He came to consciousness much more slowly than usual. It was in this way that Krause knew he was in that nether-world between sleep and waking that most men experience a few times during their short stay on Earth; that state that exists outside of measurement and that is instantly recognized as something precious and rare – a thing to be held, if possible, and held onto with all the power that a man can muster at 6am in the morning.
He laid there motionless and tried to re-enter the dream. And as we know – the more the moments go, the more difficult the task.
To his surprise and delight, Krause found it very easy to reach back in and ‘remember’.
He was with the beautiful girl and he loved her madly. She was looking at a dog with shaggy red hair, much like her own mane. Krause was gathered in her arms, stroking the back of her neck through all that hair. He felt complete and content, loving her and knowing that she loved him. He vaguely remembered the location. There was another, young man – the owner of the shaggy dog. Krause remarked, “Your dog’s hair looks like red electrical wires”, at which she and the young man laughed. Krause sensed that the young man felt desire toward his love.
Then they were on a train, traveling somewhere across France. The two of them were in an open cabin – he with his arms around her again in the same position, stroking the back of her neck through all that hair and knowing that she loved him. The landscape rushed by to the left, then began to slow, barely noticeably, then more and more, until a ringing sound came from somewhere down the carriage and Krause reached to the left, crushed the alarm on the stupid little box that tortured him each morning and put an end to things which cannot be gotten back…allegedly.
His stomach churned with pain and terrible cramps, and as the fog cleared a little, he cursed the kebab that he had consumed in the roadside café in a little town called Kani Shaytan.
“I should have known better”, Krause murmured to himself, remembering the word in Arabic for Satan. Surely, the locals named it in a sort of fit of cynicism, or humor, for Kani Shaytan lies in a very uncomfortable, dangerous, superheated, semi-mountainous desert wasteland about halfway between Suleimani and his ultimate destination, Kalar, in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, about thirty miles from the border of Iran.
The lamb had really done him in and Krause struggled to make it to the toilet, yet again, after a night filled with trips to “the squatter” (much can be said about the relative quality of a civilization by noting the makeup of the local commodes – China, Iraq; Turkey – where squatters are much more common than sit-down western devices).
His lower back ached from last night’s battles and he found it close to impossible to raise himself upright; he used his arms on the knees to assist himself. He cursed under the breath at all things Eastern and determined, then and there, that there would be a way to get back to a world where, at least – toilets were civilized.
Krause made it to the tiny little shower, where, under the lukewarm water, he thought on the dream:
“What can it mean?”
“Who is that girl with the red hair? And why were we on a train in France?”
Krause knew that he had been to France only once, and there was no red-haired girl involved. There was, however, a very beautiful French girl, Laurent, whom he had met in a café. She took him to her parents’ house outside Paris where they had lunch and spent a few hours together.
Krause went back to the train ride, returning to Paris that night – in the dark – snow blasting outside the windows – John Scofield’s furious electric guitar for Miles Davis’ ‘Decoy’ on the old tape deck.
That was thirty years ago; and now was now, so Krause found himself shaving and grooming and putting on the suit that he would wear on the first day of his classes at The English Access Institute, the location of which was a short walk through a shabby, inexplicit housing complex where Krause now made his residence.
Krause exited from the 3rd floor via the elevator out into the killing heat and made his way through the buildings at the base of which were shabby plots of grass that seemed embarrassed at the surroundings they were designed to complement.
After some considerable discomfort and effort, he arrived at the entrance to the “Institute” and had to chuckle to himself. The doors looked like just another opening to some shop on the right or left, as is so often the case in commercial centers in the Middle East. His thoughts went back to the girl and the other young man and the shaggy, red, electric mane of the dog.
“I wonder; what was the name of that dog? I should have asked in the dream.”
He stood there, still almost overcome by the heat outside but grateful for the enormous air conditioner churning away in the corner and set at ‘16’. A few students had already arrived at the class and were sitting there, staring at Krause, surely wondering strange things about the newcomer in their insulated, Islamic world. All of the young women wore the hijab – that diabolical expression of both ownership of and contempt for, womanhood.
He thought to himself, yet again:
“How is it possible that these women don’t simply chuck those damned things off and show their hair?!”
Krause wondered about this for many, many years, all over the Middle East, and had never come up with a satisfactory explanation, except that it must be that these women are the result of 1400 years of inbreeding and gross familial pressure, combining to make it nearly impossible to revolt.
Krause had, in fact, given up a long time ago trying to figure these creatures out. They simply irritated him and he no longer felt any sympathy toward them. The ‘hijabis’ were just so many warm bodies in his new class and he felt only contempt (mitigated through the years) that manifested itself mainly in a sort of denial – he did not wish to deal with them anymore.
When he passed them on the street, he hissed under his breath.
He surveyed the landscape of the room. More students, both male and female, entered. He gave a cursory glance and smile to each. Krause was practiced in this deception and knew the game well. Yes, underneath it all, he despised the Muslims and was only there to make as much money as he could off of the devils before he went on to the next job.
The room was nearly full now. Krause sat at his desk and arranged things mechanically – the opening of books and lesson plans, attendance sheets, and so on. As he did, his mind drifted back to the dream and that luscious space between this world and that.
The beautiful girl reminded him – suddenly – of someone. It bothered him that he couldn’t immediately place it. He thought of the girls and women in his life – the lovers with whom he had spent time. Maybe there was a hint there. He stared out the window at the buildings; he drifted into his inner world, the mansion of symphonies and words and memories.
He thought of the first, Deanna, in the steamy backseat of a station wagon during the summer of 1971 in Phoenix, Arizona, when Krause was only 15 and she, 26. It was a decidedly awkward affair, punctuated by an attempt at inserting appendages into the wrong places. She was an “ambitious” girl and took full advantage of the willing young lad she raped, leaving him with a string of hickies.
Krause thought of them like pieces to a bloody necklace.
And then there was Gina Wahle, the Jewess who had changed her last name to Lauren, in an effort to seem more exotic and Italian. She was utterly beautiful, petite and a real lion in bed. She liked it ‘athletic’. She also liked champagne and coke. Krause obliged, in those days.
He thought of Tisa, another Jewess, and the dancer, Akemi, and Judy and Diane and Leslie, another dancer, and a little Spaniard – Michelle Prieta.
“I wonder where they all are now. Are any dead? Have any kept even a small bit of their youth and beauty? Did any of them have red hair?”
“No – no one did”, Krause said out loud.
Someone in the front row asked, “What?!” suddenly jerking Krause back from the view of the buildings and his thoughts over former lovers.
He raised himself up from the desk, all six and one-half feet. He was still a mildly handsome man at sixty; Krause knew it and used it to his advantage in embarrassing situations like this.
Mechanically, he tugged a little at the Hermes tie that a young man named Zachary had loaned him. He felt the button in the jacket while simultaneously taking a grand step forward toward the desks in the front row. It was an intimidating move, calculated to put a quick end to any speculation about his outburst. It worked.
The ‘hijabis’ looked to be mildly amused – but then, they always seemed simply happy to see a man, any man standing in front of them that was unlike the dreary, unkempt, unshaven and foul-smelling creatures that fill the Middle East and their homes.
“Good morning, class. My name is D.M. Krause and I will be your English instructor for the next ten months, God willing and the crick don’t rise”.
He knew that there was absolutely no possibility of even one student in that classroom understanding this uniquely American idiom.
He looked to his right briefly, out the window at the suburban landscape of Kalar.
Just as he turned back to face the class and begin his usual opening-class delivery, an extraordinary event unfolded.
The door on the left-hand side of the classroom opened and a young woman entered. “A Goddess!” Krause concluded in a second. Their eyes met and both were left motionless for a time.
She was tall and naturally blonde. She had blue eyes that shone even from the distance. Beside and above the eyes, she wore her hair in one of those bob cuts that were fashionable in the 1920s. It complemented her somewhat severe face perfectly, Krause reasoned.
His eyes passed to the cream colored blouse that fell loosely over her diminutive, yet gorgeous breasts. This was no Iraqi. She had to be German. He looked at the waist, where an oversized blue skirt – almost knee-length – was gathered sloppily around the midsection. The effect was entrancing, though, for it was clear that beneath the rather unflattering fit of the garment lay a body that must have been very beautiful.
Krause was frozen. He looked at the thin legs and blue flats at the bottom and decided that she was about twenty.
The other girls in the room fumed inwardly. Krause sensed their hatred for this uncovered meat and it made him happy. He allowed a few moments to pass in silence as he enjoyed it.
Their exchange of eyes ended and she looked for a place to sit.
As it happened, there was only one seat left and it was in the front row. She walked quickly and sat down, placing her bag on the floor and the accoutrements of study squarely on the desk – notebook, pen, textbooks and cellphone. Krause was a little surprised when she fetched a pair of eyeglasses from her purse:
“Such a pity. Blue eyes of that quality, already fading.”
Suddenly, Krause thought again of the red-haired girl and the dog in the dream of that morning. It vexed him that he could grasp no connection – yet he knew there had to be one, somehow.
Krause was sorely tempted to ask the German girl if she owned a dog with red hair.
Instead, he ambled back to the desk and picked up a roll sheet with all of the names. He scanned down, looking for a female German name…and there it was – “Anna Kroeger”.
“Anna – what a beautiful name – the name of my niece. Where is Anna?”
She lifted her hand and the blouse revealed a spindly arm. The veins could be seen on it – just like the face – so translucent and perfect was the skin wrapped around each of them.
He called the other names out randomly, skipping from each to each and leaving a little mark to the right of the name that didn’t match who was present. He tried not to look at Anna but it was not easy, for every time his eyes swept passed, hers were intent on Krause, smiling and inquisitive – charming, in fact. Krause wrote it off to simple fascination. Young women, in his experience, often show these kinds of looks. It is a mix of anxiety, ambition, girlish wonder and something new and different -that’s all; sweet, blind enthusiasm. Krause had seen it more than a dozen times before, spread out over multiple countries and years of teaching, and yet, it still seduced him…at sixty – graying badly and lines showing heavily in the face from many years of smoking and hard travel.
He finished the roll and walked back to the desk to grab the syllabus. As he turned to face the class and the German Goddess, it all began:
He felt a strange sensation in his chest. The heart skipped a beat, then another and two or three more. Krause sensed that there was something terribly wrong. He swooned a little and tried to compose himself, yet the palpitations continued.
Then, like a bad dream that sticks with you throughout the day, or a hideous memory… the world descended on his weak bosom.
It was a deadly weight, Krause realized. It became obvious that he was becoming unable to function. He clutched at the Hermes. He coughed a little. Some sputum came out. His legs wobbled like a beaten boxer and he searched for something to hang onto. He looked at the girl. Her expression was a mix of sympathy, horror and indecision. He looked at the clock on the wall as he lunged to his left. Nothing was there but air.
He fell to the floor, vacant of thought…his heart and body deceiving him.
As he lay on the warm tile, a crumpled mess – his suit looking like paper in a trashcan – Krause felt everything collapsing and expanding at once. Thoughts flew into his head as the seconds ticked by. They flew out. He looked at the clock on the wall again. It looked like it had stopped, and then, in a fit of inner laughter, he saw that it was suddenly alive, washing over his existence and making a mockery of everything.
The walls, the chairs, the desks, the faces of the students – everything – gathered over him in anxiety and seemed to all come together, swirling and laughing out of their stern, worried looks.
He thought of the red-haired girl, the canine and the lustful young man.
With a supreme effort, he managed to open his eyes and look up at Anna.
He asked, weakly, “What was the name of the dog?”
She looked at him with horror and profound confusion, shouting, “Herr Krause! Herr Krause!”
It all made sense now and he realized in both the heart and mind that this was the verdict. This was the end, and he understood completely. He began the process of giving in. The lights started to fade and darkness began to squeeze the edges of everything. Krause could feel his heart giving out beat by beat, second by second, tick by tick – like a metronome failing. He thought of Chopin and that amused him. Then Beethoven with the upraised fist, and he chuckled inside. It all seemed absurd, yet obviously comical – a dog named “Mr. Krause”. The words of Chekhov’s Black Monk came, “Tanya! Tanya!”
He looked up at her with one last push of life. She saw him open his eyes a little.
She asked, “Herr Krause – are you alright?”
And he answered oh so sweetly, softly, and with all of the gentleman that he could bring to bear in this most precarious of moments:
“Why yes. Yes I am…now.”
News of the “incident” reached the states a few days later. Someone arranged for the body to be flown out of Iraq and to California where the same people had somehow managed to scrape together the money to bury the man. They took him to the cemetery on a cloudy day and put the dirt box under a Cypress tree.
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