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Short Stories

Valley of Dry Bones

I scratched dirt out from under my wig. My-son-of-a-bitch husband hated this wig. It’s the same cocoa color as my real hair, but he had left me all the same. What man leaves a woman after four years just 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. It’s no surprise; I dreamed him after all. God delivered him to me in my dreamcatcher, a strong grown-up son sleeping within a heart-shaped locket.

Last night, the reliquary recorded a dream of my husband yelling at me in the flea market. I tried to get the damn video to focus when Willie hollered for his pain meds. So I ran out, blind to His wisdom. But I always kept my priorities straight. 

If God sent you a message, you’d better not ignore it. Dust scrubbed my skin. A dirty, devilish fever withered my scalp. Nonetheless, I took a little detour to the market. It filled to the brim with the usual dusty locals sweating under straw hats, summer skirts, and flannel tops. Unless they showed up clear in the dreamcatcher, I paid them no mind. I must confess I really wanted to see what that son-of-a-bitch no-good husband had to say to me. I scoured that whole market, lifted every stand, turned every shoulder of somebody who wore his hat. Couldn’t find the coward, even after the third time.

It was nighttime when I turned 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 beaten houses in between were scoured husks, boarded up to hold in their ghosts. Good people too, but one by one, after every storm,  they trickled away. My house was the one recently painted. We colored it green. God doesn’t answer prayers unless you make them real. That’s what Pastor Coleman said. When spring turns to summer, the soil will stay where it should and our lawn will flood with grass again. 

Outside the truck, my nostrils shut, clogged to the bridge with rocks. It’s like snorting 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 swarmed under the cap and scraped 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 having to wear it in my own house. God has his jokes every now and then, even if they’re tests.

I opened the door and a musty mildewy fume slithered through my congestion. The air conditioner clogged every so often. Splatters of yellow and brown covered the dust-caked walls. I had dreamed of white walls last week, so I painted the new coat right on. That same day, a storm blew dust inside the living room as the paint dried. 

Willie planted himself into the living room couch to watch the football game, his half-assed bandaged foot propped up on some pillows. The old tattered cast lay on the ground across the room. 

I closed the door. Willie shot up and winced. Sweat drenched his black hair and t-shirt. He coughed up a guttural storm.

“Where the hell you been,” he croaked. 

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, what with all this dust. I 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?”

“Been crying all damn day.”

“Oh, he’s just sensitive to the heat. It was blistering outside.” 

Willie cleared his throat. “I fed him some-Damn, I need some water.”

I fetched a glass from the sink. He gulped it down with a pill. 

Isaac whimpered from his crib. He nestled in a bundle of blankets, eyes shut. Dreaming. A silver locket hung over the corner of his crib, empty, waiting for him to grow; waiting for the picture of the son from my prophesy to fill it. I wonder what he dreamt about. They haven’t made a reliquary for babies yet; Pastor Coleman said he feared parents would intrude on God’s plan for them. 

Every so often, I had the urge to connect Isaac to my dreamcatcher. But I had to make due with a kiss on his temple and a prayer whispered in his ear. 

I sat on the couch and placed Willie’s leg in my lap. I once dreamed his foot attacked me. I battled it with a pair of scissors until each of its toes came off. It’s just another of the Lord’s tests in these times, that’s all. He does that to his most faithful. 

I set my fingers to undo his dressings. His puffed, purple foot reeked of soured cream. It got crushed under the moisture condenser back in May when he tried to throw a storm cover over it. It’s been ten weeks since, and no change. Darned foot would’ve healed by now if he stopped walking. I applied some anti-inflammatory pads. Lucky for him, I was a nurse practitioner, before I quit. 

Willie scratched at his shirt with fat fingers. “You use that phone of yours to call the AC man yet?” 

“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. Poor little thing is all red, and shriveled like a leaf. I lifted him gently, light as a feather. His arms and legs recoiled while I shushed and rocked him. The vent in his room had some kind of black dirt that crept 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. The screen kept the dust at bay.

Beyond our crooked oak tree lay desolation, the cracked skin of the earth, far as I could see. There used to be a lake when I was little, but I can’t remember the name. My husband would know, he was a water geologist. He had filled this porch full of daisies and heleniums, their petals long since withered and fallen. I shifted the baby to one arm and grabbed my phone. His picture and number were in it, under our last name. I called him. It rang three times and went to voicemail. In a warm and whole voice, he told me to leave a message. I closed the phone and played my favorite of Pastor Coleman’s sermons instead. It’s from a series called “Dreaming the Word.” Isaac settled down after a time.

In the darkness of my room, I stumbled over a stack of Pastor Coleman’s books. A blank easel lay in the corner. I traversed a sea of knick-knacks I bought after I saw them in my dreams: cards, jewelry, vases, picture frames, paintbrushes, and all kinds of other things I’ll need for the future. 

The dreamcatcher rested at the head of the bed, a small dust-caked box with a foldout screen, plastic knobs and silver electrodes. I erased the dream of the man who left me. I needed more positivity in my life. I rubbed electrolyte paste onto each of the seven electrodes. They’re cold and gooey when I pressed them to my head, better than a cool breeze. On the night I shaved my head, my husband had torn them out in my sleep. He shook me awake and pulled me away from my painting in Paris. He can defy God all he wants, but I won’t. I’ll keep my proper alignment with Heaven, thank you.

I always liked to sleep in my own bed. In his third book, Pastor Coleman said that it reduces interference from other dreamers. The pastor’s eighteen other novels formed a cairn by the door. A glossary of dream symbols is so worn, its corners curl up.  Dust slashed against the window and covered the wind’s moans with a tenacious hiss. 

After the first storm of the year, Willie wanted to leave the state to find more roofing jobs. That impiety broke his foot. I had told him the good Lord let me dream of a white walled house for a reason. 

The wind howled outside, a grating voice in the wilderness. We’ll be just fine in the morning, like I’ve always told him.  I pulled my sheets over my head. Grit pattered against the window like rain. Rain always made me sad with the way everything got colored gray.  I’ve never dreamt of rain, except the day my husband left me. 

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