by Tal Geddes
Will has a dream that recurs each night. It is a conscientious torturer, sauntering into the room, rolling up its sleeves, and then commencing to lash him with barbs that pass through mere flesh and cut his deepest self.
The dream is always the same—a procession of familiar images escalating to sudden terror that never diminishes despite the repetition. Only an inconsequential detail in the dream may vary each night—the color of her shirt as she looks at him and laughs, the last petty, unaware word weighing on his lip, the angle of the sunlight bouncing from the plate glass beside him. But the hardest blow of the dream comes without variation: The car swipes through his peripheral vision and throws her into the air. He sees the last expression on her face, somehow as still as a lantern held in the sky. Then she’s on the ground again.
He stands, able to do nothing. He wants to touch her but can’t. He knows everything already, all the pain that awaits him, though he doesn’t understand any of it. The light of the world drains, as if crowding down a puncture at his feet, and he can’t stop it.
Her body is broken, and it might as well be all the world lying broken in front of him.
Then he wakes and the climax of pain stays with him through the shift in consciousness. It feels like it may never release its hold.
He is aware of the irony that the dream is a pedantic re-creation—except for the inconsequential detail—of the one moment that he wishes with the ardency of prayer had been a dream. He thinks about this often. In the daylight, playacting through the routines of life, he games at tricking himself into believing it was a dream all along, so as to breathe once with the ease of forgetfulness.
Every time he opens the door to his apartment, for instance, he thinks that maybe it was all a mistake and she will be locked safe inside. But this wish is a kind of snare that keeps him tied to misery, since he has to come to the realization over and over in seeing the silent apartment that the tragedy was real. But he can’t stop dabbling in this fantasy, in part because every detail of that devastating moment had, as it occurred, in fact, felt a little like a dream. He’d been so afraid of losing her for so long—as if he had to balance light outside with dark inside—that he’d already imagined it. While touching her living back or smelling her presence in the dark near sleep, he’d run through in his mind an exhaustive gallery of ways to lose her. That gallery had included images almost identical to what then occurred. He’d lived with the dream before it became a reality reflected in a dream.
So how could he ever be sure the moment wasn’t a dream, cooked in his premeditative mind? But the only way for that to be the case would be if she had never existed, because the one thing he was sure of was that she was gone.
Staring into the dark after waking, Will wishes to be rid of this dream that nightly clocks in and sets to work on him. But as he stares longer into the dark, his heart slows. The pain eases its clench. He can feel over the dream and find its soft points of unreality—the inconsequential detail mentioned already—and then he can separate himself from it and inhabit the still room. And that is the moment, almost instantaneously flitting past, when he feels free—as he falls between nightmare and reality.
The only escape he can glimpse now would be to always be tumbling from one certainty crumbling into dream down to the next.