Max stalked me for three nights, or rather he stalked my dream world: a vivid, eroticised presence that taunted and then abandoned me each morning. In a conventional sense, the dreams were pretty hard to describe, although I tried, with all the cold rationalism of my trade. In real life, Max had been the most beautiful man I had ever seen, and to judge from the serial chaos he often left in his wake, I had not been alone in my opinion on this. But in my dreams Max was magnified beyond all reason. He was primordial: unique, made manifest like a god. Each morning I awoke with his image seared into my brain, close to madness. By the second day I was unfocused at work, prone to panic attacks, and inclined to see Max out of the corner of my eye; the boy near the coffee kiosk, someone in a lift, a shape in a passing car. On the third day my secretary - a no nonsense woman from Chicago - took me deftly to one side and suggested I `went home.’
`Because you look like shit, Daniel.’
In retrospect I could have dealt with all this, managed it, contained (if not actually analysed) it , had Max remained confined to my sub-conscious, safely if not dangerously inside my head. But on the fourth day, he broke lose.
I had returned from work late, trying the `too exhausted to sleep’ routine. I had suffered through two of my worst patients back to back: a man who feared choking so much that he liquefied all his food, and a women who was paranoid that her husband was sleeping with their daughter. On the drive home I had veered over two lanes on the freeway and been blared awake by outraged commuters: I had seen people shot at for less. Later I had cooked an unassuming, tasteless dinner and hit too many gin and tonics - an overt violation of my own drinking rules. As I had retired, Alex Whiteman, the intrepid tenant, returned from some secret convention on Chaos Theory. He looked angular and wet, his metal round glasses fogged up with condensation. I was always intrigued by my feelings of pity for him. They seemed so paternal. We spoke briefly, and then I climbed upstairs with all the caution of a man who fears to sleep. My bedroom was on the first floor of a gaunt, colonial style house, picturesque but impractical; badly lit and draughty. As I clicked on my ceiling light I realised immediately that something was out of place. A glance at the bed confirmed that someone had not only been in my room, but actually inside my bed. The blankets were pulled back, and the pillows piled up against the headboard, roughly aligned with the plasma TV on the wall. There was a long dent in the middle of the bed, as if someone had hunkered down for some time; the TV remote on the bedside table. There was an odd smell as well, sweet, slightly feline: cannabis.
I stood rigidly by the door for what appeared to be hours, trying to explain, to accommodate. Should I call the police? Had anything been taken? I had not been alerted earlier by any signs of a break-in? Gradually, reassured that I was alone, I moved cautiously to examine the bedside table, the bed itself, the floor, the bathroom. I found the remains of a roll-up was in a saucer left over from this morning. As I removed the pillows, long thick strands of black hair lay on the top of the covers. I put my face to the sheets and picked up a male scent: alkaline, the tang of ammonia like the sea. There was another element to it as well, something smoky and slightly scented, like a faint whiff of olive oil. It was Max’s scent. On the floor was a nest of cum soaked tissues. The revelation stung my neck and face cold with fear. I had a bizarre, shocking image of Max spraying his ample semen over my bed, marking it as his: claiming me. But it was firstly impossible: Max had vanished over twenty years ago, and secondly, even if he was back, why would he do this? I staggered into the bathroom, feeling unwell. Deep amber piss lay in the un-flushed toilet. I pictured Max standing, his back to the door, his buttocks bunched and knuckled, legs slightly apart, thundering his water down into the middle of the pan, hosing this and that, thinking of something else. My obsession with tidiness was both shocked and offended.
Saying his name scared me; the open recognition that something was very wrong.
I made the bed. I changed the sheets. I opened the window. I undressed with the curious, not entirely unpleasant sensation that I was being watched. Before I put the light off, I noticed a DVD on top of the TV cabinet: Black Prison Break. It was a gay porn job, white young offenders carted off and abused behind bars by massive black guys, thick bodied and veined like minotaurs. It was pure filth, vaguely nasty. Part of me was ashamed at owning it. It usually lay buried under PBS documentaries on birdlife or how to make a kitchen cabinet. Someone had put it on, skinned up a spliff, and spent a lazy afternoon stroking to it. Intrigued, I had checked to see which scene had been played last. The disc was still in the player. Furtively, I made sure the volume was down before switching the TV on.
A slight snap of static, a glow, and then a white youth, about 19 or twenty, lean but defined, chained with his hands up, showing off thick, dark haired armpits. His head was being shaved by one guard, while another, stripped naked, was fitting the prisoner with a ball gag. The youth’s anus had been fitted with a close fitting plug, and there seemed to be several wires coming from it, looped up to low hung dog balls, and then to the tip of his cock. He was sobbing. I turned it off immediately, instinctively, as if I had received an electric shock. Why had it so horrified me? That night I slept badly and unevenly. In the soft, shallow valleys of oblivion I did not so much see Max as sense him, prowling about just outside my line of vision, a predator on the threshold of my senses. At one stage, nudged awake by the alarm, I had sensed someone in bed with me, sniffing my face.
Later, after breakfast, I had telephoned a colleague of mine, a fellow shrink. It was the equivalent of an unconditional surrender but I was now seriously rattled. I had quizzed Alex over his wholemeal Cheerio’s to see if somehow, in some inexplicable way, he was guilty of last nights intrusion. To my mind it was less plausible to see Alex in my bed with an SM gay dvd than it was to see Max back from the disappeared, haunting my house and for some inexplicable reason, biding his time before a formal re-introduction. Alex was, unsurprisingly, as white as the driven snow. And clearly bemused.
My colleague was a man called Dr Samuels, an ex-pat British guy who had married a women from New York City. He was indelibly straight but worldly wise in that vaguely ironic, disinterested way the British used to be before they became Europeans. We met outside a coffee bar two blocks down from College. It was a damp but bright November afternoon, suffused with mild, sad sunlight. The sidewalks were patterned with pressed leaves, flat out like the hands of children. A pretty red haired women took our order, and before I could warn him, or even indicate what this was all about, I had launched into the Max crisis. I started with the dreams. I started telling him about their incredible power, as if Max was real. I told him every last vivid detail - except for some reason I omitted the dvd. By the time I ended with the edited bed and the spliff scene, we had got through two coffees each, and Samuels was eyeing me with something more than his usual professional engagement.
`Jesus!’ he said evenly, as if I had just told him some sort of major scam.
`The fact is, David, I am close to losing it now. Last night was the final straw.’
He nodded, in full agreement. `I don’t doubt it. Did you call the police? Did you get this guy - what’s his name - Alex - to confirm the scene in your bedroom?’
`No. I didn’t call the police. And Alex is just a tenant, I don’t want to involve him in this any more than I have to. I tried to interrogate him at breakfast. You think I hallucinated the break-in?’
Samuels shrugged, a small understatement as if he had not given the matter much thought.
`We can’t rule it out, Daniel. Clearly the dream has caught you unawares, disturbed your accustomed sense of normality. Getting Alex to confirm what you think you saw would have been useful, that’s all. Next time - if this happens again - try and get someone else to confirm what you’re seeing. As for Max, he was a lover of yours? You’ve never mentioned him to me before?’
`No. No I haven’t. It was along time ago. Max was abducted when he was 19. I met him at College, he was one of my students.’
I looked to see if Samuels looked surprised, shocked, vaguely judgemental. He had started writing thing down in a notebook. `That can’t have been easy - I mean - having an affair with a student - when was this - the early 1980s?’
`Yes, about then.’
Samuels asked me some more questions about Max, how we’d met, how long we had seen each other, how it had ended. I had sounded curiously vague about the details. He had been abducted in 1989; a few weeks before he left College to go to San Diego. His family were wealthy, financiers from back East. They had been on a family holiday in Italy when Max had disappeared; the bay of Naples, close to the azure bays of Capri. I had been in Boston burying a parent at the time. Decimated by his loss, I had dutifully helped the police with enquiries, conscious all the time that under less opportune circumstances I would probably have been a suspect. My relationship with Max was pretty obvious to most people by then; his father had been outraged. It was as hard to hide Max as it was to disguise his influence on me, his effect on my world: one may as well have tried to hide the sun. There was no ransom note, no body. After a long and acrimonious joint operation by the US and Italian authorities Max has been declared dead in 2000. Max’s father had tried to sue me for some bizarre misconduct but failed.
`I think I do remember something about this.’ said Samuels after a lengthy pause. `His father was half Italian himself, or the mother? That’s why your moved from Hartford?’
`Yes. The publicity for the college was too much. Even registered Democrats were vaguely horrified. And you’re right - it was the father. He came from an old Etruscan family. He had left Italy after WWII.’
`Yes, yes, that’s right. He killed himself eventually? When the investigation had been formally ended?’
`Yes.’ I had closed my eyes tightly, the sun angling down low and glaring off the metal table top. `David I need to get this sorted. It is interfering with my work and my health. I haven’t been in therapy for years - it is about time I did - I am supposed to of course, but I never quite got around to it.’
`You want me to act as your analyst? Are you sure about that?’ He had smiled. It was half a joke. Samuels was a rather fanatical Jungian, inclined to be doctrinaire where other analysts were inclined to be pragmatic.
`Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s not as if we have any disguised sexual imagery for god’s sake; it’s all pretty much in the open! I have never had such explicit dreams in my life!’
`Well I’m your man, then! I’ve never cared for the `umbrella as a metaphor for a penis’ approach anyway, or the sublimated, repressed imagery that implies that seeing a young man defecating implies a confused anal-oral phase!’
A women had looked up from a nearby table, more curious than censorious.
`Quite. And I think the dreams are about something now - immediately - not about something long ago. They are symptomatic of some internal dislocation, something has triggered this response.’
`Hmmm. Very Jungian. And Max - Max seems very archetypal!’ He smiled his ironic, un-American smile. He glanced at his watch. `Listen: drop by tomorrow after your own clinic. If you have time try and look for something obvious: an anniversary, something you may have seen or heard that reactivated these memories - do you have any pictures of him, mementos, gifts?’
`I might have. I tried hard to expunge Max after his disappearance. For a while I couldn’t deal with him not being in the world. He was - he was - ‘ I stammered, unsure.
`Beautiful?’ Samuels suggested.
I smiled, vaguely embarrassed. I had been about to use the word `irreplaceable‘. I nodded. `Yes. If the intrusion into my bedroom was an hallucination, I have never experienced anything like that, ever; in my entire life!’
I gestured to the waitress.
`When did you last smoke weed?’ Samuels asked.
The English expression momentarily threw me. `Oh, not for years - and I was never much of a pot smoker. Max did occasionally, but not often: I am sure of that. Or at least not that I remember. The odd thing is that, when I come to think about this, I remember so little!’
`Perhaps we are dealing with some repressed memories after all!’ Samuels patted my arm reassuring and we parted quickly, like men who have struck a deal. I felt relieved, reassured, more centred. Yet as I turned around to walk across the intersection I saw someone, a dark wedge of shadow, lean back quickly into the shadows behind me.