Wish fulfilment was a major catalyst for change in Brookville. The small town was undergoing a crisis of imagination. There were common themes in dreams talked about over the breakfast table each morning, the uncanny resemblance of which was unbeknown to the residents.
One night, Dean, a labourer and husband of Jackie Zee, dreamt of lightning bolts striking his beloved seven times before he woke up in a fit of panic and relief to see her sleeping soundly with a tiny snore that became so loud to him he didn’t go back to sleep.
Gerry, the baker and husband of the voluptuous Harley Dumas, dreamt of lightning bolts striking the pair in their marital bed, therefore unleashing a fury of lust and repressed desire that shook the entire house.
Maisie, the little daughter of the postman and rather more financially capable accountant on Rushmore Avenue, dreamt of lightning striking the same place seven times, bringing a mist that, once dispersed, left a thin, kindly woman in an apron who had come to replace her ambitious mother, Carole Redburn.
And so on. These people kept their dreams to themselves. This was one example of how basic intuition and psychic suggestion was bringing the town into the realm of the improbable and strange. Dean did not wish his wife were dead in real life, but every time she so much as sneezed he had the overwhelming urge to smack her on the back of the head with a spade—or indeed anything that might be in his hand at the particular moment.
Gerry had a happy marriage and a perfectly fervent sex life with his much desired wife, but he was almost petrified of the power of her hold over him, thus rendering all his sexual dreams as nightmares rather than the gratuitous fulfilment of repressed desires.
Maisie plain and simple dreamt of a new mother without the careerist drives and delusions of social entitlement and social rank, which her husband didn’t reach in terms of salary or prospects.
It happened that an event charged a particular night’s dreams with such ferocity as to shake the nerve of the entire place. During a lightning storm, three firefighters on duty and waiting command stepped out to look at the aggressive electrical storm over the harbour, and were struck by lightning, each in turn dying instantaneously. Fresh in the imaginations of every one of 321 residents, dreaming climaxed at two in the morning with the fear, grief, loneliness and passion that had been building in the collective well-pool of somatic activity that day.
Jackie Zee dreamed of her husband, Dean, rescuing her from the brink of death after being struck by lightning, as firemen stood around, all incapable of resuscitating her.
Harley Dumas dreamt that for the first night in three and a half years, her husband Gerry wasn’t up for sex and instead wanted to watch TV, on which they saw amateur footage of the lightning storm and the terrifying deaths of the three firemen.
Maisie’s mother, Redburn, dreamt of a highly charged lightning bolt coming from her husband’s chest and into hers, making her bigger and bigger until she easily climbed out of the roof of the house and saved the three firemen, who instantly fell in love with her.
It was true that Jackie dreamt of being saved by Dean very regularly, because she imagined him as the hero and she wanted more than anything to be in peril, in deathly danger so that the world around her would see her, would panic and hold their breath and say by God you are lucky to be alive. It was also true that Harley Dumas had gotten bored of sexual Olympics with Gerry some time ago and had begun to dream quite simply of being with him without being with him. It was absolutely true that Redburn had severe delusions of her own worth.
On the night of the lightning strikes the whole town incorporated lightning into their uninhibited dreams, but they would never know. With the electricity, the deaths, the grief and the peculiar edginess which every resident felt, there was a whole night for each member of the community to process these feelings, thoughts, needs. The mayor of Brookville, after speaking to a news crew and offering them the reassurance that “this town has a backbone and a heart and we will weather the storm together,” went home to three tall Scotches and another estranged night without his wife, Lisa, who had gone mad last winter and was still in the State mental asylum. He dreamt that Lisa was making the storms from the hospital, sending the lightning through her hands and out an open window, to punish him for letting them keep her there. He was terrified of her, even though she was a frail woman and usually only ever in a nightshirt; she would sit day after day in the cold, rocking gently, with her busy hands playing with the edges of her nightshirts until they wore holes and the seams came undone.
In the morning, the mayor visited the morgue to talk to the coroner about the bodies of Charlton, Bates and Girty, the three firemen who had perished that evening. He said it was cut and dried. They were friends, the mayor and the coroner, so the mayor confided, “I dreamt that Lisa was dealing the lightning bolts through her hands, sending them over here to teach me a lesson, maybe the whole town.” Of course, Carter, the coroner told him he should get more sleep, or maybe take a week’s vacation. The pair laughed, but Gainsburgh, the mayor of Brookville for over 25 years, knew that he couldn’t change the weather or ease the suffering of the firemen’s new widows, and he couldn’t help Lisa come around from the catatonia she was gone to, but he could try to assert change in Brookville so that the women wouldn’t have to play second fiddle to their men or get ground down by town gossip and other people’s business. The unemployed needed work badly, and there was nothing to offer unless they went out of town. He had thought for years about building new houses, something that he believed could bring work to the people for many years to come. He thought about a kind of liberation from the stagnant social values that would always be experienced in such a small town with such loyal people.
That night Gainsburgh dreamt of a hammer repeatedly bashing his hand, which was being held on a brick by a bodiless arm.
Dean dreamt of a hammer bashing in his wife, Jackie’s head repeatedly and slowly. He woke in the morning to light a cigarette and say a prayer for his own soul.
Gerry dreamt of intercourse, in every position conceivable.
Maisie dreamt of a hammer breaking down the door of her home, which she was locked out of for arguing with Redburn, her mother. The hammer easily smashed through the wood and glass to her mother’s screams.
Jackie Zee dreamt of breaking the glass of a hatchet on the wall of her basement to help her and Dean escape from a fire in the house upstairs. She smashed a window and helped them both to safety, with glass shards cutting her body so badly that she needed specialist medical attention.
Harley dreamt of watching a TV show about hammers and tools, with Gerry rubbing her feet and hand-feeding her chocolate.
Redburn dreamt of hammering down the doors of richer people and stealing their jewellery.
That night, while everyone dreamed and the world was finally quiet again after a day of mourning and well-wishing and prayer, Gainsburgh, the town mayor, died of a heart attack in his sleep. He never had to wake to a day of change and initiating new ideas, consoling wives, re-evaluating values. He never had to dream about Lisa again, or feel ashamed about her.
Dean never actually laid a finger on Jackie, but bought some ear plugs to stop waking up from her snoring, delicate as it was.
Gerry Dumas never took the hints given by his wife and continued to make love to her with vigour, every night for the next eleven years.
Maisie didn’t get a new mother, but she did learn that if you know enough and you’re quick enough, you can always win an argument.
Lisa was well enough to attend the funeral of her late husband, the mayor, after a night of uniquely lucid conversation with a nurse about the importance of having your own mind, thinking your own thoughts and dreaming your own dreams. At the funeral, the whole town avoided her, the vacuum of all their shame, embarrassment, vitriol. Lisa sang all the hymns, after barely opening her mouth to utter a sound for years. She had always loved her husband.