In the nineteen-eighties I started having recurring nightmares. The nightmare part wasn’t so unusual: like many people, I’d had my fair share of dreams about being swept away by rogue waves, or driving cars that couldn’t make it up steep hills, or flying in airplanes that couldn’t seem to climb any higher than the treetops. Standard anxiety dreams, especially for a freelancer with more cheques in the mail than in the bank and a desk piled high with unfinished assignments.But these nightmares were different. They were hyper-realistic, entirely devoid of white-knuckle special effects, and they had a dramatic structure—if that’s the right phrase for it—that never varied, though the details sometimes changed. I would find myself, mysteriously, back in Prague—a city I had lived in for a decade in the late nineteen-sixties and early nineteen-seventies but was no longer legally allowed to visit—among old friends I hadn’t seen in years and never expected to see again. The atmosphere of these reunions was as tangible as the people: they were dark, intense and exciting in the way forbidden things often are, their powerful erotic undertow linked to a mounting sense of anxiety. It was like being Cinderella at the ball; I was thrilled to be there but worried sick about getting home before I was exposed.
The dream always ended the same way: when the time to leave came, getting to the train station or the airport on time proved to be almost impossible. I’d lose my ticket, or my passport or visa would go missing. I’d get lost in the maze of alleyways and passages, unable to find a taxi. I would try to make it on foot, but the airport or the station was always too far away. I seemed to be moving through molasses, dragging myself through the dark streets (it was always night) with rising panic. Sometimes, the Czech police would stop me and ask for my papers. I’d wake up with my heart pounding.