"Do you want green beans or cream corn with your supper?" asked my girlfriend, Thelma. She was on another one of her wacky diet kicks and seemed bent on taking me along for the adventure.
"Neither," I said.
"You're unbelievable," she said, emitting a deep, exasperated sigh of frustration, the sort of sigh that she unloosed only when harbouring a grudge over something I supposedly did improper. "We've been living together for over a year now and you never want vegetables with your supper."
"What's unbelievable is that you keep asking," I said.
Thelma was sort of crazy in the head, but in a most interesting way. Once, on a typically desolate evening, she accused me of fucking her sister. I told her that I had never met her sister. In fact, I didn't even know Thelma had a sister until she accused me of fucking her. She didn't believe me, and an argument ensued. She picked up a lamp and threw it across the bedroom at me. Luckily she missed, and the lamp shattered into several pieces as it hit the closet door behind me. Later, I sliced my big toe open on a small glass shard from the broken lamp. This incident occurred about a month into our dating agendum but, regardless, I stayed with her afterwards. Similar violent fits kept happening every now and then.
Over the past few months I came to learn my girlfriend's various quirks. For instance, she didn't drink alcohol on weekdays anymore and followed the Atkins Diet for a while before switching to Weight Watchers just recently. Not only did she follow fashionable diets; she also followed people, the advice of magazine columnists, her mother, her friends at work, and anybody else patient enough to listen to her many and varied problems. I didn't like the fact that she couldn't think for herself. She bought a copy of Carmen Electra's exercise/strip routine video. I liked the fact that she watched the video. The exercise showed her how to strip and be seductive. My girlfriend went to sleep at precisely 9:30 every night because some sleep expert, maybe Dr. Phil, told her to. Thelma was like that, as if she couldn't make a simple decision in life without consulting a so-called expert on the subject beforehand.
Today was a Wednesday -- hump day, as they called it. It's funny that Wednesday was dubbed hump day because Thelma and I tended to hump on the weekends, and only on rare occasions during the week. After supper, a supper without vegetables, Thelma got kind of angry with me because I was supposed to search for a job earlier in the day. I didn't. Instead, I stayed at home catnapping and watching TV. It had been quite some time since I'd been employed, I admit. Thelma started her usual lecture about how I was "so goddamned lazy" and all I ever did was smoke all day while she was out busting her hump at the checkout till. She also lectured me on how I shouldn't drop my cigarette ashes in the plastic bowl she used for popcorn. We argued about a lot of things. She even had the gall to criticize me because I drove an old, beat-up van that resembled the Libyan terrorists' van in the movie "Back to the Future". Mostly she rambled on about how much I'd changed since we first met.
"You never buy me flowers anymore, you never buy me jewelry, and you're not funny anymore either!" she said.
"I don't have the money for those things anymore," I said.
"No, just like you don't have money for rent, toothpaste, your share of the groceries!" she said, scarlet-faced, temper flaring.
She went on and on about all of the things I must change about myself. I'd heard all of this before, but I had to listen to it yet again. I looked out the window. Despite being morning, a hint of moon was still visible in the sky. The moon was cold snow on a broken fingernail.
Thelma told me that I had to make plans for my life and stop "drifting", as she called it. She said that I didn't talk to her enough, but I countered her argument by saying that whenever we talked it led to us raising our voices and having stupid arguments such as the one we were trapped in right now. Not talking, as far as I was concerned, kept our home at peace, at least temporarily. If I spoke of bland and inoffensive things such as sports or movies, she complained that I was too ho-hum for her liking, and I should try to be more exciting. Either way, I couldn't win. I also retorted by saying that she had changed, too. She wouldn't do tequila shots at the bar anymore, like she used to in those early days.
What was her brilliant response? "You promised me a dog and we still don't have one!" she shouted, on the verge of crying.
"You don't need a dog," I said. "What you need is a man that won't mind being tied down for the rest of his life."
This last comment got her fuming. It was the truth, though. What she really needed was a man who was willing to be her anchor -- an anchor on a sinking ship. As expected, our voices got louder as we argued. Finally both of us had had enough and I agreed to sleep on the couch. Having to get in the last word, she told me not to mess up the cushions. Our argument didn't interfere with my sleep. Of all the things in this world I failed at, sleeping was not one of them. Most nights I could fall asleep within five minutes or less.
Tonight, asleep on the couch and my brain absent of alcohol, I had a vivid dream. Night after night this week I had been having this same recurring dream. When morning arrived, I asked Thelma what it all could mean.
"I am in this karaoke bar," I tell her, "and the bar is called Club 901. There's this cute redhead with bright blue eyes. She's serving me drinks, one after the other."
I couldn't even begin to describe the bar waitress' eyes. Her eyes were so seductive, so blue. Every time she came around taking my drink order, she took an interest in me, looking upon me with those impossible blue eyes. I wanted to fuck the bar waitress. I didn't share this secret desire with Thelma, of course.
"Were you attracted to her?" asked Thelma.
"Well, sure. But it was just a dream," I said.
Who wouldn't be attracted to a cute redhead with blue eyes like a child's crayon drawing? Her name was Darielle. She stood there clearing off the countertop, wiping rows of liquor bottles and putting away clean glasses. She exuded sex, hot maddening sex, dripping it, and she knew it. If it weren't for the fact that she only existed in my dreams and not in reality, she would be the kind of woman that other men would dream of, too. They would dream of being the countertop she wiped, of being one of the bottles she cleaned, of being the toilet she sat on, of being the man she loved. In the dream Darielle and I talked. No one else was in the bar. Soon the place would spring to life with music to excite the heart and nicotine to burn the eyes. At least for now we had the place to ourselves. I sat drinking a Pilsner. I liked Pilsner. It brought out the Indian in me. Looking around the bar, I noticed a Christmas tree in the corner. The tree was decorated with red and silver tinsel, dangly garland, sparkly ornaments, handcrafted wooden decorations, an angel on top, various other crap.
In this dream Darielle asked, "How's it been going?"
"That's some question." I scratched my head and watched flecks of dandruff fall in front of my eyes.
"Yeah, I suppose it is," she said.
Our conversation in the dream sort of languished, not really going anywhere. We spoke of deathless matters, such as the weather, our favourite music, municipal politics, and how everybody had colds. Neither her questions nor my responses had any drive or humour. By this time she was done wiping bottles and putting away glasses, and she sat there smoking a cigarette.
Before we talked any further, this robot wearing a cowboy hat entered the karaoke bar. The robot pointed its finger at me, and from a tiny opening in its finger shot a thin red laser, like something you'd see on Star Trek. Hit solidly in the chest by the laser-beam, I fell to the floor bleeding. It hurt. The robot exited the bar and through the window we watched him ride off into the moonlight. The robot was not riding a horse. He rode a dolphin.
As other people came in and started singing songs, I struggled to my feet, assisted by Darielle. I was not quite dead, and that was the important thing. Another semi-important thing: every time I had this dream there was some guy singing a song that was intended for a woman to sing. His voice was terrible. He would do a rendition of Madonna's Like a Virgin, The Bangles' Walk Like an Egyptian, or Sheena Easton's Sugar Walls. Well, gay or not, I don't know for certain; nevertheless the songs were a bizarre choice for any man. If not for the Pilsner and the pretty waitress, I would have left the bar and gone out looking for that robot cowboy. I wondered what provoked its attack. Listening to the lousy singer for a while longer, I got bored eventually, and sometimes woke up wondering what the dream was all supposed to mean, if anything.
My girlfriend Thelma had this book on dream interpretation. Days ago I'd seen the book lying around the house and flipped through a few pages, looking up various things. The book didn't really clarify my odd dream. This morning I asked her about the dream, and according to her it was a sign.
"What's it a sign of?" I asked.
"You should stop drinking."
I was not the least bit surprised by her interpretation. She had been nagging me about overdrinking for months now. For some reason her primary belief in life was that at a certain age everybody was supposed to stop enjoying himself, and become "responsible" and "mature." In other words, start waiting for Death to make its rounds. Her belief, perhaps stemming from her strict Roman Catholic upbringing, was that for every pleasure there must be a penance, time in the torture chamber. I'd been living it up for my spring and summer years, and sure enough, now she insisted that I must live it down in the autumn and winter. Our views of life differed.
Thelma continued, "The dream is a sign that the booze is killing you." She lectured some more about my well being and how I ought to steer clear of all karaoke bars and liquor stores from this day onward. "There's no liquor store in the dream," I said, correcting her.
"It doesn't matter -- the booze is the main element of your dream, not the robot cowboy that shot you, not the homosexual karaoke singer."
"What about Darielle, the bar waitress?" I asked.
Answered Thelma, in a huff, "The booze leads you to do stupid things. It leads you to listen to a bad karaoke singer and it leads you towards death. The waitress represents temptation, and the booze makes this waitress more tempting, more alluring, and if you give in to her temptations you are led into more trouble. That's her only significance to the dream."
I didn't agree with Thelma's interpretation one iota. In my opinion, which I chose not to share with Thelma, the main element of my dream was Darielle.
"So, will you please stop drinking once and for all?" she asked.
I didn't answer her question. Rather, I said, "Do you want to know something? Darielle never complains about my smoking or my drinking, she doesn't make my stomach hurt, she doesn't bitch that her closet is too small! Darielle doesn't gripe about failed diets! Darielle doesn't whine that the girls at work have nice everything! She wouldn't care if I rented porno movies under her name! Nor does she mewl over the fact that she doesn't have a dog that I promised her six months ago!"
"And she doesn't exist either," said Thelma, calmly.
Beneath the surface of her calmness, I could sense her hackles raising. Had I touched a nerve? Was I provoking her into throwing another lamp at my head? My rant was over. Unsure of what to say next, I turned to the window and looked outside. It was a cold, dreary morning with the sun hidden behind a cluster of gray rain clouds. Next, I looked at Thelma. Thelma wore her pink pajamas and I was wearing the same dirty boxer shorts that I put on three days ago. I felt like a total schlock.
I didn't like arguments. I always tried avoiding them, but that was next to impossible living with Thelma. Arguing was her specialty. I felt like I was going to vomit. Suddenly I wished I were back in my warm, comfortable bed or on the couch wrapped in a quilt dreaming of Darielle instead of arguing senselessly amidst these peeling walls, without beer, trapped here with this other woman.
"Do you still love me?" asked Thelma.
"I don't know anymore. You cut me a hundred ways," I said, wiping my runny nose with the back of my bare wrist. "One thing's for sure -- you're nothing like Darielle, my dream girl."
Not uttering another word, Thelma turned without expression and exited the room quietly. There was silence for a time. Only seconds later, I heard her sobbing alone in the bedroom.