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Short Fiction

When the tutor arrived, he looked like the Fonz in a long black dress, or I guess Henry Winkler in a long black dress. The dress was a cheap polyester and hung off him oddly, but took away none of his essential dignity.

“Which class are you studying for?”

“Dream studies.”

“Now does that mean studies about dreams or studies in dreams?”

“Both, I think,” leafing through the table-sized volume that contained my notes. “The point of the class is to combine the two.”

“All right. Let’s talk about this while walking in the lake.”

The lake was right off campus, and remarkably warm for December. We waded in up to our necks.

“Now the important thing to remember,” the Fonz said, “is Perez’s six theoretical structures of dreams. What’s the first?”

“Metaphorical.”

“Then?”

“Psychological?”

“Third?”

“Ornithological.”

“Name the rest.”

“I can’t remember.”

“We’ll make them up: historical, erotic, and purgatory. Now, in which structure do birds feature prominently?”

“Metaphorical.”

“Exactly. See those herons?”

On the shores of the lake stood a flock of herons, wading in the surf and pecking frogs. They made me nervous.

“The herons are a mnemonic. Their names are, left to right: Perez, Hauptman, Smith, and Evers. That way you can remember the major dream theorists.”

I had never looked at it that way, but he was right. I guess that’s why he was the Fonz.

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Nothing is easier than to get lost in American exurbia. Unless you know your precise location among the franchises and strips, you will quickly find yourself herded by one-ways and cul-de-sacs to the unknown. Accidentally mount a limited-access highway, get off on a random exit, take a right by the A&W, straight through three lights, then a left at the dark Kiddy City sign, and you will arrive in the parking lot of the Mall of Life.

The Mall has two anchor stores, on opposite ends: Birth and Death. They generate massive foot traffic, everyone visits, although oddly, no one can remember either. In between can be found dozens of smaller stores: a hot tub retailer in whose wares one can see your True Love, a comic shop that can provide every issue of everything ever published, a used book store with an infinite back, and a Kay Bee.

In a courtyard in the center stands the famous billiard ball sculpture “Memento Mori,” in which human skulls revolve on sprockets and bounce down xylophones. Shoppers plop gratefully on the benches surrounding it, resting their feet, staying as long as they can stand it, which isn’t too long. Some say the management put it there to propel customers, keep them from resting. No matter how exhausted, after a few minutes of watching the constantly moving craniums, shoppers find an excuse to carry on, always down the mall, towards the last store.