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vindaloo before bedtime
the utter jungle of imagination
by jack bradley

Okay, first you have to picture this: A fantastic scarlet bird with a crest. It’s about the size of a pigeon, and its feathers are iridescent with other colors when it moves.

It’s sitting on the edge of a huge glass jar. Around this jar, arranged like a nest or the petals of a huge flower, are pieces of glass. Each one looks as though it were broken from a frosted globe, jaggedly. The jar sits in the middle, with the crested red bird perched on the edge…watching you. Inside the jar are the normal things you’d think of when thinking of a bird’s nest…straw, string, feathers, bits of cloth and paper. They aren’t arranged like a nest, though…they just fill the lower third of the jar. Suddenly, something shifts inside the jar and you see the duplicate of the red crested bird, only this one is a deep tan color. You know it is the red bird’s mate. She crouches, half-hidden in the debris.

The red bird suddenly lifts his crest, dilates his eyes, and begins to screech loudly…you know instinctively that this is an alarm call. He flaps his wings in agitation, hopping from one foot to the other and fluffing out his feathers. At first you think it’s your fault, and then you realize that something else is moving in the jar.

Sliding stealthily around inside the bottom of the jar is an animal…it’s shaped vaguely like a ferret, but thicker in the body. Its fur is a rich brown color, but it has stripes and speckles in black that overlay the brown, very much like a jungle cat. As you watch, the animal parts its jaws in a sharp-toothed grin and noses forward through the nest. It is hunting.

Ignoring the cries of the red crested bird, you thrust your hand into the jar. The thoughts you are having of tiny needle-sharp teeth burying themselves into your wrist don’t stop you as you carefully run your hand around the bottom of the jar. Suddenly you feel movement, so you grab and pull…bringing with you the small and violently squirming vermin. You have luckily grabbed it just behind the forelegs, and it turns its short neck back at you in vain. Hissing and snapping at your hand, the small animal bicycles its back legs frantically. The sharp claws graze your skin, but don’t hurt. You hold the creature up to the light, turning it back and forth so that you can see the sheen on the fur and the glisten of tiny wet teeth. It is a beautiful animal, even in its ferocity.

You lower your eyes to the jar, and see the tan bird settling herself back down over a clutch of creamy eggs. They seem too small for a bird her size, and there are at least a dozen of them. The red bird is still perched on the lip of the jar, puffed out indignantly at the intrusion. He cocks his head and his black, glittery eye fixes the weasel-like animal with a look of disdain. As you watch him, he turns his head to preen his left wing and a tiny red feather drops slowly into the jar. You, the animal in your grasp, and the red crested bird all watch it until it lands gently next to the tan bird sitting on her eggs. She nips it up in her beak, tucks it into the lining of the nest, and resettles herself.

You turn to walk away. As you do, the small animal in your grasp begins to renew his bid for freedom. He squirms, hisses, scratches, and spits. Almost as an afterthought, you drop him gently to the ground. He scampers ahead of you and vanishes into a box of soft, chalky pastels that you have not noticed until now. You follow him over to the box. You pick a pastel up and feel how oily and smooth the colors are. Intrigued, you take it (it’s a rich amber-brown) and begin to draw on a large piece of glass that is in front of you. You have forgotten the animal, and now only the pastels hold your attention. Something about the way that they feel…they are silky, rich, and dark. Something about them is different from any other pastels you’ve ever handled, and as you start to draw, you see why.

Your first few strokes are broad, sweeping curves. As you begin to fill them in, you realize that they are forming the pattern of wood grain. You are drawing a large piece of submerged driftwood, and as you darken in the shadows small things begin to move in them. You choose another color and highlight the top of the wood, and it begins to shimmer with the movement of the light. You branch and outline the roots, and small half-seen aquatic things begin to pass amongst them. You choose the greens and browns of waterweeds, and they begin to sway gently in the current. It is the most amazing thing you have ever experienced…the pastels are creating! You are creating! They feel so rich and heavy because they are alive, and what you make with them actually carries that richness with it. Entranced, you continue this underwater tableau. You need only outline things in the broadest of strokes to get results, so you are tempted to be lazy and just sketch your basic vision on the glass. Second thought encourages you to try and fill in the detail. This thought turns out to be the wiser one.

You are rewarded with an image from the depths of your wildest imagination. Small scuttly things become jointed, many-legged crustaceans. Vague shifting shadows with diaphanous fins suddenly have razor-edged scales, tiny black eyes, and whiskers that twitch and drift. The muddy bottom suddenly has jagged stones, bits of glass, and tiny dancing insect larvae. The wood is full not only of color and texture, but also full of tiny pale burrowing things that have gills, sharp mandibles, and no eyes. The flickering underwater light begins to change from bright to dark and back again…clouds above the surface passing between you and the sun. Something long, dark and eel-like shoots through the background, chasing unseen prey in the murky water. A small cloud of tiny, flatheaded fish follow it, eager for the spoils of a kill. Things happen faster than you can draw them…each stroke inspires greater and greater motion in your underwater world.

Crayon after crayon of pastel color is passing from your fingers as you search for new colors and new textures. You pick them up and draw without planning, just letting your fingers lead you where they want to go. You grope blindly for another crayon and begin to use it without looking at it first.

Wet appears.

You pull your dripping hand back, shocked and surprised. The pastel in your fingers has the same oily feel, same rich texture as all of the others…but it’s color is not something you are able to look at too closely. Your eyes seem to skip off of the surface…and what is registering in your eyes is “slippery” instead of a color. It simply defies your ability to assign it a color in your head. You look back at your sheet of glass, and again apply the pastel.

Again, wet appears. Amazingly, your fantastic, dynamic creation is taking on more aspects of a reality. Instead of shape, texture, and color, the pastel is now imbuing your work with individual bits of “quality.” Instead of looking like water, you now can have the ‘quality’ of water…wetness, temperature…even smell is beginning to waft your way. You scramble into the box of pastels once again…

And draw back a bloody finger. Peering at you from the box is the animal from before. He is grinning a toothy, snarling grin at you from the box. He licks his lips and grins again, tasting your blood. Not nearly as confident as you were before, but unwilling to be separated from your amazing creation, you reach for him. His tiny jet-black eyes follow your hand, and he coils himself to spring. You can see him bracing his haunches, this tiny brave animal. Your hand moves closer, and he begins to growl deep in his chest…it’s a surprisingly low and deep sound for such a small animal. Undaunted, you make a quick grab for him…

…and a loud bark of surprise snaps your attention away. Half awake, you realize that in your sleep you have just grasped your dog by the scruff of the neck. Surprised but unhurt, she has growled at you in irritation. You rub your eyes, look around, and settle back into the comforter to catch the last hour of sleep before you have to get up and start work.

And that was my dream last night.

Jack Bradley
Sydney, Australia
October 13, 2000


Born the son of a circus monkey, Jack had to overcome the stigma of having an address south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Struggling against all odds, he finally got his HS diploma from some guy on the corner, and proceeded to attend NC State University, where his records are now the "running joke" in the admissions office. In February of 2000, he moved to Sydney, Australia, to pursue a writing career full-time. Jack currently has a husband but no wife, no children, and a dog with great fashion sense.

more about jack bradley


is that a lolly in your bum bag...
...or are you just chuffed to see me?
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published: 9.17.00

i swear, i'm not making this up
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jay colucci
11.23.00 @ 11:48a

um... Jack... Are you sure that was Vindaloo you had the night before? Why do I hear a pulsing beat and Deborah Cox singing in the background?

michael driscoll
11.29.00 @ 10:46p

I was with you until "wet appears" and then I just giggled myself to sleep.

roger striffler
11.30.00 @ 4:00p

Ok Jack, I'm failing to supsend disbelief here. First of all, you'd have to get me to believe that you actually sleep And vindaloo? Wrong letter of the alphabet...

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