Somehow I keep coming up with ideas for this one. Thanks for sticking with me, I appreciate y'all:)
i hate to talk like this i hate to act as if something's wrong that i can't say i have this dream at night almost every night i've been dreaming it forever it's easy to remember it's always cold it's always day you're always here you always say i'm all right i'll be okay if i can keep myself awake 'cause when i'm sleeping so deep and it's so much more real to me closer to reality
--"keep myself awake" black lab
The doorbell rings around lunchtime, forcing me to climb out of bed and my wallowing-in-self-pity-fest. At the door stands a delivery man with a clipboard and seventeen large brown boxes--Rick's things from Boston. The delivery man takes one trip after the other, finding interesting ways to cram the seventeen boxes in the tiny living room. With all the boxes stacked in here there's nowhere to sit anymore, and only a single path through the room to the rest of the house. Rick was right. This place is way too small.
I wonder if Rick fit everything in his life into these seventeen boxes--is there more? He had the big stuff, like furniture, put in storage. Of course, he didn't pack any of this, the moving men did. We'll have to unpack everything just to find out what's in them. I wonder if he was serious about getting a house, with a yard. I really do want a house, not just because this apartment is too small for three people, even without a dog. It's never something I thought about before, but I like the idea of a happy little family living in a happy little house. Jon and I grew up in a big house a few miles from here, and every memory I have of that house is a wonderful one.
The temptation to open the boxes is too much. Besides, I have nothing else to do. I plop one on the ground and slit open the top. Inside all I can see is thin, neatly wrapped parcels. I unwrap one and find a diploma. Rick's business degree, in 1928. The next one is a plaque, congratulating Jamilah Shipping for excellence in service, from the Boston Business Bureau. After that there are a few framed photographs--Robbie, Rick and a few others sitting at a picnic table, a blurred portrait of Addison as a puppy.
The most interesting one is a really old photo of a group of people dressed in evening wear. Tucked in the corner is a wallet-sized photo of a man and a woman who I can spot in the group shot, too. You can tell by her hair and the clothes that this photo was taken thirty, maybe forty years ago. They're both beaming and looking at each other, rather than the camera. I carefully pull the little one out of the frame and look at the scrawled writing on the back.
January 8, 1890. Liam and Cecily's engagement party.
Liam and Cecily... Rick's parents. Robbie and his ailing father are pretty much the only family he has now, excepting more distant cousins. Robbie must have given this picture to him. The next few, too--a family portrait, of three children. A girl of fourteen or fifteen --Cate, it must be--with two little boys on her lap. The youngest one, David, has dark hair and an mischievous expression on his face. His brother is blond and blue-eyed, and looks suspiciously like another little boy I know.
There's more, of people I don't recognize, although I can identify Robbie in one and Rick and his siblings in a few more. It's the kind of trip down a tragic memory lane that makes me want to give Rick a hug. What happened to all these people? By the looks of these pictures he had such a large family. Reduced now to an O'Connell and a couple of Gardners, again separated by thousands of miles of ocean.
For the first time it occurs to me that the family is getting larger. Alex and me, we're O'Connells now.
I wish Rick would get home.
The nightmare is always the same. It's always unbearably bright at first, and it takes a few moments of panicky blindness for my eyes to adjust. But by then the light has faded and I'm back in that chamber, that sandstone representation of Hell buried deep under Hamunaptra. I can't move, stuck in a terrible nightmare state of molasses, while time surrounding me moves at lightning speed. My wife lies on the sacrificial slab at the head of room, pleading for help, and I can't move. It's always come when I'm stressed about something. Is it any surprise that since she came back into my life, the dream comes more often and more intensely? It's different lately, since the Oasis--somehow there's another layer floating underneath now, something ancient that I can't begin to grasp--but basically it's still the same. For nearly nine years I have had this dream, and the outcome is always the same. She dies every time, and there's never anything I can do about it.
I can't sleep (I never can, after the dream, and the couch is not exactly comfortable anyway) so I've gone to the kitchen. Of their own volition my hands have assembled a grilled cheese and pickle sandwich with the crusts cut off, just for something to do. Evy made this for me once, years and years ago, when we both couldn't sleep. She said her mother used to make it for them, when she and Jonathan were kids.
"You remember," she says from the kitchen doorway. She looks tired, her hair is half-pulled back in a frizzy mess and the tie of her robe is coming apart. She's beautiful.
"I remember everything," I reply. "I remember the kitchen had blue tile. It was really windy but the shutters were broken. We kept dropping things on the floor."
She comes one step into the kitchen. "We never ate it, did we?"
"We fed it to a stray cat."
She laughs. "I'd forgotten that." She takes another step. "Couldn't sleep, either?"
I shake my head. "Too many dreams."
"Just the one, actually."
She stands beside me now, and we stare at the sandwich. "Split it?" I offer, and she nods and gets another plate. The sandwich is split in two now, but neither of us touches it.
"What's it about?" she asks.
It doesn't occur to me not to tell her, though I pause while I wonder how to put it. "The past. Things that never happened."
I know she smiles, though I'm not looking at her face. "We of all people should know not to trust in the incredulity of dreams."
"No, this happened, it just... In my dreams it goes in the worst possible way. We wouldn't be standing in this kitchen if it had gone that way."
She doesn't say anything for a minute, and when she does her voice has an edge to it, a tiny, frightened pitch that I rarely hear from her. I know she understands what I am saying, even if I haven't outlined my nightmares directly. "I have dreams like that sometimes. Lucky I've got you, though, because I am standing here. We both are. I've lost you enough times, I can't...I can't..." She bites back her tears, but only just. "I'm sorry," she says. "I'm just so...exhausted, and I can't..."
My arms of their own volition wrap around her, and I suddenly realize how tired I am, too, as if we are holding each other up from the brink of collapse. "I'm so tired," she repeats, her words muffled into my shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry, too," I echo. "I'm sorry."
"I don't have nightmares when you're there." She wipes at her eyes, sniffling. "I used to dream all the time, about... you know. Variations on a theme."
"Me too. Just let me protect you. Let me take care of you."
She looks at me and I can't stand that I still see tears in her eyes. "Let's take care of each other."
"I'm sorry I said what I said, earlier. I didn't mean it. I was upset about other things, and I just sort of...transferred it onto everything else. Including you."
She puts on her brave face, tears vanquished. "So. How was work?"
"Terrible. You are very distracting."
"As are you; I didn't get anything done today." She thinks about this, then changes her mind. "Kind of nice for a change, actually."
"Just think of it as a vacation. Write a book, or something."
She looks a little surprised. "I did."
"You wrote a book today?"
"No." Now she looks embarrassed. "Over the past few years. I wrote two."
My jaw nearly drops. "How did I not know this? Are they published?"
"Um...yes. I'm sorry! I can't believe I didn't tell you!" She laughs. "Learn something new every day, I suppose."
"What are they about?"
She grins, that sparkle that only academia can induce returning to her voice. "One is a compilation of ancient curses, that one came out just last year, and the other one is about Nekhbet." Her smile falters slightly. "She's the, um, guardian of mothers and childbirth. I did a lot of research on her when I was...you know...pregnant."
Not for the first time I'm not sure how to respond. What comes out is not what I planned to say. "Do you want more kids?"
She takes a moment to consider this, but I can see the real answer immediately in her eyes. "Maybe," she says carefully, as if afraid I might be offended. "Someday, maybe. Someday."
"Tell me yes."
"Because that's what I see in your eyes."
She still looks uncertain. "What about you?"
My wife is too easy to tease. "Maybe," I say, mimicking her. "Someday, maybe. Someday." She looks as if she's about to smack me, so I give her my real answer. "Yes."
I can see the smile spreading across her face this time. It's one of joy, and I can't help but feel the same thing in my own heart. "Well, we've got our first married couple fight over with. That's something we can check off the list."
"I guess we've got a few things to do before we have more kids. Here's an idea: let's go house-hunting this weekend. The moving boxes don't even fit in this place."
"Sounds good. But...why don't we talk about all this in the morning."
"What did you have in mind for tonight, then?"
"What do you say we finish making up?"
"I like the way you think."