Fred was so devoid of ideas he couldn’t get up in the morning. He’d sleep until eleven or twelve. When he was finally able to get himself up, he’d drink so much coffee—as he slowly perused his morning paper—he couldn’t sit still.
Then one morning, he awoke from a dream which was the plot of a wonderful short story. It even had a title, As I Lay Down. His muse had finally spoken to him. Staring at his clock, which read six thirty, he felt like an enormous burden had been lifted from him. It couldn’t possibly slip through his hands. Not now. He had the whole day ahead of him, more than enough time to get it all on paper. Finally his life was about to begin.
Usually Fred wrote the few ideas he had down on the little pad he kept beside his bed. But I don’t need to, he thought. I’ll be up in a jiffy.
The moments lingering in bed just before he intended to get up were the nicest he’d spent in years. Realizing how artful his dream was, he saw himself receiving awards, leading to contracts, fame and fortune. He was quickly wafted away from the little rent stabilized studio apartment in the dirty white brick building—with its ugly fire escapes blocking the window light. The bed was warm and cozy, the radiator just beginning to clank as the steam came up to warm the chill autumn air. He’d just lie in bed with his thoughts a few minutes more, until the nippiness had left the air. He’d luxuriate in the anticipation of the smooth path to success that lay ahead. How seldomly he’d felt this way! But there had been times, and each of them had led to some minor accomplishment. Though he’d never made any killings, he had the kind of small encouragements which kept his appetite whetted. As he lay in bed looking forward to his new life, he fell back to sleep.
When he awoke again, it was twelve thirty. He couldn’t believe his eyes. If he’d only gotten to work right away, he would have been so far into As I Lay Down, the story would have been a fait accompli. But now, having gotten his usual surfeit of sleep, his head felt heavy. Every time he tried to pick it up, he plocked it back down saying to himself, “Just five minutes more, I’ve got my idea.” After several bouts of falling back to sleep for five, ten and fifteen minutes, he awakened with a start. About to reassure himself he had located his ore, he realized he couldn’t remember anything more about his story than its title, which itself seemed horribly obvious. “As I Lay Down, I should have known. It’s just what I’ve been doing, lying down again and again, hoping something will come to me in my sleep, only to awaken to this living death of being a writer without inspiration, without ideas.”
Fred began to think his imagination had played a dirty trick on him. Perhaps he’d only been dreaming when he thought he’d gotten up at six thirty with a wonderful idea. Perhaps the dream he’d come up with a grand idea had been his wish fulfillment—like dreaming a beautiful woman was about to make love to him. His pad was as empty as his bed. That was the proof. There was no story. He didn’t know whether to feel relieved he hadn’t lost anything or hopeless about his continuing inability to come up with new ideas.
In his despair he kept falling back to sleep and by dusk with the setting sun sending the shadow of the fire escape shooting across the floor, the day seemed like one long frustrating dream from which he had yet to awaken.
Despite all his attempts to tear it apart as juvenile, he couldn’t get the title As I Lay Down out of his mind. Scholars are always seeking to discover the lost works of great writers. As I Lay Down became his great lost story, the work which would one day redeem him; at the very least, it was a perfect title for the story he was never able to write.
Francis Levy is the author of Erotomania: A Romance and co-director of the Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination.