No. 20: Daniel Olivas
Q: Your piece features a great deal of dream logic, such as Pánfilo accepting without question his ex-lover sitting atop a gigantic heart. Kate Bernheimer would call this “intuitive logic” in a traditional fairy tale. What is it about this kind of logic that appeals to our brains in both our reading and sleeping lives?
Before actually answering your question, I want to offer some background on the genesis of “The Last Dream of Pánfilo Velasco.” The story grew out of a collaboration with the acclaimed Chicano artist, Gronk, who gave me a random group of drawings and paintings that would become the inspiration for an adult picture book. His art can be wonderfully dreamlike and strange, filled with primal images that connect more with one’s instinct than intellect. The resulting narrative held together as a short story (I have yet to place the picture book with a publisher) so I submitted it to the Fairy Tale Review. With respect to your specific question, I think that “intuitive logic” appeals to our brains whether in our literature or dreams because it is so primal and carries a truth far beyond our frontal lobe’s capabilities.
Q: Are there any particular locations or places that “speak” to you the way Pánfilo sees hieroglyphs in the landscape around him?
As a government attorney who spent almost 18 (of the last 27) years doing land use and environmental enforcement particularly with respect to California’s coastal zone, I think the “landscape” that speaks to me most is the beach in the form of shifting, wet (and sometimes) dry sand. The beauty of sand is that we may create our own hieroglyphic forms that will sit, side-by-side, with those created by nature.
Q: “And so began Pánfilo Velasco’s last dream.” This story deals with the “last” of multiple things or events, so I’m curious—what is the difference between knowing something will be the last before it happens, and coming to that realization after the fact, when we can only try to remember it? Would Pánfilo’s dream gone differently if he knew beforehand that it was his last?
The difference between the two experiences is vast though the final whirlwind of emotions might be essentially the same. Imagine if you knew that today would be the last time you embraced your lover? Or the last time you could see the sunrise? Knowing that something is the last time—ever—would fill a person with grief if we’re talking about losing someone or something that matters to us. Learning of the same finality after-the-fact would also lead to grief though there might be a healthy dose of regret mixed in. But would one form of knowledge truly change one’s actions, even those in a dream? Probably not. I think that poor Pánfilo is doomed—in a heroic sense—no matter what.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Prose Editor Joel Hans.
Daniel Olivas’ piece, “The Last Dream of Pánfilo Velasco,” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
The Last Dream of Pánfilo Velasco
One Monday evening, as he walked home from his dreary job making things nobody needed, Pánfilo Velasco saw two coffins that floated just within his peripheral vision. This did not alarm him in the least. Rather, Pánfilo knew that he was weary and that sleep was just the balm he needed.
Pánfilo entered his small, empty house, bathed, and went to bed without eating dinner. Sleep enveloped him within minutes.
And so began Pánfilo Velasco’s last dream. Faces from his life flickered and ebbed into view. First, he saw his beautiful mother, Hortencia, as she looked in a photograph that appeared on the front pages of all the newspapers the day a jury convicted her of murdering the Benedetti triplets who had lived two houses down. Hortencia never looked so exquisite! She hung herself during the fifth year of her incarceration, though some say that the guards killed her out of disgust. But Pánfilo could only be enchanted by his mother’s face. He smiled as he fell deeper into his dream.
Hortencia’s face faded into that of Pánfilo’s brutish father, Octavio, who did not understand the poetry of wine nor the splendor of certain shadows that fall upon the ground during the months of September, October and November. Oh, Octavio’s loutishness was the true crime, worse than a triple murder! Pánfilo stirred and struggled with his sheet, his heart racing.
Octavio’s face eventually bled into darkness. Pánfilo’s heart slowed, his limbs quieted. Soon, Pánfilo’s dream vision filled with the countenance of his first lover who went by the title “Countess” though her real name was María de la Cruz. She was the most famous prostitute who plied her trade within the town of Pánfilo’s childhood. In her prime, the Countess taught many a young man the ways of love, for a reasonable price. Pánfilo’s loins grew warm and he let out a low moan.
Suddenly, the amorphous surroundings transformed into a beach. Pánfilo found himself standing at the edge of the water. He looked down and saw that he carried his mother’s draped body. The Countess, perched upon a gigantic heart, commanded the frightened Pánfilo to step into a small boat that floated in the water before him. “What shall I do with my mother’s body?” he asked. “Toss her into the boat, mi amor,” she answered. And Pánfilo did what he was told. He settled in near his mother’s body and the boat started to move forward of its own volition.