She wants to kill him.
Or, at least, she wants him dead.
The silence has left us suspended in time. Javiera stares at me expectantly. I shift my position, retie the ribbon at the end of my braid, smooth the creases of my skirt; anything to avoid looking at her. If she was a paying customer, I’d have no issue delving into her dreams, send her on her way with the knowledge that her psyche lusts for murder. But Javi isn’t a paying customer and she isn’t just anyone.
“So?” Javi chews on her lip, a hypnotizing tic she’s had since we were kids. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since college. I haven’t been able to get her out of my head. And now that I’ve been inside her mind, I know I’ll never stop thinking of her, or what it would be like to wake up next to her. “Mara?”
Work only for those who pay, who you’ll never see again. That’s what my mother said. Now I understand why.
“Just, one second.” I press play on the IDA—the Intensive Dream Analyzer. My mother made the first prototype thirty years ago, a pioneer of a new sort of life-coaching. Get to the root of people’s desires, fears, traumas—unravel their psyche—and you can set them on the right path in the conscious world. I’m supposed to find truth in the nonsensical. But I can’t in good faith send Javi down this road.
I’ve already watched her dream enough times that I’ve lost count. Hope flutters in my chest as it has every time; an ill-fated desperation that somehow the images will change. It begins as it has every time, with a static world muffled by familiar voices shouting, crying. Watching people’s dreams never gets less unsettling. All the controlled chaos, the garbled nonsense that somehow makes sense sends gooseflesh up my arms. It still feels like I’m intruding on something never meant to see. Maybe I am.
I’m walking through a dark world, seeing it through Javi’s eyes. Her heart pounds in her ears. I can almost taste her rage. Her impulse. Mice circle her feet, crawl up her legs, seemingly burrow into her skin. I cringe. Pests in the real world, and pests in dreams.
Her breath stutters. The air is thick, almost like she’s breathing molasses. A mirror as tall as she is falls from the sky. The road shudders and cracks as the mirror embeds into the earth. Javi stumbles back. Another mirror falls behind her. One after another they plummet, trapping her until there’s only her and her reflection. Time slows in the way it does only in dreams, when you’re running but can’t move, when you’re breathing but you’re about to faint. Javi touches the mirror nearest her.
Glass rains from the dark sky. Shards strike her skin. Blood pools beneath her. Javi catches a shard before it strikes her shoulder. Clutching tighter, tighter, the glass carves a deep gash in her palm. Her reflection grins around her, even though she does not. It gestures her forward. She steps through, without hesitation. It’s a feeling unlike any other, like frost has settled in a film over her skin.
Her husband appears in the endless gray expanse. Javi raises the shard. Everything blurs, as another dream fights for attention. I turn the IDA off before it gets far too graphic—a series of images I have electronically unwoven to better analyze, though wish I hadn’t. I am only thankful the transition between dreams overshadowed Javi’s memory. She doesn’t need to know what she did. What she wants to do.
“Mara!” Javi exclaims. “You’ve been staring at that forever. What’s going on?”
“Well…” I take a breath. How can I make this sound professional and truthful without actually saying anything real? “The mirrors are definitely not the best sign. Especially cracked. And the raining glass—everything about this dream just screams that you’re feeling vulnerable, like your self is broken.”
Her face falls. “Oh. I thought as much.”
The incessant tick tick of my clock fills the uncomfortable silence. I wasn’t lying. Just not telling the whole truth. The mice are near as bad an omen as the mirrors. How can I tell her that she will soon be betrayed? By someone she loves dearly? My knuckles turn white around the IDA. Her husband is going to hurt her.
“Sorry, Javi. I wish I could tell you something better.”
She shakes her head, eyes brightening as if nothing had happened. “Don’t be! I asked you to do this favor. This dream has just been like, sitting on my chest for a while. I guess I just need to work on myself a little bit.”
I purse my lips. “Right.”
Javi shrugs on her purse. “I should get going. Ronnie should be getting off work soon. He’s taking me on a trip.”
There’s no way he can afford to take her on a trip. I’ve spent enough sleepless nights listening to Javi vent to know that man’s gambling has brought him dangerously close to homelessness and will take her with him. He has become her whole life and she’s worse off for it. Love isn’t always enough.
She blows me a kiss with a twinkle in her eye that belies the weariness of her face.
Now that I am alone in my office, the silence is expectant, as if waiting for me to do something, to help Javi. My fingers tap against the IDA. For sake of research, or being a good friend, or some grotesque curiosity—I’m not sure—I press play. A raven caws in the rippling darkness of the mirror world. Entranced, I watch as Javi snatches it from the air, drives the shard of glass through its body until its screams have long since ceased and its feathers are hardly such anymore.
She turns to her stoic husband.
The IDA beeps, ready to replay again. I stare at the final image frozen on the screen. Maybe it’s because I know Javi better than I know myself, but I have never seen such profound emotion in watching these dreams. Or perhaps I never cared to look before her; feelings are not nearly as important as the symbols in dreams. Such deep sensation only gets in the way of the subconscious’ candor.
Javi is desperate to be free. And she’s too scared to admit it to herself.
I tuck the IDA in my desk drawer and shrug on my peacoat. I smooth down the sparse creases, relishing in the warmth of the wool. Most people I’ve talked to turn their nose up at the scratch of wool, but I’ve always found it comforting.
My keys turn the lock of my office, and with it my sense of reality fades. It’s as if I’m in trance, possessed by an idea that has nagged at me for years, one that has finally clawed its way to my conscious, taking control of my sensibility. I could talk myself out of this. But I’m surprised to find I don’t want to.
Cold breezes nip at my cheeks when I step out to the street. Today is the first day the sun has graced our town in a week, and I welcome the gentle caress of its rays. Not nearly enough to warm me. I smile nonetheless.
I drive through the quiet, winding streets. I’ve passed my house. No going back now.
I park in front of the middle school, staring passively at the trickle of students getting picked up so late after class. Ronnie always walks home. It’s one thing Javi adores about him, though I can’t quite understand why. One person can’t heal the environment. One person can’t change someone else’s life. At least, that’s what I’ve always told myself. I toss mail that praises my work. I don’t care how they turn out after I’ve told them what they need to know. I don’t need that kind of liability.
Ronnie emerges from the back end of the school, a bookbag slung over his shoulder, his sweater vest speckled with what looks like coffee. I shouldn’t be surprised he’s that inept.
Slowly, I follow him as he strolls down the sidewalk. Am I really about to do this?
“Hey, Ronnie!” I call, pulling up beside him. “Would you like a ride?”
He hesitates, a prim blonde eyebrow quirking. I can’t say I blame him. I haven’t exactly tried hard to hide my distaste for him. After a moment of pondering, he sighs and clambers into my passenger seat. The click of the lock is an echoing note of finality. I edge the car forward.
Silence cloaks the car as we cruise through the streets. It clings to my mouth and nose, deafens the thoughts in my head. I am only possessed by an encompassing desire to help and the painful beat of my heart.
I reach into the pocket on the driver’s side door, my hand curling around my taser. I’ve never had to use it. Javi told me to buy it because I always get home late and I’m surrounded by eager strangers expecting me to tell them what’s wrong with them. Like I’m some sort of psychic. I’ll admit I have met my fair share of overzealous fanatics. So I caved and bought it. And maybe it’s a sign that Javi encouraged me to buy it. I’ve never been one to think everything in the universe is connected. But perhaps it is.
“This isn’t the right way,” Ronnie says, condescending as ever.
I clench tighter to the taser. Should I give him a chance to say something more poetic?
“Mara, I would like to go home. I’m exhausted and I have a surprise for Javi.”
That’s as good as anything. The longer I wait the more I’ll doubt. And I’ve never doubted myself before. I'm doing this for Javi. For her. For us.
I park the car on the side of the road. We’re a good way out of town now, far past the turnoff for his home. My hands are shaking, and yet I’ve never been filled with so much conviction.
Before he can finish his sentence, I switch the taser on and drive it straight into his neck. Electricity crackles. His eyes bulge and he gasps. Burning flesh permeates the air, singes the hairs in my nose. Ronnie flails, trying to fight me off. I elbow him as hard as the small space will allow. His nose cracks. Blood streams over his lips, his chin, his shirt.
I move the taser to his chest, right over his heart. My vision blurs as he seizes. This is for Javi. And for a chance at something we've been dancing around for years.
I don’t stop until his breaths are gurgling and his eyes have glazed over.
The silence is different now. Secretive. Suffocating.
Ronnie does not move, he does not breathe. He’s gone. And Javi is free. But I can’t stop staring at the blood on my taser, the red of my hands.
What I’ve done can’t be changed.
Oh my God, what have I done? This isn’t what I thought this would feel like. It was supposed to relieve me, not crush me with guilt. This is a dream, please it has to be.
His phone lights up; a picture of Javi, radiant and beaming, stares at me. I bury my head in my hands as his phone rings. And rings.