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Mack’s Dream

William McNamara woke up early Thursday morning.  The alarm was set for six, and it was now four thirty.  He had the dream again.  He was sweating and shaking, but he wasn’t sick.  He was scared.  The dream started about half a year before, right after his wife left him and took both of the kids and all of the money with her.  He was alone in a place he couldn’t really describe when he was awake; he could only say it was foreboding.   None of his friends knew what foreboding meant, so he told them it was scary.  They laughed. Mack wasn't scared of anything.  He'd spent thirty five years in the Army and had survived Viet Nam and Desert Storm.  He retired with his chest covered in ribbons.  He was a hero.

He hated this kind of chatter.  He was a retired sergeant major, and retired, to Mack meant almost dead.  He kept himself busy hiking, camping, and writing a little about his experiences in a large black journal.  Life wasn't bad, but he never should have moved the family back to their hometown.  This part of Pennsylvania was bleak and decrepit since the coal mining crashed and the railway stations closed.  There were shopping malls everywhere, and a lot of his friends who had worked in factories for fourteen bucks an hour were now minimum wage clerks or greeters or floor walkers in Wal-Mart or Sears or Penny's or some other retailer. He got a bigger check for being retired than they did working full-time.

Now that his family was gone, he spent a lot of time thinking about his last duty station in the South of Germany.  They'd lived in a pretty little city on the Weinstrasse and had access to a couple of thousand years of history.  He wondered if the dream would show up there.  After breakfast, he drove into the city and priced flights.  He didn't like anything the Travel Bureaus offered, so he came home and scoured the internet and found a round trip flight for $ 650.  He booked it and had a month to firm up his plan.  He told the landlord he was moving out, started selling off everything of value and packed his big rucksack with what was left.  He'd need about $600 a month for rent and utilities and the rest would be food and public transportation.  That would be $200 a week, which left him $400 a month to play with or stash.  It would work, but he'd have to pay attention.

By the end of the month, he'd dreamed the dream four more times.  Each time, it was a little different, a little longer.  He had no idea what it meant, but he knew it wasn't a good thing.  He believed that dreams had two natures.  The first was the brain sorting out what it had learned during the day and trying out slots to file it in randomly.  Some of the slots it tried created a chaotic effect which gave birth to the second nature of the dream which was a cry of the mind that the future held something he should be thinking about.  The problem was simply that this dream was poorly defined.  He couldn't find the moral of the story.  He only knew that it pointed to something that he wasnt looking forward to.  Maybe the change of venue would change the dream as well.  He didn't know, but he had hope.  At two thirty PM, he found his seat on the Air Bus and at two forty-five, they were airborne.

He had a window seat, although he preferred the aisle.  He hated disturbing people to go to the toilet or stretch his legs, but the young woman sitting next to him was friendly enough and after a few hours in the air, they started swapping stories.  It turned out she was a twenty-eight year old psychiatrist working out of a hospital in Trier, which was on his turf.  She was impressed with his knowledge of the Pfalz and they swapped addresses and handy numbers so that they could get together in the near future and tours the castles, ruins, and trails in the Pfalzerwald.  The rest of the flight was pleasant chit chat and second-rate food.  On the ground at seven AM, they shook hands and promised to stay in touch.  After clearing customs in Frankfurt, Mack went to the rental counter, picked up his keys and drove to his place in Neustadt.  It was one crossing away from where he'd lived with the family a few years ago, but there was no nostalgia, no regret, he was a different man than he was then and he wasn't going to let it bother him.  He unpacked, put away his things, and went for a walk.  Not much had changed.  He loved the old city, with its Elwedritche fountain and outdoor cafes.  It was nine in the morning, so he walked a little and arrived back in the market place a little after ten.  He remembered breakfast at a gastaette on the west side of the square, where you sat in a beautiful little garden with a nest of swallows on the stone wall.  The swallows weren't there, but breakfast was even better than he remembered.  After a pot of coffee and a long pipe, he walked again.  Around noon, he drove out into the country side and picked up six bottles of the local wine, a couple of sausages and three different cheeses.  He'd get the bread later, in Neustadt, where the bakery was two minutes from his front door.  He was feeling good about this decision and decided to just drive for awhile.

He was prone to roads without lines and when he saw the first one to the right, he turned down it.  It was narrow, and serpentine, and running up a mountain.  He drove for half an hour, until it ended in a mountain meadow.  He got out to stretch and walked a bit.  At the edge of the meadow, there was a steep, gravel road, running down into a valley. In the valley, there was a fairy tale castle looking like it was just built.  When he got to the gates, he learned that it wasn't.  It was over four hundred years old and occupied.  They offered tours at ten AM and two PM.  It was five to two.  He went in, paid seven Euros and waited for more tourists to arrive.  They didn't, and the tour lasted an hour longer than advertised because the old man who was guiding him welcomed the opportunity to get into the long history of who had lived there, who had attacked, who had been repelled, and who had taken the walls.  It was fascinating and Mack made a mental note to come back again.  When he got back to the car, he studied his map and marked the spot.  This would be a good place to bring friends.

He got home around four and walked to the market place for a beer.  The dark weizen beer in this area was excellent and he hadn't tasted it in four years.  After the second one, he ordered a Jaeger Schnitzel and ate it a little faster than he should have, but jetlag made you act funny and he was hunger and starting to crash.  Food always helped and he knew if he went to sleep now, it would be three days before his clock adjusted.  He needed to stay awake until at least nine PM.  There was no going back to his apartment until after dark.  The shops were open until eight, so he found the bookstore, the international shelf, and browsed for an hour, finally walking out with a thriller.  He took it to an outdoor café just off the market place and drank coffee and read.  Before he knew it, it was dark and he was ready to crash.

No dream that night or the next thirty at least not that dream.  He did a lot of walking and took the train to Heidelberg, Speyer, Trier, Bad Durkheim, or other points of the compass he wanted to explore.  He had visited Alsace and Lorraine when he was stationed in Heidelberg, but only day trips. He booked a pension in Riquewihr for a week.  The village was famous for its architecture and its Riesling wines.  On his third day there, he heard English being spoken a few tables away.  They were two women in their late thirties or early forties, casually dressed and animatedly discussing the architecture.  He finished his meal, and his Riesling, and after paying, stopped at their table to say hello.  They looked with envy at the Nikon D70 hanging from his neck and asked if he was a professional. He laughed and told them that he was indeed a professional, but not a photographer, but a vagabond.  They laughed as well and invited him to sit.  He did so gladly, ordered another glass of wine and they talked architecture for an hour before it was time for them to leave.  They swapped phone numbers and one of the women said she'd call when they planned their next tour and would be happy for him to join them.  He filed the information, but like all chance encounters that end in promises, well you know how causal promises work.

He spent the rest of the week visiting surrounding villages, sipping wine, eating crepes, flammkuchen, and an occasional steak.  The beef was excellent in this part of France and the family had often driven to Soufflenheim to eat and browse the pottery shops. On the way back to Neustadt he would stop in Soufflenheim for a steak and pick up some pottery to brighten up the apartment.  When he got home that evening, there was a note under the door.  The landlord said a young woman had been by and wanted him to call this number.  He had no idea whose number it was.  It wasn't the psychiatrist or the tourists and they were the only women he knew in this part of the world.  He knew it was a handy number by the prefix.  He'd call after a shower and a sandwich.

He fell asleep on the couch after the sandwich and slept until about seven the next morning.  He didn't remember any dreams, but he did remember the note from the evening before.  He'd call at lunch break; it was the polite thing to do.  After a short walk, a long breakfast, and an even longer pipe, he looked at his watch.  It was 11:30.  He did a little shopping, and at 12:20, he punched in the number.  The answer was in English.  He identified himself, and the young woman on the other end told him she was a friend of a friend who had told her he was living here and she wanted to meet him and perhaps share a meal and a bottle of wine.  They settled on Friday evening in Neustadt, at the Gaststätte Zwockelsbrück.  He didn't think much about it; friends of friends had dropped in on him during every overseas assignment, with the exception of Viet Nam and Iraq.  They were interested in travel tips or guided tours, and when he had the time, he always obliged. ‎

He was dream free the rest of the week, and it was Friday.  He ran his normal routine, stopping in three different cafes during the day and when evening came, he walked to Gaststätte Zwockelsbrück‎ and waited outside.  She was right on time, and she was beautiful.  He guessed early thirties, professional, probably business as opposed to law, medicine, music.  He guessed wrong.  After the soup, she told him that she was a cellist with the Boston Philharmonic and they were touring Southern Germany.  They were in Speyer for three performances, the last of which was Sunday night.  She invited him to come and he gladly accepted.  After that, the conversation went into friends and family.  She was a cousin to Staff Sergeant Jim Flaherty, who'd served with Mack for four years in Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.  Flaherty was a good man and a good soldier and they'd stayed in touch.  She asked about his family and when he told his sad tale, she reached across the table and took his hand with a look of sympathy.  He told her it was okay, his daughters talked to him once a week and he didn't have much interest in his ex-wife's existence.  She smiled, but kept holding his hand.  It was the first time he been touched like this by a woman since he'd dated a widow back home.  It had lasted two weeks before he got tired of her constant babbling about her late husband and the endless pot of chicken and dumplings she was sure he was fond of.

He could feel himself blushing, and pulled his hand out from under hers and used it to take a drink of wine.  She was still smiling. The food was great and the wine even better.  By the end of the meal, they were talking animatedly about the Pfalz and Alsace and making plans for day trips.  The first one would be Monday morning.  She had a ninety day break before the Philharmonic started the new season and she was going to spend the whole time in Europe.  Mack was impressed.  She had a sense of adventure.  He liked her.  He liked her, but there were thirty years of living under his belt before she was born.  He reigned himself in.  It was too much to even think about.

After the meal, they lingered over another bottle of Riesling and she asked Mack if he'd like to meet her for a late dinner after Sunday's concert.  He would and they did.  Sunday night they ate at the Dom Restaurant across the square from the Kaiser Dom.  Mack introduced her to Saumagen and gave her the tour of Speyer, pointing out everything he knew and a few he didn't.  They finished up with a nightcap at Maximilian's and arranged a meeting at the train station in Neustadt at 10:00 the following morning.  Mack got back to Neustadt a little after one in the morning and hit the bed already asleep.  He woke around eight and remembered the dream.  This time it was more vivid, had more detail, and wasn't as terrible as it had been in the states.  He chuckled, because now he knew it was all about commitment and love and companionship and all of the things he'd sworn off of after his wife left him.  He was free to do as he pleased now.  The ghosts had fled and he was Mack, single, available, and ready to start over.

They met at the railway station as planned, but it was the last time they'd do that, she moved in that night and spent the entire ninety days with him.  When she left, there was no sadness and no doubt.  She'd be back.

copyright 2007: john zavacki (the elder)