Farewell to the Dream Chamber
Only Danvers really knew why he had to stand upright twenty-four hours a day.
Had they identified a thread of rationality in Danvers’s behavior, everyone who knew him might have guessed as to why he never sat, nor lay down. But his situation went beyond explanation, and most people took his stance, literally, as a matter of bizarre fact.
Danvers would stand while working on his laptop computer set on the tall file cabinet in his bedroom. He’d stand while he ate dinner, his wife and children trying to include him in the conversation despite his hovering over their heads with his plate in his hand. He even stood as he slept, in the dream chamber he’d constructed himself.
The soundproof chamber looked like a rounded wardrobe. It stood upright to the left of the queen-sized bed he used to share with his wife. Inside the chamber, Danvers would first strap himself from the top of the vestibule to prevent his body from collapsing. The straps were then linked around his waist and rear end with snap-buckles. In addition to the straps, Danvers was supported by prongs of tough rubber built into the interior of the chamber, the ends of each of the prongs covered with soft cotton padding. As his body naturally slumped forward when he lost consciousness, a prong supported each of his shoulders. Two cushioned prongs were also set at his hips and two others made a gyrating shelf for his rear end. These last prongs were most necessary, because standing up for such long periods of time created a lot of tension in that area.
Danvers had been standing for seven straight years. When he’d made his decision to stand, he knew the first year would be difficult—not only for himself, but for his family and coworkers. That first year, when he requested his desk in the shared workspace be raised to chest level, his boss Cho looked at him for several moments, worried over some strange medical stipulation and the reasonable accommodation factor, and agreed to have it done. Danvers never fell behind in his assignments and got along well with his office mates. The desk situation was resolved by stacking a second desk on his old desk so that his computer monitor was at the same level as his head.
When Danvers changed his workstation, the office dynamic altered considerably. Before, Danvers had been the comedian and cheerleader of the collective. His coworkers had lingered over his faux-haiku, and the jokes about how his wife reviled the smell of his feet, his mini-reviews on the most popular TV shows of the day, his philosophical questioning that, once in a while, elevated them from banal office workers to energized thinkers on a variety of topics. But once the standing began, his coworkers didn’t laugh at his jokes. They received no fortification from his witty observations. Now, when Danvers wondered aloud whether stars that exploded millions of light years away could create a subtle shifting in the universe that would travel to earth and somehow change one’s mood—or one’s complete view of life even—they didn’t indulge him. They didn’t take the opportunity to extend their imaginations. They said noncommittal things like, “Sure. Did you finish that D-43 form yet? Cho has been asking around about it.”
His office mates simply couldn’t work comfortably while Danvers was standing. It made them feel as though he was standing over their shoulders instead of at his computer a few feet away, as if he was constantly monitoring their work. They found themselves irritable all the time, pulling shirt collars away from their necks, running hands through thinning hair, biting nails that had never been bitten before. One even took up a smoking habit, which allowed her to leave for intermittent breaks in the stairwell. The other three watched her slowly slide the cigarettes from her soft pack before cutting out, each of them envious for a reason to run away.
Danvers and his constant standing became too much for the coworkers. They would see a strange reflected movement in their computer monitors and quickly turn—and there was Danvers, just shifting his weight from one leg to the other, tapping his lips as he considered an email. Then he’d turn and say, “Hey Johnson, did you hear the news? The Muppets are coming to town. On ice. Think I might take the kids.” “Yeah,” Johnson would say, and they would all roll their eyes. And where would Danvers sit if he went to see the Muppets on ice? What did Danvers do when he went to the movies? Did he stand in the aisle the whole time? At their homes his coworkers would watch television, see a quick reflection in the screen and turn, expecting Danvers to be standing there, watching TV with them. In grocery store lines—why wouldn’t Danvers be standing behind them? Was that Danvers in the police officer’s uniform, standing in the middle of the road with a baton in his hand, directing traffic?
The four office mates met privately together, then with Cho, and the following week Danvers was in his own office on a higher level, with a window that looked out, if you peered far enough beyond the skyscrapers, to the ocean. The new office, according to Danvers’s preference, didn’t have any chairs, so the room looked rather empty. The second day, Danvers knew he would have liked some chairs, if only to take up space. Now there was no one to joke with or make witty observations to. He stood at his desk and filled in forms. He stood at his window and stared at increments of the ocean, diminished by the window glare of the apartment buildings in front of it.
That first year—before the sleeping chamber, when he slept in something that looked like a parachute harness—was most confusing for Danvers’s wife, Sofia. That he’d never explained his new lifestyle, and just up and one night hung himself from the ceiling, bothered her. Naturally, she asked him about the harness and the standing, and Danvers replied, “No offense, but this is the way it’s going to be from now on.”
It didn’t totally disappoint Sofia that she wouldn’t have her husband’s body, and his fungus infected feet, in their bed. When he was still lying down, Danvers often hogged the sheets and spread himself far too wide, so that Sofia found herself on the edge of the mattress in the morning, cold and uncovered, her hands under the pillow for warmth. What did concern about her husband’s new sleeping arrangement were the other man and wife things. How were they to continue their relations when he wasn’t even going to bed anymore?
Very quickly, though, Danvers showed Sofia that a bed wasn’t required for lovemaking. You might have even called Danvers’s new position a godsend to their sexual life. His sleeping harness was a particularly potent supplement, which is why the couple kept it hanging even after Danvers had built his sleeping chamber. Sofia learned that making love upright could be more pleasurable than lying down, especially against the slick wall tiles in a warm shower.
His two older children—Molly and David—were yet too young to find his standing all that strange. It would still be several years before they ate dinners at friends’ houses and were surprised the entire family sat at the table. When Courtney, their third child, was born, Cho suggested Danvers work from his home in Kaneohe. The company had lost the upstairs office and Danvers’s former coworkers had established a “sitting room only” workspace.
The new work arrangement allowed Sofia, who had been on an interminable maternity leave, to return to her high-paying position as an executive at a university, where she had far more responsibility than Danvers had ever had in his life. And working from home allowed Danvers to care for his new daughter, do his job from his own computer (the laptop at the top of the file cabinet), and get out of the lonely, single-occupancy office that had made his workday an eight-hour spell of melancholy. At home he found he enjoyed carrying and cradling babies, changing diapers, washing dishes, and mowing the lawn more than he ever had in the past. Although now he couldn’t repair the pipes or reseal the toilet or scrub the bathtub because it hurt his back to bend down for such long periods.
And only Danvers really knew why he had to stand upright twenty-four hours a day.
When Danvers was twelve years old, he had taken a trip with his parents to New York City from where they lived in Kaneohe. After they flew into the airport, his father decided not to rent a car; he wanted the experience of traveling by the subway. Although he stayed up late in the nights in the hotel room with the subway timetable and map open under the lamp (young Danvers sat at the foot of the bed, watching television channels that didn’t broadcast in his own town) his father never seemed to get the hang of subway transportation. The first two days the family would walk up the stairs from the trains to the street and always be in a place they weren’t supposed to be. Danvers’s mother protested and finally insisted they buy a less abstract street map and walk everywhere, in order to get a full view of the city, taking cabs only in emergencies. They went on foot from museum to museum, theater to theater, and by the last day young Danvers was so exhausted that his father, seizing an opportunity, thought he’d try his luck one last time and take the subway back to the hotel. His mother, her feet blistered under the toes, threw up her hands and led the way down the stairs to the turnstiles. Danvers was shoved into the closing train doors, squeezed between his parents’ standing bodies. The swaying motion of the car, the stopping and starting, immediately sent him to sleep.
He then felt his body grow so heavy that it took the combined strength of four legs to keep himself upright. A third and a fourth leg? And the left rear leg pained him, jerking uncontrollably when he placed his great weight upon it. That Danvers suddenly had four legs wasn’t his greatest concern at the moment. There were things far more interesting happening.
Danvers thought he had been immersed in a cold sea of foam. When the sharp wind sliced into a new floppy ear he understood that he was not immersed in water but was wading in snow, that the entire world was snow, and that the landscape was one flat white glare against a high sun. There was no warmth from that sun that hung so tiny and bright in the sky, only reflected light over the snow. It generated dark spots, torn blotches that pulsed and wavered in the distances. Danvers turned his large head from one blank distance to another, the dark shapes coalescing and receding over the bright whiteness.
Danvers searched for others, others who were like him. He knew he was lost. The leg in the back jerked again in agony, and Danvers hopelessly scanned the empty world into which he’d been thrust. There were no tracks, no sign that any living thing had ever been here before. Only Danvers’s broad shadow stood next to him, long in the snow like a stamped impression, a stain. If he had not been hurt in this new world, if he had not felt so desolate, Danvers might have been entertained by his hairy ears blown by the wind, at his trunk hanging heavy and unnecessary.
The others hadn’t come, and they weren’t coming. Slowly, with the last of his strength, Danvers turned his massive body around in the recess he had been made in the snow. A red trail ran through the track he’d made. Danvers didn’t know what he was walking back to. Squinting against the sun, he watched as the overwhelming glare gave birth to darker spots in the distance. As the rear of his body collapsed Danvers raised the dead weight of his trunk and trumpeted. In his floppy ears it sounded like a scream.
“Whoa, honey. Wake up.”
Danvers’s father had his hands under Danvers’s armpits and was setting him back on his feet, placing his hand gently on the pole from where it had slipped. “Our stop is almost here. You must have been more pooped than I thought.”
“Once we get out of the car we’ll get you a pop, okay?” His mother watched him closely, worried he was dehydrated. When they got off at the right stop for the first time Danvers held the hands of both his parents, something he hadn’t done for several years.
Danvers was young, but he understood certain things about his dream on the subway. He’d been a woolly mammoth in a time about which men could only theorize, and in that world he’d felt an abandonment and helplessness he’d never in his life known. It had been an extraordinary dream, despite the chilling environment and outcome. Danvers wanted another dream like it, another dream with the same vividness, the same reality. After the incident in the subway he prayed before sleeping to have another. He lay down, terrified that the prayer might come true.
Danvers supposed more dreams could convey experiences he’d never be a part of, feelings he would never feel. He was so excited every night before bed he stayed awake long past the time when he was supposed to sleep. His mother always wondered why he was so groggy in the morning. She assumed it was just his age.
But all the other dreams were insignificant. There was the usual falling dream, the one where he tried to run but couldn’t, the one where people’s faces rotted. His friends often had the same kinds. Danvers thought he’d never go back to being a woolly mammoth in the snow.
And he never would become a woolly mammoth again. The second dream came to Danvers as he waited in line at the San Francisco airport. He’d gone to see his high school girlfriend for winter break. He was twenty-one then—old enough, he thought, to see that his relationship had been a terrible mistake after he started at the university. Too bad he realized this after he’d bought the plane tickets. When he got into the city, he kept up the relationship for a week and a half in Daphne’s apartment. The day before his flight home, he told her how he felt, thinking they could be friends until he left, after which he planned to cut off all contact with her. His new ex-girlfriend didn’t share his vision and expelled him from the apartment without screaming or crying. He felt like he would have been able to talk her down if she cried or screamed.
Danvers didn’t have any other connections in San Francisco, and he didn’t have the money to stay at a hotel. For the rest of the day and all night Danvers walked the streets with his small suitcase, his plane ticket in his jacket pocket. He wished he had brought a book. He stopped and stood in the bars where he could buy the cheapest draft beer, but he didn’t want to get so drunk that he might lose his luggage. At the end of the night he got on a bus that arrived at the airport at dawn. Danvers sat in a chair and stared at his hands and his shoes until the check-in counter opened for the day.
He thought he’d be the first passenger in line, that he’d check in and have a nap before the plane ride. But when the counter pulled away the CLOSED signs he found himself in a line behind a dozen other people that had come from the shadows. He was so tired. The people in front of him all had a meal stipulation or special request, each of which took ten minutes to accommodate. His suitcase on the ground, Danvers watched the pretty woman at the desk as she punched in things on the keyboard, behind all the other blurry heads in line. He leaned on a short pole to which the pleather-coated ropes, the line organizers, were attached. His body wavered and his eyes closed.
The blue sea was below him, cut into sloping, shiny pieces with edges of light foam that sunk and perpetually rose in new forms. From above, the surface of the water looked like a wrinkled piece of glossy paper smoothed out and crumpled again, over and over, in different places at different times. Danvers felt a light spray from one of the small waves on his face, felt the drying salt on his eyebrows. He floated closer to the moving water before pumping his arms downward, rising to a higher elevation.
Danvers turned to the sun and saw a hair-covered arm, long black nails finishing off each of his fingers. The most interesting aspect about his appearance was the thin membrane that stretched elastic from the side of his body and all the length of his arm to his wrist. This membrane, full of the air upon which Danvers flew, was covered in blue and green feathers. Danvers could feel each feather as it fluttered in the heavy tropical wind. A dark land mass floated small in the distance. Danvers looked down and saw his reflection sliding over the ocean of glossy blue paper.
Danvers fell forward and saw that he was now at the front of the line. Someone had tapped him on the shoulder and the people in front of him had all gone away. Danvers rushed to the counter and gave the ticket woman his suitcase, eager to get to the terminal and resume his dream. Inside he found a comfortable seat where he could put his feet up. But, as before, no dream returned. What he saw again and again, as if trapped in a daze, was his Daphne’s face freezing as he told her he didn’t want to be with her anymore, then locking into one bland expression.
The last time Danvers had such a dream was after he married Sofia, after their first child had been born and the second was just about to arrive. Sofia had been in the hospital for three days and Danvers stood next to his wife’s bed the entire time, his hand in hers. When the true labor began and the doctors entered, Danvers moved away, leaned against the wall, and set his forehead against the cool brick. The doctors shouted commands, Sofia breathing heavily in rhythm before screaming. Danvers heard none of it.
Under a black world Danvers heard the sounds of crunching earthworms digging blindly all around him. Unable to resist, Danvers stretched, stretching as if he had been curled up forever, stretching with no end of the body he inhabited. The exhilarating stretch continued and he saw light, felt the warmth of day so pleasant and fulfilling. As he reached toward the sun, green pieces fell out of him and unfurled, positioning themselves so the light fell full upon their smooth surfaces. At last Danvers stopped pulling itself upwards—and at the end of him, a soft part began to open and grow outwards in a soft pink color, the sun shining through the translucent petals. Danvers was amazed at how soft his petals felt from the inside. The sun shined, and Danvers felt more fragrant and attractive. Far away he saw black shapes weaving in the air, flying towards the most beautiful part of him.
“Congratulations, Mr. Danvers. You’re the father of a healthy baby boy.”
Danvers pushed himself away from the wall and took the slimy infant bundled in green-blue hospital blankets. It cried, like all newborns cry, its eyes not yet adjusted to the light.
“David,” he said, rocking his son in his arms. “Our little David.”
After David was born, Danvers at last understood the source of his dreams. They had all occurred when he had been either walking or standing up the entire day, and when he had fallen asleep standing up. Was it that blood flowed differently through an upright body that his mind created such dreams? Or was it that his mind, raised to a higher level and elevated toward the stars, was able to more effectively tap into the electromagnetic transmissions from a collective unconscious? What if he could self-induce such dreams? What if he could have these potent dreams every night? What if he could return to that world he’d seen as a child?
Danvers could then know things unknown, be what he’d never be.
One weekend Sofia took baby David and Molly to see her mother. Danvers stayed at home, claiming he’d have the perfect opportunity to finally clean out the garage. And he did clean the garage—on his feet the whole time—and later kept himself awake far beyond the night by wiping down even the most insignificant tools on his workbench. After the sun rose Danvers pulled out all the instruments from the metal tool locker, which freed up a space inside that was tall enough for him to stand and narrow enough so that he wouldn’t collapse in a heap. He entered the tool locker and closed the door.
He was tired, but—was he really in a locker, hoping to lose consciousness? What if his wife pulled in that moment? The light from the garage came in through three slats in the door and made three bars on his chest. Inside it smelled like grease and iron. He almost reached out to open the door when the light through the slats vanished.
Danvers was turning, rolling, spinning over himself slowly. He was drifting—no, he was floating—no, he was static, but yet his body was buffeted in place by some residue of inertia, the process of which had begun light years before. Around his rolling being were a million suns, all of them at equal distances from him, all shining the same quality of bright light. He caught a glimpse of each star as he tumbled in place.
Abruptly, this tumbling movement ceased and he began to fly. Danvers saw a gigantic dark sphere in front of him, growing larger as he sped to it, faster and faster. Pieces of him fell away. He burned up so fast he couldn’t even perceive his movement. The large dark planet continued to grow.
Danvers’s head, as it fell forward, slammed into the metal doors of the locker. He had found the way. After he got out of the locker he looked around the garage for tools he would need. When business hours started, Danvers walked to the hardware store and bought all the materials for his sleeping harness.
From then on, Danvers stood at work, stood at all meals, stood while he slept.
Now all his dreams had the same reality he’d experienced in the subway, at the airport, in the hospital. When he woke in the morning he always remembered the dreams clearly, as if they were actually his memories. The dreams had another common thread: all of them, in some symbolic way, dealt with a shred of his waking life, some image or occurrence that mutated itself into a new experience while he slept (the woolly mammoth dream after the museums, for instance). And in all the dreams he was never a person—at times he was a bird, other times a squirrel. One time he was a pencil, another time he was a book being read aloud. It had been a book he’d never read before. Could he say that he’d written it? Should he write it in his waking life?
Danvers wanted to keep his dream world completely separate from the waking world. There could be no overlap. By living both lives independently, Danvers believed that one existence would never become so powerful as to drastically change the other. Danvers never told anyone, not even Sofia, why he stood. He never told them that standing up allowed him to live thousands of lives other than his own.
He built the special sleeping chamber when he started working at home, theorizing that dreams could be stronger if he slept in an enclosed space. In one dream—one that came at the end of his fifth year of standing—he was pure light as it raced across the universe, witnessing the births and deaths of stars and worlds and solar systems in seconds.
When the digital alarm went off in his chamber one morning Danvers awoke flushed, sweating. He opened the door and looked into his bedroom. Sofia had gone to work and the kids were at school, Courtney in day care. His laptop was closed on top of the filing cabinet. “A little more won’t hurt anybody,” he said. After closing the door and adjusting the straps and setting himself against the specially coated rubber prongs, Danvers slept well into the day. The breakfast dishes weren’t washed, the trash wasn’t taken out, and nothing was done about the flickering light in the hallway. He’d also missed an important deadline for work and when Cho phoned him that evening, Danvers told Sofia the call was just to see how Molly had done in her math tournament. Even though Danvers didn’t remember how Molly had done in her math tournament.
Another year passed, and after six years his self-imposed separation between his life awake and his life asleep began to break down. His dreams had become more interesting than what he shared with his children and his wife. On Waffle Sundays Danvers would nod at Molly and David and Courtney—the latter whom, Danvers was sure, was now enrolled in some form of school, although he wasn’t sure in which grade. Every Sunday the children would watch their unshaven father silently eat the waffles in his underwear as he stood above them. Danvers would then drop the sticky plate in the sink and head back towards his room, to his chamber.
“He must be tired—from standing all the time,” Sofia said, rubbing the children’s shoulders.
Because of Danvers’s crippled productivity, Cho sent emails threatening termination—the higher-ups, you see, not my decision. Cho encouraged Danvers to come back to the office, to sit down, for Christ’s sake, to get his head right and get back in the good graces of his coworkers. He mentioned that the old gang, at least the two that were left, remembered him fondly, and thought his standing, in hindsight, was actually kind of cute.
To Danvers, emails like this were like letters to someone else. Someone he knew and heard about often, and to whom he could kind of relate if he really thought about it, but whose little life-happenings were totally foreign and uninteresting. He always deleted Cho’s personal notes after responding to him with paperwork for the day. No written reply, or even a simple greeting, was attached.
Danvers didn’t enjoy the household chores anymore, either. Why would he paint a wall when he could be a mountain goat leaping down the cliffs? He thought he convinced Sofia that there was a natural, untamed beauty in an un-mowed lawn, a new kind of ecosystem. His beard grew. Danvers never had a beard in his dreams, so it didn’t matter. All through the day he slept, and at night he tried to make himself sleep in his isolated chamber and was usually successful.
One night during the seventh year—as Danvers entered his chamber—Sofia mentioned that Courtney would be staying at home the next day because she felt ill. Danvers shrugged and went inside, but not before Sofia said, “Just take care of her, okay? And keep an eye on her temperature. If it gets too high, we’ll have to take her to the doctor.”
Danvers dreamed he was a gazelle that night. He enjoyed springing through the savanna, enjoyed it so much that he didn’t see the herd moving away from him or the dark shapes hidden in the grass, immaterial shadows, coming nearer. They came so near Danvers could have stepped on them—but springing was such fun. He ignored what had been, through so many dreams, imperfections on an otherwise perfect vision. Then the dark shapes were upon him, pulling him down, ripping his body apart at the joints, devouring his bloody meat. He didn’t die. He didn’t hurt, either, but he felt it.
Danvers woke up and left the bedroom to check on Courtney. For the first time in a great while he wasn’t eager to go right back to sleep. He quietly opened the door to her room and saw her under the covers sleeping. He stared at his daughter and felt strange.
She didn’t look anything like him. When was she born, anyway? Was she really his child? That was his nose, all right, and Sofia’s hair, and his mother’s mouth. He’d never noticed these things about her. She was a beautiful girl, and Danvers felt suddenly sad. He closed the door.
First he went to the bathroom and shaved. He looked younger than he felt. Then Danvers cleaned the house room by room: the kitchen, the living room infested with toys, the children’s bedrooms and the beds they lied about and said they’d made. In the living room he moved away the furniture and vacuumed under the couch and end tables. When he went to the garage he was surprised that the gasoline hadn’t evaporated out of the gas can, and he filled up the lawn mower and cut the grass. He didn’t like to see the grass so long, so suitable to hide dark shapes of things. He then went to his file cabinet and caught up on all the work he’d missed during the week.
Around three o’clock the desire for sleep began to oppress Danvers and he leaned on his file cabinet desk. He wasn’t used to this kind of exertion: he was used to taking naps throughout the day. Yawning, and dreading what might happen while he slept, Danvers opened the door to his sleeping chamber and went inside.
Sofia, still dressed for work, flung the door open.
“Sleeping again! Goddamn it!”
Danvers looked at her, confused. She seemed angry. After he’d done so much today. “I wasn’t sleeping. I just got in here.”
“This fucking chamber! I hate it!”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Did you even bother to check on our daughter? Do you know what kind of temperature she has? No, you wouldn’t know because you’ve been in your fucking chamber all day! What’s going on in there that’s more important than your children?”
“I checked on Courtney this morning. She was sleeping—”
“You’ve got to take care of a child! Do you know that she vomited? You’d know that, if you gave a shit. I told her to get cleaned up so I could take her to the hospital.”
“Why didn’t she tell me?”
“Tell who? The guy in his own little soundproofed world? You’re not anybody’s father!” Her voice lowered. “She said she called you. But you must have been—in there.”
“Or maybe I was vacuuming—or mowing the lawn—”
“Vacuuming? Mowing the lawn? Why on earth did you decide to do that today, of all days? That lawn hasn’t been mowed in weeks! You had a sick child with vomit in her bed! What were you thinking?”
“I must have things all mixed up,” Danvers said, more to himself than his wife.
“Well, I’m going to take her to the doctor. Perhaps you’d like to step out of your chamber and come with me?”
“I can’t go in a car, Sofia. But look, take Courtney and I’ll clean up her bed. And I’ll make some soup for her for when she gets back.”
“All right,” Sofia said. “I’ll let you know what the doctor says.”
Danvers watched his wife leave the room and his shoulders sagged. He was tired. He’d done so much and there was still so much left to do. He turned back to the chamber. Just a quick nap to re-energize. He went in and set the digital alarm for a half-hour.
Danvers found himself on the savanna again, the ground rumbling below his feet. An elephant stomped the ground before him, trumpeting in pain. Blood ran from a large wound along the side of its gray body.
Danvers knew that the elephant had been shot, and that he had shot it. This was so much like his first dream, except—except now he wasn’t the elephant, and the elephant wasn’t a woolly mammoth, and the sun was hot instead of freezing. The elephant came nearer, writhing in a rage, a dark mass that blocked out the sun.
Danvers looked down at his hands and saw the large rifle, felt its weight and the cold of the metal. For the first time in any of his dreams he was a man. Death was so imminent, and he knew he had the means with which to save his life. The elephant tramped closer. He raised the rifle and sighted the elephant’s broad head, over the trunk that waved spasmodically in the air. He wasn’t thinking of ivory, or meat, or glory of any kind; he just thought how pleasant it would be for that great dark mass to be felled, to collapse on the ground and not get up again. It was such a simple shot!
Danvers lifted his finger from the trigger and lowered the rifle.
When he could almost touch the elephant, Danvers threw the rifle into the grass and closed his eyes. The elephant thrashed him, gored him with its tusks, stomped him into dirt-covered bits of bone and torn flesh. Unlike all the other dreams, in this one he died.
Molly and David played with a ball and Velcro mitts in the newly cut yard as Sofia pulled into the driveway. Courtney’s mattress had been set out in the fading sun. The washing machine had moved into its spin cycle. Putting the car into park in the garage, Sofia gasped for the first time in her life. Danvers’s sleeping chamber had been set against a wall, laid on its side.
That night Danvers stood over Sofia, a few steps from the bed. He watched her like a child, biting his nails.
“Do you want me to help you into the sleeping harness, honey?” Sofia said, her reading glasses perched on the end of her nose, her novel upright on her belly.
“No,” Danvers said. He took another step toward the bed.
Sofia took off her glasses and looked at Danvers. Her mouth opened, and she threw the book on the floor. “Oh,” she said, sitting up. “Come here.” She held her arms out to him.
He was at the edge of the bed now, breathing heavily, fidgeting as he looked at her, at the bed. He sighed. “I’m being stupid. I mean, this is like the easiest thing in the world.”
“But honey, you’ve been standing for seven years. You probably have some pretty strong legs, what with all that standing.” She tried to make him at ease. Danvers appreciated it. “Come on, baby. I’ll help you. Take my hand. That’s it.”
It was a slow process, especially to get that one foot to leave the floor. Eventually though, Danvers was on the bed, his body awkwardly twisted in the sheets.
“You have to relax, honey. You never really forget how to lie down, do you? That’s it—relax. Let your body fall into the mattress. Now move over a bit. Is that comfortable for you?” She laid her head on his chest and looked up at his face.
“Yes,” he said, swallowing hard, looking up at the ceiling.
He’d forgotten how comfortable beds could be, though was surprised that, in seven years, he hadn’t been missing all that much. But his wife’s smooth cheek against his chest felt nice, and he imagined that he could look forward to this recurrent gesture, that he would fall in love with Sofia’s face pressed against him at bedtime.
What caused Danvers disquiet as he lay and listened to Sofia breathe was the prospect of shedding another night’s dream when he arose the next morning. His dreams so potent, miraculous, conscious-altering, life-changing, only to dissipate as, blinking against the sunlight, he lifted his legs over the bed and set his toes against the carpet. There was only the smallest of aches, a tiny cracked box next to his heart, in the knowledge that, as the children chattered and fought and he fried the eggs, his dreams by then would be long gone.
Jeffery Ryan Long is a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. His work has been featured in various literary journals throughout Hawai’i and the Continent. His short story collection, University and King, was released by Aignos Press in 2014.