He looked like a librarian. I hadn’t been in a library for ages but I knew the cliché: thin rimmed glasses, pale skin that looks… dusty somehow, and a suit past its time. Its time in fashion and past the time that this type of fabric was considered…. at least ok. Crinkly beige and brown and not really fitting the shape it was on. His eyes were nervously moving from side to side when he ordered his coffee. Just plain coffee. Cream extra. He said “thank you very much” and scuttled off. Really! Scuttled. Other guests walk. Big long strides that are used to take miles of countryside in a day. He moved as though his biggest steps ever were the distance from the spine of one book to the next. Always going sideways. She looked like a professor of psychology. Which is nearly the same look as a librarian but with better clothing - a well fitting tweed skirt and blazer and some impressive jewelry. She too had glasses. Hers hanging from a pretty chain around her neck. She put them on to read the menu on the counter and took them off again to read the extras that were written on a big blackboard behind me. She seemed to disapprove of the fancy writing. I had watched a couple of youtube videos on handlettering and doodling to make this a proper ‘handwritten menu in a modern café’. There is a certain style to them and I felt I should match that. Squiggly, pretty, with small drawings of cake and steaming cups. Her hair was in a bun. First silver streaks showing that she wasn’t the youngest but didn’t care. Maybe that’s what made me think ‘psychologist’. She dressed carefully. Had decorated herself with jewelry, put on a hint of make-up. She clearly valued the person she was and didn’t see any reason to disguise any aspect of it. I smiled to myself. Maybe I should take on a psychology degree. Since opening this café I had seen so many people. All different but easy to identify types. Or stereotypes. They all give so much away by their appearance. And by what they order. “A pot of tea please. With milk.” She looked at me… amused? Disapprovingly? Worried? Hard to read her expression. She had caught me with my thoughts far away and I felt a blush rise. “Sorry. Yes. Of course” I got her order and wondered whether she’ll like the old fashioned crockery I use for the old fashioned orders. Wondered whether she’d notice. Pretty thin china cups and jugs and pots with a romantic rose decor. I like to serve drinks and food in containers that match them. None of the tiny pieces of something expensive served on a slate, though. Just pretty old fashioned china for tea and scones or our ‘cakes as grandma baked them’ and modern, simplistic glasses and mugs and plates for the more modern stuff. The latte macchiato double choc with macadamia sirup. I had taken their names from american netflix series. The people who ordered them here seemed to have learned the names from the same series. Nobody ever asked what they are or pronounced the names differently to what they said on telly. Although that would be easy with those pretend foreign names and fancy dots and circles and squiggles put randomly over letters. I should talk to my guests more. Find out if the conclusions I draw from first impressions are right. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that ‘only superficial people don’t judge by appearances’ Or something along these lines. I should look up the quote and put it on one of the blackboards. Little snippets of wisdom by famous people. Although I think that really they are wisdoms of ordinary people who thought they gain worth and weight and… well, wisdom, when they attribute them to someone famous. But how do you ask your guests who they are? ‘Excuse me, but I think you are a banker. Am I right?’ That’s a bit blunt. ’What brings you to the Lake District?’ is a bit silly. 99% of people would just say ‘walking.’ That couple over there. Middle aged and obviously in love. Drowning in each other’s eyes. They have the nicest table with the best view over the fells and they never looked out once. (There isn’t a view from any of the tables that isn’t magnificent, I should add. I am rather proud of having made the place like that: large bay windows that let you enjoy even the worst of Cumbrian weather gasping at the beauty!) ‘Excuse me - are you on your honeymoon for your second marriage? Was one of you widowed or escaped an abusive relationship in the past and now found true love?’ I was pretty sure about that but I could just picture them staring at me. Blushing. Because they are having an affair and escaped their spouses and their oh-so-settled lives with their mortgages and pension plans and saturdays filled with lawn mowing for a weekend full of dreams and sighs.
It was a good day for business. The first bank holiday weekend since the café opened and the weather was just perfect. Clouds racing over the sky. The first warmth of spring had let the grass shoot up in sheltered places. Soon the vivid green patches would spread and cover the whole world in a lush green blanket. My world. That at this time of the year had dark specks racing in the distance, faster than the clouds. The first lambs having mad fun. Not knowing why. And most of them not knowing how! Hopping and jumping and running with the pure joy of having arrived at this place. Not knowing where they came from. Just like me. Suddenly finding ourselves in this place and bursting with happiness. I sometimes wondered whether those lambs remember the time before they arrived. The warmth of the womb. Sheltered, protected, a loving heartbeat soothing them. I’m sure that like me they wouldn’t want to go back. They seek shelter from the fierce winds that can still bring snow at this time of year but they wouldn’t ever wish themselves anywhere else. The sun was slowly setting behind the fells. That is their madest time. They give it all. Even the old yows join in. Clumsy, stiff, heavy. The joy in their hearts irresistible. The yows soon stop. Panting. With a look of bewilderment in their eyes. Wondering what made them do it. The lambs race on. Until one after the other they lie down and fall asleep. Dreaming little lamb dreams. Of dancing in the sunshine. Of misjudging the jump over a burn and climping out all wet. Shaking themselves in bewilderment and racing on. Sheep often seem bewildered. Not because they are stupid. They are not. Watch sheep for a while and you’ll soon learn. Or try to make one go where it doesn’t want to go! They seem bewildered by the beauty around them. Overwhelmed by the joy that fills them. They do not forget the sweet taste of honeysuckle from one day to the next but they never tire of the freshness of the sensation.
“Sorry. Miss! Can I have another pot of tea please?” I woke from my daydream. The place had nearly emptied. The walkers on their way to walk the last mile to Raventhwaite. Probably buying souvenirs in the little shops there soon. Booklets with poems by Wordsworth. Whom they probably hated to read in school. Tea towels with Peter Rabbit. Those sort of things. I looked at my watch. I’d be closing soon but I don’t turn down a customer. And anyway: I could try and find out whether they really were a librarian and a professor of psychology.
I brought them some lemon cheesecake too. On the house. It would be a waste if it wasn’t eaten and it might make them more favourably disposed towards the questions I wanted to ask.
“This is a lovely place! Is it yours?” The woman smiled a broad, open smile. I told her about this idea of opening a café. How I suddenly knew. “I woke up one morning and knew that this is what I need to do. Took a lot of planning and it wasn’t easy to get funding. And the permissions were a nightmare.” “What was it before? A barn?” “Does it look like a converted old field barn?” I felt smug. That's what I had wanted it to look like. “Yes. Very confusing! There is no building on our map!” The librarian waved a battered old ordnance survey map accusingly. The woman put her hand on his arm as if to shut him up. With her other hand she pointed to an empty chair. “Please, tell us about it. This is quite fascinating.” I did. I sat down and told them. You probably don’t need to be a psychologist to get people talking by making them compliments on their achievements and asking for details. Makes anybody feel good to brag about themselves. I tried to sound modest. Ah - it is nothing really. A bit of luck. But it wasn’t. I had seen this spot and just knew the café had to go here. Getting planning permission to build something new around here isn’t easy. Most people said it’s impossible. But this spot had just looked like there should be something here. Like there had always been something here that - by a quirky accident of fate - never got build. I knew exactly what it looked like and I found an architect who understood; who drew the building that should have always been here in a way that convinced the planning committee. I pointed to that drawing that was in a frame on the wall. It was an architect’s drawing. Typical with those lines that extend the edges of the actual building. Some background to hint at the surroundings; to show the building in context. But this one was a piece of art. She hadn’t only drawn those symbolic trees and shrubs architects normally draw. She had given it a bit more detail. And every detail taken from reality. That boulder where the walking path met the narrow road to Raventhwaite. The blackthorn growing over the drystone wall. Shaped by the wind. And she had made the drawing just a tiny bit like a Beatrix Potter drawing. Not very obviously so. Just hinting at it. Genius! Subtly convincing the committee that this building MUST be here. Should always have been here. “You were daydreaming when I ordered this”, she pointed to her fresh pot of tea. “What was it about?” What? OK. So yes. She IS a psychologist. That’s what they do, isn’t it? Ask you about dreams? “Lambs” I said. “I watched the lambs on the fellside.” She looked at the librarian and nodded. He took out a notebook but he didn’t appear to be overly interested in what I said or might say. I felt uncomfortable nevertheless and stared as he opened the notebook. Flicking through the pages to get to the first empty one. There were just squiggles. Maybe he was writing shorthand. With the speed of the pages going past it seemed as if the squiggles moved. He made one short entry and closed the notebook. Then he looked up and caught me staring. He smiled. For the first time since they came in. “It’s alright”, he said. “This can be handled!” He pushed the cups and plates aside and spread the map on the table. He licked the tip of his pen absentmindedly and eventually drew a little symbol on the map, right where the café is. “That’s it!” I nearly clapped my hands in excitement. “That’s what?” he asked while she looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You know what this is?” “That’s the logo I need for my café! I’ve been wracking my brain and couldn’t come up with one! Please! Can I use this?” They looked at each other questioningly. Silently. And for a long time. Until he finally said “I guess it’s alright. Might be good actually.” I thought that even his voice spelled ‘librarian’. It was a quiet, hushed voice. Meant to be heard only by the person he was addressing. Not disturbing anyone else. The woman nodded and turned to me. “You need to know some things about this symbol. And about this place. You built it. You are responsible.” Of course I was. I knew about the responsibility. There was a huge debt to pay off. There were the paychecks for the baker and the part time waiter. Insurances. Payments for supplies and the worries to always have enough but not too much… I made this place and I was responsible for its success. That wasn’t news. But that was not what she meant. “This”, she pointed to the symbol on the map “is a leakage.” My heart skipped a beat. Oh God, no! “Like… you’re saying there is some… I don’t know… old sewer that is leaking? Barrels of chemical weapons buried here, now rusting away?” I felt panic rise. Had I built my dream on poison or oozing… faeces? “No, no, no. Nothing like that!” She put her hand on mine and took a deep breath. “This will be hard to believe and I will sound like an old hippie but please listen.” I just nodded and she went on. “My friend here”, she pointed to the man “is the custodian of a book.” “So you ARE a librarian! I knew it!” He frowned but before he could say anything she went on. “Maybe. Maybe a bit like a librarian. But only one book. And it’s not going on loan ever.” The idea seemed to amuse her. “And nowadays it’s not a book either. There is the original book, yes. When the pages were filled, we thought it was written. Finished. Could be safely put away. But it never was. Never will be. It was added to and they spilled from the pages. Leaked back. So now we use a hard drive.” “What for? They? Who are they?” “Dreams.” “Dreams? You are telling me dreams are leaking into my café?” Oh how I wanted that thing as a logo! I could have probably just used it anyway. They didn’t seem to be the kind of people who sue you under copyright laws. A perfect logo and the story of two mad people to go with it! I wanted that story, too! I hoped she’d go on and I hoped for a really good story. “So dreams are leaking into my café?” I prompted. “Yes. I know how hard this is to believe. Bear with me. The book that my friend is guarding is the Book of Unfinished Dreams. At least that is what we call it. Dreams don’t just dissolve and cease to exist when we wake up. Not always. Most dreams do. They are dreamed and then they are done with. But others…” her voice trailed off. “Yes?” “Others are too big. Or they can’t be finished by the dreamer for various reasons. They float around and search for a mind to dream them again. To finish them. Has anybody ever told you ‘I have dreamed of you last night. You looked completely different but I knew it was you’ or ‘I dreamed I was home but it didn’t look like MY home. I still knew it was.’ or anything else about knowing that something in a dream is something completely different? That’s because they dreamed someone else’s dream. We know the feelings because they are so basically human. But the details are someone else’s. Tell me about the daydreaming you did there earlier!” I told her of the lambs. How I never tire to see them bounce along. Nearly bursting with joy. She smiled and nodded “Animals dream too. There have been sheep here for a thousand years or more. This place soaked up their happy dreams and they spill out again and again. Sheep never sleep long enough to dream all their happiness. And they are very susceptive to places and the dreams that have been dreamed there. If sheep don’t thrive in a place, it is probably a very sad place. Some people dream animal dreams too. And not all of them are happy.” “Yes!” I suddenly remembered one. A dream of being hunted. “I might have dreamed the dream of a mountain hare once. Being chased by… fangs. It was awful and I woke with a scream.” She nodded. “Sometimes people dream dreams that are scary just because they are strange. A man might dream to be a woman and find it scary. Other dreams are terrifying because they are just that! Abuse, pain, torture. Too much to contain in one person. Often too much to bear. People who killed themselves because they couldn’t take any more. People who never woke up again because the terror was too much. Unfinished dreams left behind. In search of a mind to finish them.” I swallowed. This had just turned from an amusing story to go with a logo to… something disturbing. I looked down at the floor. “And this is where they find those minds?” The woman took my chin in her hand and lifted it up. Made me look into her eyes. “Yes it is. But this is a good place. It is seeping with happy lamb dreams!” “So… do I keep people from falling asleep here?” She shook her head. “It is not just the sleeping who dream. But basically: yes! You made this place. You choose it. You are responsible. Places like this are often chosen for… oh all sorts of things. Things that attract people. Take old crossroads. That leaked dreams before there were actually roads. Before there were dances at the crossroads or inns build. Old mazes often leak dreams. People spend quite some time in them. Sometimes they do feel lost and that opens their minds for dreams. Those new mazes that get made in corn fields: they are a sure sign of a leakage. Never has a farmer chosen the place for economic reasons. It will be their best field, the furthest away from the road and any parking spot. But always ‘it felt like the right thing to do; the right place to do it; the place was just asking to be turned into a maze’. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” I nodded. I had the idea to open a café while I was sitting on that boulder. Staring out into the landscape. Watching lamb races. It was kind of a crossroads, too. The path crossing the road. “This place has tricked me into being a café owner!” Now they both laughed. I couldn’t find anything funny in this. The dreams of the tormented - way too terrifying to bear till the end! And I am luring people here! To be preyed on by nightmares! “I don’t want this! Can you put a plug in where it leaks? Say some spell so that it stops?” “We are not some sort of esoteric spell casters! Putting magic symbols on otherworldly portals!” He looked genuinely affronted but she started to laugh. “You know my dear: I think we might appear to be just that!” She turned to me with a reassuring smile. Just like the one my granny had smiled when I woke from a bad dream. Had SHE known? “We do see ourselves as scientists. And guardians. We find those places that leak used dreams. Unfinished dreams. And we try to make sure they are guarded. Some dreams we can collect. Put them in the book.” “The hard drive?” I interrupted “Yes. The hard drive. I still think of it as the book. As it was when I started out.” How old are you? How many stray, unfinished dreams have you caught? How DO you catch them? I didn’t ask. She might have told me and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know. “What do I do?” I asked instead. “Watch your guests. You made this a place to stare out over the beauty of the fells. To let the mind wander after a day of hillwalking. To daydream. Let them. Most of them will dream the dreams of the lambs and they will be happier people. Watch for those who change expression. Who suddenly seem sad or even scared. Interrupt them. Talk to them. Point out the beauty. Make them tune their minds into those of the sheep. That’s all, really. This is a place to make people happy. They are rare these days. Don’t let this place change to become something else.” They both got up and the librarian - the custodian of the Book of Unfinished Dreams - tore a page from his notebook and drew that symbol on it. “It’s a good idea to put this over your door. People will know. Even if they don’t understand.” And they left. I stared at the symbol. Thought about how I would use it. Maybe rename the ‘mountain café’ into… ‘the lamb’s dream’ or something. Then I jumped up and ran after them. “What if it does change? How can I contact you?” But they were gone. I went into my little office and switched the computer on. Started my graphic program to work on my new sign. But then I remembered a dream. A sheep dream. I had dreamed it more than once and it was a dream of pure terror. Pounding heart and panic and pain. Of falling down and a moment of relief. Of having escaped. Only to be followed by more pain and a sense of unbearable loss. I hadn’t realised it was a sheep dream before. Suddenly I knew that it was. What it was. I made another sign. To go up on the path people took to the fells. I’d probably be ordered to take it down again soon. For being too graphic and horrifying. But I knew I needed to get the message across. I was damn well going to make sure the dreams that were dreamed by sheep around here were happy ones! No dreams about being chased. No dreams about fear and pain and most definitely no dreams about losing lambs!
The message was simple: Keep your dog on a lead!