The story so far:
I am awake again, sweating in the dark, my eyes wide. Gentle hands caress my face while my wife is cooing to me softly.
“You had another nightmare” she says. “It’s alright babe.”
The first light of morning spills between the dark drapes. She rises and leaves the room, clattering in the kitchen for a few minutes while I lay on my side with a mysterious tear running to my temple onto the pillow. With the door ajar I smell the brewing coffee and feel a little more grounded. I am partially dressed with a tie draped ready around the upturned collar of a starched white shirt when she enters the room with a steaming mug of the aromatic elixir.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“Work,” I reply.
“Honey, this is Saturday.”
“Oh” I say feeling stupid, still unable to recall first hand what day it is. Unsure of anything, I notice in the mirror that I might be in my mid to late thirties, but it is hard to tell.
“What are we doing today?” I ask, realizing I don’t know her name. As it turns out she is planning to go to some yard sales with a friend named Maggie.
After she leaves I discover a fifth of Scotch on a shelf at the bottom of the night stand and pour some in my second cup of coffee. After a couple of quick gulps I add some more to refill the cup to its top. I wander into the kitchen and find a newspaper on the table. I realize I don’t even know the year and find it above the marquee. It only confuses me more with its lack of meaning. Out the window I see the nicely paved road and the shiny cars near the curb and think that the road should be dirt and the cars should be wagons or horses. Additionally, the houses are much too close together and the lawns, hedges and gardens are far too neat.
After my third coffee and Scotch I am getting drowsy and recline on the couch. Seemingly by instinct I have turned on the television and the news means less to me than anything else in the house; the lamp that lights by touch. A small box with rows of buttons that I somehow know how to use. The figurines lined neatly behind the glass doors of a hutch. A telephone that flashes that there are three un-played messages. A curious blend of recognition and stupefaction defeat all will. The drone of voices on something called CNN is no help. I am vaguely aware that there is in fact someplace named “Chicago” but I’ve never heard of “Iraq”. Eventually the temperature rises in the room and I am drenched by a restless boredom and find myself drifting toward sleep, but lacking the will to return to bed.
I am eight years old and today I am going to leave it all. Poppa has taught me how to shoot so I am steeling his gun and one of the ponies. I have some sausage, bread and dried fruit, along with some matches, a coat and a blanket. Uncle Marty is dead but things have not gotten better. Instead they have gotten far worse. Poppa mounts me or Momma whenever he wants and doesn’t care if I see it or if Momma sees him riding me. Now he is worse than Uncle Marty the foul smelling billy-goat of a man. There are no rules accept that nothing Momma or I do is good enough. I begged Momma to take us away. She told me Poppa is sick and needs us. Poppa’s sickness is killing all of us. I think he is dying too but I can’t wait any more. When I am older and bigger I will come back to kill Poppa with the gun and save my momma. We will ride off together on the pony and then I will find a job at a factory and take care of her.
As the distance grows between me and Poppa I feel an odd combination of terror and elation. A sense of freedom like I have never known before pours into me with the golden sun as it crouches below the trees. At the same time a growing awareness of impending nightfall creeps in with the knowledge that Momma will not be fixing dinner and I will be sleeping on the earth with insects and snakes tonight. Gradually the sun sets and in twilight I leave the road and find a small clearing in the forest to bed down. I tie the pony’s reins to an oak tree and check the leaves for snakes before spreading my blanket. It will not be cold tonight. I eat some dried fruit with no plans to start a fire. The pony must be hungry too so I return to the edge of the road where there is long grass to pluck. I should have brought a knife but I get enough free and the pony is so very grateful for my efforts.
Night falls gently but firmly. I am surprised to feel a chill and wrap the blanket around me while the night bugs start singing so loud I wonder if sleep is even possible. The night has never seemed so alive. I have never wondered so vividly the sort of critters that create such noise. Whenever I begin to doze my imagination conjures dreadful monstrosities that will crawl over me and eat me alive. They will find their way into my ears and eat away at my brain. They will creep into my shorts and sink terrible insect teeth into my pecker and suck all of my blood until I am dead and the coyotes, snakes, worms and vultures can clean me to the bone so that no-one can tell who I was. Momma will not recognize me. When I close my eyes against the void of darkness there is only a more fearsome darkness, filled with armies of marching insects with drooling mouths lusting for fresh, warm flesh.
Pony will protect me. Gram and Brother are watching over me. As my racing heart slows and I find myself consumed by nothing more terrifying than mosquitoes I somehow find the comfort of longer sleep.
Wife is shouting at me but I wake up and do not know what she is saying. My puzzled look and glazed eyes must infuriate her further because she throws a heavy sack that hits me painfully in the head. Ashtrays and mugs tumble from the plastic sack onto the floor beside the empty bottle that was half full of scotch the last time I remember seeing it. “Pick that **** up! Get off your **** and do something for a change!”
“What?” I must look like an idiot because she calls me one. Then she calls me a slob and a prick and stomps into the kitchen.
I call after her, anger buzzing in my head, clutching my chest and climbing into my throat like a lizard. “I work don’t I? I pay the damn bills around here!”
She is in the doorway, a silhouette in the pale glow of the overhead lights from the kitchen. “Yeah well what about some things need fixing around hear? I’m not a plumber or an electrician. Do you want to pay someone sixty dollars an hour to do what you already know how to fix yourself? If you want I’ll call them tomorrow but don’t bitch about the bill!”
“Why? How much did you spend on crap today?” I don’t even know what I’m saying; it just spills out like a flood. “Your damn nick-knacks are taking over the house! What makes you think we need yet another ashtray or **** rhinestone encrusted ceramic goose? Give me a break!”
She stomps toward me but her face is indiscernible in the shadow; probably a good thing. “You never want to do anything with me. What am I supposed to do, sit around and watch CNN with you while you drink yourself stupid?”
I rise as though to leave the room and escape her wrath but I don’t know where to go. CNN? I didn’t even know what I was watching today. Who is this person she is describing? Me? Who, me?