Last night I dreamt
That somebody loved me
No hope, no harm
Just another false alarm
Last night I felt
Real arms around me
No hope, no harm
Just another false alarm
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
Selling books for a living is not particularly difficult, but for Alexander Cohen it has become a chore. He knew originally that the location made it a risky venture. In Manchester by the Sea people are more concerned with frequenting the beach and eating taffy than perusing bookshelves for a good read. Occasionally customers come inside for something to read on the beach after they finish the books they brought along; other times, they are more curious about the antiquity of the place. Indeed, it is the oldest building in the Massachusetts coastline town, but that is of little significance when the tourists leave after the summertime.
It was one of those lonely, wintry days that Alexander finally decided to get help. It was not actually his idea. In fact for many years he had denied that there was anything wrong with him. His mother, with whom he tended to speak to daily on the phone, had detected a sadness in his voice some months ago. For him, this swing of emotions was a re-awakening of sorts, the realization that life was not as beautiful as people wanted it to be, or pretended that it was. But he caved in eventually, if for any reason at all because he wanted to appease his mother so she would not have to waste her time worrying about him. This outward concern for other people defined Alexander, which was precisely the reason he felt cheated in life. How could people not recognize his kindness?
Which brings in the bookstore. It was the theft by an elderly man of some of the books he had recently put on sale that put him over the top. He would have chased the man out the door, but his apathy about the situation became so startling that he became more worried about himself. The next time his mother prompted him about seeing a therapist, he sighed and without hesitation told her that he would be willing to do so.
“Before you go on, explain this event to me.”
Alexander was surprised that he had actually been interrupted. Ever since he had walked into Dr. Kravinsky’s office, the elderly doctor had uttered only a few words. There had been a brief lull earlier in their discussion when Alexander had finished explaining everything to the doctor.
“So now is where you come in,” Alexander had said, to which Dr. Kravinksy replied without hesitation, “But we are here to talk about you.”
It was not what Alexander had in mind. He was hoping for an instant remedy; talking about everything was never a solution, especially when the listener was an old man he had never met before. What particularly incensed Alexander was the fact that Dr. Kravinsky looked like he was falling asleep during Alexander’s diatribe.
“You know what? I’m not paying you to just tell you everything, I’m paying you to help me. You’re supposed to tell me what to do now.”
Dr. Kravinsky did not flinch.
“If you don’t want to talk about things, then you can leave.”
Alexander gripped the handles of his chair firmly and bit his lip. After a deep breath, he relaxed and sat in silence. He would leave, but he wanted to test Dr. Kravinsky. For minutes, they sat in silence. Sometimes Dr. Kravinsky was looking at him, but Alexander was taken aback by how Dr. Kravinsky did not look like he was waiting for Alexander to say anything. Alexander looked around the room. It seemed unprofessional to him. There was everyday clutter – cardboard boxes full of junk, old magazine articles, college degrees strewn on the floor in what was a pathetic home office. He turned back to the doctor, noticed his plumpness and balding white head and thought to himself that this was a worthless experience. Yet moments later he thought of more things to tell this stranger. And that was when Dr. Kravinsky had finally interrupted him.
“What event?” Alexander asked, excited that something was happening.
“This dance, on Christmas Eve,” Dr. Kravinsky answered calmly.
“Ah, right. It’s called the Matzo Ball. It’s for Jewish singles since they have nothing to do on Christmas Eve. It is a way for young Jewish singles to meet, and I guess that is the problem. I just went a few days ago and I stick out like a sore thumb. There are other forty-somethings there too, but only men…” he trailed off.
“Continue,” Dr. Kravinsky urged. Alexander took a deep breath.
“It’s just quite…depressing. To walk around and feel invisible, or know that people look at me as some sort of…creep. I see all these young people, and wish I could have lived the way they are. All these beautiful women I can’t have…”
A silence filled the room, but it was not awkward any more. Alexander worried if he was supposed to keep talking, so he thought of things to say. Before he could come up with anything substantive, Dr. Kravinsky rendered his opinion.
“You should stop searching for love at this…Matzo Ball, Alexander.”
He botched the pronunciation of Matzo, which angered Alexander. It was then that he knew Dr. Kravinsky was not Jewish, but German.
“What’s your favorite book?” the woman asked.
“I have no favorite book, I just sell them. How did I meet you again?” Alexander asked, squinting his eyes, trying to avoid the haziness of his consciousness. He felt like he had drank too much and could not control everything going on around him. He was slightly embarrassed; the woman was so beautiful.
“We just met. My name is Jessica. I like your bookstore.”
Alexander looked around, and to his surprise, he was in his bookstore. He tried to remember everything that had led up to this moment, but as he rubbed his head, nothing would come back to him.
“Right, my bookstore. Well thank you. I like it too.”
The woman giggled and put her hands in the pockets of her tight leather jacket. She looked down, blushing and still laughing a little bit and then looked at him silently for a few seconds.
“You are very cute, and I usually don’t do this…but I was wondering if you would like to grab a cup of coffee sometime?”
Alexander’s mind went blank. Through the haze he was still fascinated by this woman, but no one – especially a woman as beautiful as this Jessica – had ever waltzed into his store and asked him out on a date. He could not even form words.
“I understand if you’re…unavailable,” she said timidly.
“No! No!” he finally found words, albeit clumsily, but words nonetheless, “I’d love to. Let me grab your telephone number or something.”
“No need,” she said with a smile, and walked out the door.
Alexander snapped awake and was immediately filled with regret and sadness. The woman, Jessica – she was only a dream, not real. It was such a disappointment that he did not even feel like getting out of bed. He called Dr. Kravinsky and told him he would like to see him, at the same time apologizing for the immediacy of his request. Dr. Kravinsky insisted that he would not wait for Alexander to be able to get out of bed because he had patients that afternoon, but before Alexander could say anything about his bookstore, he heard the dial tone. He convinced himself that he would open the store later that day. This was something he needed to share right away.
“Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me.”
Dr. Kravinsky looked unimpressed. The all too familiar silence almost served as a cue for Alexander to continue.
“This woman appeared in my dreams and loved me unconditionally.”
He was embarrassed to say it, but seeing no reaction in Dr. Kravinsky, he poured the rest out.
“I don’t know how I know it; we must have talked for two minutes, but she was genuinely interested in me. And then when I woke up this morning…I was more hurt than ever before. I feel like there must be a woman like her in real life, but there isn’t.”
Dr. Kravinsky, who looked like he was on the verge of sleep, jolted his head upwards.
“What was her name?” he asked suddenly.
“J-j-jessica…” Alexander stammered. The question had surprised him.
“Yes,” Alexander nodded, hopeful that this new insight would lead to something. But there was nothing. Alexander glared intently at Dr. Kravinsky who simply returned his stare. Alexander sat back in his chair, making note of the odd smell he had detected the first time in this office and the ugly sweater the doctor was wearing. His smile turned to a disgusted frown upon doing so.
“That’s why I came here. Because last night I dreamt-”
“That somebody loved you? Your family loves you. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Alexander widened his eyes in disbelief. Yes, he knew he was loved by his family. He had told his mother about the session with Dr. Kravinsky and she had almost broken down into tears.
“Well, you know what I mean,” Alexander said with a light chuckle. Dr. Kravinsky remained stoic, an angry gaze fixed on Alexander. He sighed.
“Everybody has dreams like this. Even happy people, Alexander.”
Alexander left to open up his bookstore. He wished Jessica would come in that day.
“I like my coffee black too,” she smiled.
“It’s you! Jessica…but how? Am I dreaming again?” He held his hands in the air in disbelief and then started touching things to see if he could feel them; they felt real. Everything seemed real, and less hazy now.
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing,” he corrected himself quickly, not wanting to ruin the moment or allow her to disappear again, “Nothing at all. I’m just a bit out of it today, I guess.”
“Apparently! It’s ok. I like that about you,” she smiled, taking a sip of her coffee. He paused to take everything in, from her thin reddish-brown hair reaching just below her shoulders, her green eyes, her thin frame. She had the ideal, beautiful figure of a woman.
“I know you talk more,” she giggled.
“I do, I do. It’s just, I feel like I know you from somewhere. I feel like I’ve known you for awhile. And we just started talking.”
“I feel the same way. When I came into the bookstore and saw you, I knew you were a bit quirky but it drew me to you. It’s crazy.”
He blushed, but they talked over coffee for an hour. Then her spontaneity reigned; she leaned over the table to kiss him. He felt her wet lips lock into place with his and held her head gently next to his for a few seconds.
“Excuse me, sir?”
He awoke to a short boy in a hoodie holding up a comic book.
“Can’t you see I was…” his voice trailed off as he realized yelling at the boy was inappropriate.
“Sleeping? I’m sorry but I thought your job was to sell these comic books. Here’s 50 cents.”
The boy placed two coins on the table and walked away. Alexander looked at the fifty cents but did not touch the coins. He buried his head in his hands, stricken by grief. He wanted to cry. He was falling in love with a girl he just met yet he knew she was not real. But she was recurring in his mind and somehow he felt that this justified her existence. At the same time, he knew if she was not real then she would only cause him more and more pain with every dream. He thought about her for the rest of the day, and when he lay in bed that night, he wondered if she would come back, or if it was just one of those rare coincidences, like Dr. Kravinsky talked about. He hoped she was real.
“It’s been so long since I’ve met a guy like you,” she said running her hand through his curly hair.
“It’s been really long since my ex-wife left.”
She nodded her head.
“You are such a mystery to me,” she whispered, “There is some sadness in you that draws me to you…”
“I’m the mystery? You’re the mystery!” Alexander laughed. She did not seem to understand the joke but giggled a bit too.
“Are you….real?” Alexander asked, immediately regretting the question. He had been meeting her in his dreams for a week now, determined to finally understand what her meaning was in his life, but now she seemed offended by the question.
“Do I seem real to you?” she asked.
“Of course, of course! No, it’s not like that, it’s just that I only see you…”
“When you dream?” she finished his sentence for him, “I know.”
The silence between them was deafening. Before he could prompt her again (he would do anything to have her stop frowning), she put the onus back on him.
“Well, do you think I am real?”
He paused, looking down at his own fingers stroking the back of her hand.
“Yes, I do. And it hurts me to wake up and face the world without you. I wish you could come back with me.”
“I do too,” she said tearfully, kissing him on the cheek and fading away.
“Dr. Kravinsky, I have been neglecting to tell you all of this because when I first told you about it, you thought it was no big deal.”
“It isn’t a big deal. She’s not real, Alexander. The big deal is that you are letting it affect you. You can’t close up your shop and take sleeping pills constantly to dream about some girl. Recurring dreams are very common. So are recurring characters. She is a figment of your imagination; you are just too depressed to let it go. You won’t listen to me.”
“You don’t offer me any advice!” Alexander screamed. Dr. Kravinsky’s face turned white. This was not how he wanted things to go. Taking a few breaths, Alexander took some deep breaths and cleared his mind.
“Even if she wasn’t real, she makes me happy. And that’s what this is about.”
“Listen to yourself, Alexander. You are in love with a girl in your dreams. You know the expression ‘the girl of your dreams’? It symbolizes a girl who doesn’t exist. You refuse to realize that you could be happy living a normal life. I have been talking to you for a couple months now and I have grown to care for you as a person, and you have been progressively worse, and now I find out you have been holding this from me. I’m sorry if I came off as disappointed.”
Dr. Kravinsky scratched his chin and clasped his hands together over his crotch. They could barely reach that far over his belly. Alexander thought to himself that he looked particularly intelligent today wearing his glasses; he had never seen them before.
“It’s ok, doctor. I shouldn’t have told you my mother died.”
It was a morbid idea. He knew it. There was no reason to lie. If he didn’t want help, he could tell his mother he felt better even though he was torn by the nature of the relationship he was now in. It would be easy to live that lie and stop seeing Dr. Kravinsky. Or he could just lie to her and say he was still seeing him. Either way, something was drawing him back every time. Eventually he realized – as he sat in silence in Dr. Kravinsky’s office – that their friendship meant a lot to him. It was a difficult friendship as Dr. Kravinsky never said very much, but his concern touched Alexander, even though he was getting paid to exhibit such care.
“Dr. Kravinsky, I’m really sorry.”
“I’d like you to leave now, Alexander.”
“He thinks you’re not real Jessica.”
“I don’t blame him. I am pretty incredible,” she smiled and tried to kiss him, but Alexander pulled his head back.
“It’s not that I agree with him. I just want him to be my friend. I can’t rely on just you – if I do, then I will be in pain whenever I’m not with you.”
He hoped she understood him because he knew saying that could seem hurtful or spiteful. But she always understood him. She simply smiled.
“How can I take you back with me Jessica? You are the girl in my dreams, I pop up in your world. You must know something.”
“You think you know everything, don’t you?”
Instead of answering the question, she started kissing him. They would have sex again, he knew it, and he would regret waking up with the duty of cleaning up his sheets – but only until he realized how much fun he had.
“We’ve been having sex for weeks now. We would get married if it was possible, but we haven’t figured it out yet.”
Dr. Kravinsky rubbed his chin and squinted at Alexander as if in disbelief.
“You know, I have been thinking about this quite a bit, to solve this problem, to show you she is not real, so you can finally…move on.”
“But I don’t want to move on,” Alexander interjected, “The sensations I have with her are more realistic than my everyday life. I have become numb to the things that surround me in this very moment. It is as if I am sleeping in this world and living in the other. When I go to bed tonight I will awake to the real world, my actual being. Now that I think about it, I could probably live happily that way, just a matter of reconfiguring things, really.”
Dr. Kravinsky was not sensitive to Alexander’s ramblings any more. He continued as if ignoring him, to prove a point.
“Give this a shot, Alexander. If you love this Jessica, you owe it to her.”
This piqued Alexander’s interest, and seeing that, Dr. Kravinsky continued.
“People tend to dream about things or other people that they have seen in real life, or actual events they have witnessed. This Jessica girl probably exists in…this world. You have probably seen her somewhere. You may not know it, it may have been for a fleeting second – but she is out there somewhere.”
The idea had never occurred to Alexander before, and although he was content to reconfigure his mind to believe that he really existed in his own dreams and not anywhere else, the thought of being able to introduce his mother to Jessica was enticing. The possibility of not relying on sleep to see her, having her whenever he wanted – it would be too good to be true.
“I will have to try to find her.”
Dr. Kravinsky smiled.
“I still think it is a good idea, Jessica.”
“But I’d be jealous. We are not the same person. I am telling you. Why won’t you believe me? You said you thought I was real! Are we really going back to this?”
“Jessica, it’s worth a chance. I don’t even have to talk to her, just see if she is out there because if she’s not, it proves Dr. Kravinsky wrong. He would acknowledge you!”
He knew he was lying out of his teeth to appease her. He no longer knew what to think of her; she was real to him, but he felt like she could be just as real in his actual existence – which would be much more convenient. Jessica bought his lie half-heartedly and gave him a hug.
“Just don’t leave me.”
“I never will.”
For weeks, Alexander kept his eye out for the real life Jessica. He had told his mother about everything some time ago, and she was actually excited, to his surprise, about this new revelation. He knew it was because she sensed that everything was coming to an end. He didn’t understand how she couldn’t just be happy for him. He was happier than ever now. He bragged to Dr. Kravinsky that she was not around, though deep down he knew that he, too, wanted to find her.
It was the beginning of the summer when the tourists begin to settle back into Manchester by the Sea that he caught a glimpse of his Jessica across the street. She was wearing what looked like a uniform for the newly opened shop across the street, which sold women’s handbags. Jessica was not materialistic, he thought. He felt a weight in his stomach. Then he remembered how Jessica told him that she worked many “dumb” jobs to make money so she could afford to be a writer. She joked that one of her books would be in Alexander’s bookstore one day. He told her he had come close to closing the bookstore to live his life with her, sleeping as much as possible, and although the store would be closed more than usual, it never closed for good.
He was too nervous to approach her. It had caught him by surprise; he was close to giving up by now. He supposed that something inside of him had not really thought she would appear to him, as he was content the way he was living. Now that she was here, he could not approach her – he was too scared of what might happen.
For weeks, he watched her from his window. He guessed that he had seen her whenever they had first started renovating the shop across the street. It was peculiar to him that he had remembered her, and dreamed of her image. He hoped she had the same soul, too.
Inevitably, they would meet, he knew, but he did not anticipate it would be so soon. It happened one day as he was rearranging books. He saw her walking briskly across the street with an orange tank top and a pair of sunglasses. She looked like she was in a hurry. His mind raced. He had to hide somewhere, he thought. He would embarrass himself otherwise, or even worse, ruin his happiness somehow. But then he remembered how badly he wanted to be with her, to show his mother and Dr. Kravinsky – to live happily, forever.
The bells clang as she walked into the door. She took off her sunglasses to look at him and immediately turned away to browse for books. Alexander raised his head to peer at her over shelves as if curious to help her. Noticing his reflection on a metal shelf, her hips swerved.
“It’s a little…odd. That you look at me from across the street all the time.”
Alexander’s heart raced. He did not know what to make of what she said.
“Yes, well. Y-y-you are a very b-b-beautiful woman.”
“I’m here for a book, not for a date,” she answered snidely, narrowing her eyebrows and putting her sunglasses back on. She turned to the magazine section, hastily grabbed a celebrity gossip magazine and tossed it on the counter, reaching for her purse.
“Oh no, it’s OK. You can just take that…No big deal,” Alexander smiled.
“No it’s OK, you look like you could use the money.”
She threw a couple dollars down on the counter and marched to the door. Alexander called after her but she ignored him. She was not the same woman he loved, and now he knew it. While it saddened him, he knew that it was not catastrophic. He could still be happy with the status quo. Despite that, he cried himself to sleep. There was something about relying on his dreams for happiness that hurt him. For the first time since he had started dreaming of Jessica, she would not appear in his dreams. In fact, he would not dream about her for a week despite taking multiple naps in his best efforts to do. He dreamt of the mundane realities that he used to dream about.
“She’s gone Dr. Kravinsky! Tell me how to get her back!” Alexander was wiping his eyes with his sleeves and rocking back and forth in the chair.
“This is good for you, Alexander.”
“You knew how she came into my life…tell me how to bring her back! I was happier then…I’m even worse off than I was before.”
There was no sound. Just the rhythmic breathing of Dr. Kravinsky and Alexander’s sobs.
“I’m afraid I don’t know how to do that.”
“Look at this.”
Alexander handed Dr. Kravinsky a ring.
“What is this, Alexander?”
“It’s a wedding ring. Would I go buy that if I thought Jessica was real? She gave that to me! We were starting to make bridges between our realms! I was beginning to be able to take things back with me.”
Dr. Kravinsky stared at Alexander. He was perplexed. He thought Alexander was delusional. He also thought that Alexander was convinced that Jessica was real.
“Alexander. Like I said, I don’t know how you can bring her back into your dreams. But you need to realize you can move on and find true love with someone else.”
Alexander refused to look at Dr. Kravinsky. He held his head in his hands and cried uncontrollably.
“We were in love…”
Dr. Kravinsky wiped his eyes. He was sad for Alexander, regardless of what he believed. It was hard for him to know what he believed. Modern medicine had not encountered a case like this before. He knew he was breaking the rules; he was not supposed to become emotional.
“It’s ok Alexander. It’s not your fault.”
Alexander looked up at Dr. Kravinsky, his bleary eyes marked by long lines underneath them.
“Yes it is…I could have…kept her.”
There was a pause, longer than any other silence they had had together. Alexander was crying, Dr. Kravinsky was thinking. It went on and on, for what seemed like hours.
“I know you could have, Alexander. It’s my fault,” Dr. Kravinsky winced.
It was the first time he acknowledged her existence.