Posted Monday, December 19th, 2005
In Your Dreams
Maggie woke up panting in a puddle of pleasure, longing and guilt. Her dream vaporized, leaving her brain steamed up, foggy. She rolled over and felt her legs peel away from warm leather. She must be on the sofa. By squinting, she could just make out the time on the VCR: 3:23 A.M.
Sleep was one more thing Maggie had failed to appreciate when she was young. One night she was snoozing with her honey in a sleeping bag by the roadside until the birds or the cops woke her up. The next she was elbowing her snoring husband, and throwing off the blankets in blazing, soggy fits, only to drag them back onto her shivering body. On a good night she woke up in the same nightgown and bed that she started out in.
And now, these dreams. She listened to the light rain tapping the window and waited for the feelings to pass. Pleasure was the first to seep away, leaving a stain of sorrow. In her waking life, desire had desiccated, become fossilized under decades of household sediment: resentment, disappointment, fatigue, illness, boredom, monotony, anxiety, age. But when she fell asleep, fault lines shifted and passion erupted through the surface, rattling her old bones. Asleep, Rick found her, with that look in his eyes. That vulnerable, pleading, dangerous look, his lean body still twenty-five years old.
It wasn’t like that at first. For ten years after they split up, all of her dreams of Rick were filled with rage. She’d wake up with her jaw tight and her fists clenched, spitting venom. Then she’d reach out for her husband’s solid shoulders, curl up behind his thick back, and relax. Bob was unbroken, rooted. Dependable. You didn’t have to chase after Bob trying to get it right, desperate to please him. He was already as pleased as he was going to get.
Her heart rate and breathing slowed, and she felt herself slipping back to sleep. Maybe when she woke up for real, the longing and the guilt would be gone too.
When Maggie suggested they go out to lunch, Bob peered out the window and frowned.
“But it’s raining,” he protested. “Why don’t we wait for a nice day?”
Maggie persisted. She was afraid that Bob had gone a bit off the deep end since he took early retirement. He spent hours in the basement, tinkering with antique clocks. Sometimes he didn’t leave the house or shower or shave for days at a time. Then yesterday he complained about going “all the way” to the post office when it was only three miles from their house.
“Don’t you look nice?” she said as he stepped out of the bathroom without his shabby gray stubble. He wore a clean pair of jeans and a shirt that brought out the green in his eyes.
“I’d like to be back by two o’clock for the beginning of the U.S. Open,” he announced, walking toward the door.
“Can’t you just tape it?”
“How much time do you need to eat? It isn’t even noon yet.”
Maggie hesitated as Bob got into his bright yellow rain jacket and found his umbrella. She tried to resist the pattern of bickering that had worn a deep path in their conversations. With great effort, she swallowed the words twitching on her tongue and grabbed a sweatshirt.
“I’m sure we’ll be back in plenty of time”, she said with forced cheer.
Bob switched on NPR for the short trip to the restaurant. She fished tweezers out of her bag, pulled down the vanity mirror, and plucked her chin hairs in the daylight. The scent of Bob’s aftershave filled the car, redolent with back seat teenage encounters, and revived her dream. Rick’s lips on hers, his strong hands on the small of her back pressing her closer. She squirmed and cracked open the car window.
They got to the cafe before the lunch crowd, and had their pick of booths. She was happy to be with Bob somewhere other than home, even if they now were the kind of couple she used to make fun of, who sat without talking. At least they ate facing each other and not the TV.
The restaurant filled up quickly. She didn’t notice the couple sitting across from them until the woman’s voice cut through the chatter and clattering dishes.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?”
Maggie grinned at the sarcasm. So Bob and she weren’t the only ones suffering from marital malaise. At least they didn’t broadcast it to the entire restaurant. She wondered what offense the poor man had committed. Had he picked his teeth, or belched? Forgotten their anniversary?
Maggie glanced over and quickly took in the couple, maybe in their early thirties. The man faced away from her, his leather jacket dangling off the back of his chair. She could just make out the logo on his blue shirt: German Motors. The muscles that flexed as he drummed his fingers on the table must come from twisting wrenches, not pumping iron. The woman’s face was hidden behind her menu. She dressed like a banker or a realtor. In five years she might look frumpy, but so far she could fight it. There was a wedding band on her finger.
Maggie leaned forward, trying to catch the man’s response. If he said anything, it was in a mumble. She looked at her husband to see if he was enjoying this display, but he was studiously chewing.
“Have I told you in the last week that I love you? Is it abnormal, how much I love you?”
This was getting interesting. Was this woman for real? Was this man her husband? The woman reached across the table and caressed the man’s fingers. He shifted slightly back in his chair. Maggie still couldn’t hear his reply. She hoped she wasn’t gawking.
The woman released his hand only when the waitress came over to serve them. She was silent for a few minutes as they were served their meals and began to eat.
“Do you remember our trip to Majorca?”
Maggie almost expected her to whip out a snapshot of the two of them surrounded by gnarled olive trees in front of a villa, and present it to him as evidence. For the first time, Maggie heard the man’s voice.
He snickered. “How could I forget those topless beaches?”
The woman looked away, and her eyes met Maggie’s. Maggie recognized the desperation and hurt, the struggle to maintain dignity, the stubborn love. And something else. The martyr’s pride. The thrill of humiliation. Maggie had seen that look for years, greeting her in the mirror when she lived with Rick. She never wanted to see it again. But she also didn’t want to see the lines of resignation that had lately begun drawing at her mouth.
Bob wiped his mouth with his napkin. “I feel a lot better after eating,” he said.
“Good.” She looked at her watch. “We still have plenty of time before your show.”
“Want to order dessert?”
Maggie reached for Bob’s hand and smiled at his green eyes. She got another whiff of his aftershave. Who knows? Maybe now that her dream had blasted a rift in those layers of sediment, it wouldn’t take a bulldozer to make the earth move.
“Why don’t we have dessert at home?” she said.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by Nonnie Augustine on Monday, December 19th, 2005 at 2:47 PM
You've written the truth for so many women. Thank you for a good read. Nonnie Augustine
Posted by Marjorie McKinney on Monday, December 19th, 2005 at 11:46 PM
Oh those dreams sure can fire up new energy.
Great description of what it's so often like.