My wife was reading her morning text messages. I was still navigating the murky water separating my reverie from the waking world.
“Hey,” she said. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” I said.
"I had a bad dream."
"I was on a dock. At summer camp. I must have been a teenager. And I was sitting with a girl and we were about to kiss."
"And then I woke up."
"That doesn't sound so bad,” she paused and then the sound of an email being deleted. “Are you crying?"
"No, my eyes just water sometimes when I just wake up."
I went to work but couldn’t concentrate. There were too many things darkening my peripheral. Here and there I saw vestiges of some other life left not led. Everything became a symbol—a plane flying overhead or a truck idling on the sidewalk. The leathery corpse of a squirrel interred into the asphalt brought me to my knees.
There was a dock not far from our neighborhood. It was on private land, a rambling antebellum estate inhabited off and on by some wealthy family. Boards creaked beneath me and one almost gave, sending me to grip the crumbling balustrade.
The lake was dried up, not as romantic as I had imagined it. Spots of water here and there looked like gleaming onyx stones. I eased onto the edge of the sinking platform, letting my feet dangle in the humidity, and wrapped my arm around a rusted bit. I sat like this until I began to feel stupid, my sleeve saturated with a fine dust of rust and grit.
I approached the house and peeked in the windows. The furniture was covered over with white sheets, something I’d never seen outside of the movies, something done by people who had furniture expensive enough to cover.
“Excuse me,” she said. I spun around. “What are you doing?”
“I’m—just looking?” I said.
She was young, her hair dyed to a deep burgundy. She wore a hair clip shaped like the banana from the cover of the first Velvet Underground record. Her half-shirt revealed her abdominals, soft white hair and sunburned skin.
“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t think anyone was home. I just wanted to see the dock.”
“No one is home,” she said.
“Oh. I guess I’ll go now. Sorry to bug you.”
She called after me: “We’re going to be lighting off some fireworks later if you want to come back by.”
I returned to her. Suddenly flooded with the memories of pretty girls who never bothered.
“What? Why?” I said.
“Bastille Day?” she said and shrugged.
“Are you French?”
“No, I’m American and the fireworks stands are open.”
“Okay, well, maybe later,” I said.
“Bring beer,” she said.
My wife was already home. She’d ordered a pizza and was eating on the couch. She had a can of beer open and said there was more in the fridge. I ate a slice of pizza with her. She put on a movie.
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m getting together with some of the guys.”
“What are y’all doing?”
“Just going to hang out at Ted’s house.”
“Yeah, he and Laura are having a rough go of it.”
“That’s too bad.”
“I’m gonna bring the rest of this beer over if that’s okay."
“I was just going to have one anyway.”
“Is everything alright?” she said.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“This morning with you crying—”
“I wasn’t crying.”
“And now you come home and look like you’ve been, I don’t know, in the woods or something. There’s dirt all on your shirt.”
I’d forgotten about the rust.
“I dropped my keys,” I said. “They kind of fell under the truck and I had to get on the ground to pick them back up.”
She wasn’t buying it and I didn’t want to press my luck. I changed into jeans and a Black Flag t-shirt and left.
The house was lit up and the backdoor was open, trails of muddy footprints went in and out. The girl was sitting on the dock next to the rusted bit like a lover. A few young men—boys really—meandered around, sipping cheap beer out of cans. They alerted each other when I walked up, a tribal showing of open-handed slaps on the shoulder. I cracked a beer, sipped the spewing foam, to prove I was one of them.
“Isn’t that shirt kind of offensive, dude?” said one.“How so?” I said.
“I don’t know, Black Flag?” said another.
“It’s a band."
“Well, I’ve never heard of them.”
The girl pushed through them and plucked a can from my pack. She invited me down to the dock where there was a pile of low-level explosives. She picked one out for me, a camouflaged mortar, and steadied it on the dock, over the crater of mud and puddles. She gave me the punk and told me to light it. I put the red ember to the fuse and waited for the spark as she trotted away. But it wouldn’t light. I lit another and the fuse sparkled tiny shards of light but did not give way to the fire. I looked up, just oscillating nailheads of starlight.
“A dud!” One man yelled.
“You got it wet!” Accused another.
“Hey,” she said as I walked back to the truck. “Where are you going?"
“Sorry,” I said. “I think I have the wrong house.”
I went home and we put on the movie. I fell asleep halfway through like I always do.
I dreamt of holding the glowing punk, putting the red ember to the fuse and running away before it lights. Knowing that there may not be an explosion, that there may not be brief and sexy fireworks or rockets glowing red. Instead, there will remain an abundance of steady, knowing, reliable stars to punctuate the black of the night sky.
About the Author: The work of Remy Barnes has appeared or is forthcoming in Saw Palm, SmokeLong Quarterly, Five [Quarterly] and elsewhere. He lives in Texas and @RemyBarnes.
Story Song: "Passionate Kisses" by Mary Chapin Carpenter.