I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

Except now it was worse. It felt like a forcing house. Yet still I somehow clutched at Chase’s hand; fearing I dislocated his arm while rocketing through space. I opened my eyes to see him leaning over me where I lay on the padded floor, trying to get his arm beneath so he could lift me up.
In his ear I hissed, “I’ve seen the face of evil.”Chase, the arguer, didn’t argue. “Me, too,” he said.For a non-couple, we had so much in common it was eerie.

“You fell,” Corso accused from his lofty height. The exit sign reflected red off his cats’ eyes. “Miss Suzino, You’ve given yourself a bloody nose.”
“Well, I died,” I said. “I forgot the safe word.”

“There is no safe word,” he said. “You must choose one for yourself. Silly girl.”
But when I sat up I was streaming blood, even Chase was getting it on him; it was everywhere. Too late for safe words now. Poetry warns us there are no safe words, anyway. What possible incantation would have changed what just happened? And would I want it changed? Chase had singled me out. Those unforgettable kisses were doors to another universe.
But when I tried to stand I fell back. Corso says everything we fear has already happened and my head sure felt like it. Out of body hangovers are the worst.

“It’s a gusher,” proclaimed G-Rad, lobbing me a paper towel roll.
Chase helped me up to my launching pad. Corso tossed us water bottles.
“So,” he said, “Did anybody fly?”

I tried figuring out how to explain what had just happened to me but first I had to figure out what was real. I’d been embarrassed before by assuming my visions were something common. If I confessed my brain turned inside out, check, that I had achieved lift-off, check – then wouldn’t I also have to admit to Corso: I saw through you? I couldn’t do it without
Chase yet didn’t have the right to speak his part and – here’s what really hurt – it could all be imagination anyway. Especially tough since Chase was withdrawing from me now, climbing atop his own tomb to stretch out like a fallen soldier. Pulling away from me the center of his strength.
I needed to get him alone to find out what he knew, thought, felt. Had I dragged him into my dreams or had he dragged me into his? Would he think I was attempting a takeover his mind and body, now my own were compromised? It’s more than mere embarrassment; call it the problem of belief. Or is it the problem of blame and the problem of forgiveness? I feared we were already too far ahead of ourselves in our mysterious non- relationship ever to catch up.
But Chase, the starfish rescuer, rescued me. Again.

“I flew,” said Chase.
Corso shook his head with a tight little smile. “Oh, Mr. Quinn,” he murmured, quite unpleased, “You are so predictable.”

“I thought that’s what you wanted,” said Chase.
“I don’t want you to give me what I want, I want the truth,” said Corso and Chase rejoined, “That’ll be the day.”

Someone else was moaning. Thankful it was not me, I felt a twinge of shame for her, whoever she was, because it was a low, animal moan; a sow about to deliver. Then I heard Koo’s voice say, “I’m going to throw up” and Corso said, “Here’s a pail, Sleeping Beauty.” Retching sounds. I kept moping my face and closed my eyes.

“Any more foreheads require mopping?” asked Dr. Corso, handing out more water bottles. “I’m rather enjoying this Florence Nightingale routine. I’m often complimented on my bedside manner. I think I have the temperament for it. Only here to help, as they say.”

“You didn’t tell us we were going to get sick,” said Koo accusingly.
Corso remained imperturbably cheerful. I guess from his point of view it was a successful experiment if none of us was dead.

“Nobody knew what would happen, Miss Loflin,” he told her. “You didn’t nauseate in Nurse Howk’s office. This is an experiment. Your nausea has been duly noted. Nothing a good dinner won’t fix — though that, I realize, would mark a break from your usual routine.”

Corso turned the lights up all the way and we blinked at each other. That moment was really horrible. We looked like people who don’t know when they’ve had enough; bloated and queasy, people who stuff and stuff. threatening projectile vomiting. I could only hope our mutual humiliation would bond us in silence forever like victims of a particularly bad party where none of the guests has the sense to go home.

Judging only by the gray skins and the baggy eyelids of the others, I could imagine how appalling I must look in my caked, streaked and bloodied makeup; a corpse unearthed. In some weird way, although our chain of hands had been severed we still felt joined; dizzy spirits who’d collided–hard—in an untried world of freedom. Could Bosch the monster-builder have grasped it all and reflected back his unwelcome knowledge? Art can be poetry too.

We were good subjects; it was like hell’s waiting room after some air disaster or freeway collision. Excuse me, isn’t that my arm you’re holding? Gee, miss your exit and wake to find yourself stuck for eternity to the very people you never want to see again. I looked up at the “black disco ball” staring impassively back at me. What had it seen? Whatever I had done failed utterly to impress it. Yet somewhere there was a record. That was what Chase and I should steal.
“Anyone need a potty break?” asked our facilitator.“I’d better,” said Koo, staggering a little as she picked up her basin.

“At least you can walk,” I thought enviously. Maybe I said it out loud, because Corso came over and gazed at me with almost prurient interest, the way scientists study the set of the guinea pig’s electrodes. A hands-free headphone clipped to one ear gave him the look of a space alien in constant concourse with the mother ship. An alien rubbernecker.

“You had the farthest distance to travel, Miss Suzino,” announced Corso in his stagy way. “We are all dying to hear what non-dreamers dream.” Chase reared up as if to block him. Corso said, “Down, Mr. Quinn. Back to your corner.”

But I had figured out a way to answer. Slowly I managed to sit up. My throat was so dry it actually hurt. I drank from the water bottle and said aloud, ”That settles one question anyway. I want to die all at once, in a cataclysm. No stages of increasing horror for me. No thank you.”

“So, death,” Corso pooh-poohed. “Unconsciousness. Is that your safe word? Miss Suzino, we are interested in freedom. We are interested in eternity.”
Horrible retching sounds from the ladies’ room. Corso padded over and cracked the door. “Hmm,” he murmured. “At least she made it to the stall.”

“You don’t look so bad,” I accused Chase when Corso’s back was turned.
He grinned a lopsided lip-lift revealing one gold tooth. I thought, I kissed that tooth. “I come from very tough stock,” Chase said smugly. “My people survived for generations on nothing but whisky-soaked potatoes packed in snow.”

“Potatoes are vodka,” said Zane, weaving past us like a disoriented boxer. Definitely the guys recovered faster. Why weren’t we medicated proportionate to weight? Poor Koo got a double dose.
“It was whisky,” corrected Chase, who could never let Zane be right about anything. “Potatoes are grown in manure. You have to disinfect them somehow.”
“Eeeew,” said Soliz. “Are you trying to make us throw up?”

“All right, then,” Corso announced to the room in general. “We have one self-announced flier, anyway. I warn you his reliability track record is not good. Miss D’Accosta, how are you feeling?” Out of the corner of his mouth, so that only I could hear, Chase sang, “Annie are you OK? Are you OK, Annie?”

“Horrible, thank you,” said Soliz. “No one would do this except for money .”
“Surprising how tastes can change,” laughed Corso.
G-Rad spoke up. “I don’t feel very rested,” he said, working his jaw with his hand as if it had been dislocated.

“So sorry that redressing your deficits couldn’t be the focus of this experiment,” Corso said mildly. “Tell me, did you fly? Perchance to dream?”
“I think I’m dreaming now,” said Soliz, yawning widely. “I dreamed I took part in a research experiment.”

“How deep,” remarked Corso but with that edge of sarcasm he brought to everything he said, as if he actually believed the opposite. ”The Kalahari Bushmen thought their waking life was the dream and their dreams were the reality.”

“That would be awful,” said Zane. More than the rest of us, he adored actual existence. It had been so kind to him. “If life was only a dream, nothing would matter.”

“Only a dream?” Our professor demanded rhetorically, striding about the room, waving his arms as if orchestrating the hounds he had released. “What is a dream? Hallucination? Vision? Perhaps a tear in the fabric of memory or a prophecy of future events? Might I modestly suggest a dream is the work of art by your subconscious? Visions credited to the dying seem to promise after worlds. Is that the last resort of the oxygen- starved brain or a check we can cash? These raptures are achievable without going to the trouble of actually dying. Autoerotic asphyxiation makes time-space adventurers of us all. When choosing between two evils, always select the one you haven’t tried.”
“I said I flew,” repeated Chase impatiently.“We’ll get to you, Mr. Ringer,” said Corso, “Mr. Pettigrew is trying to speak. Surely a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

“I think I was trying to fly,” said Zane, unaware that Corso was making fun of him. “But I couldn’t get up. I was, like, being dragged down by something. So instead I just took off running. Running and running. Then I realized, something was chasing me.”
“Flight creates pursuit,” posited Corso. Another mind trick. That can’t be true.

Zane massaged his legs. “My abductor muscles are killing me.”
“Abductors…such a charming name. The Greeks had such a sense of humor. Perhaps language creates boogeymen as flight tempts pursuit.”

Corso’s pupils glittered as he swept his lashless eyes across our guinea pig sports hero. Curiosity caught the cat. “Running where? And how much of this was visual? Or was all of it sensory?”
Zane rubbed his forehead as if chasing a headache. ““I’m trying to remember. Part of it was like a movie I was forced to watch, you know, like that guy who had his eyelids propped open. A movie with really bad sound.”

“Mine was like that too,” volunteered Soliz.“You were watching yourself?” Corso queried alertly. “Yes. I was both inside and outside of me.”

That was a fair description of my sensations before Chase showed up. But as I’ve said before, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. If you can’t handle the heat, you’ve got to keep out of the spotlight. Corso raised his eyebrows while Zane – accustomed to quarterbacking without much help — struggled on. “I could hear my footfalls making a slapping noise, banging, echoing away like they do on concrete. I think I was in a tunnel.”

“A tunnel?” Corso barked sharply. “Don’t make things up.”
Zane flushed at the insult but refused to drop the ball. You’ve got to hand it to team sports. They make the brave guys brave and the rest of us persistent. We learn to ignore coaches like Corso who dismiss and deflect.

“A concrete ribbed tunnel with rain – water anyway – dripping down the sides. Kind of like being in a tin can” He considered. “I think it was a walkway into a creepy pair of abandoned buildings.”
Corso yawned widely as if this was all quite uninteresting.

“Birth metaphor!” G-Rad crowed, like an aggressive contestant punching a buzzer.
Zane’s face crumpled, taking on a vulnerable, wounded look. Heroism gone. G-Rad had the intuitive button-finding quality. This whole experiment was a birth metaphor, if you ask me, and Zane looked as confused and disoriented as the recently born.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen! No interpretations of each other’s experiences,” Corso admonished repressively but I could see his chest expand with relief over the clash. He enjoyed negative energy more than hearing our experiences. “Don’t force me to debrief each of you privately. That would be an enormous waste of everyone’s time. Also, no interruptions. Anything else, Mr. Pettigrew? Any view of your attacker?”

First I heard of an attacker. But negative energy had succeeded. Zane shook his head in bewilderment. “It’s all gone, now.”

“Oh, well,” said Corso plummily, “So difficult to separate what we really remember from what we think we remember, what other people remember, what other people want us to remember and what we want to remember. Isn’t it?”

“I’ll say,” said Zane, confused by a pro. De-briefing with the emphasis on dis-information. Corso was dissing us.

Corso confronted the rest of wearing the same facial expression my sister had when she tried bossing me into giving her a better bedtime story. “Why couldn’t Cinderella win American Idol?” She had me there. Why settle for Prince Charming when you can have everybody?
“Fear of flying!” Corso grumped. “Dismissed! Who’s next?” “Me, me me!” Chase waved his entire arm like a five year old.

Corso sighed exasperatedly, and poured his angry ooze upon the moment. “I suppose I must allow you, Mr. Quinn, but I am warning you do not conduct one of your capers. You pollute the fount from which we drink. And let me remind everyone – this was in the relevant documents, but it certainly bears repeating – everything said in this room is to be kept absolutely confidential. It will not leave this room. There are no exceptions. Just like a jury, you are not even allowed to discuss it outside this room, not even among yourselves. I warn you, I am a jealous God. If I find out this rule has been broken, steps will be taken resulting in banishment and regret.” He glared at each of us in turn.

“What happens in Dream Group stays in Dream Group,” joked G- Rad. He subsided when Corso peered at him threateningly.
I don’t know what it is about Chase that makes me feel so brave. These threats didn’t bother me at all. But Corso couldn’t see inside me. He seemed satisfied. “Word to the wise. All right, Mr. Quinn. Go for it.”

“That hot nurse – Miss Howk, I think she’s called — and I broke into your apartment and made out on your bed. Best sex I ever had.”

This I was not expecting. My face burned, burned. Fortunately no one was looking at me. Rage poured off Corso like smoke off his magnet thingy. He was a jealous – and a terrible – god.
“My bed?” gasped Corso. Chase had achieved something I considered impossible. He had floored Mr. Know-It-All.

“Yup,” said Chase. “The place was a mess, too. Melted candles everywhere. And the smell! Pee-yew!”

I think if we hadn’t been watching, Corso would have slugged him. You could see the itch travel from his red face right down his arm. Was Corso blushing? No, no, it can’t be. Purely a rage reaction. Pity there’s only one color most of us can turn.

Chase had to be lying of course. Could we have had different experiences? I pushed away Corso’s insidious little “People remember what they want to remember” mind-worm. Chase’s complete refusal to look at me made me think our experience had been shared. Because previously he had performed for me, and taken close note of my reactions. My headache lightened. I began to feel a lot better.

With a visible effort Corso mastered himself and began applauding loudly. Sarcasm again. Note to self: Don’t. Ever. Makes you look weak.

“Cleverly done, Mr. Quinn! You’ve achieved the highly desirable trifecta of Freud, Oedipus and Jung with this tasteless story. Took an out- of-body jaunt to my apartment, did you?”
“Hey, it wasn’t my choice,” said Chase. “I had plenty of other places I wanted to go.” He shook his head. “I think it was something about you. Something you wanted me to see. What did you say before about dreaming other people’s dreams?”

“Well, if it was a true out-of-body experience,” Corso asserted silkily, “You would have seen things you could not otherwise know. Something you didn’t see while moving me into my apartment for example. “ He sat down as if he didn’t trust himself to stand and the collapse to our level marked an astonishing shift of power, like a cobra sinking back in its hood.

“Well, let’s see,” said Chase. “I don’t like telling you all about it but I guess I have to, what with the public debriefing and all. It sure seemed real. Nurse Howk had a piercing in her hoo-ha. You know, where the sun don’t shine. Is that the kind of detail you are looking for?”
All I can say is, Chase looked a lot closer at the TV than I did. Zane whistled appreciatively.

Corso’s eyes bugged and he ground his teeth, but he kept his temper. “That hardly links you to my room. Describe the room. Tell me something you couldn’t have seen the day we moved in.”
“Hmm,” said Chase, making a show of recollecting. “Well, your bed had black sheets. None too clean. You had a cute picture of Jazz in a leopardskin bra. That was new.” Chase winked at me.

“And I seem to recall that on your desk I saw a lot of papers about bankruptcy and divorce .” He thought while Corso tried to close his outraged mouth. “Oh, yeah, and a restraining order.”
Corso launched to his feet, bubbling with rage. “I warned you about your antics, Mr. Quinn! Why on earth would you go through my private papers?”

“You know why,” said Chase. “I didn’t find them either. Sloppy. I was forced to go commando.”
“You are fired again,” shouted Corso angrily. “Terminated with extreme prejudice. Please leave now. Class, Mr. Quinn is obviously lying. He broke into my apartment on some earlier occasion simply to construct this little prank. You are outrageous, Mr. Quinn, and you are unforgiven. Your grade is F. Your alternate will assume your position next week.”

I wanted to say we hadn’t broken in but I couldn’t give myself away. I looked studiously down so as not to send signals that Corso’s bat senses might pick up.

Chase rose up slowly and unzipped his suit. The tattoo on his chest showed a tangled crown of thorns. “Gee,” he said, “I thought we were going to be so free. What’s with all these rules?”
“There always laws, Mr. Quinn!”

“Gee, that’s right,” agreed Chase. “Laws. Justice. Cops. I had forgotten all about it.”
“To the locker room with you!” barked Corso. Muttering under his breath, “I knew he was a mistake.” He glanced pointedly at his watch. “We’re out of time. Now where were we?’ Chase wandered unwillingly towards the men’s room.

“I tried to fly,” Soliz volunteered, as if embarrassed, “But I fell.”

Corso studied her with a total lack of interest. Soliz stumbled on earnestly, trying to earn her pay, “It was one of those naked dreams. I had no clothes on.” Corso drummed his fingers on his clipboard, but G-Rad, more than willing to take over, said, “Humptious! Loves me my nudie dreams.”

Corso sighed and looked at the clock. I was kind of surprised naked dreams were not a bigger hit with him.

Soliz continued, “I stepped out of the elevator at Hadleigh on the top floor and I realized I didn’t have any clothes on. I couldn’t get back in the elevator – the doors had closed – and people were staring at me so – I jumped out of the window.” She shuddered. “I fell all the way. I felt myself die.” Pinpoints of sweat glistened on her face. “It must have been a dream. It couldn’t have been an out of body experience. But I really felt myself in the air.”

“You flew, you looked down and then you tumbled,” said Corso. “Shame. That’s a shame dream. Loss of confidence as personified by the myth of Icarus. Miss D’Accosta felt diminished by revealing her essential self.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to interpret each other’s dreams,” I said before I could stop myself. “Besides, our naked self isn’t our essential self.”

Corso swiveled his laser beams in my direction. Uh Oh. I braced myself. When would I ever learn? I had always had this problem. Never argue with bullies. Am I going to lose my freakin’ scholarship?

“The rules obviously don’t apply to me,” said Corso suavely. “Please explain your thought.”
I swallowed. Now all of them were looking at me. I wear makeup – choose my clothes – wear my hair – to disguise me. But Chase had been so brave. I couldn’t let him down.

“Well, nakedness is just bodies. Everyone has one. I mean, nakedness makes people ordinary. Choice – makes people special because it’s individual. Your choices are your essential self.”
“You mean like fashion?” asked Koo.

Thank God for that girl! “Sure, if it’s a choice,” I said, “And not something that’s forced on you.”
“Like a uniform or like designer clothes everybody has to wear,” agreed Soliz. You go, sister!
“That would be true if everyone looked the same naked,” chortled Zane. “They don’t. Some people should be ashamed.”

My patience for Zane came to a screeching halt.
“We weren’t all put on this earth to thrill you,” snapped Soliz.

“People should work out. And watch what they eat. Just for health,” Zane finished smugly.
Corso’s eyes were changeable as water, just like my mother’s old mood ring. I had seen them sheet over like ice; now they glowed. How he adored our disagreements!

“Perhaps Miss Suzino will become a fashion major after all,” he sneered dismissively. “I admit I had hoped for better things from you. Tell us about your experience this morning, please, and cut the crap. This is not one of your feel-good-everyone-participates-and-gets-an-A seminars.”

“I didn’t know we got a grade for this,” said G-Rad nervously and Soliz reassured him, “We don’t.”
“I want to go next,” said Koo. “It was…terrible. I need to get rid of it so I can forget. I think I was working in a, like, mortuary.” Her voice slurred and slowed as if the drug still held her. She pressed her water bottle to her eyes. Catching the light, it shot shimmery reflections against the ceiling, plunging us underwater. Once again I felt our linkage so strongly. Could it have been the others crashing into me as I crouched, frightened and blindfolded, on the basement stairs?

“These body bags were coming at me down a runway belt and I had to unzip them and take the bodies out. I was unzipping, zipping and unzipping, but the bodies were so smashed I couldn’t look at them. I like threw up on them instead.” She choked at the memory. “Wrecked bodies beyond help. Nothing I could do. Then I found…” She gulped painfully. “In one bag and found my boyfriend Bo. He was all smashed up with his guts hanging out but somehow his eyes were open and he was staring at me like I did it. Like I was responsible, like I had destroyed all these people.” She broke down and began to cry. I gave her my paper towels and tried to pat her on the back, but Corso pushed me away and stood between us. He stared down at Koo as if she was a specimen fixed between glass slides.

Koo literally pulled on Corso’s shirttails for attention. “I couldn’t help them and they blamed me.”
Obviously he wasn’t going to comfort her, so I slid around him to give Koo a hug.
“Class dismissed?” Koo asked hopefully.

“See what happens when you break the mood?” Corso snapped at me. “Now Miss Loflin has forgotten what she was going to say. We will arrange all this very differently next week.” He patted Koo’s shoulder, but dismissively, like a sports coach who suspects malingering. “Toughen up, Miss Loflin. 80% of dream material is negative emotion. ”

“Now he tells us,” said Soliz aloud to no one in particular.
“Now I do tell you,” repeated the professor. “Is that it, Miss Loflin?”

“I was looking forward to flying,” sniffed Koo, obviously used to people making a bigger fuss over her. “To be light like that. Weighing nothing. I could have used the sleep, too. As it is, all I can say is thank God it’s over.”

Any lighter and Koo Loflin would actually be a bird, I thought.“At this stage I would settle for lucid dreaming,” said Corso. “Were you aware of being in an altered state?”

“It was like a movie. Watching myself.”

“Perfect description of lucid dreaming. Success! So you’re not ready to pass off to an alternate?” coaxed Corso.

“Not hardly,” said Koo. “That Visa bill won’t pay itself.”“Now that was just a nightmare, plain and simple,” said G-Rad sounding almost relieved. “I’m glad nothing like that happened to me.” “What did happen?” asked Corso with his eery smile.

G-Rad shook his shoulders, as if fending us all off. “Nothing happened. I don’t remember. I got nothing.” He gulped noisily. I didn’t believe him for a minute. Visibly he braced himself. “It’s OK if you want to fire me and bring in an alternate.”
“Do you want to be fired?” asked Corso.

“No.” G-Rad shook his head. “Please no. I just guess I don’t –“
“I don’t want people making things up for my gratification,” Corso told him, almost tenderly. “That’s what Mr. Quinn didn’t understand.”

“There’s just one person we’re forgetting.” Corso rapped me flirtatiously with his clipboard. “Miss Suzino? I believe you had something to say? Or did you once again fail to dream?”
Darn, darn darn! I almost got away clean, too. I didn’t dare tell a lie. I’m a horrible liar.
“I started out blindfolded,” I said unwillingly. “I could feel but I couldn’t see.”

“Ah, Miss Suzino, you interest me so extremely. Just when I had given up on you. Blindfold games.” He relished the words, rolling them on his tongue. “Who among us hasn’t played them?”
On this command, we all chattered at once.

“At Quinceanera we played Pin the tail on the donkey,” said Soliz. “And in high school we had to spend an entire day pretending we were blind for a diversity exercise.”
“Blind Man’s Bluff,” said G-Rad. “It’s Buff, dude,” said Zane.

“Well, well, Jazz,” said Corso indulgently. Did he sound relieved? Had I scared him a little with my psychic moment about Emily Fortunatus- Falcones, our benefactor? I’d love to think I had that kind of power. Corso pattered on smoothly, “Next time we’ll have to see what we can do to open your eyes.”

I shouldn’t have worried! He didn’t even care what I had to say! What any of us had to say, really. Koo alone wanted to know, “So what happened?”

I could safely give a little more. “ I felt people were rushing past me. I was in a basement. Then at the bottom of the steps… I fell over a body.”

“We have a Halloween funhouse every year that’s just like that,” said Soliz. Was there no death in her world? “One year the stairs turned into a slide.”

Obviously I shouldn’t feel annoyed. Did I want to relive that part? Maybe. Because of the kiss …“It was a real body,” I insisted. Maybe Koo’s gory tale derailed them into a world of safe thrills. Predictable unreality. “With real blood.”

“It tastes good and it’s so good for you!” said G-Rad in his network announcer voice. He capped it with a ghoulish laugh, “Bre-augh-ha-ha-ha! That’s because it’s ketchup and corn syrup. Protein, vegetables and dessert. At our Halloween funfair we couldn’t stop eating it.” Then he yawned, as if tired of his own subject.

“No protein in ketchup, bro,” said Zane. “Or corn syrup either. I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, but it attracts bugs…” G-Rad smacked his lips voraciously while we all wailed, “Eeeewww!”
Corso slammed his notebook shut. “Checks will be in your mailboxes the first of the week! See you all next Saturday!”

“I’m so glad I’m not fired,” G-Rad sighed.“Certainly not,” said Dr. Corso, suddenly all hale and friendly. “You were very cooperative, Mr. Bliven. That’s all we can ask.” “It’s Borden,” said G-Rad. “Maybe next time-““I’ll get it right on the check,” Corso assured him. Stampede for the locker room.

The door swinging shut behind us, Koo announced, “Well, my relationship is as good as over.”
“Why’s that?” I asked. God I was so happy to get out of that disgusting suit. The crotch was way too invasive. One size does NOT fit all.

Koo throbbed visibly like tiny animal in big, big headlights. “I can’t tell Bo about this! I’m going to have to lie to him!”

“So lie to him,” said Soliz, bored and irritated at the same time. “I bet he doesn’t tell you everything.”

I had a suggestion too. Don’t we all love other people’s problems? “Remember the confidentiality rules? The forms we had to sign? Tell him you can’t talk. It’s true, after all.”

“Like that would work,” sighed Koo. “He’d get it out of me. He hates it when he thinks I’m hiding something.” I actually remembered what that was like; not taking no for an answer. Uncomfortable Bex flashbacks made me shiver and turn away, but Koo nattered on as if we were besties, “I need to think up a good lie.” She looked at us hopefully. In Koo’s life, sisterhood solidarity apparently meant, take responsibility for thinking up a whopper my boyfriend will believe. “I can’t do it,” she admitted in her complainy “here’s another thing” voice. Koo was her own worst enemy. “My brain is fried. Dr. Corso fried my brain.”

“He fried all our brains,” I said. “And now it’s time to get out of the fryer.” I was not going to spend my Saturday hanging around dream lab spit-balling lies Koo’s sometime-boyfriend might believe. As I dressed I swear I greeted every article of clothing like an old, old friend or a member of my family. For sheer “me”-ness. Beloved body armor.

Underpants (they’re marked Wednesday: you can’t tell time using my underpants), my skinny, skinny tight black pants that fit me like I was born in them, my soft-soft black sweater, my glittery Christmas present short kimono, my lucky dragon pin. I was beginning to feel like myself again after my otherworld flirtation. Woolly navy-blue big-flapped peacoat, that navy that looks so dark it might as well be black. Ninjawear. So dark people might not see me at first because Absence is just as powerful as Presence, my art teacher used to say.

Absence…something was certainly missing. I still felt tense and worried and yet my biggest weekly challenge was certainly over. Outside the long dark winter was settling in early. Where was the lucky Christmas scarf Annika knitted me, to prove to the world that I was loved? That bastard Corso stole it for his sick voodoo practices. Was that why I still felt so vulnerable? I’d have to get it back.
“You don’t owe Bo your dreams,” Soliz was lecturing. “They’re thoughts, not events. You can’t cheat in your thoughts.”

“Who said anything about cheating?” panicked Koo, her heart beating visibly out of her chest.
“Nobody,” I comforted, trying to give Soliz the “don’t scare the children” stink-eye.

But Soliz had to be right. She was one of those; more in tune with her own psychic abilities than most. Takes one to know one. Whereas Koo was afraid of her own thoughts, trying to keep them rigidly unimaginative, for Bo’s sake. Soliz, worthy adversary, continued to argue. “All I’m saying is cheating’s the only thing he can get upset about, not anything that went on in dream-lab.”
“What he should do and what he does do might be two different things,” I tried warning her. Me, the Bex-scarred.

Koo perked up about being fought over; instructed and defended. “Yeah,” she said, looking at me now. “That’s why I need a good lie.” Anguish rippled across her face. “He won’t even believe the things that are true. Paid to sleep! See, that’s a lie right there. I’m exhausted.”
“You should dump him,” concluded Soliz. “Way too controlling.”

Koo burst into tears. Soliz patted her shoulder and Koo fell into her arms. Instead of telling her to take her advice and shove it. If I said anything more I’d be interrupting their beautiful dance; Koo the lost, Soliz the finder. In her own weird way Koo had bonded with both of us. And I was – out of there.

“Bye ladies.” I blew out bravely as I knew how through the swing door.
“See you next week,” called Soliz. Barring a miracle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: