An Excerpt from Sebastian in a Dream

(variations 1 and 2)


THERE’S A MAN standing in the doorway, I can see him if I move my eyes all the way to the right and turn my head on the pillow as far as I can, he’s tall, slender, young, has long dark hair, neatly combed, it molds itself neatly around his nicely-shaped head, who is it? I don’t seem to know him but on the other hand his face seems very familiar, it’s as if we’ve spent a lot of time together, the name Sebastian pops up in my mind, it must be his name, it sounds so familiar, I must have known it for a long time, used it for a long time, weird, who could he be? my son? I never had a son, but who else would I have known for so long? I feel I’ve known him from his childhood, couldn’t have been a friend, an acquaintance, he looks much younger than me, friendships and acquaintances aren’t established at such an early age, so, a son? my son? but I never had a son, or did I?  did I have a son?  perhaps, perhaps I did and have forgotten, things like that happen, it could have happened if he left me long time ago and his memory has faded away with time, but, no, his name and face wouldn’t seem so familiar, had he left me as a child I wouldn’t know what he looked like grown up, and his name wouldn’t seem so familiar to me now, it would have faded away in my mind, unless I kept repeating it to myself all the time, missing him a lot, missing him immensely, loving him so much perhaps, but then why is his face so familiar to me? because I saw him in pictures? because he or someone else was sending them to me, maybe it was a recent one and I was looking at it all the time because I missed him a lot, loved him so much, but this is too farfetched, it doesn’t make sense, although it’s not impossible, not everything in life must make sense, farfetched things do happen, are possible, anyway, it appears he’s most likely my son and has come to see me, because he loves me, because of my state, somebody must have told him about it, me, or maybe not, maybe we’re living together and he was downstairs or in another room and has come in to check up on me, or more likely had gone out on an errand, to the bank or post office, or to get groceries at the supermarket, or something to drink, an electrolyte drink for me, for instance, it’s dangerous if  you  lose them, the electrolytes, don’t have enough of them, I must need it, a drink like that, in the state I’m in, with the stress I’ve been going through lately and the usual old-age nightmares and sweats, you lose electrolytes that way, the same as exercising, or for both of us, that is, maybe he had gone out to get an electrolyte drink for both of us, young people exercise too  much, undergo stress too and sweat, whatever, don’t  have enough of them, of the electrolytes, or maybe he had gone out  to get something at the pharmacy,  a prescription medicine, a prescription medicine for me most likely, and has come back and is checking up on me, to see how I’m doing, Sebastian! Sebastian! words don’t seem to get out of my mouth, that is, they do but are not words but silence, air, empty air, vacuum, I speak vacuum, Sebastian!  Sebastian!  Stop! Stop!  You’re going to hurt yourself, you’ll fall down! Stop! he giggles as if spilling handfuls of glass beads on the  hard, bare, wood floor and runs as fast as he can on his stiff short little legs, bare-footed, stark naked, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, down the long, empty bare-floored, bare-walled, dark hallway toward the light at the end coming in through the open door on the left, I chase after him, dive, catch him just before he falls down the stairs on the left, no, no stairs there, before he falls down flat on the hard, bare wood floor and hurts himself, like catching a football in the air just before it hits the ground and rolling with it on the grass, keeping it up so that it won’t touch the ground, I hold him up by his hips, he was turning around just as I was catching him, and giggles, I lay him down on the bare wood floor, lean over him, press my mouth to his soft warm little belly, blow, the skin, flesh makes a funny percolating sound, bbl-bbl-bbl-bbl, like thick liquid, liquid mud  bubbling with  air blowing up through it, he giggles, laughs, struggles, tries to free himself, I guess it tickles him, I go on and on, he continues, I’m beginning to have enough of this, slow down more and more, he quiets down proportionally, in the end we lie next to each other quiet on the hard floor, I panting, he breathing evenly, hard wood floor? bare?  no, on something soft, a carpet, rug, captain’s bed? the room not empty as I thought, a carpet, captain’s bed, a few more pieces in the corners, behind us, I caught him by the bed so that he wouldn’t hurt himself on its hard corner and rolled on the carpet next to it together with him.


SO THE APARTMENT isn’t empty, also there seems to be someone else living with us in it, a woman? a woman most probably, his mother? his mother most likely, who else? he must have or must have had a mother, everyone has or has had a mother, I couldn’t have brought him into the world by myself, of course not,  I didn’t propose that, I mean I didn’t propose that I’d adopted him alone, not being married, I don’t think you can do that, they don’t let you, but even if they do it’s not the case here, I feel sure that if he’s my son, I didn’t adopt him, I had him with a woman, my wife? most likely my wife, or a woman who lives with us, which means a wife even if we’re not officially married, his mother, she must be away now, perhaps she’s at work and that’s why we’re alone, it would make sense, she works and I take care of our son, I must have lost my job, am unemployed, unemployable, don’t want to work, so she has to work to support us, it makes sense, things like that happen nowadays, are common, yes, and I may not want to work because I want to take care of him, because I love him so much, because he means so much to me, and my wife agreed to work instead of me to make me happy,  because she loves me so much, because she loves both of us a lot and knows that I would take good care of him, as good as anyone or better, including herself, strange, but I don’t recall who she is, have no idea who she is or looks like, except, wait, I seem to remember walking next to a woman, a young woman, almost a girl through darkness, night, she holding up her pregnant belly with her hands, arms, white, both hands/arms and belly white like the huge full white moon up in the sky above us, she clearly naked, me, I think too, among trees, yes, among trees because it’s dark sometimes, dark in places, that is, dark when we’re in the shadow of a tree, whereas it’s clear nearly as in the daytime otherwise, walking naked, through woods, in the middle of the night, under full moon? isn’t that weird? it sure is weird, couldn’t have happened, of course it could have, all sorts of weird crazy things happen in life and that’s why it’s interesting, wonderful,  that’s why everyone wants to stay alive, live, hoping for some strange wonderful thing to happen to them because if everything in life were commonplace, predictable who would want to live, go on, you’d go crazy with boredom, commit suicide, there’d be people hanging down from trees everywhere, all over, strange low-hanging rotting fruit, for instance, us walking like that together could have been part of some ritual, an old folk ritual that has been revived, perhaps having to do with fertility, I seem to feel there’s a huge river somewhere nearby there, on the left,  we’re high up on a ridge, hill, hills, in the woods that grow over them, and there’s a huge river on the left below,  perhaps we’re walking down to it for her or both of us to bathe in it, it’s flat where we’re walking but we might be following a path that further along turns left and descends and so we are heading for the river, I think that fertility rights for some peoples did involve rivers, water, bathing in it, but she’s pregnant already, so that doesn’t make sense, but no, it’s possible, maybe she had trouble conceiving, and we followed this ritual, say a year ago, and now that it was successful, we’ve come back to conclude it, pay our homage to the deity that’s helped her to get pregnant, maybe it’s a holiday devoted to that deity during a particular day of the year and we’ve come to pay homage to it and make sure the pregnancy will end successfully, her belly is really huge, so maybe the baby’s overdue and we’re trying to make sure it’ll be born healthy, it might be the midsummer night for instance, the shortest night of the year, which I think had great significance among certain ethnic groups in the old times and therefore might still have now, which would make it likely that fertility rituals would be conducted in the course of it,  it feels in fact like it’s during that time of the year, that of his mother and me walking through the woods naked in the middle of the night under a full moon, her belly so huge she had to hold it up with both her hands, it must have been part of that ritual,  probably to ask the deity for the child,  our son to be born healthy, he must have been way overdue so we worried he, it, the child, might be born abnormal, a mooncalf, with a huge head, water on his brain, retarded, but he, the man in the doorway, he’s not retarded,  he looks normal, looks very normal, almost abnormally normal, abnormally well-formed, well-proportioned and handsome, but there was a retarded child, a little boy with Down Syndrome, where we lived at the time, son of the caretaker, the one who lived in an apartment in the basement, he, the boy would run around in the asphalt-covered court within the apartment complex on his short, stiff little legs, shouting, Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh! all the time, stabbing with his short little finger in all directions as his father was sweeping up the place with his huge birch-branch broom, he, the boy was called Sebastian,  I recall his father speaking to him gently, No, Sebastian, no Sebastian, you can’t do that, Sebastian, and sometimes shouting, No, Sebastian, no! but was it perhaps him,  that is, my son and me? in other words, is it possible that the little boy was Sebastian and I his father? meaning that our son was born retarded after all, after all that pleading and all the rituals? we living in a basement apartment and I being a caretaker, sweeping up courtyards with a birch-branch broom? ridiculous!  impossible! I never swept up anything with a birch-branch broom nor anything else and never lived in a basement apartment!  I’m sure of that, sure as I can be sure of anything, hmmm, that is, I’m not sure, but only hope and think it’s untrue,  you can never be sure of anything,  all sorts of impossible things are possible in life, but it’s very likely untrue, that is, it’s most, most unlikely, but if it’s untrue, if our son is normal, then why did we call him Sebastian, with a little Down Syndrome boy named Sebastian running around outside the widows and his father calling out his name all the time? we certainly didn’t name him after the little boy, or did we? so as to make up for the fact he was retarded? but that doesn’t make sense, how would we have made up for his shortcomings? it wouldn’t have made him less retarded, no, it’s impossible,  that is, it’s very, very, most, most unlikely, but wasn’t it strange then for us to call our son the same as the little retarded boy? wouldn’t it have bothered us? unless we did it earlier, that is, unless our son was born earlier and we named him Sebastian before we moved into that apartment, but we also could have done it even while living there, loving the name so much that we weren’t bothered by a Down Syndrome Sebastian running around outside our windows, Sebastian is such a beautiful name, why should we have cared?  why would the fact there was a retarded boy who was named Sebastian living in an apartment below had prevented us from naming our son Sebastian? we loved the name and decided to call our son by it, that’s all, it’s that simple.

About Sebastian in a Dream

Sebastian in a Dream is the first novel of The First Person Dilogy, the second one being the still-unfinished The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. As its companion, it is written in the first person POV, which gives the dilogy its name, in chapter-long run-on sentences, in a style which derives from the story “Father” from my collection of “prose pieces” Short Tails (JEF Books, 2011). One of the characteristics of this style is the practice of “erasure,” which consists of negating something that has been asserted, creating thus a hesitance of interpretation in the mind of the reader and lending depth to the narration.

The book was inspired by Georg Trakl’s famous poem “Sebastian im Traum,” in particular its opening line, “Mutter trug das Kindlein im weißen Mon” (“Mother carried the child in a white moon”), and is patterned on J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, that is, it consists of an aria, followed by thirty variations, and concludes with the repetition of the aria. The aria contains references to the story “Father” and the Trakl poem (pregnancy, child, moon), which are worked over in the variations. As is the case in Bach’s work, the variations are divided into groups of three.  An additional rule is imposed on the variations in that every nine (3×3) variations, they become the variations on the theme of the first three “non-initial” variations (moon, Bach, and God), in other words, v2, v3, and v5 are modified in v11, v12, and v14, then in v20, v21, and v23, and finally in v29 and v30.  (V31 falls outside the range of the variations and the third variation of v5 takes place in v24, which is a thematic continuation of v23.)

The two volumes of the dilogy consist of the texts of the novels and notes in the form of a diary I have been keeping as I was (and still am) writing them.

Yuriy Tarnawsky

Yuriy Tarnawsky (born February 3, 1934) is a Ukrainian-American writer and linguist, one of the founding members of the New York Group, a group of avant-garde Ukrainian diaspora writers, and co-founder and co-editor of the journal New Poetry, as well as a member of the US innovative writers’ collaborative Fiction Collective. An engineer and linguist by training—he holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from New York University—he worked as a computer scientist at IBM Corporation, specializing in natural language processing and artificial intelligence, and as a professor of Ukrainian literature and culture at Columbia University. He has authored more than three dozen books of fiction, poetry, drama, and translations, working in both English and Ukrainian. Some of his books include The Placebo Effect TrilogyThree Blondes and DeathThe Iguanas of HeatCrocodile Smiles, and Modus Tollens: Improvised Poetic Devices.

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