Dream of Flying
She heard that when you dream of flying it means you’re having an orgasm. Liz couldn’t remember the last time she had sex, but when she woke with memories of skittering across skyscrapers she drew her lungs’ full capacity with her first yawn. She slid out of bed, glided down the hallway, and smiled at herself while she brushed her teeth. The high lasted past the end of her eight-hour gardening shift. She usually stared past the petals and didn’t notice the thorns until they’d torn her skin, but on the days when she’d dreamt about flying, the rose thorns never cut her. She waited patiently for the flying dreams. They came at random; she couldn’t predict when she’d wake with that permeating certainty of a day of held-open doors and smiles at strangers. She was content to wait for them to come.
Then, a long spell of no dreams at all. Sleep meant she closed her eyes and then a minute later opened them; only her clock proved she’d slept for eight hours. She lay immobilized, unable to choose which side to tumble out of bed. She scraped through the days at work, her eyes downcast and her fingers sluggish, and came home with hands full of blood.
Most of her managers pointed her in the direction of the first aid kit and let her put the bandaids on herself. But when Dennis saw her struggling with the sticky plasters he always helped.
“Happens to everyone,” he said as he pulled the covering off the adhesive and pressed it around her thumb.
Today he leaned over her shoulder. “Cut closer to the bottom,” he smiled. “They’re called long-stemmed roses, right?”
She looked up at his grin and considered her options. “It’s my brother’s birthday on Tuesday. We’re going to the Emerald Garden with my mother. Would you like to come?” She stared at the flower in her hand and clamped the sheers around the base.
“Oh, no…Tuesday, did you say?” At this her finger grazed a thorn but slid past it to the harmless stem of the rose. “I…no, I’m sorry I’ve got this... wait, maybe…” He raised his eyes and scrunched his nose and looked over her left shoulder for a reason to cancel his plans. “Yes?” his voice broke as if he changed his mind in the middle of the syllable. “Yes, I can cancel this other…thing. Yeah. Yes.”
“Great. Dinner’s at seven thirty. It’s easier if I meet you there, I think. So I’ll see you then.” She turned back to her work and willed him to go away.
Their chairs curved around in a circle as they watched her brother spin the revolving dish in the middle of the table, the chow mein and beef and broccoli and sweet and sour pork clicking past.
“Elizabeth,” her mother turned to her. “How’s the new job treating you?” She had let most of the disdain seep out of her voice over the past few years, and now Liz almost enjoyed an evening in her company.
She held up her bandaged hands, “I’ve had better weeks,” she smiled.
“And Dennis. How long have you been with company?”
“About six and a half years, ma’am.” He sat to Liz’s right but he didn’t try to put his hand on her knee.
“Elizabeth hasn’t had a job for longer than six months, have you dear.” It was not a question.
“But it looks like she’ll stick around this one for awhile now, eh?” She smiled at Dennis.
Liz speared a dumpling.
Her mother stopped fighting with her chopsticks. “Elizabeth…?”
Liz met her mother’s eyes. “Yes, I hope so.” LIke a girl bragging about her report card. “I do love working with flowers.”
Her mother nodded, satisfied with the enthusiasm.
Liz kept looking over at her brother, hoping he’d glance towards the bathroom or the waitress or something so he’d see her looking for his gaze, but he continued to face down at his plate or turned to whoever spoke, nodding in assent even if he didn’t agree.
Her mother turned to her brother. “And we’re not only celebrating your birthday, but your new position, aren’t we?”
“A toast! To new beginnings!” her mother held up her glass and tucked her chin down, starring in an advertisement of how to bring happiness to your family. For the rest of the dinner, she touched her son’s arm often and asked him questions that ended in “Isn’t that right?”
Dennis dropped Liz off at home. “I hope that was okay,” Liz said.
He nodded, “Oh, yeah, for sure. It was great to meet your family.” He tapped the steering wheel in an undefined rhythm. “This was great. I had a really great time.” He turned his shoulders towards her.
She didn’t wait for him to unbuckle his seatbelt. She pulled the handle on the door, shut it behind her, and then turned and said, “I liked it, too. Thanks for putting up with them.” She stalked up the walk and let herself in, waving over her shoulder but not turning to say goodbye.
The next morning she woke in ecstasy. Not only for the flying, but for the return of her dreams altogether. She replayed what she remembered. She stood at the kitchen sink and scrubbed at a pot caked with macaroni and cheese, but the steel wool scraped not a noodle away, so she threw the pot out the window, where it hovered in mid-air. She decided to fetch it and leapt out past the curtains, plummeted seven stories and then stopped, the air holding her with its resistance. She recalled the first time she splashed into the ocean at the beach when she was six years old. Her father supported her back as she bobbed. When she asked him to take his hand away he told her he already had. Panic, and then the knowledge that the water held her up, not any one wave or current, but the entire sea. She put her head back and floated away.
“I had a really great time last night,” he announced as she trimmed the tulips.
“Yeah.” She bowed her head and cut six stems while he supervised. She replayed the dishes in her head, the order she’d ordered them. Dennis interrupted her. “I should really get back to work.”
“Oh, okay,” she looked up at his right ear instead of his eyes.
That night she ordered chow mein and beef and broccoli from a crumpled pamphlet she found stuffed in her mailbox. The morning found her in bed with a weight on her chest she barely pushed off in time for work.
The next night on the way home she bought some instant rice and a package of do-it-yourself sweet and sour pork. She went to bed immediately after finishing dinner, full of MSG. When she pried her eyes open her shoulders tensed and she sucked in her breath as if through a straw.
“So, what are you up to tonight?” he asked on the Friday.
The shears lay in her palm, the spring open and ready. She pictured yet another evening of soggy lemon chicken and over cooked noodles and sighed. “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I don’t really have any plans.”
“How about pizza and a movie?” he smiled. “It can be our official first date.”
She looked up and remembered him passing her a dish of deep fried pieces of dough and asking, “Chicken ball?” She almost laughed but caught herself. The corner of his mouth turned upwards in expectation, ready to twist into a shrug if she said no. She wondered if it was him.
After the pizza she waited in the theatre with her coat draped over the seat beside her. Each person who walked down the aisle stared at the coat, as if accusing her of pretending to wait for someone. When he arrived with two soft drinks and a box of popcorn, she looked around to see if anyone who’d glared at her noticed.
The movie ended and he pushed the popcorn box under his seat. After he’d walked up the aisle, she bent down to retrieve it, pressing it into the garbage as they left the theatre.
“They pay people to do that, you know,” he chuckled as he touched her elbow.
“That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the gesture.” She moved her elbow to open her bag to pretend to look for something she didn’t find after all.
She let him walk her to the door and she stood on tiptoes while she grabbed her arms around his neck. But she let gravity drag her back to earth before his lips touched her cheek. All she wanted was her bed.
But she awoke on Saturday with a line drawn through the night, a thick marker pen slashed over the hours. She barely remembered sleeping, let alone any dreams.
The weekend consisted of unringing telephones and defrosting the freezer. If she had a cat she would have scratched it behind its ears.
On Monday she marked the hours by the cuts on her fingers until lunch came and she huddled under the plastic bubble tent where new seedlings germinated.
“Mind if I join you?” Dennis lifted up the tarp and peered at her, brown bag in hand. Liz folded the Chinese menu and tucked it underneath her before he could see it, and he sat down beside her without waiting for an answer. He pulled the aluminum covering back, and offered her the container.
She was on her couch, in her apartment, but she wore the dress from her ninth birthday party. Her body was nine years old, too, but she held twenty-seven years of memories. She stood up, took a running start, and lifted upwards, as if trying to make it over a particularly large rain puddle. And there she hovered, white stockinged feet pedaled the air slowly, Disney’s Alice held up by her full taffeta skirt. She danced slowly around the room and then pushed her arms behind her, jutted her chin forward, and sailed out the window. The breeze rushed, the ground rolled beneath her, the clouds puffed along. All this she appreciated. But all secondary to the absence of dread in the pit of her abdomen.
After their picnic Dennis struck up conversations daily. He brought her pork dumplings or fortune cookies, and Liz suspected he believed they shared an understanding. Liz didn’t mind as long as the dreams distracted her, and soon the cuts on her hands almost healed.
Then one Thursday Dennis called in sick, and that night she dreamt of swimming in a black pool with a half-sister she didn’t have in a bathing suit she never owned. He was gone the following day as well. Her grade twelve math class trapped in a cathedral with Charlton Heston as the priest, or professor, or whatever.
On Sunday morning she recalled only a trek across a desert to a cave carved into a mountain face like the ones in pictures of Turkey. Monday morning gave her a cowboy for a father and a home on a ranch where flowers grew in a plot alongside the farmhouse but no one understood how they flourished when the crops kept dying.
Her fingers ached, so when Dennis reappeared to ask her to dinner she accepted. He would pick her up at seven o’clock and she could chose the restaurant. She made a reservation at Emerald Garden for seven-fifteen.
He was a nice man, she conceded. As he spoke, she checked off the list of characteristics she had compiled over the years from listening to other women talk about the articles they read in Cosmopolitan. Taller than her, lopsided smile (something about psychopaths having symmetrical faces), not a nail-biter, clean-shaven, intuitive (he picked up on the Chinese food thing), pursuant. And so when he pulled up the emergency break in front of her apartment building she invited him in for coffee.
That night she stood on a beach in a gauzy robe outfit with layers of taffeta, chiffon, and crinoline. Wrapped in a cloud. She ran along the sand before she leapt and sailed out over the ocean, her arms stretched out as the robe flowed behind them.
When she awoke she made coffee and sat at her breakfast table until he sauntered into the kitchen, reached his arm behind her shoulder, and swung around to kiss her. She barely lifted her head to meet him. Last night she went through the collection of sounds and hip movements compiled from sex scenes in movies that she’d rehearsed over the years. Rehearsed, not faked, she reminded herself to prevent the guilt from advancing any further. And he’d responded. It was about time to have someone around and here he was. He would make her mother happy, and he would keep her in Emerald Garden Chinese food for the duration.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Dennis asked as he poured himself a cup.
She balked. “Uhhh…working?”
He smacked his lips after he swallowed. “Yeah. After.”
She recovered. “Oh, I have this thing, it’s…yeah, not tomorrow. Sorry.”
“Thursday, then.” It was not a question.
With only one day sans Dennis, she opted for microwave pizza and fell asleep alone, and she dreamt she stayed in a hotel room with twin beds as she waited to go on trial for witchcraft. So the next evening she let Dennis take her for dim sum before she invited him up. She flew over New York City all night.
Bio: Andrea L Campbell will be honest with you. A Buddhist who writes stories and practices yoga while waitressing on the side, she thinks if everyone meditated at least once a week the world would be a better place. She wants to remind you about the times you've forgotten, the things you wanted to write down but forgot to bring a pen. Read on to remember.
Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017
7 months ago