The Dream Interpreter

“Where did the steps go?” Smita wondered as she looked down from the edge of the terrace, looking for the steep steps she had climbed on. They were gone, exposing a dizzying fall to the ocean below. It was raining and water was everywhere. She could hear an almost human cry, a mournful howl of the black dog—she knew it was a black dog—in the distance. As she tried to decide whether she should jump down, for there was nowhere else to go, her phone rang.

Smita woke up, her heart thudding crazily and her thoughts fuzzy, emerging from the depths of another world, but relieved she didn’t have to deal with it. At least not this time. She knew it would come back. She squinted at the clock. 6:30 am. Only her mother would call her at this hour.

“Yes, ma?”

“Smita, you will not believe what happened. I have some very bad news, are you up?”

“What is it ma? Is it dad? Are you okay?”

“Oh no. We’re fine. It’s Mrs. Kesavan. Remember her? Padma aunty?”

Of course she remembered. Mrs. Kesavan, or Padma Aunty, as the children called her, was the mother of their neighbor in Pine Hills, where her family had lived when Smita and her brother were in elementary school. Padma Aunty was visiting from India, and spoke the same language as Smita’s family. As all parents who visited the US for months at a time from India did, she had bouts of loneliness and was starving for conversation in her mother tongue of Tamil. If a cup of filter coffee accompanied it, she was in heaven. She showed up at their house at 4 pm every day for those very same things.

“What happened to her, ma?”

“Remember how she always talked about her dreams?”

As her mother started to tell her, Smita got out of bed and started the coffee.

The children called her Padma Aunty, adding the title after the name as all Indian children are taught to do.

Padma aunty was obsessed about dreams and their meanings. Smita blamed Padma aunty and her daily sessions reporting, analyzing and fretting over her dreams with her mother for her own awareness of dreams and the ability to remember them, especially the disturbing ones.

Padma Aunty said if someone died in your dream, it meant that they were blessed (or cursed, depending) with a long life. Losing your teeth in a dream meant bad things were going to happen, possibly a demotion at work. Then there was the one that was her brother’s favorite. If you dreamed of “number two”, you are likely to win the lottery. Or, at the very minimum, find a dollar bill on the street. Smita had shared this one with her American co-worker who had rolled her eyes, but called her a week later, laughing so hard she couldn’t speak, to tell her that she had just received an unscheduled pay raise, and the night before she had dreamt of… loads of dog poop!

The one dream that really disturbed Padma Aunty was of people eating. That, she said, was a sign that someone, somewhere was going to die.

“Really? In a planet where billions of people live, isn’t someone always dying somewhere?” her father used to snicker from behind his newspaper, shushed by her mother.

A dream of a sumptuous wedding dinner was cause for much fretting the following day.   A dream of a luncheon full of old people would take her down for days.

On those days, she would try to account for all the people in her circle who were on the eligible list and scour the obituaries until she found what she wanted. Which, amazingly, invariably happened. This fact would be almost triumphantly conveyed to her mom: “See, what did I tell you?”

Her mother continued on the phone. Three days ago, Aunty Padma had had one of her lavish gastronomical dreams and was fretting as usual. She worried and worried for 2 days and even “googled” (with the help of her grandson) all the old people she knew. She had gone to the temple the previous evening, praying for everyone who was on her death row. She left the temple, still preoccupied with the dream as she crossed the street. And never saw the car coming.

Note: I don’t write much fiction but this was one that I had fun writing.




Keya And Joe

Thanks to several of my friends’ encouragement, I took the next step in serious writing – I joined a Creative Writing course. My first assignment was to write a short story (upto 1000 words) with the following criteria: My character has fallen down a mine shaft and has to rescue herself/himself after two days. The only things he/she has are a mini flashlight, dental floss, a set of keys, a pair of thick socks and some pretzels.

At first I was stymied. I’m not the adventurous type, and would never seek out a mine shaft to fall into. I’m not very physical. Climbing out of the mine was out of the question. So I improvised. Here’s the story, after several edits (thank you Donna and VTK) and critical feedback from my child. Hope you enjoy it!


Keya And Joe

Author: Srilatha Rajagopal

Keya felt the beginnings of a headache as she slowly opened her eyes.  She shook her head to clear her thoughts and tried to remember where she was, then wished she didn’t. The last thing she remembered was going to the Beaver Creek Seven Eleven around the corner from her hotel to get some pretzels on her offshore assignment from India. On her way back she had wandered off down a side road with the abandoned building and peeped in.  Now she was waking up in a dark shaft with rough walls.

She got up slowly, and took a small step. A little pain, but nothing seemed to be broken. She fumbled in her purse which was still attached to her shoulder and took out the flashlight she always carried.  “Time for some exploring, little K,” she said to herself.  She found a bigger “room” that held a cage-like structure with wheels. There was a dangling board that read:  “A good safety record means happiness for all. So keep up the good work, men.  Be Careful.”

She stepped on something and screamed. It was a skull. “Breathe, K, breathe,” she told herself to ward off the rising wave of panic. “Where there is a skull, there should be a body.”  As she flashed the light, she found scribbled on the floor of the shaft, with what seemed like charcoal: “Goodbye, my darling Jill and daughter Megan. Know that I am dying a painless death. Love always, Joe Lovell.” She felt incredibly sad and fought a wave of despair.

She thought of her parents back in India.  She thought of her grandmother who had loved her more than anything in the world and had passed away last year. She wondered if they would ever know what happened to her. She sternly told herself that line of thinking was not going to get her out of this hell. Think positive, she reminded herself. Her headache was starting to get worse and she wanted to sleep. A concussion from the fall? She couldn’t remember if sleep was good or if it made it worse. But didn’t have a choice as sleep overcame her.

She dreamed that she was back in her grandmother’s house and playing with her neighbor’s son, their favorite game of tying strings through a match box to make a radio. Only the string became a snake and the neighbor’s son became her grandmother. She was calling Keya to come eat her favorite lunch, pooris.

She awoke with a start.  Had it been a few hours or just minutes? She felt ravenous. She counted the pretzels (twenty) and ate four, not wanting to get thirsty. She cursed herself for not buying a bottle of water.

She explored the cage some more. It was rusting and looked like it would crumble if she touched it. Nothing useful there. Back to Joe and his scrawled love note.

She wondered what message she would leave for her parents. Mom, I would kill for some pooris right now.  I want to watch the silly old movies you’re always begging me to watch with you. I’m sorry I laughed when you spoke in your broken English to my friends. Appa, wish I had laughed at your silly jokes instead of rolling my eyes.

She stepped on something sharp and metallic, and turned the light on it.

A radio!  Was her grandmother giving her a message? She picked it up and pushed a knob. Dead. She pulled at the antenna. She turned it over and found the damaged battery compartment. Two AA batteries.  The same kind in her flashlight!

Okay, this was going to be tricky. She carefully pulled out the dead batteries, and kept her left fingers in the compartment. Opening her flashlight’s battery compartment with her other hand, she pulled out the batteries and put them in the radio, carefully lining them up one by one, in the blackness. But there was a problem. They kept falling out. Out they went, back into the flashlight.

“What should I do now, Joe?” she asked the skull.  Joe didn’t seem to care. She dumped the contents of her purse on the floor.  A piece of paper, a pair of thick socks, and… dental floss!

“I know you don’t like to floss, but do you want to have your own teeth when you’re 40?” her American dentist had scolded her. “Damn you, Dr. Dentist,” she had thought childishly at the time, but had gotten the floss nevertheless and kept it in her purse. She took it out and tied it around the radio’s battery compartment. She turned the flashlight off, and in the darkness removed the batteries and slid them through the floss into the compartment.  It took about two hours to finally get them positioned right.

She turned the radio’s knob and held her breath. Long seconds went by. Nothing.  She knew exactly how Houston felt as a satellite returned to Earth.  She turned the other knob. It crackled to life. Her ingenuity had worked! All she had to do now was to wait for someone to hear her.

The sliver of opening at the top of the shaft got darker. She guessed she had been at the shaft for a day and a half. She was about to doze off when suddenly, the radio crackled again. Her nightmare ended as quickly as it had begun. She was picked up by the “Eagle One” ham operators a few miles down the road, who called 911. Rescuers were followed by the local radio crew and the Channel 5 news.  The Beaver Creek Times headlines screamed the next day: “Visiting geek saved by ham operators.” There was an uproar in the media about unmarked abandoned mines.

Keya went back to India, carrying the memories of the two days spent with Joe the skull, but her best memory was the light in Megan’s eyes when Keya gave her father’s message to her mother.