Madame’s First Lesson of Dream Analytics
By JD Miller
Photo by Catherine Turk
Siggy kept having the same dream, where she is squinting up at the sun. She raises a hand to shield her eyes, and when she does, tiny black shapes emerge from the light. She stares harder. And then a flock of arrows hit her. She watches them slice right through her palm, two broad, steel heads. She sees them, plain as day, but she doesn’t feel them.
This wasn’t necessarily unusual. Since she’d started her Mindfulness Studies, and drinking Madame Sigorax’s prescriptions especially, the dreams had all been more intense, and more constant. Sometimes she had them right in the middle of the day, in the middle of a sentence. But she knew well enough to know that any vision that repeated itself with any clarity was worth paying attention to. And this was the third time.
She still hadn’t told Madame Sigorax. The first night, she hadn’t thought anything of it. The second night, she’d just been confused by the déjà vu. But the third time, she knew for sure.
She walked to Madame’s house in the morning by her usual route, past the brick buildings and the iron fences. The fat orange cat was sitting on its usual step, and she stopped to pet it like she always did, running her hand along the leaves of a manicured hedge. But for some reason she avoided looking up toward the clouds, fighting the feeling in her stomach that arrows were about to spring out of the sun, which she knew was ridiculous.
Of course, dreams were almost never literal. That had been her first lesson in dream analysis. Symbols echo symbols echo truths, Madame Sigorax always said. And when was the old woman ever wrong? It was her profession to be right.
There were more posters plastered up than usual: STAND WITH THE NEW REGIME, they said, or MEETING TOMORROW NIGHT. But there wasn’t more activity than usual in the streets, until Siggy reached Madame’s street and two shapes stepped out of the apartment to her left.
First, a little girl, who gave one glance at Siggy and hid behind the thick leg of her gigantic older brother, Franz.
“It’s the witch girl,” said the sister, her eyes wide, attempting a whisper that carried perfectly across the street.
Franz gave his big, weird smile in turn. His body had been sculpted by the King’s Youth Paramilitary, or KYP, so he towered over her even on level ground. From the top step he looked like a giant, with stupid blonde bangs.
“Good morning, Siggy,” he said.
“Franz,” she replied by habit. Technically, Franz was no longer a Kyper–which is what kids who grew up in the King’s Youth were nicknamed. He’d been excused for what he referred to as ‘conscientious objections,’ and come back to live with his family here in the city. According to his service papers, he was “honorably discharged,” but even so, Siggy knew the other Kypers still thought of him as a deserter.
Deserter or not, he had that soldiery stiffness about him that Siggy found unsettling. Plus, she didn’t want to talk. She didn’t really want to do anything except go inside and find her teacher. Looking at him, all she could see was a hand full of arrows. She made a fist, her fingers tight on her palm, and reached for the door.
“There’s a rally this afternoon,” said Franz. She glanced back at him out of the corner of her eye. All she could see was the big red flower on his coat.
“That’s nice,” she said. “I’m busy. But have fun.”
“It’s not really about fun,” he said, “It’s about standing up for ourselves, and—”
But Siggy stepped inside, waving over her shoulder, and closed the door.
She took off her shoes as comfortably as if she were in her own house, and climbed four steps up into the old woman’s study, which was in its usual peak disarray. The old woman was in front of the fire, at her wheeled desk, and in her favorite big armchair. There was incense burning somewhere, sweet and rich, and candlelight gleamed off of the spines of books, the tall mirror, and the pile of dirty dishes.
“There you are, Sigora,” said the old woman warmly. “Right on time.”
Siggy smiled at her back. “Good morning, madame.”
“There’s tea on. I thought we could pick up where we left off on Friday, if you’d like, Navigating the In-Between.”
“That sounds marvelous, Madame,” said Siggy, who was already distracted. “But I wondered if I could have a few minutes to study something, first?”
The old woman leaned around the edge of her chair, her strangely smooth face smiling, her old eyes kind but inquiring. “Studying voluntarily, Siggy? Of course, it’s all yours.”
“Thank you, madame.” Siggy set her coat down on the railing and immediately climbed the brass ladder up the shelves, her fingers scrolling volumes. She’d spent the whole morning thinking about exactly where she’d need to look, so it didn’t take her long to find the book and slide back down.
“Something pressing, I take it?” Said the old woman, standing up and stretching her back, like she’d been in that chair for days. She might’ve been there since Friday. “A constellation? Or a dream?”
“A dream,” said Siggy. “Reoccurring.”
“Searching for omens?” asked the woman.
Siggy didn’t look up. “I think I’m searching for symbols.” She flipped through the pages and then scrounged around the littered tables for a pen, so she could take notes. “Trying to figure out what it means.”
Even though Siggy didn’t know it, the old woman stood smiling proudly for a long minute, and then retrieved the kettle. She poured a cup of tea for Siggy and set it beside the book, where Siggy was already scratching down her thoughts.
Madame Sigorax peered over her shoulder, watching and sipping. “An outstretched hand,” she said under her breath, “a full sun; three arrows, piercing the palm.”
Siggy looked up. “Do you know what it means?”
Madame Sigorax shrugged, rubbing her back unconsciously. “Certainly not common symbols. What does the book say?”
“Nothing useful. Arrows could symbolize direction, or fate, or destiny, or flight, or whatever, or—actual arrows, sometimes. And the hand could mean pretty much anything—mankind, ambition, malice, generosity—how can a symbol mean malice and generosity, anyway?” Siggy mumbled.
Madame Sigorax laughed in her chest. “In my experience, I’ve found Preterworth’s Encyclopediae of Symboles to contain many unhelpful conundrums, my dear. The sun, for instance, is a symbol of life and prosperity–death and famine.”
Siggy made a face of disapproval and frustration. The old woman put another book down on top. “Try Godfrey’s Manual. It’s obviously considerably more limited—she says in her three volumes as much as Preterworth in his…well, seventy-two. She tends to have a better grasp on the mystic, and just as importantly, a gift for precision.”
So Siggy looked. She took another whole page of notes from Godfrey and another from Tousseau’s Astral Guide, which was half written in French, which she didn’t speak, and which Madame coyly refused to translate save in part, so that she had to flip back and forth between three different dictionaries (Merwort’s Complete, Fogerty’s Unabridged, Le Tu’dellier). She spent the whole morning on it, drinking four cups of tea without really realizing it, and having to run upstairs to the old woman’s apartment to use the bathroom thrice.
Madame Sigorax kept browsing her books, manifesting some new tidbit or helpful insight from some long-dead medium or mystic, until finally, around noon, she dropped one more book on the table. “Perhaps—and this is an essential part of any true divination, perhaps the essential part—we’ve been thinking about this all wrong? Perhaps it’s not about the symbols, but the motion.
“Angelíq Molñedi was a renowned mathematician, and a reasonable mystic as well. Personally I find her astrological work…” She squinted and make a rolling motion with her shoulders. “Less than thorough. But she released this treatise in 1703, proposing the importance of motion to the diviner, rather than symbols. ‘Come unrooted,’ I believe she says. ‘Release that which you believe to be absolute, realize that nothing is absolute, and navigate the fluid space as a vessel of pilgrimage.’ A bit sentiment for my taste, but perhaps not altogether wrong.”
Siggy pulled open the book with an appetite that died in her hands within ten minutes. The book seemed impossible to read. And impossible to really understand. Whoever this long-dead astro-mathematician was, they were more into metaphors and turns of phrases than anything Siggy could use. She tried to picture motion in her dream, her hand raising, the arrows piercing, piercing—
Tried to find the word piercing. But Angelica Molñedi offered no alphabetized entries, no pictures, no comprehensive definitions.
Before long, Siggy set down her pen and held her head in her hands. Her eyes were tired of the orange light and the tiny print. Tired of thinking about arrows and omens and the tenses of French verbs.
“What’s wrong, my dear?” Asked the old woman at the other end of the desk, a book open in her hands that was no bigger than a matchbox.
“It just…” Siggy started to say. “It just doesn’t seem right, Madame. I’m sorry I can’t concentrate. It’s just that, with all that’s going on outside–the protests and the uprisings, people who genuinely need help–I feel silly chasing after this like it’s…”
Madame Sigorax set down her book and took off her little crystal glasses, laying them on the pages. Her smile was thin and tight.
“Sigora,” she said, “it’s the duty of lesser minds to concern themselves with lesser things. We must let them.”
“Not lesser, madame,” Siggy argued. They’d had this conversation before, and this time the woman conceded.
“Less gifted minds, then. Less ample for the testing of the unseen, constrained to the sequence of time. No, for us, Sigora, for you—your duty is to contemplate what is higher, what is yet unknown. To commune with the beyond, my dear. Ponder this dream of yours. Distill it down to its truth. Determine what is being revealed to you, and who is revealing it!”
Sigora didn’t raise her head. All she could picture, apart from the dream in her mind, was Franz standing on his stoop with his little sister, and the sign above the study door.
The look on his face.
The sign above the study door that read, Madame Sigorax: Registered Medium, Consult of the King.
Madame sighed, and eased herself into a chair, checking the clock in the corner. “I can tell you’re spent, dear. Go and stretch your legs. Get a breath of fresh air. Replenish your youth while it still heeds you.”
Siggy raised her head eagerly. “Are you sure, Madame? I mean—I haven’t actually done any of my duties.”
“Your duties can wait one day,” said the woman, “And they are of much less importance than our real work, Siggy. Don’t forget what that is.”
“To serve the king?” Siggy dared. “Even if he’s…well, a bad person?”
“We don’t serve the king,” said the woman, smiling faintly. “We serve the capital-T Truth. And the Truth answers to no one. Take a break, my dear, but be careful.”
Siggy promised she would as she grabbed her coat and shoes again, and stepped back outside.
The sky was gray, and at first, the streets seemed quiet. All she could hear were her feet on the cobbles. The cat was gone from its porch. But the longer that she walked, aimlessly, trying to clear her head of all the incense and the visions, the more clearly she began to hear voices.
A whole herd of them. A barrage of them, so distant that she mistook them for wind, until the wind actually blew, and on its breath she could hear their words, chanting:
“DOWN WITH TYRANTS…STAND WITH THE NEW REGIME! STAND WITH THE LIBERATOR! LET THE PEOPLE SPEAK!”
She stopped where she stood, and felt her heart beat faster. So this was the rally that Franz invited her to, she thought. Was he there? She could picture his face, big and soldiery despite his youth, his voice yelling with all of the other voices, a sea of red flowers. Her feet changed direction. She walked toward the voices until she could feel them shaking the street, and see trails of smoke drifting up into the sky from the city square.
There was an energy in the air like lightning, making all the hair on her arms and legs stand up as she crept closer, her eyes wide and her ears ringing with the cries:
“…STAND WITH THE LIBERATOR! LET THE PEOPLE SPEAK! DOWN WITH TYRANTS!…”
The crowd was packed into the square. Not everybody was cheering. Lots of people were watching, just like her, attracted to the sound, while others tried quietly to get away from the scene. But lots of people had taken up the chant. And lots of them had torches in their hands, orange and bright, and were standing with their backs toward a burning scarecrow on a burning wagon, loaded with dry cuttings. She could see a withering, tin crown on the scarecrow’s gourd head.
And then she could see officers in white coats, standing at the far end of the road. There were flower-clad townsfolk chanting toward them, waving their torches in the air. The officers, in their shining helmets, had their swords drawn at their sides, pointing down.
A soldier with a blue sash and waxy black mustache had a pistol in his hand, and was shouting something that she couldn’t hear over the chanting crowd. It was plain from his age and the malice on his face that he had been a Kyper, once. Most of these soldiers probably had.
And then something happened, right in front of Siggy’s eyes. Or, maybe more realistically, inside her eyes, or behind them. She was standing in the middle of a vision, so vivid that she couldn’t actually tell where her body was anymore. She couldn’t see the crowds, screaming, or the fire cackling as it climbed up the scarecrow like a hungry python, she couldn’t tell who was pushing her to get by, she just knew that the world was thrown off its hinges.
In her vision, that mustached man was kicking down the door to Madame’s study. This time, he was the one with the torch. She could see his torch devouring Preterworth’s Encyclopediae of Symbols, his boot crushing Madame’s glasses. She could see soldiers bursting through doors, and blood on the blades of silver sabers. Vases full of purple flowers crashed down from the hearth.
Siggy took a deep breath, like someone had just punched her in the stomach. There was a splitting pain between her eyes, so intense that it took her several seconds to realize that she’d fallen, or been shoved over. She tried to push herself up, and somebody in heavy boots stepped on her fingers as he ran away.
At the edge of the courtyard, the mustached officer was standing with his pistol raised, and someone was laying at his feet, looking up. And all around him, soldiers with crossbows had lined up, and the world was spinning. Siggy’s eyes felt like they wanted to cross, the way a hand wants to close, and it took all her concentration just to keep them pointed straight.
She looked up from the fallen flower pins to the fleeing shapes of protesters, all knees and muddy feet and hoisted skirts. The sun burned through the gray clouds, into her eyes, a hot white disk flecked with specks of black. The specks grew, before her eyes, like mold spots, or diving birds, or a whole flock of arrows, racing down to earth.
Suddenly, everything made sense. Siggy got her knees underneath her and raised her arms above her head, waiting. She’d seen this. Three times she’d seen it, and she still walked toward the voices. Godfrey hadn’t seen this coming. Trousseau hadn’t seen this coming. Neither had her trusted Madame Sigorax.
Visions were almost never literal, she repeated in her head, teeth gritting. So the old woman was wrong, sometimes.
She heard screams all around, the clatter of arrows hitting stones or the thud of them hitting flesh, and a single grunt of pain from right above her.
She looked up, one eye pinched closed to minimize the pain and blur. She saw a red flower with half its petals, on a gray lapel on a broad chest, and a young face grimacing in pain behind terrible bangs. Franz had his arm raised toward the sun, and feathers sprouting from his palm. He looked down with stinging, watery eyes, his teeth barred.
And Siggy looked up at the three versions of him that she could see. One was much older, with laughter-wrinkles behind his beard and hair pushed away from a badly scarred forehead. One of them, with his cheek pressed into the street, and a boot pressing down on the other. And a hand—but not hers—raised toward the sun.