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November 17, 2017 | Fiction

Dreams About Water

Duncan Whitmire

Dreams About Water photo

Our dreams fit close, adjacent. The girl, the dog, and me, a warm shifting heap of blankets and sighs. Colors bleed into one another like the pages of a picture book left out in the rain. A cornflower blue stream cuts through field and forest beneath chalky afternoon skies. In my sleep I pray we’ll always be like this, but I can’t figure out if the God in dreams is the same god I pray to in the morning when we wake.

Amy tells me her dreams are lonely, wonders why I don’t keep her company anymore. I laugh and tell her it’s all in her head, but the truth is I saw her last night beside the river. From the shade of a single oak I watched her hop from stone to stone, her bare feet curled atop each rock as she crossed, her arms balanced out to either side tilting this way and that. I knew if I called out she might fall, might be caught in the unrelenting current and carried to a place too far away for me to follow.

With sunrise filtering through the curtains we stretch ourselves upright. Amy says it isn’t healthy to lust for sleep the way I do, but when she’s blue she’ll stay in bed for days. Sometimes she doesn’t dream and the shadows stain across my sleep like smoke from a distant fire. Under bruising purple clouds I walked downstream to a little stone chapel and asked where the darkness came from. I heard a whispered voice but couldn’t make out the words as the sound of raindrops began to fall against the colored glass.

We named the dog Shawshank—‘Shanks’ for short—and have always suspected he will someday run away. Even as a puppy he would gaze through the bars of his crate like an innocent man refusing to accept his fate. After circling his spot at the foot of the bed for the night and collapsing into a kidney-shaped bundle, he sighs with what sounds to me like a formidable sadness. When he sleeps I see his legs twitch and hope he’s chasing small animals in a field and not diving out into the blue Pacific.

Our dreams fit close, adjacent, and when we wake we pretend the things we say are new conversations and not the answers to questions wondered aloud in the night. I smell the fresh perspiration on my pillow, remember something about the ocean. For a while I wrote everything down, studied with special books to note the spiritual significance of every scene, as if dreams could be examined for intent like the brushstrokes of a Turner seascape.

Last night she looked over her shoulder before leaning that first step onto the river stone; that was Amy’s only glance toward my spot beneath the oak. I felt a presence brush up behind me and found the dog, his eyes the deep rich green of pine boughs shouldering the winter’s first snow. When he turned to walk away I followed him up and up into the hills until we could see for miles in every direction. “You hike up here every night?” I asked, but he just stared at the horizon. I tracked his gaze to where Amy stood rooted on the edge of a shadowy forest, her hands tentatively motioning and withdrawing, like she was stuck deciding whether to let the willowy fronds reach out and brush against her skin.

“I saw you by the river last night,” Amy says, her eyes still closed and half-covered by strands of almond-brown hair. “Why didn’t you follow me?” 

I tell her what I think it means to cross a river in the night, that the place she goes is a place people don’t always come back from. Shanks perks up at this, then nuzzles between us with a long sigh. It starts to rain and the grayness of the day seeps in through the window. 

“I love days like this,” she says. “Tell me I don’t have to wake up.” I put my arm around her and pull her close against my body. As I feel her breathing slow I whisper a quiet prayer I hope will reach her like the sound of water sliding between the rocks on its way toward the ocean.

image: Bryan Bowie


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