The next day he stopped by an art store. He came home with pencils, pens, paper, canvas, paint, brushes, all manner of creative materials. He set up in his room and began to work feverishly, trying again and again to capture what he had seen on the canvas. Sometime around midnight he came out of his trance long enough to notice that none of his paintings or drawings worked. He simply was not an artist. He realized the only thing he could accomplish by trying to paint the dream would be to tarnish it- or worse, profane it. He washed his hands, slept fitfully, and threw away all his paintings the next morning.
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He did not dream of the garden and the woman again, but they never left the forefront of his mind. He cut all his classes the next day and spent his time wandering, trying desperately to reconcile himself with the strange new obsession. Finally, weary of trudging up and down the streets, he stopped in a bar. He sat down at the bar stool, ordered a drink (he couldn’t remember what) and was quietly miserable. Sometime later, he felt himself being watched. He looked up, catching the eyes of a scruffy-looking man in the doorway. The man smiled at him- an odd half-smile that turned up only one corner of the mouth- and promptly sat down at the barstool next to him.
The man shrugged out of his jacket, pushed a few locks of tangled blond hair out of his face, and ordered a cola.
“There’s a blank spot here,” Leo said. “The next thing I remember…”
He was yammering away, confessing- he realized to his horror- his obsession with dreams of gardens and women to this man whom he’d never met, whose name he did not know.
“Have you considered getting a tattoo?” the man said.
No, he hadn’t.
“It’s a radical step, yes, but it may be what you need to reconcile yourself with this woman. If she’s worthy of compulsive masturbation, she’s probably worthy of self-mutilation. But that’s just me.”
“Did I really say that?”
“Masturbated? Yes, old chum, you did. Maybe it’s about time to lay off the sauce, if you don’t remember that.”
“Anyway, if you do decide to have her carved into your flesh, I can recommend the perfect place.” He handed Leo a card. “There’s a fellow works there who can reproduce almost anything from a bare description. If you decide to do it.” The man got up to leave.
“Who are you?”
“Most people call me Blake.” He smiled that half-smile again. “Good luck.”
“It seems so odd now,” Leo said, “That he would say ‘good luck’.”
“I don’t know. It was like he was expecting something horrible to happen and he was telling me he really hoped I made it through. Or something.”
“You got all that from ‘good luck’?”
“Yeah…well...I don’t know. You had to be there. The guy was weird, James.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Stay here, I’ll freshen our drinks.”
I returned with the glasses and set them down on the coffee table. Leo’s eyes were far away, dreamy. I waited, and eventually he roused himself.
“Where was I?”
“You’d just spoken with someone named Blake.”
“Oh right. So anyway, I left the bar and went home…”
He went home and sat, turning the card over and over in his hands. It read:
Dreamskin Tattoos. 423 North Tilletson Street, Serwood.
On the back, there was one tiny line of black script. It read:
‘Success, Gilman added, might lead to dangerous and unthinkable situations.’
Now what did that mean?
He slept fitfully that night, and awoke before the sun had cleared the horizon. In that eerie twilight hour, he knew he would go through with it.
This, however, was not as easy as he had expected. There was no North Tilletson Street, according to his map, and no 423 either. He drove across town and left his car in a fast-food parking lot, hiking across the highway and over to Delaware Street. He walked for a while and, finding no side roads, crashed through someone’s pucker bushes and onto Tilletson. It was like walking into another world.
I would like to interrupt here to mention that I once found myself on Tilletson Street, and I sympathize completely with how Leo must have felt. There is a hostile, alien quality to that stretch of road that I have never felt anywhere else. The houses watch you as you pass. I drove through it in my car and it was unnerving as all hell. I can’t imagine what it must be like on foot.
He strolled down Tilletson, his nerves sizzling from the silent, oppressive hostility all around him. There were no people, no animals, nothing moving in his line of sight. From time to time, he would imagine he saw something out of the corner of his eye and whirl around, terrified. Despite this, he continued moving, and came at last to a four-way stop. A sign identified the intersecting street as N. Tilletson.
North Tilletson was, in some small but noticeable way, different from Tilletson proper. Dreamlike, unreal houses covered with ivy squatted by the road like old gravestones. The street was paved with cobblestones, a phenomenon found nowhere else in Serwood. From the distant hills, something roared. Leo kept moving.
“I was in a trance,” he said. “Looking back on it, I can’t conceive of how I managed not to run screaming into the streets. It was like I’d stumbled into another world, James.”
He stopped before a two-story house painted in garish shades of blue and gold. On the side facing the road, these colors twisted around each other, creating a vortex of paint that spiraled around the second-floor window. On this window, in bright red, was painted: 423. Well, it was a tattoo parlour after all. They would want to have eye-catching colors, especially in such a dismal, unpopulated neighborhood as North Tilletson. He climbed the four stone steps and stood before a heavy oaken door upon which someone had drawn- in the same garish red- an equilateral triangle contained inside a nearly perfect circle. Leo knocked.
The door was answered by a mustachioed black man with bright green eyes. He looked Leo up and down, silently weighing him up. Finally, he said: “How might I help you, young sir?”
Leo held out the card. “Someone gave me this, said there was a tattoo parlour here. Uh…is there?”
The man snatched the card up. “Who gave you this?”
“Um. He said his name was Blake.”
The man broke into a sunny smile. “Well, young sir,” he said. “You’ve come to the right place. This is, in fact, a tattoo parlour- among other things –and you are most welcome. Step inside, and we’ll discuss what sort of markings you need.”
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.