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Fantasy Sad Bedtime

Trigger warning: Suicide, mental health

Some mornings the feeling was of old lace, touch it and it falls to dust. On others she saw their little rat tails disappearing under the soffits and couldn’t grab even one to yank it back and see what it was. Most days it felt more like seeing cockroaches zipping away and gone before she was even sure they were there. It had been going on a long time, this disconnection from her dreams. They just did not stay long enough in her mind to even form an image. She tried all the remedies for remembering—stay still, don’t open your eyes, walk backward into the scene, paper and pen under the pillow, flax and lavender eye shade, marijuana gummies, warm baths, recordings of ocean waves, sleep at odd times, mantras both poetic and mundane. But her dreams had gone AWOL. She felt stripped of a pillar of her psyche. She imagined they had all washed onto the shore of a remote Pacific atoll along with Amelia Earhart’s bones.

Her dreams used to be the central imagining force of her mind, the source for poems, stories and a novel told in fairy tales. Now her writing had stalled out. She started to wonder if she was losing her edge. Was this a sign of early decay of some kind?

Why would dreams be shutting down now, in the midst of a pandemic when she needed them most? They were her parallel life even before lockdown. In the past she had dreamed of conducting an animal orchestra, of flying from crumbling sand cliffs, of diving to the bottom of a green pool and even breathing under water until she realized she would soon drown. She looked at the surface so far above, a ceiling of light she could gauge right away was beyond her breath supply. She frantically clawed upward, losing momentum.

Foolish how far she had dived down and lost track of time and distance. She had felt at peace tumbling in the depths of the warm pool, a water creature that wouldn’t need to surface. Then so alarmed that she woke mid-stroke as if switching off a projector. She blinked into the pale light of her bedroom. Breathing fine, beyond grateful to be breathing. She had oversized lungs to begin with. She always won the contest for who could swim underwater the longest. Or in choir, she could hold a long note far past where everyone else had gasped to a stop.

This deep-green pool in the dream had almost been the death of her—in the dream anyway, and maybe in life too. But close calls like this, including frequently falling off bridges, riding in driverless cars, canoeing in 30-foot Arctic waters, trying to pull her sister from an undertow, never made her want to stop dreaming. Without dreams a whole other color palette was missing. She was an imposter in life, especially as a writer. Lots of people suggested a dream specialist or a hypnotist but she wasn’t sure about entrusting this part of herself to a stranger. She had a hard enough time with regular therapy. Which was useless for bringing her dreams back anyway and posed inane questions like “Why do you think this is happening?” If she knew that she wouldn’t have to be here.

So when she saw the table at the Farmer’s Market with a handwritten sign, “Rêve-elation,” she paused. She felt a long sigh move through her body. Smaller script below read “dreams used and reconditioned.” The chair was empty where a proprietor might sit. Was this was a self- service operation? The dark blue cloth covering the table bore jags of yellow lightning like cartoon symbols for electricity—warning that you could get a shock. It was windy but the cloth did not ruffle and the small bottles shoulder to shoulder on the table stood without teetering. All dark brown glass, closed and somber looking. Are these smelling salts, to bring on visions, she wondered, or drops to put in a hot drink before bed? “Used and reconditioned,” that’s some joke. What does that mean? That all dreams are basically from the same factory and they just get recycled and reused? She had always prided herself on her dreams—the unique images of purple-skinned women diving in a sea cave, the museum of bombs, the overflowing shed of papers where her long-dead father still labored.

That was the one dream she longed to return to. She and her father didn’t have time to begin the long task he had summoned her to. She had met him at the side of the garden—his half-acre vegetable plot. It was in spring cover crop, how he had left it and wasn’t returning to plant anymore. Made sense. He swung his gaze from the rye grass. “You don’t look too good. You’re so old. Where is my little girl?” “Speak for yourself,” she thought to herself. But she said, “You’ve been gone more than 30 years, Dad. How can you expect me not to look old? I’m nearly your age now.”

He said, “Come here, there’s a really important project you have to help me with. I want to show you.” He put his baseball glove-sized hand on her shoulder where it sat nearly weightless and led her to a shed next to the garden. She could see overflowing boxes and tides of papers scattered everywhere. The work bench was completely covered, tools buried. Boxes were stacked on the rototiller, the wheelbarrow and the cart that hooked to the riding mower. On her birthdays he would give rides around the lawn in this wooden wagon until she and her brother and sister grew too big to fit. Everything was papers now, spilling over the slats. Piled invoices like layers of filo dough, cash register slips, envelopes ripped open jaggedly, file folders of brown-edged papers. Ripped, crumpled, everything mounded without organization. 

She could not imagine where they would begin. He said, “Hurry, we don’t have much time, the light is fading. There is something in here, very important, that I want to show you. We have to find it.” 

They stood at the shed’s doorway and her hands twitched to start sorting and organizing—something she was really good at. They had to find the important document or whatever it was he wanted to show her. He had never spoken to her this way so she was especially on alert and ready to help. Not like when he would command her and her siblings to pick peas or weed the garden. She could feel there was so much to learn in there. 

This shed he had never showed anyone. It seemed he had built it next to where his ashes lay in the garden, sometime during the decades since he died. He had been waiting for her to find her way there in a dream. Now they were on the threshold of a great mission together. He finally trusted her with something he had never revealed in his lifetime. Was it about his brother Robbie the priest in training who died in a mental hospital? Was it about losing the farm? Was it his own private writings done in rehab? She had heard hints of these stories from her aunts but that’s as far as it went. Whatever her father wanted to tell her, she was sure she would know him a little more. She longed to know him not just as the severe man who committed suicide right after Thanksgiving. He had saved all these important papers to show her. She welled up with gratitude. With so little time, how would they start? 

Just as she and her father were entering the shed she woke up. She could feel the huge revelation hanging, invisible, waiting to be brought to light among the papers. Then nothing. Gray windows at 6:42 am. She was furious. 

Maybe it was from this time onward that her dreams seemed to abandon her more and more.  But if she had to choose, this was the only dream she cared to revisit. Wouldn’t she and her father have gone into the shed and started to work on the piles side by side, reminiscing, sharing familiar oddities they came across--who is this in the photo, remember your green moleskin shirt? The big revelation was not within reach anymore, now that her dreams had de-coupled from her psyche and gone on a different track. These tracks had no distant point of convergence—they traveled resolutely parallel. She leaned from her window and strained to see if her father was on the other train. It faded into its own smoke.

How could used and reconditioned dreams be of any help to her? She wanted to return to a very specific one, not end up with someone else’s worn-out weird dream they had discarded. And what could be reconditioned? She had circled the whole farmer’s market barely seeing the late summer tomatoes and sweet pea bouquets with sunflowers. She had been staring inward at the papers in in the shed. When she arrived back at the Rêve-elation table a blocky man was seated in the folding chair, squinting from under his crocodile hat. She imagined through his black denim shirt to the tangle of tattoos over his whole body. His arms fit tightly in the shirtsleeves and she could picture a cottonmouth twining over his biceps. He adjusted his hat and twirled his cigarette out on the sole of a white boot with real fur patches left on the leather. For a man of amphibious skin he had a lot of knuckle hair.

“Far away on the giving and getting.”

She wasn’t sure if that’s what he said but it seemed addressed at her. 

“Kin I help yeh?” 

She expected to smell booze as she stepped closer. The farmer’s market was usually so wholesome—who was this? 

“What de yeh fancy, pretty lady?” he offered again. “Promenade in green? Keys to the kingdom? High, low, rocky road?” He paused. 

She stopped moving.

“I see it. You want to go. He awaits, green light on behind. Take the train, the slow train.”

She looked into his greeny mud-brown eyes and felt him see straight into her grief. Still, after 30 years. And now, especially after the unfinished dream and all the others lost. She longed to walk next to her father again. They wouldn’t have to shuffle papers. They wouldn’t even have to talk.

“The one about the shed, that’s the dream I can’t give up. All the others you can have. Enough to fill the Library of Alexandria. Maybe the trade is good. What do I fancy? Just one more afternoon with my father. I need to ask him about the shed, why he showed me all that stuff and then just left.” She spilled the words and then felt like fleeing.

The man’s fingertips paced over the shiny black caps of his brown bottle army. His fingernails were a nauseous shade of yellow. With a click of his tongue he picked up a bottle, opened and sniffed and quickly recapped it. “Too acidic. Wipes your memory. Some want that.” He went back to fumbling over the neat rows of bottles. This one he held up to the light. “Not enough culturing time, still cloudy.” He closed his eyes and let his hand drift like a metal-detector. She wanted to pull away and get back to normal errands, but she had waited this long. His stubby fingertips closed on the neck of a bottle in the center of the collection. He lifted it slowly, dangling it down in a way she could only call unsettling. 

“I wouldn’t have said Pokeweed for you—didn’t take you for a chancer. But here. Don’t drink it, just put it under your pillow.”

She couldn’t move.

He murmured on in a thin voice: “How many dream fires I have doused with this wicked tincture and yet some may still live in a useful form. Take special care, this is the hazmat dump of the whole collection. Once I give it to you I’ll start right in on the next one. I’ve got the base liquor all ready in the still— maybe you saw my trailer in the parking lot, with the pipe on the side? These days I can pass for one of those teardrop camper types, just a little more rough and tumble. Been at it for some time, back to the Pleistocene you could say.”

You don’t say, she thought. What drugs did he grow up on?

He was still dangling the narrow bottle over the table between them. It had a murky orange glow that reminded her of eucalyptus honey. The more he moved it, swinging like a bell, the more it seemed to pick up moisture from the air until it was covered with a haze of condensation. Then it started to smoke like a lump of dry ice. “It’s all charged up, m’lady.”  

Without thinking she reached out and let him drop the bottle into her left palm. She closed her fingers on the slender smoking glass. A sting ran through her body. 

OK, she thought, this guy has something going here. I should probably run.

He was watching her with interested wavering underwater eyes. They were the color of the deep pool where she had swum and nearly run out of breath, come to notice. He smiled with a few teeth, black gums. 

“What do I do now?”

“Keep it in the sun when it’s not under your pillow. Don’t let anyone else touch it. Bring it back when it runs down for a free recharge.”

“How will I find you?”

“Don’t worry, you will,” he said, sliding his chevron eyebrows up and down. 

She started to feel seasick, the earth was sliding away. What if this was a bottle of jinx? Why was she still standing here? She looked around at the deserted farmer’s market. They were alone next to a garden and the light began to fall.  

“How do I know I you aren’t trying to mess me up with this stuff?” 

“I thought that’s why you stopped by, dearie. The daytime world is just a little too dry for the likes of you. I traffic in the underneath. You know it, you crave it. You’ve grown out of the usual portals. I wouldn’t give you Pokeweed if you weren’t ready.”

More nonsense palaver, but her hand hadn’t fallen off, and the electrical current had backed off to a mild massaging purr. Her eyes felt loose in their sockets. She gave in, why not at least pretend she would try it. 

“What do I owe you?” she managed to mumble. 

“I’ll collect, you’ll see,” he winked.

She didn’t remember sleeping but now she was in a little shed on wheels. It was her own bedroom crammed into a trailer. Images sloshed through her. She had been in a white city in the dawn, the mist of the river still low to the streets. She had wandered a souk. There were bright fabrics decorating the passages and more for sale in stacks everywhere. She reached under her pillow. A cool ghost of a shape slipped from her grasp. She felt around but nothing stayed. 

She could smell a bit of river mud and duckweed. She dove down under the covers and looked back at the souk where she had bought beignets and a blue and gold fountain pen. The pen gave her left hand a little electrical shiver when she felt it in her vest pocket. Through an arched door she caught sight of four white hooves and golden fur patches bounding onto a wide lawn. She thought she saw her father next to the garden, on a low yellow stool like a mushroom. He was peeling back cornhusk on brilliant silver ears that he stacked into a tower. The empty shed stood open.

October 15, 2021 23:23

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1 comment

Raya Mahoney
17:06 Oct 21, 2021

Great imagery! I like that image of dreams washing onto shore "along with Amelia Earhart's bones." Interesting story - I want to know what happens next!

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