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Short Stories

Valley of Dry Bones

I scratched dirt out from under the wig my son of a bitch husband hated. It’s the same cocoa color my real hair was, but he had left all the same. What man leaves a woman after four years for shaving her head? It’s fine, my dreams said he wasn’t the one anyways. Willie’s a better man. He gave me Isaac, just like Pastor Coleman promised when the right man walks into your life. It’s no surprise, God delivered him to me in my sleep and my Dreamcatcher caught him on tape.

Last night, I recorded a dream of my husband yelling at me in the flea market. Couldn’t get the damn video to focus before Willie hollered for his pain meds. So I ran out “blind” into this stifling heat. I was always good at keeping my priorities straight. But if God sent you a message you’d better not ignore it, so I took a little ten mile detour to the market. It’s filled to the brink with the usual dusty locals sweating under straw hats, summer skirts, and flannel tops. Unless they show up clear in my Dreamcatcher, I don’t pay them any mind. I must confess I really want to see what that son of a bitch has to say to me. I scoured that whole market. Couldn’t find the coward, even after the third time.

It’s night time when I drive onto Sally Avenue. In the headlights, dust motes danced like spirits around Willie’s truck. The only neighbors we have left lived at the end of the block. The five houses in between were vacant and beaten. Good people too, but one by one they trickled away after every storm. My house is the one recently painted. We colored it green to make up for our lawn.

When I get out the truck my nose feels like it had just snorted old sawdust. I sneezed no less than seven times on the way to the door. In my rush I had forgotten my hair net to protect my wig. Dust got under the cap again and it burned the sores on my scalp. They never close up anymore. In my dreams I’m always wearing my wig. I laughed at the thought of wearing it in my own house. As soon as I opened the door, a musty odor smacked me in the nose. The air in the house has been heavy of late. All the walls are painted white. I dreamed of them last week and painted the new coat. That same day, a storm blew dust inside the living room as the paint dried. It still covered those walls.

Willie managed to get to the living room couch to watch the football game, broken foot propped up on some pillows. His bandages hung loose. He had changed his cast again and made a mess of it. Sweat drenched his black hair and t-shirt. He coughed up a rough, guttural storm. At the sound of the door closing he shot up and winced at the pain.

“Where the hell you been,” he choked out.

I walked over to him with the bag of medicine and eased him on the couch. “I told you that truck’s falling to pieces,” I said, “What with all this dust, feel like that piece of junk’s about to get carried off by one of these storms.”

“Well you don’t know how to use your phone?”

“I used it to call a tow man. I thought they knew what they were doing. Now settle down before you cough yourself to the grave.”

“What’s wrong with-“

“How’s Isaac?”

“Baby’s been crying all damn day. I fed him-,” he cleared his throat, “I need some water.”

I fetched a glass of water from the sink. He gulped it down with a pill. Isaac still bawled, but he’s always throwing fits with the heat lately. I sat on the couch and placed Willie’s leg in my lap. There’s a first aid chest on the floor near his leg. I once dreamed his foot attacked me. I battled it with a pair of scissors until each of its toes came off. God’s telling me it’s just a test in these times, that’s all. He does that to his favorites.

I set my spindly fingers to undo his dressings. Underneath, his foot puffed and purpled. It got crushed under our moisture condenser back in May when he tried to throw a storm cover over it. It’s been ten weeks since then. Darn foot would’ve healed by now if he’d stop walking. Lucky I used to be a nurse, before I quit. I applied some anti-inflammatory pads and waited for them to absorb into his skin.

Willie scratched at his shirt with fat fingers. “You use that phone of yours to call the AC man yet?” He wheezed in between words a bit.

“Of course I did.” I glanced at him. “Last week, like you asked.”

“How come he ain’t here?”

I finished bandaging his foot and pulled it tight. He cried out.

“You know,” he said, “Sometimes it’s easier to hit eighty riding a bull than to deal with you.”

“I could trample your toes,” I quipped, “see how you like that.”

“No ma’am.” He coughed up a chuckle. “Thank you, nurse.” I planted a kiss on his knee. Willie’s pretty green eyes closed.

I poured myself a glass of wine. The baby hacked up a cry from down the hall. Poor little thing is all red and shriveled like a leaf. I lifted him gently, light as a feather. His arms and legs recoiled from me as I shush him. The vent in his room has some kind of black dirt creeping out onto the ceiling. I’ll call the AC man in the morning. I carried Isaac outside to the rocking chair on the back porch. It’s screened in.

Beyond a bent old tree in the yard, lies desolation, the cracked skin of earth. There used to be a lake back there when I was little, but I can’t remember the name. My husband would, he was a water geologist. I shift the baby to one arm and grab my phone. His picture and number are in it, under the last name we still share. He had filled the porch once full of daisies and Heleniums, their petals long since withered and fallen. I call him. It rings three times and goes to voicemail. In a warm and whole voice, he tells me to leave a message. I close the phone and play my favorite of Pastor Coleman’s sermons. It’s from a series called “Dreaming the Word.” Isaac settled down after a time.

In the darkness of my room, I stumbled over Pastor Coleman’s books. It’s gotten cluttered as of late. I have a blank easel in the corner. Here and there are boxes of knickknacks I buy from my dreams. Inside them are cards, jewelry, vases, picture frames, paintbrushes, and all kinds of other things I’ll need for the future.

The Dreamcatcher is at the head of my bed, a small dusty box with a screen, plastic knobs and silver electrodes. I erase the dream from last night of the man who left me. I need more positivity in my life. I rub electrolyte paste onto each of the seven electrodes. They’re cold and gooey when I press them to my head, better than a cool breeze. The night I shaved my head, my husband had torn them out in my sleep. He shook me awake, pulled me out of the dream where I was painting in Paris. He can defy God all he wants, but I won’t. I’ll keep my proper alignment with God, thank you.

I always liked sleeping in my own bed, and Pastor Coleman said that it reduces interference from other dreamers. I have read three of his books now. A glossary of dream symbols is so worn, its corners curl up. The pastor’s eighteen other novels piled like a cairn near the door. Dust outside the window turns the sound of the wind from a blow to a hiss.

Back in March, Willie wanted to leave the state after the first storm of the year struck. He couldn’t find many roofing jobs since then. I told him the good Lord let me dream of a white walled house for a reason. Impiety broke his foot. We’ll be just fine in the morning, like I always tell him. The wind howled outside, a great voice in the wilderness. I pulled my sheets over my head. Sand and grit pattered against the window like rain. I never dream of rain, except the day my husband left me. It always makes me sad, the way everything gets colored gray.

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