awoke from his after-picnic nap, he was surprised to see his wife still in dreamland under his nose. He called to her. “Gwendolyn! Gwendolyn!” but with no response. As he studied the situation a little more, he saw that lying beside her was a satisfied-looking young man, that both sleepers were turned towards each other and had the sort of smile that a cat might have after licking up the cream it has just accidentally caused to spill from the kitchen table. “Yummy!” That is what their smiles said to him.
“Gwendolyn!” he tried again. “Gwendolyn!” he called loudly giving her a shake. Still asleep.
“Try the young gentleman,” he thought. He emptied a bucket of cold water over the broadly smiling face so close to that of his blissful wife – water cold enough to jar awake the deepest, most lifeless sleeper. As Humpetty Dumpetty looked on, the icy water trickled away from the still smiling, sleeping face.
Now Humpetty didn’t necessarily think of himself as being in a story, but he did something next that seemed to come right out of a story. He went and he sat on a wall. He was very sad and gloomy. He was very much in one of his bad tempers.
“Abandoned,” he said to himself. “I’ve been abandoned. My wife, my pretty wife has run off with …”
But here he stopped himself, for he could see very well that his wife had not run off at all. She was, in fact, right there … right there in front of him and, yet, not there, all at the same time.
“Maybe, when she awakes … if she awakes, everything will be fine,” he told himself as he rocked back and forth on the wall until, before long, he lost his balance and fell over. He fell all the way over with such a thud when he hit the ground that – although he said to himself, “This isn’t so bad!” – he was, in fact, quite knocked out. Unconscious. In dreamland.
He who had never dreamt before began now to dream that he was a magnificent swan, the leader in a gorgeous parade of other swans. He was in a world of dreams where at this very moment two other dreamers dreamt: his pretty young wife and a handsome young man who walked hand in hand by the rustling edge of the sea. They murmured to each other and murmured to each other. So happy were they, so content were they to sit on any old pebbles, that they never complained when they had to eat raw fish or stay outside all day in rainy weather.
In fact, every attempt to split them apart … with lightning, with sea monsters fierce enough to make other monsters quake, every effort merely produced the same reaction: “We must run and hide! We must protect each other! We must become even closer!” A final effort, with an enormous tidal wave, to carry them away from each other only made them turn into two sea gulls and soar away over the top of all that simply annoying water!
They were infuriating! and put Humpetty Dumpetty who was a swan into a really good bad temper. He whirled round and round. He didn’t stop. He whirled until he caught up to himself, until his whirling whirled him around, spun him round and round, and up and up above a great wind that roared beneath him and roared around him, a great black wind that grew and grew and carried him away, lifting the other dream swans with him, spinning them higher and higher, tumbling them round and round after him as he burst with all his bad temper through the open trap-door, sprung open by his toppling fall off the story-book wall, drawing all the other swans up and out with him. Into the sunlight.
It is time to wake up. It is time for one’s sleeping body to wake up. All the picnickers, all the picnickers everywhere awoke from their dreaming. Humpetty’s wife and her jolly young friend also awoke. Only the great swan couldn’t stop being a world of dreams, couldn’t return to a sleeping body, for Humpetty Dumpetty couldn’t awake and was, in fact, no more.
The great dream swan looked down at what was no more with an angry beating of its wings, but it didn’t help. No one noticed. It flew off and came down on a lake in the middle of the park, where a family of real swans was swimming about and enjoying themselves. It opened its mouth and hissed something very rude at all of them but they couldn’t hear it – and so, at last, it gave up and, instead, contented itself with its dreams.