Margaret Sweeney '14
I’m standing on the beach, somewhere, I don’t know where, and I’m holding two grapefruit halves, one in each hand. My fingers feel mechanical; I can’t stop them from tensing, coaxing the juice out from the soft, pink flesh. The sun is setting. The color matches the pulp that covers my hands almost exactly, the same color that is revealed when you strip the silvery skin off of a salmon. My brain feels light, like after one or two hits on a joint, but I also can’t keep my eyes open, the lids droop heavy and I want to prop them open, want to keep staring at the expanse in front of me. I raise one of my hands to my mouth and touch the tip of my tongue to my pinky finger. It doesn’t taste like anything. This is when I realize I’m dreaming. Then I look down at my hands again, and instead of dripping fruit I see my palms stripped raw, stripped down the middle and bleeding in slow streams, pooling in the sand at my feet.
When I wake next to you I try to locate this dream in time and space. I watch you as you sleep, and I think in colors. The crushed grapefruit of your cheeks, which are striped with indentations from the folds in the pillows where you rolled over in the night. The pale, sandy slope of your forearm, slumped across your torso. I do a quick analysis: I am standing on the shore, and you are the ocean, and I can’t keep my eyes open because some higher power just doesn’t want me to look at you. This is bad, I think. I change my analysis: I can’t keep my eyes open, because you are too beautiful to look at, and all I have to do is get used to the view. Better. But what about the grapefruit?
I stretch out my legs and shimmy over you to grab the dream book on the bedside table, then thumb through it. Grapefruit: To see or eat a grapefruit in your dream represents a sense of well-being and a refreshed state of mind. You are experiencing an uplift in your spirits and a rejuvenation of your body. A rejuvenation? I think back to the night before, all the nights before that, of my belly slick with your sweat as you roll over off of me. That’s it, I say. We’re just having too much sex. As I pad barefoot to the bathroom to brush my teeth, I almost grab the box of condoms next to the dream book on the bedside table and pitch it into the trash. I stare at my face in the mirror. I gargle. I spit. The dream swirls down the drain with it.
On our first date, I told you I had been seeing different fortunetellers every month for at least five years. You asked me why. Insurance, I said. Against what? I don’t know, I like to be as in charge of my life as possible, I said. It’s a control thing. I have a control issue. My therapist tells me it’s how I deal with my anxiety. You smiled at me, like I shouldn’t be telling you this on a first date. You let it slide. What are they like? You asked. Mostly they’re old, I said. Some of them wear the kind of shit you’d expect fortunetellers to wear, like beads and scarves and big hoop earrings. Some of them are so obviously in it for the money though, that they don’t even try. Those kinds are my favorite. They just wear blue jeans and an old t-shirt or something and ask for your money up front, in cash. They tell you exactly what you want to hear, something like, “You will live a long life, and maybe you will get married but maybe you won’t, but either way you will be happy.”
You stirred around your noodles with your chopsticks, unconvinced. Don’t you ever get pissed that they’re just trying to steal your money? No, I say. Mostly, I believe in it. And even if I don’t, I like that I know exactly what they’re going to say. You raised your eyebrows at me. Then the waitress brought the check, and you slapped your credit card down on the table. Somehow, a few more drinks later, we were in a cab home, together. I hadn’t predicted that. You’re a little nuts, aren’t you? You said, your breath acidic from the wine. You slipped your tongue in my mouth, and after that everything got a little fuzzy.
When we moved in together, a year later, you made fun of me for arranging our bedroom so everything faced the door. The room looks lopsided, you said. It looks stupid. I was very patient with you, told you that in order for the energy to flow in the room everything needs an exit. You looked at me like I was crazy.
You made fun of me for lining up rocks on the windowsill next to our bed, rolled your eyes when I tried to explain to you what they meant. No listen, I said. This is rose quartz, I said. It’s the love stone. Turquoise, it protects you from bad energy. Herkimer diamonds balance the emotions. No really, I said. Listen to me. I believe in this stuff. Yes, you said, and even though that’s true, I still love you. Then you smiled and reach your hand up under my shirt, thumbed my nipples until the stones fell from my hand and cracked on the hardwood floor.
Sometimes, in those early days, I found you sitting on the bed, turning those stones over and over in your hands, feeling them and looking at them like you were really trying to understand. I watched you and loved you from the doorway. Soon, you seemed to be getting used to it. You helped me hang bottles from the tree in our front yard; we tied them to the branches with grey twine, and they were all green and brown, waving gently when the wind came. And what are these for, you asked as you double-knotted an old Coke bottle around an low-hanging limb, almost like it didn’t really matter whether you knew or not. They keep away bad spirits, I said. Oh, you said. Then you turned and walked inside.
For a while, I made you write your dreams down in a little leather-bound notebook I bought at the art supply store. I’ll do it too, I said, it’ll be fun. We’ll learn things about each other. Like what? You ask. Like what we’re really thinking about and not telling each other. The first morning, I set our alarm a half hour earlier, and asked you to write down exactly what you remembered of the last dream you had. You looked at me with bleary eyes and snatched the pen away from me, glaring. Why did I agree to this, you said.
When you had finished I made you read it out loud. You had dreamed that you were on a boat in a lake, but the lake was boiling. You said you could feel the steam on your face, that if you put your hand over the railing you would get burned. I thumbed through the dream book. That’s easy, I said. You have some strong feelings that you need to let out, maybe ones you’ve been repressing for a long time. Maybe I’m just repressing that this is annoying, you said, and flicked the pen at me. I didn’t laugh.
Once, you asked me if I believed in marriage. We were in bed. I said I hadn’t thought about whether I believed in anything like that or not. You looked surprised, pulled yourself up with your arms and slumped against the wall. I would have thought someone like you would have thought about that, you said. Someone like me, I thought. Someone like me. Then it occurred to me how much I wasn’t like you. You, who didn’t even believe in the weather, who had to actually see it raining to be convinced it was going to rain.
I remember when I visited you at work for the first time, when you took me by the hand and led me over to a stack of file cabinets. This is all my life’s work, you said. These are the cases I’ve won, you said, pointing to the file cabinet on the left, and these are the ones I’ve lost. You win or you lose, you said. It’s that simple. I like it when things are simple. You showed me your desk, and the way everything was lined up just so, exactly the way you needed them. You told me that you could probably locate everything blindfolded: the fountain pen, the sticky notes, the telephone. The windows behind your desk spanned the entire length of the wall, spotless and sun-streaked all except for one black smudge just to the right of one of the file cabinets. I stared at that smudge while you talked, and my hands were so sweaty that I almost left, but I didn’t.
When you asked me if I believed in marriage, you looked at me like I was on trial. Like I was actually going to be able to choke out a yes or a no. This kind of thing, you said, it’s not in your dream book, Rosie. It’s not something you can analyze. Either you feel it or you don’t. I thought back to another time, I asked you why you’d stuck around so long. Is it because of the sex? I asked. You can tell me. You looked me straight in the eyes. I don’t know, you said.
And now, two days after I woke from the dream, I’m squatting on the toilet, sweat gathering behind my knees. I’m trying so hard not to piss. For a few seconds I enjoy the tensing of my muscles, the power of mind over body. Then I let go. I count to sixty, slowly. I look down at the piece of plastic in my hand. Suddenly, my head is swimming, and I squeeze my knees together as a wave of sickness hits me. A one in a million chance. Something I could not have predicted. And now I’m lying in bed, thinking about soft, pink things. About cells saturated with blood, swelling up like a sponge filled with water. Squeeze, and the juice flows out. An entire ocean’s worth. The pulp slowly swelling and sloshing around like salt water. I am haunted by all the things I can’t foresee.