Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Life as a dream

A few days ago, completely unexpectedly, I bumped into my friend the photographer Francesco Guidicini. Francesco used to lodge with us once and he was a most brilliant person to have in the house. He cooked the best risottos and pasta dishes ever, he loves conversation and he’s interested in stories. One day, he told me this tale when I’d been asking him about his home city, Bologna.

Life as a Dream:

P1080091Francesco’s story began with him describing how, often in Autumn when he was a student in Bologna, he’d be sitting having coffee with friends in one of the old squares in the University area when mists would start swirling into the square, creating a strange, romantic atmosphere. One Autumn of many such mists, Francesco and his friends became aware of a dramatic figure who’d sometimes walk by as they talked. A lonely wraith of a person, this figure was always dressed in the same tailed coat, white tie and black trousers. His face was pale, his body slender, and he invariably wore a top hat and white gloves like a character from the circus or out of the films.

Sometimes Francesco and his friends would see this man several times in a week. Other times, a week or more would go by and they’d wonder if he’d gone away from the city. Then one day late in the afternoon, one of the friends was at home in his digs not far from the city centre when he became aware of someone walking into his hallway from the street. When he looked up from the book he was reading, it was to see the strange apparition of the white-gloved, tail-coated man standing in front of him in his room. The man seemed restless and very nervous. ‘I beg of you to help me,’ he said. ‘You see, I am not as you see me. I’m not the person you think that I am and you can have no notion of the distress I suffer. It has weighed on me far too long. Now I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I have to take action. That’s why I have to tell you about it.’

The student felt very alarmed. He felt no sense of personal threat but the man was obviously deeply troubled. ‘I am not who you think I am,’ the man repeated. ‘What I am is a dream and my life is wholly at the beck and call of the person who is dreaming me. I can do nothing of my own volition. It’s the dreamer who controls my life. Whoever it is, he or she controls my comings and goings. I can stand it no longer. I have to get free and that’s why I’ve come here.’

P1080095‘But how could I possibly help you?’ the student burst out. Scarcely able to interpret what he was hearing, he nonetheless felt he ought to help and gestured to the man to sit down in the arm-chair across from his desk. As the man did so, he took off his gloves, placed them on the arm of the chair and said: ‘I’ve finally managed to work out a way that someone could help me. If you think about those occasions when you’re having a terrible dream, you’ll be aware that sometimes the only way you can get rid of the dream is when you finally become conscious that you are dreaming. That’s what I’ve realised about my situation. I have to make the one who is dreaming me become aware that he is dreaming. That’s the only way to make him wake up and my only chance of escaping.’

The man was sounding unutterably sad. Raising his hands in an imploring gesture, he went on in little more than a whisper. ‘So that’s why I’ve come into this house. I finally had to speak to a person. I had to find someone to tell of my plight. As unbelievable as you might find it, it’s my only chance of getting out of the prison where I’m trapped. I’d rather not exist, I’d rather be nothing, than live as a figment of another person’s dreaming and telling you about this is my chance of freedom.’

Head between his hands, the student was still trying to take all this in when he felt a slight draught in the room, as if a wisp of mist had vanished. As he looked up, he saw that the place was empty, the strange figure was gone. Now the student was left full of doubt about what kind of thing he’d just experienced. Had he been dreaming? Imagining things? He got up and walked out to the street. He looked up and down, there was no sign of the man. But when he returned to his room, he saw something that convinced him he’d not been dreaming. On the side of his arm-chair was a pair of white gloves.

The teller’s secret:

P1080092Francesco’s haunting story has stayed in my mental archive of stories ever since I first heard it and I’ve retold it a number of times, always with attribution to Francesco and once in a programme I called Gifts I’ve Been Given. What I’ve never revealed on such occasions is the impressive secret of the story.

For what Francesco revealed, later on the day he told me the story, was that he’d purloined it from a collection of Italian tales from the Middle Ages that he was in the process of reading. This revelation came as quite a shock to me at the time, I’d been so hooked by the story and its sense of reality. It really made me think. What a clever storyteller! And that’s why I’ve always retold the story as Francesco’s story (it was!) and why I’ve never felt the desire to reveal either where Francesco found it or that he’d relocated it to Bologna. Instead, I’ve treasured that particular piece of knowledge as evidence of my personal conviction that the art and the skills of storytelling are very far from being confined to people who declare themselves to be storytellers.

Why I’ve shared the secret now is out of the sheer pleasure and delight of bumping into my friend. It can be my way of thanking him not only for such a good story but for contributing so much to my thoughts about how much good stories and good tellings can mean.

 PS: As to photos, what else could they be this week but those white gloves?





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3 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Life as a dream”

  1. Meg Says:

    A Good ghost story is hard to find … and this is one of them. It has such a ring of truth. I have heard of people being confronted with such spirits who seem to have lost their way … and I have been reading many ‘ghost stories’ in the last few weeks. Our storytelling MeetUp this Friday has ‘Creepy, crawlies’ as it’s theme and I’m resorting to toads, frogs and beetles.
    Thank you Mary for a much appreciated post (and blog).

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Meg, it’s always lovely hearing from you. This time you set me thinking with your news of your forthcoming storytelling MeetUp. I’d love to hear more about it. And all best wishes to your friends and colleagues there from me here on a bright windy day in London.

  3. Jean Says:

    I remember you told me this eerie story on the phone many years ago – I then went on to tell it at Bath’s Museum of Costume – the stories had to feature items of clothing so of course – gloves – and what a great story – the audience loved it . Thank you Mary and Francesco – and I enjoyed the secret — shhhh – i won’t tell X

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