by Morton Russell | Richmond, Kentucky, USA
Thursday, June 11th, 2020
The rest of my family sleeps no matter what. They sleep and they dream and they face the consequences.
Dad dreams of a whistled song, played forward and backward, trying to get in the house. He hears it start up. The notes push and pull the door. Mom is always saying he better lock the door when he comes to bed, but he has fallen asleep on the couch again. The knob twists. Did he get up and lock it already? The door stops. He hears the whistled notes play backward, and then they knock. He gets up. Quiet. If he can creep to the edge of the kitchen, he can look through the doorway into what he calls The Room (a foyer with deer heads and gun racks and collected tin tobacco cans). Dad hears another whistled note with every quiet step. He peeks through the kitchen doorway and sees the front door with its small window shade left open. The whistled tune stares in at him, and it’s me.
It’s just me. So he goes to let me in, but what am I doing out so late? What am I doing out at all? As he opens the door, he wonders when I got so old. I whistle into the house and he sees the arrowhead buried deep in my right eye. Bare feet slap through the house to the rhythm of the whistling, and a younger version of me runs into The Room holding his little shoes. The older me stops whistling and holds his hand out for the younger me. Dad squeezes his hands tight and feels a pocketknife. He wakes up on the couch and gets up to make sure he locked the door.
I once dreamed of Mamaw’s neck. She was on their crooked floor and her neck kept growing longer, her head crawling and twisting up the hardwood and closer to the wall. She seemed fine. When her head slid past the window, she looked up at the sky and said I think it’s fixing to storm. Her head started slithering past the baseboards so her neck outlined the room. She stopped for a second to look in the fireplace and said Set a fire. I was standing on the bed looking around the room for her body, but I didn’t see it anywhere. The whole floor was covered by neck. It was crushing her. Set a fire, Walter. I asked if she meant me or Papaw. I asked her where she was. Where her body was. I asked her to stop slithering. She looked at me and opened her mouth so wide I could see that there was no tongue or nothing. She was empty all the way down. I screamed until I was awake. I could go tell Mom about my dream, but I knew they wouldn’t want me talking about Mamaw like that. Either way, I would have to go back to sleep. Another dream was always waiting.
In my sister’s dreams, it’s almost over. She dreams of waking up in our parents’ living room and peeling her sweaty skin from the leather couch. She can see a red sky out the living room window and my palomino horse, Shiloh, running in a quick circle and then out of sight. The sky opens and she remembers there’s a plush dog somewhere behind the couch. He looks like Dave, the dog we used to just call Puppy, but he’s possessed. Rocks begin to fall. My palomino horse runs back into view. He is covered in blood from the falling stones, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He is bloody and proud; Shiloh doesn’t know about guilt. My sister realizes the plush dog behind the couch is Satan and he is responsible for all of this, but she can’t get to him before she wakes up. When she tells us this story, Dave is in my lap. I ask Dave if he is Diablo. Mom tells my sister her dream is from the devil. Dad says Satan is the prince of lies, and the biggest lie Dad has ever heard is that our poor, skinny dog is evil.
They all just keep trying to dream like Dad’s sister Peggy because it made her a conqueror. She had been harassing God about something—she never would say what—for going on three days without sleep. Just why, God? You owe me an answer. Tell me. Just that. All day and all night kneeling on one of those oval rag rugs with all the colors. And I guess the Lord finally told her to hush and go to bed. So she dreamed curled up on that rug, but she didn’t hush. In her dream, she was still saying Why, God? I’m asking, Lord. And when I ask, you’ve got to answer me. But in the dream, she didn’t kneel; she paced. But when you pace in a dream, you’re just all over. She was in the grocery store asking Why. Turned down an aisle and bumped into her assigned seat from elementary school still asking Why. Sat down in her seat—why not?—and looked down to find a car. She looked up to find the highway—towering angels with flaming swords and four faces each (a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle) stood guard along the median—and she drove toward what had to be home. Peggy pounded the steering wheel with both hands and screamed Why? until the steering wheel was her sliding glass door. Outside the door, the night sky was the night sky, but she knew it was really God. Then she couldn’t ask anymore, so she woke up.
Her face was cold and wet with the same drool that ran down her arm. My aunt came up to one elbow as she tried to find where she left herself. Her drool had soaked the entire rag rug. It squished under the pressure of her feet as she hobbled to the sliding glass door. Saw Jesus standing on the other side. Not the night sky that she knew was Jesus, but a Jewish man with no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him. With holes in His hands and His side, the same holes Thomas needed to feel for himself. He put His left hand—Mom and I always loved that part since maybe Jesus was a lefty too—against the glass. My aunt stared at the place where the nail had been and Jesus said something about how His friend Paul believed she was more than a conqueror. She opened the door to embrace Him, but He was gone. Then she hushed like He asked. ■
Morton Russell is a high school English teacher and Appalachian writer who earned his MFA at the Bluegrass Writers Studio through Eastern Kentucky University. He seeks to create authentic representations of Appalachia to combat the stereotypes and exploitation the region constantly battles. His short fiction has been published in Light and Dark Magazine.