So, I came across this story. It’s weird to read it now because I wrote it maybe seven years ago? Or six? I forget exactly when, but suffice it to say, in that amount of time my style has changed somewhat, so, as I said, it’s weird to read this. I haven’t altered the story other than some unforgivable grammar and spelling mistakes, as well as adding a title. Maybe it had one when I first wrote it, but I’ve long since forgotten what it was.
The dream starts with the same silence, an engulfing silence that seems to grab on to my ears, pulling them in opposite directions. It’s dark, an odd kind of dark. It’s inviting, welcoming. My feet carry me through the house, my toes curling on the blue carpet.
I stop at the closet. I open it, reaching in groping in the blanket darkness for a particular item. My fingers clinch over it, the skin propelling sweat into the air. My heart is ramming into my chest, as if the rib cage is its prison. The silence is so thick that as I make my way to the garage, I feel as if I’m walking through a cornfield.
A large wood beam reaches across the ceiling of the garage like a large insect. I scoot a dirty, brown chair over to the middle of the garage. The legs are cracked and wobbly, but it’ll do. I step up onto it and look around, feeling as if I’m about to give a speech to a ravenous crowd. I collapse the feeble chair and land on my back on the cold cement. I lie there for a few moments enjoying the coolness on the nape of my neck. I sit up and find another chair. This one’s metal and should hold up.
I turn the rope I had in the closet into a noose. I had to actually go to the library and check out Hervey Garrett Smith’s The Marlinespike Sailor to get a “How To” on noose-making.
With the noose positioned over my neck, it feels like a small child curled around my throat. Saliva in my mouth dries up. My hands stop sweating and turn into that cold damp feeling. A wave rolls over my stomach. Blurriness envelops my eyes.
Stepping off the chair, I instantly feel the tug of the noose on my throat and I can hear the wood beam moan with effort.
Some people say their life flashes before their eyes right before death takes them. This doesn’t happen. Instead, I see the line of a blue marker on the garage wall indicating the height of my nephew, the scribbles from my own hand marking his name and height: three feet, five inches. I black out; momentarily the smell of freshly baked cookies invades the confines of my nostrils. Then, nothing.
I roll the covers off of me; the fuzzy blanket peels off my sweaty skin. Sitting there, on the edge of the bed, I look around me. My room’s plain and ordinary with no sign of anyone living there. I roll my head around my shoulders, the crack of the bones deafening in the stillness of the air. There’s the faint smell of mother’s sugar cookies creeping into my nostrils, which is odd because my mother is long dead.
She isn’t six feet under because I decided to have her body burned instead. The thought of insects slowly eating away at her body makes bile rise up into the back of my throat.
Sometimes I peek into the urn to look at the ashes piled there. It always seems odd to me that someone that was a human being at one point is now this, ashes. Mother would hate the color; an ugly shade of gray.
The answering machine’s red beeping light illuminates under a dirty white sock. I flick it off with my fingers and press the button to hear the message.
“Hey Ron…it’s Jack. Sorry I missed you last night at the club. I got caught up with work and stuff…you know how it is. Good news, though. I got that shirt you wanted me to get…the one with the blue stripes and pocket on the front, left side? It looks great on me, you were right. I have a surprise for you on Saturday. So just give me a ring back…I’d like to hear from you.”
A smile careens across my face like a car without brakes on a wet road. I leap up out of the bed with only blue boxers to show for. A hole that was tiny only a week ago has now expanded into a crater near the thigh. I swirl my finger around in the hole, meshing the fabric between my forefinger and thumb.
I walk into the bathroom; the light smacks me in the face as I flip the switch on. The mirror reflects my ragged image: my curly black hair hangs over my eyes like a ripped curtain, my piercing blue eyes shining through and an odd freckle that sits like an old man with a shotgun on a porch in the center of my forehead.
As I shower my memory returns the dream to me like a bad aftertaste. I run my fingers across my throat as if I expecting to find the bruise from the noose. I dress, pull on some old navy blue slacks and slip a gray hooded sweatshirt over my head. I sneak a peak once more at the mirror then skip down the stairs.
I grab a glass of water and drink three quick glasses in a row…trying to wash the bad taste of the dream out of my mouth. I glance over at the refrigerator and see a yellow sticky pad note with my own cursive writing. Obviously, I wrote it in a hurry because I misspelled appointment and the letters at the end bunch together, fearful of slipping off the edge of the paper:
Don’t forget you have an appointment with Dr. King at three on Thursday. You BETTER go!
I slam the glass down on the counter and it smashes, a corner piece impales my right hand. Blood pours out as if now free from my body. I grab a dishrag to stop the bleeding and wrap it around the cut.
I slowly place my fingers around the piece of glass wedged into my palm and my eyes already begin watering at what is to come. In one quick motion I pull the glass out of my palm and it drops with a small ping into the sink. More blood gushes out.
I yell back at the yellow note on the refrigerator, “I don’t want to see that damn Dr. Screw you and screw that!”
I call Jack.
“I’m not going.”
“Hi to you, too, Ron.”
“Yeah, hey, Jack, I’m glad you got that shirt, but I’m not going to see Dr. King.” I rummage around in my medicine cabinet looking for some antiseptic and bandages. A bottle of toothpicks happens to be in my way and I fling them across the room. They land strewn out on the coffee table. I hurry to go clean them up, now mad for being mad.
“You had the dream again last night didn’t you?”
I pick up a red toothpick off the January 5th, 1970 issue of TIME magazine. On the cover is an abstract drawing of a man and a woman. I don’t care about “The Middle Americans” of America. Instead I flip to a story about the acronym “S.O.B”. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled it isn’t defamatory. The magazine’s a month old.
“Come on, Ron, I know you and I know you’re still having them. I can feel it in your voice. You know I hate it when you don’t tell me things.”
“I don’t tell you things that aren’t important.”
“This is important, Ron. You’ve been having this dream for almost a year now and almost every night. That’s not normal.”
“I’m not normal. So what?”
I picture Jack in his red slippers and red robe twisting his body around the cord, his fingers picking at his nails in frustration. He probably reaches over to his pack of Pall Malls right now.
“Look Ron, you’ve only been to this Dr. King one time. Give him a chance.”
“I did; I’m a good judge of character.”
“Jack, he has a framed picture of Clint Eastwood in his office.”
‘So what does –“
“He doesn’t give a crap about what I have to say. I think he fancies himself as Coogan.”
“Come on nobody saw that movie.”
“He sure did. And he talks like William F. Buckley, Jr.”
“Hey, I like Firing Line!”
I empty the dustpan of glass into the garbage; the shards rearrange themselves around the golden arches from an old McDonald’s bag.
“You won’t talk to me. You won’t talk to a professional. You never talked to your mother and now she’s –“
I pour the antiseptic around the cut in my hand, wrap the bandage around it and walk out of the house. It’s raining, so I put my hood over my head. My 1965 Pontiac GTO Convertible…well my dad’s 1965 Pontiac GTO Convertible sits on the curb looking out of place in the neighborhood alongside my neighbor’s old 1942 Chrysler with a grotesque shade of turquoise and the 1949 Ford Coupe across the street, also with a nasty shade of light blue.
The sound of the rain carries away my words. I run back inside the house grab the keys to the GTO and run back out into the typhoon of a day.
Last time I saw Dr. King, I didn’t even talk. I just sat there with a stupid look on my face and watched the stupid look on his face. When that bored me, I scanned the book titles on his bookshelf: The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung and The Behavior of Organisms by B.F. Skinner immediately popped out. Then, as if some imaginary gong went off, Dr. King scribbled on a clipboard, thanked me and I left.
I’m not going to say anything to him. No, I’m not. I’m just going to look at that dumb picture of Clint Eastwood with his eyes squinted, looking fierce and imagine him coming into Dr. King’s office (I attempt to do my Betty Field impersonation – a squeaky mouse voice juxtaposed with a raspy smoker) with his fancy cowboy get-up, fancy boots, fancy hat and saying to Dr. King, “I’m making a citizen’s arrest.” That would be poetic justice.
I think all this while stopped at a red light and looking at a scrawny redheaded kid with freckles plastered all over his face and his nose mashed up against the back window of his family’s Dodge A100 compact van. The light turns green and the eyesore brown colored Dodge roars away.
The receptionist at Dr. King’s office has a flip hairstyle that’s a poor imitation of Mary Tyler Moore. It even looks like she attempted to dye it the dark brown color Moore has because spots of blonde show up like unwanted zits around her head.
“I’m here to see Dr. King.”
Her name-tag reads: Amy…is taken aback by the sharpness of my words. Her brow comes to a point and her beautiful green eyes gloss over with a hazy cloud of astonishment.
“Yes, it’s five after three. You’re late.”
Amy makes a show of putting paper in a black typewriter and then begins punching at the keys. I thank her, but I don’t think she hears me and if she did, she didn’t acknowledge it.
I walk into the room and hit a brick wall of scented candles. I scrunch up my nose because it smells like a cross between lemon and freshly mowed grass. I blink a few times, as if my eyes can erase the putrid smell. A long beige couch sits in the middle of the room in front of Dr. King’s mahogany desk.
Dr. King was a caricature in itself, tip-toeing above five feet with a circuitous frame, a nose that seemed abnormally outstretched with tiny spectacles teetering on the edge. He had no hair to speak of, but he rummaged his hands through his scalp anyway. His exaggerated baritone voice seemed to give me a bear hug.
“How are you today Mr. Ron Green?”
I don’t answer him right away. Instead I lie down on his beige couch and rest my head on a small, white pillow.
“I understand now that you do not want to talk to me. Fine. It’s your time and your money. I’m just the guy with the expertise that can help you. That’s all. No strings attached just an ear to lend and words to mend.”
I laugh under my breath at his weak attempt at humor. My eyes gravitate toward the framed picture of Clint Eastwood. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he had it cleaned earlier today. You can see the faint smudge mark above the left squinting eye of Eastwood that he missed. He’s probably got the bottle of Ajax around here somewhere.
“Hmmm, I’m looking at my chart here, Ron. It says that you were born on August 6th, 1945. Huh…that was the day the United States dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima.”
Yeah don’t remind me, my nickname throughout elementary school was Ron “Little Boy” Green. I hated that nickname.
“It also says here that you have a brother named William and a sister named Karen.”
Had a brother and a sister. We called him Willy, though. He was the older one, the smarter one, and the more athletic one; and of course Karen was the beautiful one. They died in a plane crash. My dad, Willy and Karen…burned to death.
Ha. It was ridiculous too. On their way back from Maryland having just visited my grandparents (I was down with the flu and stayed home with mother), they bordered a United Airlines flight to take them back home. They hit a freaking Whistling Swan. A Swan of all things! All the passengers died. Willy and Karen and Dad. A Swan…
“Looking through my notes here, it mentions that your dad worked for the CIA? Is that true?”
He could have been a coffee-getter for Director Dulles for all I knew.
“And your mother used to be a model—“
“Dr., do you want to talk about me or about my family?”
“Since you won’t talk to me, I have to talk to my clipboard here.”
I sit up on the couch and look into the hazel eyes of the Dr. I stand up and move over to the bookshelf. I run my hand along the edge; dust swirls up and assimilates into the air. As I talk to the doctor, I look at a thick book that sits on the shelf all alone. It’s William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A red bookmark protrudes from the halfway mark in the book.
“For the last year I’ve dreamt about killing myself. I hang from a rope until all life leaves my body. I don’t know why I have these dreams. I don’t know what they mean, but I wake up every time afterwards smelling my mother’s sugar cookies even though my mother’s dead.
I’m a homosexual and have been since the late 1950s. My father hated me. My brother barely talked to me. My mother and sister were the ones that didn’t mind. And they’re all dead now. I’m in a relationship with a guy named Jack Dunning and he’s seeing a female behind my back…some brunet girl that fancies herself after Julie Newmar. I think I even saw her once with those ridiculous Catwoman ears on her head.
My idol was Robert F. Kennedy and well, he’s dead too. Does that about sum it up Doc? Or do you want me to go into detail about how I’m afraid of going to Hell because of my sexuality?”
Dr. King is noticeably taken aback by this sudden outburst of talk from me. I am too. I absentmindedly take a book off the shelf, not even noticing any words and begin flipping through it.
“Ron, let’s back up a moment here. I want to go over this dream. Could you explain it to me in as much vivid detail as you can?”
“I’ve been having this dream for a year Dr. That’s 365 nights. Imagine seeing Coogan’s Bluff 365 times Doc. At that point, they’d probably hire you to be Clint Eastwood instead of Clint Eastwood.”
I proceed to explain in detail the dream: the thickness of the silence, getting the rope from the closet, breaking the old wooden chair, putting the noose around my throat and looking at the blue marker line indicating my nephew’s height before blacking out. While I do this, I walk to the back of the office where a table has been set up with a pitcher of water and plastic cups. I drink five glasses by the time I get to the part about going to the library.
“Do you believe in dream analysis, Ron?”
Somehow Shirer’s book got in my hands and I glance over a section about Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. Given the slip of my tongue the last few minutes here, I’m wishing I could fly out of here, disappear to some secluded island where the eyes of the world aren’t scanning me for every fault. Or at the least, the hazel eyes of this poor man’s Eastwood.
“I’m not the one with the Ph.D., Doctor.”
King laughs to himself and stands up. He walks over to the bookshelf next to me. I look down at him, noticing a few warts scattered around his scalp. He reaches for Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams.
“Do you know who Sigmund Freud is? Oh yes, yes, of course not. Anyway, Freud had a few things to say about dreams. He said dreams were “wish fulfillments.” That is to say, your subconscious is attempting to alleviate some kind of conflict plaguing your conscious. He believed many distortions existed in dreams disrupting a semblance of analytical comprehension of said dreams.”
I wipe my brow of sweat, clinch my teeth and tap my toe on the edge of the bookshelf.
“You’re losing me with your Ph.D. talk.”
“Well, let’s put it this way. I’m not necessarily a Freudian. Calvin S. Hall has many insightful thoughts on this matter as well.”
“Just get to the point.” The water pitcher is empty.
“Dreaming is a cognitive process; a montage of thoughts per se. The visualizations in dreams are based on personal conceptions. For example, going back to your suicide dream, the reason you decided to kill yourself with an old rope from your garage suggests a lack of personal worth. You lack respect for yourself and believe you deserve no better than an old rope.
Dr. King moves back toward his desk. He turns to the framed picture of Clint Eastwood, adjusts it slightly and pushes his glasses back to the bridge of his nose. He sighs deeply.
“Of course, lack of love for oneself or a perceived lack of love for oneself is often the main causation for a suicide as it is.”
I slip my hand into my left pocket and finger a piece of lent, dissecting it and feeling the contours of its soft parts.
“Talk to me more about your father. You say you barely knew about his job. You say he hated you because of your…sexuality. It couldn’t always have been like that.”
“Well there was this…one time.”
After he doesn’t respond I return to the beige couch, lie my head back down on the pillow and gaze up at the wiggly lines on the ceiling. I attempt to count them and then lose track as they interchange all over.
“There was this time in ’51 when I turned six, my dad came home with a present for me. It was one of those Toy Soldier sets. At the time, all the kids wanted those. They heard the stories about stopping Adolph and saving Europe and all that. I guess they pictured themselves in a foxhole with an M1 carbine hanging on their shoulder and Nazis heading in their direction.
See at the time, I was more intrigued by my four year old sister’s red plugged hair doll “Betsy Wetsy.” The doll had red puffy cheeks and the brightest blue eyes. Came with a bath tub and if you poured liquid down her mouth, she’d pee all over.”
Dr. King scratches some notes down on his clipboard, makes a show of cleaning off his glasses and looks over at me.
“So you never played with your toy soldiers given to you as a present by your father?”
“Of course I didn’t. They sat under my bed in a brown box. The only reason I ever got them out was to show my dad how much I loved the gift. I’d make a show of yelling, “Put your hands up you filthy stinkin’ Nazi or I’ll blow your head off!” and then he’d smile, walk away and I’d tuck the plastic little men back in their box.
In actuality, I would have preferred Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles that came out the previous year. I wanted to read the book so bad.”
“If we may, I’d like to get back to “Betser Wetser”…”
“Yes, of course. Was there a single moment in your life where you can look back and recall the beginnings of your homosexual urges?”
“You make it sound like a disease, Doc.”
Dr. King’s eyes momentarily shift to the left.
“In December of 1953 – “
“An exact date, huh?”
“I remember all the kids were excited about this new magazine that they’d slipped from their father’s bedrooms. They handled it like it was a loaded gun.”
Dr. King nods, as if beckoning me to continue.
“It was the first issue of Playboy magazine. Marilyn Monroe was the first cover girl. They started giggling like girls at the topless picture of Monroe. I looked at it. I remember vividly how red her cheeks were and thinking she had a fever. And her breasts didn’t seem real to me. It was like they were looking at me, examining me, seeing right through me.”
“And how did you feel about this realization that you weren’t…exuberant shall we say…over these pictures like the other boys?”
I stand back up and my heart rattles the cage again. After five minutes the Dr. realizes I’m not going to say anything and he walks over to the bookshelf again. He picks up a book, flashing the title before my eyes: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He drops the book on the desk; I flinch involuntarily.
He flips through the pages looking for something in particular, his eyes moving left to right, left to right in rapid motion. His glasses dangle precariously from the edge of his nose. For some reason I zero in on this predicament and hold my breath waiting for the fall.
“It says here, ‘The psychoanalytic view is that the “homoerotic level” is simply a stage in development toward mature sexuality.’”
My ears pop and his words echo around in my head, seeming more distant as the statement progresses. I scratch at my forehead.
“Furthermore, homosexuality is a sexual deviation. Ron, it’s a disease. Or better yet, a phase. You just have to move on from this. This thing or whatever it is with Jack, it’ll pass. Remember, I’m the guy with the Ph.D. and the American Psychiatric Association is full of very bright, intelligent people.”
His words are coming in like a tidal wave…every few seconds another word crashes into my ear drums. My throat clenches up and panic rises to the surface of my stomach. I rise to my feet, but my head sways and I use the couch to steady myself. I slowly back up out of the office. I no longer hear his words, but they leave penetrating rounds in the walls around me. I throw my arms over my head, bump into the door knob and I can’t get it open. A tear swells up in the corner of my eye because I’m imagining being locked in here with the Doctor. Maybe they want to electroshock me. I don’t even know if they still do that anymore. But you hear stories…
I don’t even remember unlocking the door to my GTO Convertible or starting the hungry engine.
It’s Saturday morning, the sun takes its seat at the top of the sky and illuminates the beautiful day below, attempting to erase the remnants of yesterday’s storm. Jack Dunning stops behind Ron’s GTO Convertible, parked haphazardly with one wheel crunched over the handle bars of a pink bicycle and the rear tire sitting aligned with an old oak tree.
Jack walks through the still wet grass toward Ron’s house; his light brown hair bellowing behind him and something peeking between the holes of his fingers. He knocks on the door. Before he knocks a second time he seems to panic and he lifts his arm to his nose. He takes a step back and looks around.
The aroma of Amy’s Ȏ de Lancôme perfume still lingers on his body. He curses himself. He runs back to his hot orange 1966 AMC Marlin and throws old papers, a beat up wristwatch and a white sneaker out of the way and grabs a bottle of Hai Karate and lathers his neck, face, arms and even a little bit around his penis.
He tosses the bottle back inside the car and mutters to himself, “I won’t need it to fend off women.” He laughs at his joke and jogs back up to the front door.
He knocks loudly three times, waits a few minutes and knocks again. He’s confused.
“Ron! It’s me, Jack! Open up! Come on, I’m sorry about yesterday. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just, you know, thought you should go see that doctor. I was thinking he could figure out this dream situation.”
He trails off for a moment, scratches at his lower back and then knocks one more time.
“Hey, I even have on the shirt with the blue stripes and the pocket on the front…Ron!”
When he goes to knock once again, he changes his mind and twists the door knob instead. It’s unlocked. He walks inside. It smells like a mix between cookies and like something is burning.
At the kitchen counter is a pan with charred cookies on it. One of the cookies has a small piece missing with teeth marks around it. Jack picks up one of the cookies, studies it for a moment and places it back on the pan.
“Ron? Seriously, you’re not going to believe the surprise I have for you. It’ll make up for everything!”
Jack continues through the kitchen and into the living room where he sees a configuration of toy soldiers on the coffee table. He kneels down laughing and pokes one of the plastic soldiers in the head.
“Playing with toys now are we?”
He looks down at one of the soldiers holding a rifle, chuckles and then continues through the living room and begins trotting up the stairs.
“Okay fine. I guess I’ll just have to take someone else to England to see Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Doors. It’s the Isle of Wight Festival. They’re saying it’s going to be one of the biggest rock festivals of all time.”
Walking into Ron’s bedroom he notices the sheets strewn all around the room, a pillow leaning up against the window sill and an antique television set in the closet, with its back hanging out.
“Whoa, Ron, are you cheatin’ on me now?”
Jack’s finds an old issue of Playboy in his hands. He flips through it without really looking at it and tosses it back on the dresser.
“It’s okay; you were probably reading the article about, “What Makes Marilyn?””
Jack looks in the mirror at the stubble forming on his face and rubs at it. A scar from a car accident streaks across his forehead and he shudders at the memory.
“I mean, I could take someone else to this festival, but it wouldn’t be the same because it’s not their birthday. Oh, I get it. You’re mad because I waited a few days to surprise you. The surprise is worth it, though! You can’t fault me for that!”
He walks out of the bedroom and across the hall to the bathroom. The door is shut. He leans against it, his ear folds on the wood door.
“Come on, Little Boy.”
He rubs his hand along the wood of the door and his voice turns a bit sultry.
“We know that’s a lie, right?”
Jack pulls his blue-striped shirt off, sets the tickets to the Isle of Wight festival on the ground and kicks off his shoes. He turns the knob to the door and pushes it open.
Ron hangs by the shower curtain rod by the cord from his telephone. His black hair covers his blue eyes. One foot oddly angles into the tub and the other sits on its side on a red rug. Both arms dangle at his side, his fingers outstretched. His mouth pursed as if ready for a kiss with bits of blood caked into the dry crevices of his lips.