According to Hargrave Jennings, in Curious Things Of The Outside World : Last Fire (1861), “There are moments in the history of the busiest man when his life seems a masquerade. There are periods in the story of the most engrossed and most worldly-minded man, when this strong fear will come, like a cloud, over him; when this conviction will start, athwart his horizon, like a flash from out a cloud. He will look up to the sunshine, some day, and in the midst of the business-clatter by which he may be surrounded, a man will, in a moment’s glance, seem to see the whole jostle of human interests and city bustle, or any stir, as so much empty show. Like the sick person, he will sometimes raise his head, and out of the midst of his distractions, and out of the grasp which that thing, ‘business’, always has of him, he will ask himself the question, What does all this mean? Is the whole world awake, and am I asleep and dreaming a dream? Or is it that the whole world is the dream, and that I, in this single moment, have alone awakened?”
That great twentieth-century pamphleteer, Dobson, woke up in this state of mind every single morning of his adult life. And that was not the end of his confusion, for Dobson was a great one for naps, he took a nap daily, very often more than one, plural naps, as it were, and each time he woke from his naps he likewise asked himself the questions posed by Hargrave Jennings, as he had already done on the morning of the day, when first he awoke.
“Do you have the slightest idea,” asked Marigold Chew, one blustery blizzardy Monday in the late 1950s, “How tiresome it is to have you lumbering about the place like a dippy person, asking the kinds of questions most sensible people stop posing when they outgrow their years of teendom?”
Dobson’s reply to this perfectly reasonable query was most annoying.
“Are you really speaking, Marigold, or am I just imagining this conversation within the wispy mysterious mists of mystery?”
Marigold Chew was holding a handful of pebbles, and proceeded to throw one at the pamphleteer. No, that’s not right. Marigold Chew was holding a Pebblehead paperback, and it was this she threw across the room. The book was Pebblehead’s latest bestselling potboiler, The Interpretation Of Breams, a guide to foretelling the future using a combination of fish and recordings of lute music. Luckily, the book missed Dobson’s head by an inch.
“I am going to go about my business in the real, palpable world, Dobson,” announced Marigold Chew, “If you choose to waft about the place in a moonstruck daze, that is up to you. But it won’t get any pamphlets written!” and she swept out of the house into the blizzard, bent upon her real and palpable business, whatever it might have been that day.
Dobson picked up the Pebblehead paperback from the floor and leafed through it, distractedly. He read a few lines here and there, and decided to go out to the fishmonger’s and the record shop. But he got no further than the chair on which he sat to don and to lace up his Canadian Snowplough Mechanic’s boots, for, yet enmired in his dreamy daze, he wondered if the chair, the laces, the boots were but figments. “Figments” made him think of figs, and then of Fig Newtons, a type of biscuit of which, at this period, he was inordinately fond, and, with his right foot encased in a boot the laces of which were not yet tied and his left foot merely ensocked, he rose from the chair and made for the cupboard wherein the biscuits, and similar snack items, were stored. When he stood, he was, in boot and sock, necessarily lopsided, and this being so, Dobson lost what balance he had, and toppled, bashing his bonce on the wainscot.
He was unconscious for some minutes, during which time he really did dream, of the glove of Ib and of his weak Bomba, whatever that might mean.
And of course, when he woke, sprawled on the floor, the pamphleteer’s swimming brain was yet again prompted to ask the Hargrave Jennings questions. Round and round we go, in an endless cycle, akin to the orbit of the planets around the sun.
Marigold Chew was still out and about, so Dobson was alone in his daze. Now wide awake, but still unable to gain a foothold in the real, palpable world, he mooched about the house as a person might blunder about in a thick fog, what they used to call a “pea-souper” because of the supposed similarity of the cloudy density of the air to the consistency of soup made from peas, not to be confused with pease pudding, which is, as its name suggests, a pudding, not a soup. Dobson was thinking neither of soup, nor of the Fig Newtons, which he had utterly forgotten. He was doing things such as tapping the walls with his fingertips, peering carefully at curtains, opening and then closing doors, or in some cases leaving them ajar, as he tried to grasp what was real and what was not. Stumbling past an airing cupboard into the bathroom, he was astonished, in a bleary way, to come face to face with a monster of the deep, wallowing in the tub. It was bloated, lascivious, coarse, and repulsive, rather like Gertrude Atherton’s vision of Oscar Wilde, except that it had fins and hideous trailing tendrils, like those of a jellyfish. One such tendril now lashed out and struck Dobson across the face, leaving, not just a vivid crimson stripe, but droplets of an unbelievably aggressive toxin which seeped in seconds through his pores and began ravaging his innards. The pamphleteer toppled once again to the floor, this time of his bathroom rather than of his kitchen, still wearing one boot, but now he was convulsed by fits, as if he were Voltaire’s officer with pinks in his chamber alluded to in another passage from Hargrave Jennings’ very sensible book, and, like the officer, Dobson lost his senses.
In the tub, the sea monster now began to gurgle, and to splash about. Suddenly, through the bathroom window crashed Father Ninian Tonguelash, the Jesuit priest and self-styled “Soutane-Attired Nemesis Of Sea Monsters”, clutching in one gloved hand a harpoon and in the other a crucifix. Then…
Then… I awoke, and I realised that all I have just written was a dream. Of course it was! Dobson did not become the titanic pamphleteer he was by faffing about the place all muddleheaded. When he woke up, every day of his adult life, he knew exactly where he was, and if perchance there was a smidgen of doubt in the matter, he would in any case plunge his head into a bucket of icy water, just to be on the safe side. How foolish of me to confuse the hallucinations of my sleeping, pea-sized brain with the iron truth!