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August 08, 2022

Dreamer 18

By Sand Pilarski

A funeral director was supposed to arrive at my mother's home to discuss the "arrangements." I knew that she would choose cremation for Dad's body, and hoped I wouldn't have to endure a sales pitch for expensive urns and vaults and things from the funeral director. If he tries to take advantage of her shock, I'll throw his ass out the door so fast the local newspaper will write an article on it, I thought. "Funeral Director Breaks the Sound Barrier."

Jesse arrived with Charles before the funeral director did. Her face was ashy under her usual tan, and she was edgy and hard-eyed. She was in shock, too. Her eyelids were puffy and reddened; she probably cried all through her flight back to Port Laughton. She hugged Mom at the door, Mom patting Jesse's back as though she was the one to needed comforting. "Now, now, don't keep Charles standing on the porch," she said, forcing a demented-looking smile and disengaging herself from Jesse. "Hello Charles, how are you? Didn't you bring the children?" Her voice sounded crackly, reedy, like an old, old woman's.

"We wanted to give you a little time before they arrive. Nanny is bringing them tomorrow, if that's all right."

Jesse hugged me briefly, and with her back to Mom, mugged a "What's with her?" face. "Shock," I mouthed.

"I'll make some coffee," Mom said, "Sit down, sit down."

"Coffee is already made, Mom."

"What?" Her mouth open in a confused way, as though I had spoken in Japanese.

"The coffee is already made. Why don't you sit down, too, and I'll get us all a cup."

"When did you do that? You didn't have to do that."

I fled to the kitchen, where I had made the coffee about ten minutes before, with her sitting at the table, watching me and chattering about what a nice man Mr. Dawson from the funeral home was, and how I would be glad to meet him, he's very successful, you know. In the living room Mom was starting to give Jesse and Charles her account of her all night vigil with Dad's body. My hands felt trembly as I got the cups. What do you do for someone who is in shock but doesn't want to admit they're in shock?

I carried a tray of cups and saucers into the room in time to hear "At least he didn't suffer at all. They said, the police said, that he died immediately. Now he's in a better place, that's what we all have to remember. Oh, here's the coffee. On saucers, yet! You didn't have to do that, Sully, it's just more dishes to wash later." She took her cup and sipped it. "Mmm. That's good. How did you make coffee that quickly?"

Jesse's hazel eyes narrowed. "Mom," she said slowly and carefully, "do you feel all right? You look a little tired."

"I'm fine. What do you mean I look tired? Maybe I should have put my hair up for a while this morning. My pillow flattens it out, you know, and since it turned gray, it just doesn't seem to cooperate with me. There's Mr. Dawson's car. He's so nice and helpful, you'll see."

The doorbell rang and she hopped up. Jesse and I exchanged looks of concern, and Charles looked thoughtful.

"These are my daughters, Mr. Dawson, Sully and Jesse. Sully is short for Solange, she would never let us call her that, such a pretty name. And this is my son-in-law Charles, he and Jesse live in a huge mansion in Port Laughton. Sully lives all by herself down in Riverton. Well, except for a big dog she has. That's why I don't visit her. He's so big he scares me. Let me get you a cup of coffee, I'll even put it on a saucer, just like Sully does."

We shook hands with the nice and successful Mr. Dawson, Charles affably, Jesse and I with hard, wary eyes. "I'm sorry for the loss of your father. He was well liked and respected. Your Mom is a little overwhelmed by this, isn't she?" his voice was modulated not to carry to the kitchen. "Don't worry, it's natural. We'll help her through the process as kindly as we can."

Some of my bristly feeling ebbed. Maybe he is nice, after all, and won't have to be kicked out. Jesse invited him to sit. We still were watching him, waiting for one wrong word, both daughters of Mark Ambris, deceased, suddenly guardians of our mother, whose lifelong pretense of invulnerability was crumbling around her feet.


***


Dreams about my mother's household were nearly always bad ones, full of frustration and fear. The house would be dark and bad things would happen. Furniture would begin to move around. I would suddenly be alone there. Jesse would appear in the dream, deformed horribly. And nearly invariably, some invisible evil spirit would show up, and I would find myself confronting a demon, a ghost, a soul-eater that was attacking me to drag me down into Hell. Sheer terror would drench me as I was picked up and flung about by the evil things, and I would try to gain control by invoking the Lord's name. I would try to shout it out, but my voice would squeak and fail, and the command would sound weak. Tiny voice: "In the Name of Jesus Christ I command you to be gone!" and I would awaken, drenched with sweat and afraid that the evil would leak from the dream and flood me again.

I stopped having those dreams completely for a while, say, the first year that Adam and I were married. He was so big and strong and present that nightmares didn't dare show their faces. When he started flirting with other women, jollying me to not take it seriously, and I tried not to, was when the Haunted Mother's House dreams started slipping in now and then. Not often, but definitely back. Maybe once every couple months Adam would shake me awake, saying that I had been whimpering or moaning in my sleep. I'd cling to him until the nightmare feelings dissipated, and then fall asleep pressed against him. Nights when he was on the road, a nightmare like that could keep me awake until morning.

Certainly the dreams were triggered by my fear of losing him, which surprised me with its intensity. I'd never really experienced jealousy with any of the boyfriends I had prior to marriage. Egotistic, perhaps, but I figured that if they were dumb enough to go after another woman, then most likely they were dumber than I was prepared to overlook anyway. Other girls might flirt with my boyfriends, but my boyfriends never strayed.

Adam strayed. He strayed so much that you could say he had Marital Alzheimer's. He loved to flirt and chase, and women just didn't seem able to try to escape. Hell, I understand that. Look at me, I didn't, either. He would just start chatting to some poor bitch and there she would be, gazing at him like he was their hero and getting lost in the play of the long golden lashes above his blue, blue eyes. The first time I caught him doing that was with the front desk secretary at my job at Houston's, when he came to pick me up at work. I stood in the door of my office and watched them, a spiralling sinking knot falling from my throat into the pit of my stomach. He was enjoying her regard so much that he was sparkling like champagne. I was about to turn around and go back into my office when he looked up and saw me, and gave me a big, brilliant smile.

So I went with him, trying to look happy and married, married, married! in front of the secretary, who fiddled with her stupid hair and called, "Bye-bye, kids." But after we got in the car and began to head home, conversation wasn't coming to me, and Adam asked me what was wrong, his head tilted to one side so that I would see that he was cute.

"Why were you flirting with Jackie?"

"I wasn't, I was just passing the time. She's nice."

"Personally, I think she got that job sucking up to the boss, and I don't think she's nice ... and I guess I just felt like ... like you forgot I was there or something."

"You were jealous!" he seemed pleased, as if I had given him a gift. "Don't worry," he smiled winningly at me. "You're the one with the ring, right?" And waggled his left hand at me. He put that one back on the steering wheel and took my left hand with his right. "See? We match."

Perhaps my jealousy was a gift to him, but to me it was, as they say, a green-eyed monster. I didn't like the feeling, the blinding anger of it, the sinking hopelessness of it, the burning shame of having to admit to myself that my mother had been right about him. And that's no doubt why my nightmares were set off again, for my life for the next four years would be haunted by Adam's infidelity, and the only place I could battle the feelings was in my dreams.


***


Now Adam was gone, and my father was gone, and my mother's house had taken on a nightmarish cast in the light of day. Like the slow-motion futile attempts at escape in a dream, I tried to tell myself that grief is natural, and that shock is a way of coping with loss, but I was still so afraid of the desperate emptiness in my mother's eyes.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-09-22
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