She approached me in my dreams. I ran.
On a faraway beach, under overcast skies, coarse white sand and smooth gray waves hemmed me. I chased a bed, an enormous king with four horned columns that spiraled up. Pillows and quilts overflowed, billowing.
Because I dreamed, I did not question why a bed outran me. Nor did I question what was beyond me, what preceded or would come after me.
There was a table. It grew from driftwood, as did its chairs. She perched in one, pretty as a bird of prey. I sat.
Tiny succulents lay between us in a colorful row. She touched one and a tiny tiger scampered up it. A tiny bear watched from below.
“How?” I asked.
She smiled. “I know how to dream.” She turned her fingers. The tiny tiger and bear extinguished. “Why are you chasing the bed?” she asked.
“I wished to sleep.”
“You are sleeping.”
“Why are you here?”
“After I left, you never came. I missed you. ”
I looked away. I looked back.
Before I was this woman, I was a different woman. When I was that other woman, she was not a woman. Back then, she was a tiger. Before I let a god turn me, I was a bear.
The water crashed to meet the sand. Salt flecked us.
“Wake with me,” I said.
I made her breakfast. She wandered.
She touched my things. The trellis of tiny succulents. Photos from my recent trip to Seoul.
In the kitchen, she held up a dozen garlic cloves cuddled together in a plastic net. “Saving up?”
“They’re good for you.” I snatched the cloves back.
“If you say so.”
I told her to sit. I served her oranges and eggs, the yolks bright and running as she liked them. I watched her eat. I wanted to know. “Where did you go, after I saw you last?”
“I went upstairs. I touched fire. I turned right.”
“Speak plainly. You left the cave. Where did you go after?”
“I climbed mountains.”
She lowered her fork, turned her hand so that the palm faced up. Snow fell on it. “There was a storm. I found a god, lost. I let her ride me. She guided me.”
The snow built, a mountain she held in the palm of her hand.
“We went to her land. For a long time, I guarded her. After a time, I left.”
She pushed back her chair, went to the sink. The mountain dropped. “The experience changed me, in that I realized no god could ever change me.”
“That’s what I always told you,” I said. “In the cave, you worried that one who turned you would hold true power over you.”
I rose and took her finished plate. She followed me.
She touched my ribs. “But it did change you, when that god was born from you.”
“I changed when I desired to create my own god.” I frowned. “My god has a name. Just as your name is Tiger and mine is Bear.”
Her touch became insistent. As a tiger, she had excelled in breaking ribs. She had taken great pleasure in tearing flesh from ribs.
I removed her hand.
“Let me.” I opened my flesh. She entered, crawling. I followed.
It was sticky, warm, wet. There was no ground. We fell.
A tree caught us. Cradled us.
She led the way down through a branching labyrinth until our feet touched mountaintop. From where we stood, I saw innumerable paths. They snaked downwards, unexplored. One led to a great fort, a place I once called home. Another to a cave. Many ran into the forest. One led to a beach. An ocean hemmed it. Ships waited to cross it.
“This place is familiar,” Tiger said.
“This is me.”
She touched my face. “Some of it is me.” She smiled. “We overlap.”
“Other times, we part.” I felt old scars re-ignite.
She dropped her hand. She took my hand.
“Tell me where you want to go.”
I took her to the cave.
The path was overgrown, the opening obscured.
We did not enter but stood, remembering.
Why does a bear desire to turn human? Why does a tiger agree to a bear’s wish to become human? She left before she turned.
Need is a mysterious thing. It is a finite thing. It is not forever. I wish it lasted forever.
Once it saved me. Without it, I am lost. I cannot sleep.
I know now. Other gods are not my enemy. This is my enemy.
She squeezed my hand. “Let’s go.”
We continued down the narrow and winding path. Eventually, I heard water. Our feet touched sand. There were waves.
She let go. She laughed.
“Back to where we started. Is this still you, or have we moved into your dreams?”
“They intersect. They are separate but one,” I said.
“You are a bedded bear. Or are you a beached bear? Why did you choose this place?”
I saw no bed, only endless beach. The sun shining overhead. It was hot. I shed my fur.
“You cannot swim,” she said.
From my fur, I made strong fins and sealed them to me.
“Will you change?” I asked her.
She rode my back. She clung to me.
The water pulled and pushed us far from land. Water turned to night. Space surrounded us. I stepped on stars. She slid off and walked beside me.
“I miss our wandering days,” she said.
“Continue beside me.”
“Once, I was a star.”
“I study stars.”
She pressed against me. “For a while, I’ll stay.”
As immortals, we last forever. We are exempt from time. We are changed by time.
There was a tiger. The tiger stalked the bear.
I approached her. I did not fear her.
In space, she made a hollow and lay inside it. I joined her.
She touched my foot. My foot stepped upon her hand. We circled.
Gravity gathered. Coiled. Collapsed. We became a singular thing.
Space had not anchored us. We drifted.
“Must you go back?” she asked. “I dislike mortal bodies.”
“They comfort me. They remind me I am not limited to a single body.”
She nipped me, playful. “I desire all your bodies.” When I didn’t answer, she bit me. “State your desire.”
Sand brushed us. Water lapped us. In the dark, I saw the approaching light.
“Stay with me.”
“For a while.”
We touched shore. On the sand, driftwood glistened.
“Let me wake to find you asleep.”
She picked up the first branch. “Build your bed.”
Rachel Egan is a Brooklyn-based artist, archivist, and author affiliated with various institutions, including: Artifex Press/Pace Gallery (New York, NY); Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA); Gagosian Gallery (New York, NY); Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence, IT); Greene Naftali Gallery (New York, NY); The Mattress Factory (Pittsburgh, PA); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); and The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice, IT). She is currently a contributor to The Art Genome Project at Artsy. Her work has been reviewed in Vogue and The New York Times. Her art writing has been published in Interview Magazine, amongst other outlets.