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DEBBY'S DREAM HOUSE by Iddo Gefen


Charlie Kaufman


1.


I found the job through a newspaper ad. I didn’t even know there were people who built

dreams. I was sure they were just created by themselves or something.


The first question Bruno asked me was if I was an artist or advertiser.

I said I wasn’t.


“Very good. They’re the worst. They think they’re producing movies for the Cannes Film Festival,” he said. “They work on a dream for two months and end up sticking a giraffe

on a car roof in the middle of the desert.”


I had no idea what he was talking about, so I nodded. Bruno said I got the job, and

then announced that it was a shitty one. You work all night, bring your own food, and there

were no holiday gift cards.


“Still interested?”

“What does it pay?”

“Fifty an hour. Seventy-five for overtime.”

“I’m in.”


Bruno shook my hand and made me sign an NDA. He asked if I was married. I told

him Debby and I were going to tie the knot someday. He said congratulations, then warned

me that even if I was taken prisoner and tortured, I couldn’t tell her about my job. “Make up

a cover story or something. I don’t need people knowing who I am and start asking for a

special dream for their wedding anniversary.”We left his office and went to the operations room. A small room; three screens set side by side. Looked a little like the control room of a shopping mall security guard.


“Every screen is a customer’s dream. We pull twelve-hour shifts, seven p.m. to seven

a.m., five nights a week.”


He said that for now all I had to do was monitor the screens and call him if one of

them became snowy.


After one shift I realized it was the easiest job I’ve ever had. That the only challenge

it posed was keeping myself awake. I invented all sorts of games to pass the time. I tried to

find out things about the customers’ lives through the images that appeared on the screens.

For instance, there was this one guy who had to be some kind of technician, because

electronic devices appeared in all of his dreams, or this mother who dreamt only about her

daughter. There was probably some story there. It was nice, looking at the screens, but

what really kept me awake was thinking about Debby. About the breakfast I’d make her

when I got home, or how I’d hug that big body of hers before she woke up.


Debby kept asking about my job, but I couldn’t tell her anything.


“At least make something up, so I’ll have something to imagine,” she said, but I

explained I didn’t know how to lie. She smiled, and stopped asking questions.


The lab was just a small room with a fax machine, a desk and what looked like a big

washing machine. Bruno explained that the daily customer reports were faxed in every

evening at seven. Each report contained basic information about every customer, and a

detailed description of his day. After reading the report, you’d come up with the idea for the

dream, and then draw or write it down on a piece of paper. He said he kept everything in

the big pile on his desk, and would choose a random page each morning.


“Aren’t we supposed to build a new dream every day?”

“It’s been years since anyone in the industry did that. Usually I recycle something

from ’85 or ’91. They barely remember anything anyway.”


Then Bruno showed me how to feed the page into the “washing machine,” which

was actually a big metal contraption that manufactures the dream. The paper spins inside

the machine for two hours before spitting out the dream onto a little black disc. After a

month, the work became more interesting, once Bruno started teaching me how dreams were built. He advised me not to put my heart into it since the business wouldn’t be around

much longer. It was a matter of a few years until the global dream companies took over the

market. He said you couldn’t compete with a Chinese factory that had thousands of workers

and software that produces dreams in HD. I asked him how he even got customers, since

people didn’t know who produced their dreams.


“Most of the transactions are through the HMOs, but there are also a few labor

unions that do it. Believe me, this whole industry’s basically like the wild west.”


2.


Rita’s was the first dream I’d ever built. She had just started working at a new law firm,

liked classical music and evening jogs at the park near her house. According to her report,

she had spent the entire day in the office, and got into a fender-bender on her way home. At

home, she watched the news and fell asleep on the couch. That was it. I jotted down a few

ideas on the page, and came up with a pretty strange dream. I had her jogging in the

hallway of her office; then a car crashed into the wall, and a news anchor stepped out of it.

Bruno said it was one of the lamest dreams he ever saw. That the whole bit with the car

crashing into the wall was preposterous even for a dream. I asked him if he was going to

scrap it for a new dream, but he sighed, switched on the washing machine and said, “fat

chance.” A week later he used the same dream again.


I continued to build dreams even though I wasn’t good at it. For every dream I got a thirty-

shekel bonus, and Bruno was just happy he could go home an hour early. He asked me why

I insisted on working so hard, and I told him that I needed the money to buy my Debby a

house. That it was Debby’s dream, that ever since she was a little girl, all she wanted was a

place where she could scribble on the walls without looking over her shoulder. Bruno said

she must be something special if I was willing to work so hard for her, and I told him he had

no idea. It was around that time that Debby started interning for some interior designer,

said he was a true artist and that she was learning a lot from him. I was happy for her, even

though it was hard, barely seeing each other. She finished work every day at seven in the evening, so I only got to see her for an hour in the morning. I didn’t bring it up, since it

wasn’t easy for her either. The problem was that even with us both working, we still

weren’t making ends meet. To have enough for a down payment on a mortgage, we would

have to keep working like that for another decade.


I asked Bruno if there wasn’t a way to move up.


“Nightmares are a hundred shekels a pop, but don’t go there. You’re a sensitive guy,

it’ll mess with your head.”


I told him to give me a chance, that I really needed the money. He hesitated but

eventually agreed, giving me a report for the guy who always dreamt about electronic

devices. He was thirty-four years old, a bachelor, and like a suspected, worked as a

repairman at a small electronics shop. Two days ago he had fixed eleven devices, gotten off

work at seven and gone home for a shower.


I asked Bruno whether nightmares required a special technique.

“There isn’t a technique, as such,” he said, and admitted that even he found them

difficult to build. He said he had once read a book that recommended going all out with the

daemons and monsters routine, since it’s had a good track record for thousands of years,

and was practically bullet-proof. Or to try different Freudian theories, to choose something

symbolic and work that angle. Bruno said that in either case it didn’t always work, so I

should just to what I felt like.


I didn’t know how to produce monsters and didn’t really understand enough about

psychology. The only thing I could tell from all those hours monitoring his screen was that

the electronics guy found it difficult communicating with people. So I built a pretty lame

nightmare in which he’s just walking down the street and everyone around him is speaking

in a foreign language. And he tells them he can’t understand, but no one answers him.

Bruno said he didn’t see what was scary about that nightmare, but he certainly wasn’t

going to pay me another hundred to build a new one.


The next day, after I punched in, Bruno told me he had just read the guy’s latest report. It

stated that he couldn’t stop thinking about my nightmare after he woke up, he was so upset

he barely left the house. Bruno gave me a pat on the back and said that good nightmares

were great for business. That the Ministry of Health loved them, they were sure they helped people work through their issues, or something like that. He said that each dream

manufacturer was required to deliver three quarterly nightmares per customer, so as far as

he was concerned I could build nothing but nightmares. I asked him if he didn’t think it was

a bit much, since he himself had said that it messes with your head.


“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said, and added that he had only been trying to

scare me because he didn’t believe I would be good at it. I thought he might be lying, but I

didn’t ask more questions because I wanted the money.


That’s how I got to building nightmares on a daily basis, and Bruno admitted that even he

couldn’t understand why they were so effective. I told him that while with dreams you had

to be creative and craft elaborate fantasies for people nightmares were a whole different

ballgame. Nightmares had to be simple, because what really scares people are the most

basic things in life: that they won’t have enough money to pay their bills, or that their wives

will leave them. Those kinds of things.


“As long as the Ministry of Health keeps recommending us,” he said. He told me he

had already gotten phone calls from a few HMOs, referring several new clients that needed

effective nightmares to work through their issues.


“One of them is even named Debby. Funny, huh?”


“Yup,” I replied. I didn’t tell him it was my Debby. That I had asked her HMO to

transfer her to us. I figured that since we saw so little of each other, at least I’d get to read

her daily reports and see her dreams every night. Bruno got a new screen for her. She was

beautiful on it. I made sure to produce fresh dreams for her every day, mostly involving

new homes. Some had large backyards and others swimming pools, and even a big jacuzzi

she could stretch out in. One morning when I came home from work, she told me she had

had a really nice dream, but couldn’t remember what it was about. It made me happy.

Towards the end of the quarter, Bruno told me not to put off Debby’s nightmares any

longer. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but a small one would be better than letting

Bruno build her a big, scary one. I tried thinking about her phobias, like cockroaches and

flying, tried doodling a few options, but I soon stopped. I felt physically ill at the thought of

doing something bad to my Debby. Hurting her like that. So instead, I just built her another nice dream, that we were living together in the highest penthouse in the city, taking in the

view every evening, and were really happy.


The next day was a Friday, and that night I looked up at the ceiling and told Debby I was on

the verge of going crazy. She asked why. I wanted to tell her that dealing with her

nightmares was agonizing. That it wasn’t so much the nightmares themselves as the

realization of how much damage I could cause her if I only chose to. But I didn’t say a word.

Not only because I wasn’t allowed to talk about it, but because I didn’t want her to be afraid

of me. I thought it might be a good idea to quit my job. To tell Bruno I couldn’t take it, and I

that wasn’t going to deal with anyone’s nightmares anymore.

But Debby wanted a house, so I stayed.


3.


As time passed I had more and more nightmares of my own, at least twice a week. But they

didn’t really work on me, because I already knew every trick in the book. I’d find myself

getting bored by some man pointing a gun at me, and counted the minutes until I woke up.

Building all those nightmares had left me immune to my own, and that’s exactly what

troubled me. I had been sure that dealing with such dark material damaged the soul, but

other than my fear of hurting Debby, it didn’t seem to do anything. On the contrary, every

time I met someone, I custom-made them a nightmare in my mind. I’d buy milk at the

supermarket and ask myself what would scare the cashier. Bruno observed I was enjoying

it all just a little too much. Said that a few customer reports had mentioned sleeping pills,

and he asked me to go easier on the clients. I said sure, but in truth I couldn’t help myself. I

was feeding off of all those fears, and I didn’t know how to rein them in.


The greatest source of comfort in those days were Debby’s dreams. I could spend three

hours building us a living room. I read her reports over and over again, thinking about what

she was going through. The name of that designer she was working for started appearing

more frequently. It was just the two of them at the office, and they had several meetings a day. It made me jealous. I asked her about him, and she said he was a nice guy. I told her the

truth, that I was scared she’d leave me, and she hugged me tightly and said she’d never

leave. Debby wanted us to talk more in the morning, but all I wanted was for us to lie

together in bed with her arms around me.


“It’s time we give up on the house,” she said one day. She said it was too hard on her

that we barely saw each other. That as far as she was concerned, we could live in a tiny

rental our entire life as long as we spent more time together.

“I know how much you want that house.”

“I don’t,” she pouted. “I’ve gotten along without it perfectly fine for thirty years.” She

said that she was starting to think I loved the house I wanted to buy her more than I loved

her.

“Is this about that designer?”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s because of him that you’re talking to me like this.”


Debby said I was losing it. She wouldn’t speak to me anymore that night, and I

started to stress out. I began to think she really had fallen for him. That she was about to

leave me. I started to suspect she had somehow found out about my job, knew I was getting

daily reports on her, and had to find a way to hide their affair. She went out, and I lay in bed

and couldn’t fall asleep.


I decided to follow her. The bus pulled up in front of her office window, and I saw

her sitting in front of her computer, and one window over, him sitting in the other room. I

stood behind the bus stop and spent the entire day looking at them. I was waiting to catch

them together, to find proof. But nothing happened. Every now and then Debby walked into

his room for a few minutes, but it looked like they were just talking, nothing more. They

didn’t even have lunch together.


It calmed me down, made me realize I had been overreacting, and that Debby was

great. And that I really loved her, and had to make up for everything I’d put her through

this past year. So the next morning I asked Bruno for the day off. He didn’t want to take my

night shift, but eventually he agreed, said that nothing’s more important than love. I spent

the entire day shopping for Debby’s favorite foods. Pasta and tomato sauce and salads and

good cheeses. I bought only the best, so she’d know I’d always go all out for her. I got backto our apartment and spent the entire afternoon cooking. Then I set the most beautiful

table I could, including a new IKEA tablecloth I had bought especially for the occasion, and

a bottle of wine we had been saving for a special moment. At seven in the evening I opened

the door, sat down at the table, and waited for her.


But Debby didn’t show.


At nine, I called her twice, but she didn’t answer. I texted her a question mark. At ten

thirty she texted back that she hadn’t seen my message because she was in the shower. I

wrote “ok” and went to bed. She called a few times, but I put my phone on silent. Trying to

think as little as possible, I soon fell asleep. In the middle of the night she woke me up.

Stroked me for a while. I couldn’t look her in the eye. I didn’t want to know.


“You want me to explain?”


I said no. She gave me a kiss on the back of my neck and lay down beside me. At that

moment, the thought that Debby would no longer be mine started to creep in. I imagined

myself waking up alone in the world, without her big body next to mine.


When I woke up in the morning, Debby had already left for work. I stayed in all day and

went to the office only in the evening. Bruno asked how it had gone, and I told him it

couldn’t have gone better. Then I went to the lab, sat at the desk and started building. It

took me about half an hour to make her nightmare. I didn’t do much. Just stood her in front

of the mirror. Naked. With all her flabby skin and spots I love. I stood her in front of the

mirror, and just showed her the truth. That I was the only one who’d love a big woman like

her. That she wasn’t worth much on her own, wouldn’t actually be able to start a new life

without me. I finished building the nightmare and swore to myself it was the last time. That

after things settled down, and we went back to loving one another, everything would work

itself out.


4.


Three years later, and Debby and I have a house. She designed it herself, including the

sauna area, which was entirely her idea. Bruno sold me the business and retired. He calls every now and then, says he’s on some jeep tour in Iceland or Greece, loving every moment.


Since taking over the business we’ve gotten a lot of new clients, because no one does

nightmares like us. I already have eight employees. They’re not as good at building as I am,

but good enough to keep our clients on board. I don’t pull nightshifts anymore, so Debby

and I always go to bed together. She holds me tight and I kiss her on the cheek. Every now

and then I plant a nightmare in her. Just to make sure she doesn’t accidently start thinking

about leaving again. It’s okay, it really is, because I’m fairly certain she doesn’t even

remember the nightmares anyway. My favorite part of the day is right before we fall asleep,

when she hugs me so tight I can barely breathe. Sometimes I whisper in her ear that I can’t

believe we actually have the life we’ve always wanted, and she smiles, and says that neither

can she.

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