time traveling geisha assassins, and the importance of music

Last night, Matthew and I watched Memoirs of a Geisha right before I went to bed. It definitely worked itself into my dreams.

In my dream, I had a handkerchief and a black folder of sheet music. The handkerchief was a large rectangle, about the size of a piece of legal paper, and was a faded solid red with some kind of batik bordering, and there was a patch square in the field of fabric, as if a little square had been taken out and then patched over in a darker shade of red with a pattern of tiny white vines that had yellowed with age. The folder was large, almost like a small portfolio for an artist’s sketches rather than the choral folders I’m used to. But it was built like a choral folder, with the holding strap on the spine.

There was some spell I had to perform that involved taking two specific pieces of music out of the folder. One was in there. The other was not – but the spell was specific – the same person needed to remove both pieces of music. I hunted through the folder numerous times but it wasn’t folded or backwards or slipped into another piece – it wasn’t there. How on earth would I find it?

I didn’t know, but someone else thought I might, because assassins were sent after me. (And I’m talking assassins in the “anime-style intimidating teenage girl” style, the kind who wear overall miniskirts and chase you around and put their hand on their hip and do that laugh at you, and threaten you more than they actually attack you. But I digress.) She tried to take the folder from me, and told me that no good could come of completing the spell, and that I should give up. She didn’t seem to know about the handkerchief, which I’d tucked in my pocket. She wouldn’t say who sent her or why the spell was a bad idea, but I didn’t like her, so I knew that if she thought the spell was a bad idea, it probably meant it was a bad idea for her and therefore probably a great idea for me. So I was determined – I had to get that music to complete the spell.

In order to get the piece of music I needed – well, let me clarify something first. The big black folder of music belonged to one person, a composer, and all the pieces within it were originals of his. So I couldn’t just go down to my local music store and pick up a copy. I needed the original.

Naturally, there was only one solution – time travel. We’d have to go back in time to when this composer lived and get the original directly from him. Luckily, my hyundai elantra was somehow equipped for that. We drove back through time – I was a passenger in the car, in the back seat. I think Matthew was in the front passenger seat. On the left side of the car – much to my surprise – were my father’s parents. My grandfather drove the car and my grandmother was in the backseat with me, but she didn’t know who I was. Popop did, and said they’d come to help us because nobody knows their way around time like spirits. Then suddenly the car was gone and we were walking under metal staircases dripping with water, between city buildings. My grandfather was telling us about how this city we were in had streets that could be raised so everything could get washed; it was an effort to keep the city clean. We got sprayed with the runoff that came pouring through the metal grille-style stairs. Then I came to the end of the alley we were in, and there was nowhere to go but up.

My grandparents disappeared, and Matt and I moved forward, up the stairs and into the building at its top level. I rolled the edge of the handkerchief, still in my pocket. As far as we could tell, we were in a building that had to do with the composer – it didn’t look like a home, but it was somewhere he spent a lot of time. Time period was approximately Victorian-era – no idea what city we were in, but it looked like something out of the Sherlock Holmes movies, which would put it in the 1890s or thereabouts. The building was kind of derelict; the floorboards were spaced out and we could see into rooms below.

We crept through the building, searching for music – a piano, a stack of papers, anything – but there was nothing to be found. We heard voices coming from below, and stopped to listen and to peer through the gaps between floorboards. In the room below us, a woman stood at the front of a class. Her face was painted moon-white with swallowtails of skin peeking through at the nape of her neck and down onto her exposed back. Her eyes were ringed in charcoal, her lips deep red, her hair twisted up in an elaborate architecture of ribbons and combs and decorative hairpins with dangling chimes. She wore a silk kimono in layers of pink from blush to fuschia, and her obi was huge and burnt orange shot through with gold. She was instructing young women below on some kind of scientific procedure. The terms she used sounded oddly modern, for being in this time period. Plus I wasn’t sure what a Geisha was doing in not-Japan.

We were enthralled by her beauty, and just kind of stared at her. She paused for a moment, as if listening; long enough that the class should have been restless, but for some reason they all sat there with perfectly serene faces that – upon longer, closer inspection – looked eerily similar. We held our breath; it was so quiet we could hear the streets being cleaned outside. Finally, satisfied, the woman turned back to her class.

“Very well,” she said. “Let’s move on to the quickest, cleanest way to kill.” Whoa! We’d heard enough; whatever this was, it wasn’t anything to do with us. We moved on through the building, searching for the sheet music. We didn’t find it.

We did find a laboratory. And we’re talking modern-day science, plastic machines, things in foil wrap, computers monitoring everything. Vats of unidentified liquids hummed in corners. Mannequin arms and legs littered the floor and shored up against the walls. Every now and then, out would peek a mannequin head, its eye sockets and nose and mouth cut away from the plastic. Extremely creepy. But what the heck was a modern lab doing here in late Victorian times? We looked around – there was music scrawled on the walls with pencil, snippets of lines, bars with only a few notes scratched and then abandoned. In a small room off the main lab – more a large walk-in closet – we found multiple sets of miniskirt overalls.

Well, crap. This did have something to do with us. It couldn’t have been coincidence that our anime-style assassin girl in the overall miniskirt looked like the girls in the classroom below us and wore the clothes from this closet. That geisha was building and training assassins –out of mannequins! covering the plastic with some kind of organic compounds in the vats to make real-looking mannequins! – and had sent her after us. In the future! They must have been looking for the second piece of music too – or maybe – maybe they had the one I needed, the copy from the folder! Maybe they were crappy at reading music and had pulled the wrong second piece, which is why I still had one of the two I needed!

If they had the copy that had made it through time with the rest of the folder – we still had a chance. We could find the composer and get his fresh original, put it in the folder, then pull it out with the other required piece, and complete the spell. (Keep in mind – I have no idea what the spell was for. It was just important that it be performed.)

We had to tie some of the dresses in the closet together to climb out of the window so the time traveling geisha assassin and her class of creepy clones wouldn’t hear us moving around too much.

It was snowing outside. Night had fallen. Lamps illuminated the street in isolated pools like islands of light. We saw movement at the edge of one; someone was leaning against the building. We moved slowly toward the movement, ready to run at any second in case it turned out to be Jack the Ripper or something. It was a skinny young man, probably about 17 or so, bundled up in layer after layer of clothing, his hat pulled low to cover as much of his head as possible, his threadbare greatcoat – much too large for him – tucked in around his legs so that only the toes of dirty boots peeked out from underneath. What we’d seen moving were his hands, flashing in fingerless gloves across a page laid across his lap. He was writing something, there in the shadows. I peered, trying to get a closer look. Matt just walked up to him and said hello.

The poor kid was so absorbed in his project that Matt’s greeting startled him, and his pen tip caught on the page, sending ink up to splatter his cheek. He put his fingers up to his face. They came away black. He sighed and dug in his pocket. He pulled out a handkerchief – a large, bright red rectangle with a batik pattern on the narrow edges. I gawked at him. I knew that handkerchief.

I had it in my pocket.

This was the composer we were looking for! This scrawny kid in an oversized coat, huddling against the building of the diabolical time traveling geisha assassin! He was right under everybody’s nose, and no one knew he was there. I looked at the paper he’d been writing on, specifically at the title. This was it; the exact piece we needed for the spell, still in the process of being written.

The kid composer wiped his face and looked up at us. “Hello,” he said.

After that, the dream gets fuzzy; I’m not sure how much more I actually dreamed. I don’t know whether I completed the spell, or how the extra patch got on to the handkerchief that eventually came into my possession. I’m not sure whether we got home, or what happened to the geisha’s anomalistic laboratory or her army of clone assassins.

I can tell you this: I was very sad when my alarm went off.

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