Even in My Dream
In my dream last night, you were alive.
At first, you are absent. I am beside a lake, in a house built in the ’70s with a narrow storm porch and navy siding. The grass soft and summer-green. I know somehow the lake is a Great Lake, massive in size beyond any I’ve seen in life.
In the dim dining room of the house, dirty walls. Greasy sauce-soaked food on a self-serve hot bar. The plastic tablecloth stained and holey. I worry about food poisoning and my dream-mom frets about food price. She tells my dream-siblings and me to eat only the cheapest dish. $10.99 a plate. I don’t know which dish is which. It’s all chicken. You wouldn’t eat any of it if you were here. You hated chicken. Ate too much of it when you were young.
The same lake, an underground tunnel behind the house. A glass wall looks into the lake. A diagram of the Loch Ness monster, like a zoo plaque, set in the wall. “I think you need a different dream,” I say to my younger brother, Joseph. “You’re not going to find the Loch Ness monster.”
Joseph shifts uncomfortably. Here, he’s older than in life, eighteen maybe. His hair is longer, hanging down his back in a messy ponytail. You would tell him he needs a haircut.
From the dining room, down a hallway, to a bedroom. Same house. An older woman’s room, the restaurant owner’s mother. Your girlfriend. In this dream, you have a girlfriend. You share her room. I remember how you flirted with the women in the VA, after we put you in the hospital. I think they flirted back. In your early 60s, you were more active, and I think probably more attractive, than most of the other patients. I found it strange and embarrassing, the first time I’d seen you interested in women in ten years, since your last ex-wife Maddie left. But you seemed happy.
I enter hesitantly, in case you are being intimate. I remember the time I walked in on you in your living room after a shower. It was after you stopped driving. I was delivering Oatmeal Creme Pies, one of the few things you would eat. I saw wet skin, your bony torso, your surprised eyes. It’s dark, the bed is in an alcove, the room shaped like an “L.” You are not there.
You’re in the backyard. A garden yard, with fountains and flagstones. Purple irises planted in garden beds along the privacy fence and patio. Old people sit in lawn chairs, enjoying the sun. You and your girlfriend are in the last two chairs, laughing and talking. You’re tall and thin, as you’ve always been. I’m happy to see you look like you, dressed in a button-up, Wrangler’s, a leather belt, your cowboy boots. Your face is soft and smiling, your blue eyes keen.
Dream-mom and I approach, sit down, talk with you. You say something I can’t remember now. But it makes us laugh. Dream-mom puts her hand on your arm. “Oh, Daddy!” she says. Then she gets serious. “When was the last time you cut your fingernails?” she asks, her hand moving down to yours to lift it to her eye level. I see your nails are long and yellow, sickly.
“Oh… September,” you answer lazily, thinking hard. It is June. “Oh no, Daddy,” dream-mom says. “I’ll cut them for you.” She produces nail clippers from nowhere. You yank your hand away. No, she will not. You’re angry, inconsolable. Your face contorts as I only saw it the last year of your life. Hateful, paranoid, bitter. Your eyes are suspicious. Your wrinkles seem heavy, drooping. You don’t want help. You don’t want to be helpless. You know something is wrong with you, something I can’t dream away. You remember, maybe, that it’s Alzheimer’s.
Kait Burton is a senior studying English Creative Writing and Strategic Communication at Oklahoma State University. Her work has been published in Frontier Mosaic. She is currently completing her senior honors thesis in creative nonfiction.