Surely there were people like me—people with a heart that hung so low it might as well be a shoe—people who slept with the window partly open just in case a whisper of hope blew past in the wind—people who knew all the words to Let It Be, but just couldn’t.
It wasn’t always this way. I had been in love.
Now it’s Monday and I watch as a butterfly comes in through the open kitchen window. Panicking, it bangs against the upper part of the glass trying to break free. I sneeze and lean towards it, trying to cup it in my hands and guide it out. I sneeze again, give up, and turn away from the flutter of wings.
“I can’t stop sneezing. I think I’ve caught something from my dream,” I say.
Mark continues to spoon sugar into his coffee, saying nothing, as if it’s common to catch a bug from a dream.
“Did you hear what I said? I think I’ve caught a cold from my dream.”
He finally looks at me and gives a little shrug.
“You don’t believe me,” I plop a blueberry in my mouth and wish I’d noticed how soft it was before I did. I spit it out into the sink where it sits shriveled and blue—vulnerable and soft against the hard white porcelain—like a mis-placed bruise.
Mark goes back to staring at his iPad. There’s a small spot on the top of his head where his hair has given up. “Last time it was ghosts,” he says without looking up.
He has a point. Well, part of a point. I have seen ghosts, but usually they were just the floaters my Optometrist told me about. Protein flecks at the back of my eye, clumped together, casting shadows on my retina. I picture them like the kids in high school that wore black clothes, black eyeliner, and frowns and huddled together in the lunchroom so that at first glance they appeared to be one large dark form. I stare at the blank white wall of the kitchen—watching the fantom shapes—and marvel at the fact I’m looking at shadows from the backs of my eyes. One doesn’t think of seeing shadow without a light coming from behind.
“What are you doing now?” he says. As if my being absolutely still has somehow affected his ability to scan the latest headlines about our bloated president. As if my silence can bring his search for vintage trailers to a screeching halt. As if my mere existence is the bane of his…
“Well?” he asks.
“Nothing.” It’s a lost cause. I sneeze another dream sneeze and walk out of the room, leaving him alone with the trapped butterfly.
I decide I’m not going to go to work. I’m too sick, I’ll say. I slide back in between the cotton sheets and think about Chuck. Chuck’s missing physically, but he’s all over me, the way someone’s smell attaches to their sheets. 300 count cotton has a way of missing someone that even some people aren’t capable of. I still have the pillow Chuck would lean back on when he played guitar in the room next to ours. I use that pillow religiously now, the polyester fill somehow flatter now that the music has stopped. My heart breaks every time my head touches it. And that doesn’t make for good dreams. I toss and turn while fractured images limp through my head like the orphaned thoughts of a madman. I guess that’s what I am. Just a random thought my crazy mother once had then promptly forgot.
My mother said she named me Irma to remind me that people make mistakes and mistakes can kill you. She named me after Irma Grese, the most notorious and brutal of all the female guards employed in the Nazi prison camps. Ms. Grese was only 18 when she started her killing spree, and she was hanged at 22. I turn 22 next week.
My mom is psychotic, like her mother, which most likely, fairly probably, means I’m screwed. She was taken away to a white house where the walls bead with sweat while its unhinged inhabitants practice macrame and the floorboards squeak with fear. Underpaid people in various shades of scrubs move from room to room watching my mother and the others to make sure they don’t cut off their toes, swallow too many pills—or speak their truth.
My mother may be gone, locked away in some angry dream, but I still swim in the turbulent current of crazy she left behind. It seems to touch every aspect of my life—as if her malignant malaise is a living breathing thing, a snarling mutt that sits by our front door waiting for her return. The latest evidence? Chuck.
Chuck’s been missing for eight months. He was magic incarnate and he just vanished. Now everything was dimmer, as if the Seattle clouds had seeped through our ceiling and settled over the furniture and walls. Even our faces were laced with grey and with something else I couldn’t quite place. I cough. Great. My dream bug. It’s spreading. If I can just go back to sleep, I can slip back into the same dream as if I’d never left and finish it…go through the illness and wake up better—healed. My throat tightens as if I’m holding in a scream and I close my eyes and try to ignore the sounds of Mark leaving for work. He won’t bother to say goodbye. It’s Monday and he loves Mondays. Mondays are meatball sub days. Mondays are marvelous Marla is my secretary day. I hear the slam of the door, the key in the lock, the bolt, then the fading of his steps and I slide on my dream shoes and go for a walk.
For the image above, and other artwork I created inspired by my short stories, please visit my artist page on Redbubble.