The Thief’s Hour

June 2

Like Jonathan Harker, I arrive in Transylvania on the dark side of midnight. At this hour, Romania is a painting on black velvet, the underbelly of the Milky Way, a torrential darkness flecked with dustmotes of light.

“Here in Romania, if you care about rules, you lose,” the taxi driver tells me under a wedge of yellow moon. That would explain why none of the taxis are running their meters. After midnight comes the thief’s hour.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jonathan Harker crossed Transylvania in a coach sped by desperate horses and parasitic superstitions. They’ve replaced the horses with a minibus, but the superstitions are still in mint condition. As the bus driver reverses out of Sibiu Autogara, the woman beside me crosses herself three times, quickly, as if she’s afraid she’ll miss her chance. I feel half-heathen sitting beside her; like Jonathan, I suspect I am missing something here. But no one garlands me in rosaries. They don’t know I want to go to Dracula’s castle.

The road to Brașov winds through an unfinished landscape. To the north, the meadows have been molded in soft clay. On the slopes above, forests have been painted in glossy coats of cobalt, Kelly green, and Prussian blue. The fields are brushed with cadmium yellow. But to the south, the mountains are mere sketches in charcoal and chalk, half-erased by a haze. Clouds daubed in white gesso drag on the horizon.

I am so tired that dreams ambush me in broad daylight, pinning down my eyelids for miles at a time. Yet when I shake them off, I wonder if I am dreaming with eyes wide open because where else could these characters have come from? A man in a horse-drawn wagon drives out of a ditch. The wagon is so low and narrow it looks built to carry coffins. Shepherds leaning on long, crooked staffs mind flocks of scruffy sheep. Even the shabbiest flock has its shepherd, lying in the shade nearby. Where do the shepherds’ imaginations go in the long grass?

“Here in Romania, if you care about rules, you lose,” the taxi driver told me at the thief’s hour this morning. Even dreams cheat here.

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