Written by James Babbs
The dream was dead.
When Barlow rolled over and finally rose up from the bed, he saw the dream crumpled in a dark heap near the closet door. Barlow stumbled into the bathroom feeling the glare of the white tile as it conspired with the porcelain of the sink. He groaned and splashed several handfuls of cold water on his face before slicking back the thinning hair across the top of his head.
In the kitchen, Barlow got the coffee going before pulling the whiskey bottle from the cupboard and setting it down on the table next to his cup. He heard the front door open and she came into the room laughing that laugh of hers. The one that always made Barlow think of summertime and warm sunlight caressing the side of his face. He thought about a fawn standing near the side of the road stunned, for a moment, by the sound of his approaching engine. She touched his arm but Barlow didn’t turn around.
John? she said. John, what is it?
Barlow didn’t turn around even after she had spoken his name. He stared at the whiskey bottle and the empty coffee cup. When he answered her, his voice sounded as if it were coming from another room. Julie. The dream. It’s dead.
Oh, Julie said, starting to laugh again. Come on.
This time Barlow turned, grabbing her so quickly she could only manage a sharp intake of breath. Barlow pulled her face close to his. It’s true, he said. The dream’s dead. If you don’t believe me go look in the bedroom.
Barlow let her go. She made her way slowly down the hall, glancing back only once to look at his face. Julie hesitated at the bedroom door before taking the knob in her hand and turning it. When she came back there was no more laughter.
Oh, John, she said. It’s awful. What happened?
Barlow was near the window now with the cup in his hand. He took a sip and kept looking out, at some place, beyond the trees.
I don’t know, he said. I don’t know. Maybe it just got tired or something. Burned itself out.
For a little while neither of them spoke. Barlow refilled the coffee cup and poured some whiskey in it. Julie just sat at the table with her hands in her lap. Light was falling through the window making bright little squares on the linoleum floor.
John, we can start another dream. A new dream. Julie sounded excited.
Maybe, Barlow said. He put the cup down and came over to where she was sitting. We’re not so young anymore. He pulled her up to him and kissed her softly on the mouth. But you’re still beautiful.
Oh, John, she said, nestling her face against his chest.
Hey, said Barlow, I know. Let’s have a picnic. Let’s go out to the lake. The lake had always been one of their favorite places, but he couldn’t remember the last time they had been there.
Yes, Julie said. Yes, that sounds nice.
I guess I better go take a shower, he said.
Okay. Julie went over to the cupboard and took down a cup of her own. I’ll drink some coffee and make a list.
The clock on the microwave glared at Barlow and he finished the rest of the coffee in his cup. The whiskey burned his throat. Barlow turned to look out the window again, but only for a moment.
featured in our fall 2018 issue