The pleasant rays of the autumnal Sun are sieving in through a circular window from above. They look like drops from a delicate celestial waterfall, filling the room with golden light. Prints of buildings, landscapes, or portraits, all placed neatly in thin frames, cover the gray plastered walls everywhere I look. Sounds of steps and conversations in low tones resonate and combine in frequencies overlapping around my standing body. People are coming in or moving out towards the other rooms of the art gallery. It is a continuous flow of costumes, dresses, and voices.
Why am I here? What am I doing in this place? Where is this building located, anyway? I feel as if I have been suddenly planted, like a sapling, at the edge of this hall. As if I have just materialized out of the void onto this spot.
Seconds later, fuzzy memories come back, shaking my senses with a vigorous gentleness. I remember the announcement about the exhibition. I read it the other day in a newspaper. It was about an extensive Escher collection, almost all his masterpieces in one place, open to the public from my city for a whole month. And here I am, in front of this lithograph from 1956, named Print Gallery.
The flow of people goes on unabated, left and right, forward and backward. It’s a never-ending swirl of footsteps and voices. Visitors pause for a few moments in front of a framed image, then move, almost in haste, to the next.
I keep looking at Print Gallery, hypnotized by its unusual composition. My eyes remain glued to the man displayed there. His eyes are gazing at the works filling a passageway. Through an insane twist of space, the framed image in front of him expands, enclosing the room, the building, the whole Universe. Unperturbed, he stares at the print he has become a part of. And now, I am that man. And I’m looking at the print from the print. And I have become part of this print myself.
“What do you think of this work? It looks intriguing, doesn’t it?” strikes a voice at my right.
Pulled out of this dazzling vision, I slowly turn my head and find a slender, middle-aged man of medium height standing next to me. He is wearing a dark-orange robe, his head is neatly shaved, and his face displays a peaceful smile. A Buddhist monk. Well, why wouldn’t a monk be interested in art, too? However, my instinct tells me he isn’t here by chance. His question sounds beyond casual. It certainly has a deeper meaning.
I take a deep breath and do my best to articulate my thoughts as clearly as I can, murmuring in a low tone:
“I have to admit: I’m fascinated by it. The image seems to blur the distinction between what’s inside and what’s outside us.”
His gray eyes look at me intensely. I feel as if they could drill my skull and read my thoughts. Yet, the peace and friendliness surrounding them can only come from someone who has reached a high spiritual level. This monk is someone who apparently wants to help me with something. But with what? And why?
My memory still has gaps. I can’t recall well the past few days or, as a matter of fact, anything preceding this moment. I don’t remember how I’ve got into this room and in front of this print. Perhaps this stranger has come to help me figure out what’s going on.
“You’re right,” the monk says. “Escher has brilliantly caught the fact that the ego is an illusion, that what’s inside our head cannot be fully separated from what’s outside our skin. Not that he was the first to do so. However, he has shown it in an intuitive and easy-to-understand manner.”
I feel like inside a classroom where I’m a student and he is the teacher. As soon as the stranger goes quiet, an idea begins to germinate in my brain. The whole scene looks like happening in a dream. Like I have dreamed of it before. The situation and the dialog seem somewhat rehearsed, artificial. As if we were two mediocre actors playing their roles on an invisible stage.
I wait for my heartbeats to calm down, then I say:
“My memory is blurred. I can’t remember what’s happened to me recently. I’ve got the impression you aren’t here by chance. Have you come to help me, to guide me somewhere?”
The monk stares straight into my eyes with a grave expression, nodding in silence. Time seems to flow slower now. The air has turned viscous.
I breathe evenly, trying to keep my flux of thoughts under control. Then I turn my gaze towards the artwork. It’s still there, unchanged. Yet, something else, hard to define, is different now. I don’t know where my past is rooted, but I’m somehow aware of my future. As if everything has suddenly begun to flow in the opposite direction, from tomorrow towards yesterday. Unaware of how this information has filled my thoughts, I know there’s a path in front of me, a path onto which I have to step soon. Very soon, probably in less than a minute.
We both continue to look at the print like we’re holding a vigil in front of it. I feel as if Maurits Cornelis Escher himself is standing now behind us, gazing intently at his creation. However, why am I going through this strange scenario? What are these preparations for? What kind of trip is waiting for me? Or, perhaps, it has already begun?
“I wanted to make sure you’re taking the proper path,” the stranger in the dark-orange robe says. “Your journey is going to begin here, right in front of this work of art. Don’t strain yourself too hard to understand everything at once. Understanding will come eventually, gradually, in time.”
“Who are you?” I ask, turning my gaze towards him.
I plan to follow up with a few more questions, but the monk has vanished. There is no trace of him. Perhaps he was only a product of my imagination? Startled, I turn my eyes back to the distorted landscape from the frame in front of me. And again, I am the man from the print, looking at the print. Space is curling around me, wrapping my body like a dark veil. When I turn my head once more towards the hall, I feel I’m both inside and outside the frame. It is a most unusual sensation, and it makes me dizzy.
I think I’m going to faint and prepare to embrace the hard marble floor in my fall. Yet, my knees somehow manage to stay steady. I remain standing. The art gallery is fading away. A few seconds later, I suddenly get comfortable, lying in a bed placed under a domed ceiling. The new room is bathed in diffuse blue light. The walls display a pleasant, refreshing blue.
“Let the story begin!” a man’s voice commands.
I fail to see him. The room looks empty.
“Let it begin! Bon voyage et bonne chance!” an invisible chorus replies.
A flash of light envelops me for a split second. Then I seem to materialize in a different location.
The bed and the room are gone. I’m aware of floating inside a liquid bubble, but my eyes are closing by themselves with overwhelming strength. Unable to react in any way, I’m falling into a deep dormant state. For a short time, I can still hear voices speaking loud and clear inside my brain:
Black! I think the recipient is sufficiently relaxed.
Gray! Body and mind are adjusting to the intermediary environment.
Red! Gradually increase the output up to half.
Orange! The readings of the body parameters are within the norm.
Yellow! Open the gate towards the new environment.
Green! Continue to increase the output to the maximum.
Blue! The gate towards the new environment is active.
Purple! Disconnect the primary environment.
Crimson! Separate the recipient from the intermediary environment.
Violet! Stand by for ignition.
White! Ignition and lift off! The recipient has crossed to the other side!
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