The dreamers went on strike, all of them, beginning in the middle of the three o’clock work prime time. It was a synchronized suspension of service without warning, without explanation.
The possibility of a strike had never been raised publicly. The action struck many people as absurd and possibly illegal. Dreamers hardly knew where they were most of the time, or that they were—alive or dead, awake or asleep. How could they organize something so complicated and devious as this? How dare they?
What job could be easier than lying on one’s back for sixteen hours a day, sleeping? Even door men and late night security guards were required to keep at least one eye open through most of their shifts, and maybe do checks from time to time. Dreamers moved only to shift in their beds, or yawn or scratch themselves from time to time. Actually, no one knew what dreamers did, except dream. But now that one contribution to society that they made out of their idleness, their inert passivity, was gone.
The talking clocks and tropical falls, the long passionate kisses with grammar school teachers in the depth of the forest, all the good dreams and bad dreams stopped, replaced by a brief notice of a breakdown in negotiations. There was no dreaming on the radio, on the internet, on cable. Nothing on any screen. It was gone.
Without dreams to upload, what was there? Merely sales figures and internal emails, ads, spam, sports, and news. Facts and more facts and more useless, unprocessed facts shaken into the air like dust from a mop and coating everything with a thin layer of world-as-it-is… The dream service was always playing in the background or minimized at the bottom of the screen, brought up with a click of the mouse like the click of a lighter to a cigarette. Now it was gone. All that remained was data.
The unrelieved nakedness of all this information was disgusting. Some clicked their screens on and off, on and off, over and over, trying to make the strike disappear. Others pushed out of their chairs and stomped to the rest room to splash water on their faces or sit in one of the stalls and wait for calm to descend. A lot of cigarettes were smoked on the sidewalks outside those office buildings.
The evening rush hour was impossible. Traffic flowed along viscous currents of noise generated by honking horns, shouting drivers, engines revving to no purpose. The air thickened with toxins and oily ripples of heat from tail pipes and radiator grills. Pedestrians and drivers stopped in crosswalks, staring each other down with rage at the tedious, unfiltered randomness of their faces.
The radio carried repetitive stories on the absence of dream service, interrupted by weather reports and pop music little different from traffic reports and news stories, so as is, so brutally linear and colourless. The cramped space of the driver’s seat imposed itself like a wheelchair. The limited options for movement— steering wheel, gas pedal and brake—revealed themselves in all their simple, naked finality. This was all one could do in a car. Turn, go, stop. Go, turn, brake, go, turn, brake, go…
It was no better on the sidewalks. How was one to escape? Window shop? Store windows had fallen into neglect in recent years. No one really looked at them anymore. And even those businesses that still made the effort were limited to a desert of illustration and tableaux: mannequins in variations of summer wear, photographs and film clips of mannequin like models wearing summer clothes on the beach or at barbecue…That was it. That was all there was going to be: relentlessly simple depictions of clothes-wearing behaviour in relentlessly obvious examples of environments appropriate to the given outfits.
In desperation many people scrolled through old shows and film clips on their handheld devices while they walked. But a show is not a dream. Nothing they could pull up on their devices was a dream. The closest approximations were used up, so worn through repeated viewing as to be almost invisible.
Some decided to get the trip home over with, walk as quickly as possible. Approach the crosswalk en masse and wait for the light to turn. Cross to the other side of the street while talking on cell phones to people who were doing pretty much the same thing. Try not to panic at the here-ness of the sidewalk and the street, the only-ness of this place and that place. Try not to think.
Why go here or there if it was only going to be just what it was? Why talk to anyone if only to be confronted by yet another market report or health update, yet another reiteration of the complete emptiness of time spent at work or lunch… Nice weather we are having. Not as nice as yesterday but maybe better tomorrow but better than at lunchtime. You should have seen the weather at lunch. Did you see it too? Very nice weather we’re having…
It was unbearable. Everything was unbearable.
Blind people found themselves swarmed by hecklers and bullies pointing them in the wrong direction, pushing off the curb into oncoming traffic just to see what would happen. Children fended off pats, shoves, and leering looks from people they didn’t know, parents dragging them by the arm through the crowd. A cop, lost in thought, pressed the barrel of his revolver against the window of a parked car and pulled back the safety. A few adventurous women played grab-ass with men and the men tried playing along, whirling around indignantly, hand on hip, to scold. The cop swung his gun and aimed at the men and women pawing at each other. Another cop saw him and took out his revolver. Down the avenue cops took out their weapons while small crowds gathered around them to watch.
News trucks pulled up and crews began filming the crowds which, naturally, grew larger with the arrival of the film crews. Families at home found their mourning for dreamwork interrupted by breaking news of disturbances in urban centres around the country. Sky view shots revealed tens of thousands of rush hour pedestrians knotted in groups of a hundred or more around cops, patrol cars, paddy wagons, sound trucks and circling helicopters. Traffic stopped. Drivers stepped out of the cars to see what would happen next. They watched and waited.
The police with guns drawn waited for what happen next, as did the news crews and the curious onlookers and the tv audience back home. Everyone waited, and waited, and waited.They continued to wait for hours, then days, then years, until no one could quite remember what they were waiting for, except for an official declaration that the strike had failed.
But that could never be, for not long after the strike was declared, and both sides abandoned negotiations, the dreamers ascended from the basements where they worked. Pale, so pale as to be nearly transparent, they filled the abandoned lobbies of the office buildings that housed the dream works. They pushed their emaciated bodies against the glass doors and rotating doors, stumbled into the sunlight, and burst into flames.
Chris Moylan has published poetry, fiction, literary criticism, and art criticism in the U.S. and Europe. He is an associate professor of English at NYIT.