Read by Ben Crystal
You are all, I can see, people of taste. Of course, a great deal of money is necessary to purchase the item I am offering for sale: but you need taste, excellent taste, to truly appreciate it. Taste is all.
The item is this: a box, indistinguishable, to the average person, from a normal matchbox. Thank heavens, then, that you are by no means average people. There is something very special about this box: this box, this ordinary-looking box, comes from the world of dreams.
Now, you’ve all had the experience, I’m sure, of dreaming that you held something – or someone – in your grasp, only to wake and find your hands empty. This box is, to my knowledge, the only item anyone has successfully brought back from a dream. I dreamed of its creation a little while ago: I gave it certain – what you might call – magical properties. And when I woke up, it was on the pillow next to me, its size, appearance, and function all exactly what I had dreamed them to be.
I have taken this box with me to and from the world of dreams several times during the past few weeks. A few days ago, I finally found who – and what – I was looking for. Now I can say, with confidence, that if you are able to meet my price, you will be able to take home a unique item: not only the only physical object in the world that was ever manufactured in a dream, but also the single greatest work of art ever created.
Now I see you are a little sceptical about my claims; don’t worry, I quite understand your concerns. If I were you, I suppose I would have the same attitude. Perhaps it’s best if I describe the dream I had on Saturday night.
I fell asleep at around midnight, and found myself in an immense desert, wearing my best suit jacket, and no trousers. The box, fortunately, was in my breast pocket. I looked around me. There was a castle in the distance, a strange, crooked structure with white flags billowing in the wind, although the air around me was perfectly still. I had a feeling about it – a feeling that what I wanted would be in there – so I set off towards it.
I walked for what seemed like days, with the castle getting no nearer. At times in the heat haze it seemed to change shape, to turn into the outline of a voluptuous woman in a flowing white dress: but when I looked again, it had changed back.
It was dark by the time I reached it. I could find no door. I looked up: the wall was made of black, volcanic stone, jagged and uneven. A faint light twinkled in a window high in the tower: it looked as if there were sufficient hand- and foot-holds to make it possible for me to climb up there.
The climb was, however, harder than it looked: the waves crashed below me – sorry, did I forget to say the desert had now turned into a raging sea? The waves crashed below me, and black flying creatures - something halfway between crows and bats - circled the tower, screeching and nipping at my bare legs. Finally I got to the window, a narrow, round hole like the constricted pupil of an eye. I crawled inside and dropped to the floor.
The room was vast: no, the room was small, but with trompe l’oeil paintings of great detail and skill covering the walls to make it look like seascapes extended towards the horizon in every direction. And there, in the centre of it all, sitting up in a bed draped with red velvet covers, was Salvador Dali.
He looked well: his cheeks were ruddy, the points of his moustache sticking up like the horns of a bull. He looked at me and his eyes narrowed.
‘You over there!’ he shouted. ‘You without the trousers! What are you doing in my dream?’
‘Me?’ I said, looking down. ‘I’m very sorry, but I think you’re in my dream.’
Dali laughed curtly. ‘All dreams are mine,’ he said. ‘I am the Emperor of Dreams.’
I approached the bed carefully.
‘I am here,’ I explained, ‘to see if you would be willing to do something for me. A commission.’
Dali raised his eyebrows and twiddled the ends of his moustache.
‘Ah! Now we get down to it! Wait a minute, let me speak to my agent.’
Somewhere a telephone rang. Dali reached down the side of the bed. There was a sloshing noise, and he came back holding a live lobster to his ear. It petted and caressed his head with its antennae as he spoke.
‘Hello? Hello? Oh, the line is bad. I can’t hear you. Never mind.’
He threw the lobster back, and fixed me with his gaze again.
I produced the box from my pocket.
‘I would like you to produce a work of art to fill this box.’
‘It’s rather small, isn’t it?’ he said, dismissively, although I could see he was intrigued.
‘This box,’ I said, ‘is a very special box. This box was built not to hold objects, but to hold concepts.’
‘Gah,’ Dali replied. ‘Conceptual art. I piss on conceptual art.’
He looked thoughtful for a moment.
‘Indeed, I did once piss on conceptual art. It was in a hotel lounge in New York. Warhol, he gave me one of his paintings. I put it on the floor and pissed on it. He seemed to enjoy that.’
I could see that we were in danger of getting off track.
‘Perhaps it would be better to say that this box can contain ideas. Dreams, if you like. All you have to do is to think of a work of art – and then put the idea into this box. The box will hold it. A genuine Dali in its rawest form, never compromised by actually being put onto canvas, with all the frustrations and limitations that involves. Your greatest work.’
Dali took the box from me. He slid it open, glanced inside, and frowned.
‘Smoke and mirrors!’ he said dismissively. Then he looked again and took a deep breath. He prodded the interior with his finger.
‘Ah. Now I see how it works.’
He placed the box in his mouth: his cheeks began to glow, and then his whole head lit up like a lamp. He closed his eyes and concentrated: veins stood out on his forehead, and sweat ran down his face.
Finally he opened his eyes, pulled the box out, and handed it to me. It was warm and dry, and still illuminated with a faint afterglow.
‘All yours,’ he said. ‘Now leave me. Apres moi, le deluge.’
He looked old and tired: his face was suddenly lined and thin, his moustache drooping. He pulled a diving helmet out from below the covers and put it on.
‘Mmm-mm-mm mm mm mmm mmm,’ he said.
Dali opened the front of the helmet.
‘Remember to kick hard and keep heading for the light.’
He closed the helmet again, at the exact moment that a flood of water broke into the room from all four sides. The impact knocked the air out of me, but I held on tightly to the box: the water roared in my ears as I forced myself against the current, up, up, and –
Into my bed. I woke up gasping for air. The box, only a little damp, was in my hand.
So you see, ladies and gentlemen, that this item I have for sale is worth every penny of the asking price: in fact, all things considered, I am practically giving it away. Take it home with you, keep it close to you all day and all night long, and you will be happy in the knowledge that you have something no one else has: the final, the greatest work of art ever imagined by Salvador Dali.
Of course, you must never, ever open it. Didn’t I mention that earlier? Once you open the box, the idea will escape. It will dissipate in the air. It will be gone forever.
What are you waiting for? Roll up!
Salvador Dali's 115th Dream by Niall Boyce was read by Ben Crystal at the Liars' League Smoke & Mirrors event on Tuesday 9 November 2010 at The Phoenix, Cavendish Sq., London
Niall Boyce lives, writes and edits in London. He has published fiction in all sorts of places, including Litro, Dark Horizons and Smoke. In 2011, his story '1963' will appear on a Doctor Who audiobook released by Big Finish Productions.
Ben Crystal is an actor, writer, and producer. He works in TV, film and theatre, and is a narrator for RNIB Talking Books, Channel 4 and the BBC. He writes about Shakespeare, while living in London and online at www.bencrystal.com. His latest book, Sorry, I’m British! is a perfect stocking-filler and is now available in all good bookshops.