that my good friend D., whom I originally met in New York but got to know well in San Diego, was housesitting this amazing place in Hawai'i or the Caribbean, or somewhere sort of tropical. It was a beautiful, slightly ominous mansion--more like a castle or a palace, all white marble, overlooking cliffs where huge waves crashed under dark roiling clouds. It wasn't really beach weather, which is probably why the people who owned the house weren't there.
So D.'s job in this house was to feed their collection of this exotic, red crustacean. Sounds simple, except that these crustaceans lived in this very deep, narrow pool that occupied its own room of the house--a pool with a very small circumference that went down maybe 20 yards--like a well. The little crabs or crayfish or whatever they were couldn't swim and couldn't breathe above water; they just all clung to the sides of the pool, so that its entire inner surface except for the very bottom was plastered with their small, hard, burn-colored shells.
Apparently the only way to feed the crustaceans was for a reasonably strong, experienced swimmer to dive straight to the bottom of the well, place the food there at the bottom (I guess it was some sort of weighted packet that gradually dispersed food upwards) and then ascend straight upwards. The key was to not touch any of the little crustacean bodies on the way up--because apparently these crustaceans, while not aggressive, would lash out and bite if touched, and their bite was fatally venomous. All of this made feeding them a very stressful undertaking.
Nervously, I watched D. feed the crustaceans. When he came up not dead, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then he asked me if I'd feed them while he went out of town over the next couple of days. I thought, No way, while hearing myself say "Okay, sure."
I dreamed of peering into the well the next day, reminding myself that I am a pretty decent swimmer, though not by any means an expert diver. I drew a deep breath and dove in headfirst, letting out my breath as I descended in a straight line, clutching the food packet, somehow managing not to touch any of the deadly little shells surrounding me. I thought about how much I was risking, how no one besides D., who was out of town, knew I was doing this. I thought, I just have to get through the next few seconds and I will be fine--just put the food down, turn around, swim straight back up, pull yourself out. One step at a time. Then I thought, How am I going to turn around?
I put the food down and then curled myself double somehow, touching my toes, and, in the improbable kind of thing we do in dreams, somehow snaked myself right-side-up and held myself rigidly straight as I floated to the surface.
When I was safely out of the water, I decided I would never, ever, ever again agree to feed someone's pet deadly-poisonous crustaceans at the bottom of a well. Shaken, I started to walk--I don't know where--home?
In dreams, I am almost always somewhere that I don't live--on vacation, or on a business trip, or at camp, or fleeing a war zone. I am often some kind of fugitive, or on some kind of mission, or both. Rarely in a dream do I sigh and think, well, my errands for the day are done; I'll just go home.
But in this dream, after successfully feeding the toxic crustaceans*, I was walking along one of those outdoor hallways that apartment buildings in warm climates tend to have. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement, and when I turned, I saw Miss Laura Van Holt (of The Famous Chronicles) whom I know via my dear friend Mayumi, washing the outside wall of her 30th-floor apartment. She was standing on one of those ladders like they have outside water towers, comprised entirely of metal rungs stuck into the side of the building. I called to her, "Laura! Honey, what are you doing?" (It is only in dreams, mostly in dreams that occur after I visit places like Tampa, that I ever call people "Honey" in a Southern accent.)
"Washing my wall," Laura said. "I figured, why pay someone to do something I could do myself?"
"But you don't have a harness, or a net, or anything!"
"Well," she pointed out, "that's only a problem if I let go of the ladder."
I considered calling Mayumi to tell her that her friend was acting crazy, but then I wondered if maybe it was me being crazy, or paranoid, or hypervigilant. After all, I'd just voluntarily slipped underwater into a narrow space filled with deadly shrimps, or something, after watching my friend do exactly the same thing. Maybe, I pondered in my dream, that is just what life is--all of it is always at stake, everything is loaded with risk, every step you take is as precarious as the steps my friend balanced on thirty stories above the ground; every breath you take is as crucial, as potentially ultimate, as the one I took before diving into the well.