Jane often wondered about her dreams. She had bought dream books to help her analyze them, but found that she never dreamt about bears, or losing her teeth. She dreamt about people she knew, or people she didn't know, but recognized in her dream to be her father, her sister, a long lost love.
Jane felt that reality was not meant to be understood rationally. It was a symbol system, meant to be decoded, to be interpreted. Reality is fundamentally surreal, and the best method to understand your own mind and the intentions you hide from yourself is to analyze your dreams.
People spend their lives learning how to lie to themselves. But dreams cannot lie.
Jane kept a dream journal, in which she wrote the details of her dreams, anything with emotional salience that remained in her mind after waking. On rereading it, she found that she could recall all the details again of what otherwise would have been forgotten, but gained no deeper understanding of her own mind. She felt like a teenager in school, trying to read works of literature that were a bit too deep for her to understand and required a well of experience that she was lacking.
Once a week, she went to Cafe Luna to reread the week's journal entries, and to try to make sense of her thoughts. The journal itself was large and covered in tissue paper in various shades of blue, suggestive of an ocean scene. On it in bold letters she had written “Dream Journal” to distinguish it from her poetry journal.
One morning, likely a Monday, when dreams are all that remain of the weekend, she was perusing it, taking notes of elements that appeared frequently that week: a dog barking, a stuffed orca whale, a sea shell that broke in her hands. A woman passed her by, and, without saying a word, dropped a business card in front of her. The card was glossy and contained a picture of a woman in a diaphanous robe with flowing hair, out in a forest somewhere. Not an actual forest of overgrown brambles and conifers, but an enchanted English forest that looked more like a meadow infested with fairies.
The card said: Madame Olga – Symbologist
The back listed her services, from dream interpretation to marital counseling.
Jane called Madame Olga that day and asked her for help. She made an appointment for Tuesday night, and arrived with her dream journal.
Madame Olga read through it, nodded knowingly, then said, “The trouble with interpreting someone else's dreams is that every individual has an idiosyncratic symbol system. A whale to you means something wholly different than what a whale means to me. To be able to truly decipher the meaning of your dreams, I must first learn your system of symbology.”
“How can you do that?” asked Jane.
“I follow you around, taking notes on your surroundings, on the items and moments that carry emotional weight for you. Then, I apply what I've learned about you to the interpretation of your dreams.”
Jane stood in line at the grocery store. Behind her stood Madame Olga, not buying anything, notebook in hand. Jane looked over the plastic candy tubes, the plastic games wrapped in plastic shells, the glossy magazines touting who had recently had plastic surgery. She sighed. Olga double underlined something in her journal. Jane went to peek, but Olga pulled the notebook close to her chest. Like any good mystic, she had read some popular physics books, and didn't dare add the observer effect to her work.
On the car ride home, Jane got distracted for a second by a horse running along a fence by the side of the road. She realized just in time that the car before her had stopped, and slammed on the brakes. Olga, after clutching her heart, took note.
Back in the kitchen with her groceries, Jane began organizing. She went to put her pasta sauce away only to discover that she already had two in the cupboard. She dumped all her fruit in the fruit bin. She pulled out the greens and vegetables she had bought for salad, but left them out on the counter in favor of a popsicle. She sat down on her rocking chair in front of the bay window overlooking Puget Sound.
In the distance Jane saw a glimmer on the water that she wanted to interpret as a spray. “I always hope to see orcas here,” she said. “But so far I never have.”
After giving Olga ample time to note the view out her window, she headed to the beach. The weather was cool, and it was the perfect time of day to find shells.
The tide was low and the smell of fish and seaweed hung in the air. Jane picked up a rock and skipped it. She went looking for shells with holes in them. There's a certain type of snail that bores a whole in shells, about a centimeter from the edge, making them perfect for tying together and hanging up as decoration. Once Jane had filler her sandcastle-shaped bucket with such shells, she returned home.
Jane spent an hour tying shells together with twine, then hanging them up on her porch. They gave the place a sweet fishy smell that faded with the afternoon breeze.
The next morning Jane headed to Madame Olga's, dream journal in hand. She had faithfully noted every detail she could remember, and used a system of marks that Olga had taught her: a plus sign when she was certain of the accuracy of a description, a minus sign when she was unsure, and a star for bits that were emotionally salient.
Olga offered her coffee and began reading the journal. It read as such:
Standing on the beach with someone. She has the face of a celebrity, but I don't know which one. I feel like I might know her. I approach and it's my sister. She hands me a shell. The shell has a little hole, and she apologizes for it. “I couldn't find a complete one,” she says. I tell her I like them this way, but then the shell breaks in my hand. I apologize to her. She looks distraught. I know I've done something wrong. It's bad to reject or break a gift. She looks away from me and out over the ocean. “There's a whale out there,” she says, but it's only driftwood. We start walking up the beach when a horse comes racing toward us. We jump out of the way just in time. I wake up full of adrenaline.
Jane was disappointed in herself for having such a banal dream.
Madame Olga read it a few times, making some notes.
“You are disappointed in yourself,” she said. “You want to please others. Even when you know their happiness is out of your control, you want to try to make them happy. You fear that the failings of your personality, which everyone has, I'm not calling you a failure, lead to others' unhappiness, and to misfortune. You also feel that your family doesn't know you well. They think you seek perfection, when really you seek comfort.
“And the whales,” added Madame Olga, “are your wishes.”
“But I've never seen a whale,” Jane said.
“Exactly,” said Madame Olga.