Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Nicolbee had nightmares; but his life was a nightmare too, and sometimes he couldn't tell them apart, or which was most real...
"LOOK," said Joe Nicolbee, pointing his finger at his wife that Friday night after they had finished a mediocre meal, "why don't you go to the show alone?"
Agnes Nicolbee hesitated only an instant. She looked at the litter of dirty dishes lying about the kitchen table.
"What about these dinner dishes?" she asked.
"You go to the show," Joe Nicolbee repeated, "I'll do 'em."
Agnes smiled happily. This was just what she wanted.
"I'll call the girls," she said rising "and see if they'll go with me."
She paused to pat Joe Nicolbee's head fondly before leaving him there in the kitchen. She still thought this gesture pleased him. "You don't mind sTaying home alone, honey?" she asked.
Joe Nicolbee sighed.
"No," he said. "I don't mind. You'd better hurry." And with faintly cynical amusement he watched his wife hurry out of the kitchen. He could hear her dialing a telephone rapidly in the hall off the living room.
A few seconds later her voice floated faintly to him, carefully muffled so that he couldn't make out any of the conversation. But Joe Nicolbee didn't care to hear the conversation. He knew Agnes wasn't calling any of the "girls". He'd known it for over three years now. It didn't bother Joe Nicolbee because it had been longer than three years since he'd been silly enough to give a damn about Agnes.
It was Joe Nicolbee's silent prayer that Agnes would stop being a fool some day and divorce him. But no, she wasn't the type to be honest enough for that. Joe Nicolbee sighed and contemplated the litter of dirty dishes on the table. They were a part of Joe Nicolbee's unpleasant existence. Just as much a part as Agnes, his dull job at the department store, his stupid, meddlesome neighbors, and the endless scrimping and saving that meant getting along. They were just as much a part of Joe's existence as the daily newspapers that screamed of horror and bloodshed and war and persecution. Just as much an integral part of Joe Nicolbee's life as breathing.
Agnes came back into the kitchen a little later to kiss Joe on the forehead and say good-bye. Joe watched her leave, a curious mixture of scorn and amusement on his features.
"Have a good time with the girls," he called after her. It pleased him to say that. One of the small remaining pleasures was the realization that Agnes was so stupid she thought she was getting away with something.
He heard the door close, yawned, and stood up, mechanically arranging the dishes to pile them in the sink. He'd have a smoke after he finished these, and then pile into bed. Then he could get back to his dreams.
JOE NICOLBEE enjoyed dreaming. You might say he was good at it. For as far back as he could recall, Joe had never slept without dreams.
When he was a little kid, he used to dream that he was a knight in armor, riding a great horse and wearing a plumed helmet. He was the hero who rescued plenty of fair maidens. Later, when Joe was at school, he'd dream he was the campus hero, an All American halfback, or a brilliant Phi Beta Kappa scholar. But of course he was never really any of these. Joe Nicolbee was unfortunately a pretty ordinary person. He was ordinary, that is, according to the shape and standards of worldly values. No one expected Joe Nicolbee to emerge into the limelight as a world- beater, a Great Person. And he never did.
As he went through life no one seemed surprised that he wasn't setting the world ablaze. No one seemed surprised to see him becoming more and more a microscopic nonentity in the scheme of things. Joe wasn't surprised either. He had long grown used to the fact that his dreams never approached reality.
"Hell," he told himself, "I'm just Joe Nicolbee."
When Joe had gotten his job at the department store he'd had dreams of some day ascending to great heights in commerce. And about that time Joe was dreaming of a wonderful girl to make life blissfully complete.
Joe married Agnes, and for the first time thought he'd come pretty close to equaling in reality what he'd had in his dream world. But even Agnes proved a dud. It had been just wishful thinking that made him think she was the girl he'd seen in his dream life. Once he had tried to tell Agnes about his dreams.
"Joe Nicolbee," she said, "no wonder you never amount to a darn. You spend all your time snoring, off in a never-never land. Wonderful dreams, bah! No wonder you toss all night. Probably indigestion. If you'd stop all that nonsense you'd have more time for practical things. Why don't you dream how to get a promotion?"
So Joe Nicolbee's expression had grown a little grim and he hadn't said anything to Agnes after that. But he didn't stop dreaming. Even after Joe got a pay cut instead of the promotion Agnes was always pushing him after, he kept on dreaming. Maybe he even spent more time at it.
For it seemed that the tougher the stark, unpleasant realities of life got for Joe Nicolbee the more he would dream himself away from them. He was that sort of a person.'
Where some men came home nights and spent the after-dinner hours busily engaged in putting stamps in books or working over a birdhouse in a basement workshop, Joe Nicolbee got to bed just as fast as he could and dreamed. It was really his hobby.
The few acquaintances Joe Nicolbee had used to jokingly say that he spent all his waking hours away from work in sleep. Which finally got to be pretty much the truth of the matter.
Like this particular Friday night.
Joe finished drying the dishes and smoked a couple of cigarettes in the living room, thanking God that he didn't have to put up with his wife's stupid chatter this evening. He even got a sort of savage delight in picturing Agnes boring the hell out of some other man.
And then, about eight o'clock, Joe Nicolbee combed his hair very carefully, brushed his teeth, put on his best pajamas, and went to bed. Joe always liked to look his best in his dreams, and took pains getting ready for them. Joe was no insomniac. Through long practice he had learned how to get right off to sleep. He was snoring in five minutes.
IT was a vast, incredibly beautiful forest in which Joe Nicolbee found himself. From the glorious rust and yellow colorings of the trees that surrounded him, and the crispness of the air and the leaves beneath his feet, Joe Nicolbee knew that this was autumn. He stood in the center of a great avenue of these trees, and they were slanted by smoky shafts of sunshine. Looking upward at the huge arch this made, Joe Nicolbee thought of a cathedral he'd seen once when he was a kid.
It was as silent, and as cool, and as peaceful as a cathedral. Joe stood there, drinking in the smoky sunshine, letting his eyes feast on the gorgeous colors and his body tingle to the crispness of the air.
There wasn't a sound save for the excited hammering of Joe Nicolbee's heart.
And then a voice spoke, close to his ear and momentarily startling.
"You are Joe Nicolbee?" the voice said.
Joe wheeled, the clear, low, liquid beauty of the voice still ringing in his ears. Joe wheeled, and saw the loveliest woman ever fashioned by the gods of glamour.
His mouth was open slightly, and he was almost choking on the pounding of his heart. The lovely creature was smiling at him, her hands extended. Her lips were the richly wonderful redness of rare coral, and her teeth were as white and perfect as the freshly split center of a ripe cocoanut. Her skin was tinted with the faintest tan, and her ash-blonde hair haloed a face that beggared the beauty of the ages.
And again she said,
"Joe Nicolbee. I have waited for you."
"But you," Joe Nicolbee stammered at last, "you, you are—"
"You don't recognize me, Joe Nicolbee?" she asked.
"I do," Joe Nicolbee said quickly, "I do, but yet I can't remember where, or when—"
"Where or when?" the girl smiled.
"What does it matter where or when we have met before?"
Joe Nicolbee stood there silently, his heart hammering harder than before. The very beauty of the girl was stronger than drink, more magnificently intoxicating than nectar.
"Perhaps it was in another age," she said softly. "Or perhaps it was in a world you never had." Her voice was more than music.
"You are—" Joe Nicolbee began again.
"You can call me Naya," the girl said. "Names mean little." She moved closer to him.
Joe Nicolbee knew that his arms were around this girl, and that his lips were pressed to hers, and that he was shaken by the very thunder of his heart. The forest was swimming beneath his feet and the gloriously colored trees were whirling faster, faster—
A HAND gripped Joe's shoulder, long nails carelessly biting into his flesh. He pushed himself up on one elbow, groggily, and blinked into the harsh unpleasantness of the bedroom light.
Agnes stood over him. She took her hand from his shoulder. There was the reek of cheap alcohol on her breath. Her crazy dishpan hat was slightly askew on her head, and stringy locks of hair thrust out annoyingly from under the brim.
"All you do is sleep," she said. Joe noted that she spoke a trifle thickly. Her cheap lipstick was smeared at the corners of her red mouth.
"What time is it?" Joe Nicolbee asked automatically, his eyes still fixed distastefully on his wife.
"What difference does it make?" Agnes demanded. "All I did was stop on the way home from the show. I had a drink at Helen's place." She glared defensively at him.
Joe Nicolbee just looked at her, masking the emotions he felt. He sat up on the edge of the bed, rumpling his hand through his hair. It was clear to him that his wife's infidelity was beginning to wear on even her calloused conscience. This amused him slightly.
"Well?" his wife demanded harshly. "Why don'cha say something? Why don'cha yell at me? Go ahead, Yell at me!" Her voice rose shrilly.
"You have to see the neighbors every day," Joe Nicolbee reminded her, "not me. Go on and scream. Give them something to whisper about."
This sobered his wife somewhat. She put her red-nailed hand to her forehead, and stood there swaying slightly.
"I feel kinda sick," Agnes observed.
Her husband regarded her unsympathetically.
"That's too bad,"
She moved weakly to the doorway, turning there to glare venomously at him again.
"You sleep too damn much," she muttered. "You and your crazy dreams."
Joe Nicolbee watched her move out of sight. He heard the bathroom door slam. He fished for a cigarette on the scarred night-table beside his bed, and lighting it noticed that his hands shook slightly. But he knew it wasn't due to Agnes. In the back of his mind there was the picture of the glorious creature who called herself Naya.
"Where or when?" Naya's liquidly cooling voice came to him again. "What does it matter where or when we have met before?"
Joe Nicolbee shook his head, and a sickening wave of despair and bitter resentment swept over him. Into this, the most utterly magnificent dream he'd ever had, wretched reality—in the form of Agnes—had stepped to shatter the glorious world completely. If Joe hadn't despised Agnes, he'd have throttled her then and there.
Even after Joe heard the door to Agnes' room slam and the key turn in the lock, he didn't get back to sleep. He couldn't, for the picture of Naya, and the beauty of the incredibly wonderful forest was still in his mind.
It was like nothing that had ever happened to him—even in other dreams before. It left him shaken, trembling, his brain restlessly trying to hurl itself back to that dream world. It was like a terrible and inexplicable hunger.
THE ash tray on the nightstand was heaped with cigarette stubs when Joe finally rose from his position on the edge of the bed and walked over and snapped off the light. It wasn't necessary any longer. Morning had come.
Joe didn't eat breakfast, He dressed hurriedly, thanking God that Agnes was sleeping off her hangover and wouldn't hear him. He didn't want to have to look at her face. It was worse in the morning.
For the first time since he'd been down with a bad attack of flu some four years previously, Joe Nicolbee didn't go to work at the department store. He walked aimlessly, mingling with the early morning workbound crowds, his eyes flicking past them unseeingly. The torment and longing in his brain grew maddeningly greater.
Joe Nicolbee had no conscious realization of time passing. But it was dark when his footsteps finally took him wearily up the walk of his little cottage hours later. The turmoil in his soul was now a feverish yearning and incessant throbbing that wouldn't let him rest. His body was dead from fatigue, but in his brain there still blazed the picture of his dream world, the memory of Naya.
Agnes wasn't at home, and Joe moved wearily through the living room, climbing the stairs to his bedroom like a man in a trance. He didn't bother even to remove his shoes or clothing as he threw himself on his bed. It seemed to him as if his mind would never cease its torment, never cease its whirling, never let him sleep, never let him...
THE keen tingling intoxication of the forest air was again in Joe Nicolbee's nostrils. And this time his entrance into the glorious world of dreams was somehow very different from any he had ever experienced before. It seemed to Joe Nicolbee, as he stood there in the gorgeously colored forest once again, that he had awakened from another and evil dream to find himself here.
Joe blinked his eyes, gazing about in mingled excitement and expectation.
It occurred to him that this was also the first time in all his dreams that he had ever been twice to the same dream world. His pulses hammered feverishly. He hadn't lost Naya. He hadn't lost this beautiful world.
Naya, suddenly, was before him, smiling.
"Joe Nicolbee," she said, "you nave returned. I knew you would."
"I thought I had lost you, forever," Joe said huskily.
Naya shook her head.
"You are just beginning to find me. You are just beginning to enjoy this world." She took him by the hand and they walked beneath the tall archway of trees.
"You have had trouble," Naya said after a moment's silence. "But do not let bad dreams disturb you."
"Bad dreams?" Joe Nicolbee gasped, recalling the thought that had occurred to him but a moment ago. "But this is a dream."
Naya nodded as solemnly as a little child.
"Yes," she said. "This is a dream. But you will learn more."
Joe Nicolbee walked on in silence, the closeness of Naya as beautiful, as splendid, as symphonic music to his soul. They came to a clearing, and far in the distance mountains were visible, shrouded faintly in soft, fleecy clouds.
Naya pointed upward to the mountains. Joe saw through the white cotton mists that the towers of a magnificent castle were visible.
"That is ours," Naya said. "It has been waiting for us."
Joe Nicolbee held her hand a little more firmly. Tears were in his eyes.
AGNES was standing over him again when Joe woke up. It had been her persistent pulling at his ear that jarred him back into his world of obnoxious reality. He still remembered entering the magnificent castle with Naya, of strolling through the richly adorned halls and past the towering marble staircases, of placing his arm around her slim waist...
"Where have you been all day?" his wife's sharply voiced query cut knife-like through the glorious haze that still webbed Joe's brain.
"You weren't at work," she went on accusingly. "You were out all day. I was nearly crazy."
Joe noticed by her breath that she had staved off the madness she spoke of by a few drinks.
"You'll be lucky to get your job back at the store," she shrilled angrily. "And it's all because of those crazy dreams. Dreams, dreams, dreams! I think you're losing your mind."
Joe resisted an impulse to hurl something into her over- painted face. He picked up the water glass on the night table, gulped a drink. He cleared his throat, fighting back the rage and frustration he felt. He spoke evenly, grimly.
"I wish you'd get the hell out of this room," he told her.
Agnes stepped back, slightly aghast. This was the first time Joe had ever shown temper. Maybe he knew what she'd been up to. Maybe he—
"You aren't well," she said hastily. "You don't know what you're saying. Those crazy dreams, I talked to the druggist about you. He said those crazy dreams are nervous trouble and indigestion. He gave me something you've got to take." Suddenly she looked down at the water glass on the night table. She stopped.
"I wish to God," Joe Nicolbee said, rising, "that those dreams of mine, especially these last, were reality. I wish to God that this was nothing more than a nightmare."
His wife was gaping at him, a curious expression frozen on her face. Joe Nicolbee went on.
"Maybe they are reality. Maybe this hellish existence with you is nothing more than a nightmare. Maybe my real life is in my so- called dreams. Maybe you are nothing more than a figment of some very bad dreams I've had."
Agnes was speaking, her face was white with terror.
"You are crazy," she said, backing away. She looked again at the glass on the night table. "Maybe it's that drug that made you crazy. Maybe that was all you needed to set you off. Ohhhh, I'm sorry I got it. I'm sorry I got it!" Her voice was a shrill, regretful wail.
Joe Nicolbee's eyes flew to the glass. He stepped forward, a horrible premonition in the back of his mind.
"What about that glass?" he demanded. "What are you talking about? Did you put a drug in it?" He grabbed his wife's arm roughly.
"He—the druggist—gave me some pills. They were to stop your dreaming for good. They—" she faltered, almost limp with terror.
"Stop my dreaming?" Joe shouted aghast. "Stop my dreaming?"
"I was to put two in there, every night," Agnes said shakenly, the fumes from her breath nauseatingly alcoholic, "but I put them all, all eight of them, into it tonight. Now you drank them!"
Joe Nicolbee, eyes blazing in wild rage, felt his hands reaching for his wife's throat. This was too much. This was beyond endurance. This was—
A sudden, overwhelming drowsiness seized Joe Nicolbee. He felt his hands dropping away from his wife before they'd reached her throat. The room was spinning in pinpoints of light. He sank to the floor, the room still whirling.
WHEN Joe Nicolbee opened his eyes, he was cushioned on a drifted bed of gloriously colored leaves in the cathedral-like forest. There was the intoxicating freshness of tingling air in his nostrils.
"It is all right, Joe Nicolbee," Naya's voice said.
Joe blinked sleepily, then he saw that the girl sat beside him. She was smiling softly, and her voice was like the singing of angels.
"You have dreamed," she said. "But you will dream no more. You will have no more nightmares."
Joe looked at the girl bewilderedly.
"But the other world," he said, "was it—"
"Was it reality?" Naya finished for him. She smiled. "Just because it was unpleasant was no reason for it to be reality. You will dream no more. There will be no more nightmares. You have made this your reality. So why should it not be so?"
Joe Nicolbee took the girl in his arms. He thought for a fleeting instant of the creature back in rea— in the nightmare—and smiled. She had said there would be no more dreaming. And there wouldn't be, ever again.