“Forget about it,” Patrick scoffs. “Nothing makes me put a book down faster than some dream on a page.”
“I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, I know,” he says and screws his face up, stifling a burp. “But, c’mon now, truthfully? When somebody starts yapping about some idiot dream, don’t you want to just kill yourself?”
“Not necessarily,” Valetta says. She smiles benignly through her lie and keeps her eyes on the dessert menu.
“Dreams in fiction, poetry in fiction, all majorly suck. Worse than party games.” He swirls the last of his coffee, dissolving the sugar, and drains the bone-china cup dry.
Valetta knows with a sudden clarity that this will be their last meal together. She’d been afraid of the accretion of little things that could annoy her about him these days. Petty things: the way his right foot curved weak and dumbly inward, his overly-loud tone on the phone, tiny chaffs of Kleenex in the stubble of his mustache. She knew that this annoyance would be permanent, that it would yeast into something bigger, grimmer. And she knew that tomorrow, when the stock market closed for the day and he came home, she’d be long gone.
“Did any writing today?” Patrick had asked first thing, even before the smooth-shaven busboy had set down the two clinking glasses of lemoned water.
“Oh, worked on a scene,” she said, “gave a character one of my dreams.”
“Kind of dream?” he asked. His bored eyes had grazed the wallpaper behind her, landing on nothing, she knew, the mirror across from her reflecting back the wall’s pattern: the mille fleur of housedresses and cotton underwear.
She leaned forward as if the force of her body could will his attention. The close aroma of massed carnations rose from the low vase. “You really interested?”
“Yeah, sure. Why not?” he asked, trying all the while to get the attention of the dulled, late-afternoon waiter.
She would make it up on the spot, the dream, her real dreams deliriant. She had written nothing in two days. She had turned on the computer. She had cruised websites. She had answered e-mail. She had downloaded music. Delaying, she knew. For when this final chapter was finished, she’d have to look for a job.
“I dreamed I was at your desk, writing,” she began. “But it wasn’t our house. It was somewhere far, Chicago, some place like that. An apartment. I heard noise outside, like motorcycles idling. I went to the window—huge windows, sliding glass doors, maybe—and there was this long, long line of cars, you know, sort of parked in the middle of the street. Turns out the motorcycle guys were cops—outriders moonlighting for a funeral procession. All these cars were following a hearse that stopped next door. Then that big hatch door opens? Inside there’s this humongous mahogany coffin. Some neighbor woman on the sidewalk said the dead person had wanted to go by his house. To say goodbye, wanted to go home one last time.”
Patrick put his fist to a wide, silent yawn that teared his eyes. He leaned his head to each shoulder, cracking boredom from his neck.
Valetta, noting, plowed on regardless. “So, the guy driving the hearse went up to the house to get a wreath, a book, got something, could’ve been a shotgun, and comes back out whistling. He throws the gun in the back of a hearse, like you’d throw shoes. Everybody starts clapping like crazy. But I could tell that the person in the coffin was faking it; her eyes trembled. And I remember telling myself that if that woman got out of the coffin and creeped me out, I could wake up; it’s only a dream.”
“You dream the weirdest crap, I swear,” he said.
Valetta is surprised how smoothly this lie of a dream had tripped from her mouth. How easy it all is. She hopes that when he looks back at this evening—he will revisit this, she’s sure—he’ll be sorry he hadn’t been paying closer attention. Next week this time he will have worn through the memory of this early dinner, this dream; he will have bulldozed through these recent days, parsed every conversation.
“Dreams are just the brain recycling the remains of the day, trying to make sense of stuff. You know that, don’t you?” he says.
“I know,” she says. She lays her menu down.
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