In the dream, I'm standing in a highly polished office building waiting for an elevator and surrounded by suited businesspeople. She rounds a corner, dressed in a pale yellow, one-piece swimsuit, her dirty-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, her body slender but taut. We recognize one another instantly, even though we've never seen each other before.
She stops directly in front of me. Her right eye, I notice, has been blackened.
“Who did this to you?” I ask, carefully indicating the discolored area.
“You don't want to know,” she says.
We begin to kiss passionately. We slide to the spotless tile floor. The elevator arrives and the businesspeople, noticing nothing out of the ordinary, get on and leave us alone.
“I don't want us ever to be apart,” I say between kisses.
I hear rain pelting down.
I know her name. It's Meg.
I wake up as my wife, wearing my robe, comes into the bedroom. She's carrying our two-year old, Zane.
“It poured all night,” she says. “You slept through it.” And then she adds, “The basement has three inches of water on the floor.”
I teach at a college. It's a shitty one, so I'll keep the name to myself. Two sections of Freshman Comp, one Intro to American Lit, one Contemporary Drama. All of them filled with kids who should have never gotten out of high school. Add to that the fact that this morning I was called in by the Department Chair and told that, due to budgetary concerns, we would have classes of twenty-five—up from twenty—beginning next semester.
Today's my last session of Freshman Comp, and I don't bother giving a final. We're getting close to summer which is when the real problems start. Like Darwin Marshall. Big football player from a little rural town somewhere. It's the third time he's taken the course; he's flunked it twice with two other instructors. He comes into my office just as I'm packing to leave, no appointment, and he asks how he did in the course.
“How do you think you did?” I ask.
“I know I've missed some classes,” he says.
“Seven, Darwin. Out of twenty-eight. That's a quarter of the semester.”
“So how do I pull a B?” he asks. “I'm willing to do extra credit if I have to.”
I almost laugh at this. Even without the absences, Darwin is a D student at best.
“You should have come to me sooner,” I tell him.
He puts his hands on my desk, leans across toward me. He's huge.
“Mr. G, listen. If I get anything less than a C, I can't play football in the fall. That affects my scholarship. Without a scholarship, I'm out of college.”
“I'm sorry,” I say as I pick up my briefcase. “There's nothing I can do.”
When I pull into my driveway, I see a van with Floyd's Flood Service painted on the side. A surly looking guy with a toothpick in his mouth is winding up a huge hose which he pulls from the open Bilco doors leading into my basement. I wave to him on my way to the front door, and he stares back as if I'm the stranger in this scenario.
“He charged us $350 for an hour-and-a-half's work,” my wife tells me before I can even get a vodka-and-tonic together. “Says it'll be more if we want him to come back and clean up.”
“I'll do the clean-up myself,” I say, knowing I won't.
“At least check to make sure he locked the Bilco doors,” she says.
My son, sitting at the kitchen table in his highchair, is systematically taking Cheerios from a plastic bowl and smashing them on the tray in front of him.
“Zane!” I yell over. “Knock it off!”
He stops, looks over at me, spits up.
“Great,” my wife says.
Right before bed, I go online and enter the grades for my Freshman Comp sections. I consider gifting Darwin Marshall with a D, but wind up giving him the F he deserves. I send the grades to the registrar's office; they'll be up for the students to see by mid-morning.
That night I dream. Someone breaks into my house and kidnaps my wife while I'm out driving around. The police blame me. I have no alibi and no one believes the I-was-just-driving-around story. My son is taken into foster care and I'm told not to leave town.
Then, somehow, I'm eating breakfast at an outdoor cafe. Montreal, maybe. Meg is seated across from me and she looks just beautiful in a white jumpsuit. She breaks a croissant in half and tells me not to worry. Things will be fine, she assures me. She pours something red and steamy into a cup and drinks it.
I hear my wife scream in pain.
It's at this point I realize I'm asleep.
“I'm dreaming,” I tell Meg.
“For now,” she says.
I shrug my shoulders.
“I can send someone,” she says.
My son's crying brings me back. I try to nudge my wife awake, but she's not in the bed. I notice the hallway light glowing. I switch on the nightstand lamp, see by the digital clock that it's 3:53 . My wife plods in, naked except for panties, holding a plastic sandwich bag filled with ice cubes on the side of her face. Her stomach, I notice, overlaps the elastic waistband.
“Are you okay?”
“You hit me with your elbow while you were asleep,” she says.
I don't remember.
Zane shrieks louder. My wife gets back into bed, still holding the ice bag on her face.
“Zane,” I say to her, wanting only to go back to sleep.
“It's your turn,” she says.
I get out of bed and go to my son who wants nothing to do with me. I change the diaper I feel he's too old to be wearing. I don't sleep for the rest of the night.
I don't have to go into the college for two days and then only to give my finals in Am. Lit. and Drama. I stay in bed. I try to get back to sleep, but it's useless. I think of taking an Ambient, but I've been that route before. The pills knock me out, but I don't dream.
Downstairs pots bang and cartoon voices squeal. I smell oatmeal and baby crap. My wife is up-the-stairs, down-the-stairs. Somebody with the loudest truck I've ever heard comes by and sprays the yard for deer ticks.
I finally tromp down and announce that I'm not feeling well—I'm trying to sleep—“And would everybody kindly keep it the fuck down!”
“Come on, sweetie,” my wife says as she lifts my son from some plastic spineroo-type of thing. “Daddy's having issues.”
The two of them leave the house and I watch as the Saab backs out of the driveway and into the street. The tick spray guy is finishing up, sticking little yellow signs around warning of the dangers of coming into contact with whatever it was he just spewed all over the property.
I turn off the TV, lock the front door, go upstairs and get back into bed. Before too long, I begin to drift.
Meg and I are in a car that I'm driving. It's a black convertible VW Bug with the top down, and we're on a deserted stretch of road that I think I remember from when I was a kid on Long Island . Meg looks great, around twenty, around half my age. She got on this short, floral skirt and a pink t-shirt and flip-flops.
“I can't stay long,” I say.
“Sure you can,” she smiles. “You can stay as long as you want.”
“I have responsibilities,” I tell her.
She crosses her arms in front of her, grabs the bottom hem of her t-shirt, pulls it up and over her head. No bra. She drops the shirt into the back seat, shakes her hair and laughs.
“I'm married,” I tell her. “I have this job I hate.”
I hear something that sounds like one of the Bilco doors being lifted open.
“I can see,” Meg says, “that I'm going to have to do something to get you to relax.”
Her left hand falls into my lap, and suddenly I'm dying for her.
I hear footsteps coming up basement stairs, up bedroom stairs.
I wake up, lift my head, push myself slightly up on my elbows, squint toward the bedroom door. I have every intention of telling my wife—begging her if necessary—to let me sleep. You have your reality, I have mine, I'll say. Please. Please leave me to mine.
But it's not my wife. It's Darwin Marshall. I'm no hunter, so I can't tell you what kind of rifle it is that he raises and aims at me, only that it has a scope which Darwin raises to his right eye.
“It wouldn't have killed you to give me a C,” he says.
Thank you, I start to say, but he pulls the trigger before I can even get a word out.
words: Z.Z. Boone (more & more)
image: 'Always' -
Susan M. Gibb (Spinning / Hypercompendia)
a dream protection: Sleeping Circles (#15)