Here I am, one morning last summer:
When finally opening her eyes for the day, the sun behind the green curtains of her bedroom was making patterns like underwater waves on the ceiling. Leaves moving in the trees and cars going by on the street outside changed the shadows to look like things moving in the depths. It was the first night in the weeks since the heat wave began that they had been able to sleep with the windows open. She had woken from a deep, clear, wondering dream.
Joe and his family had moved in next door. It was her own neighborhood, but not her own, as often happens in dreams. Summertime, still, with bright hot days that some people love. Through her curtains on summer mornings, she would look across the space between their houses, and see his wife and children smiling and playing inside their own house. Sounds of laughter and music drifted over on those mornings when it was cool enough to have the windows open.
In her own house, things were quieter. They usually woke up later than Joe’s household, and kept the curtains closed for longer. Then things became a little stranger in the dream. Some mornings, she’d awaken later, and go to the front windows, ready to push back the curtains. Her own big son was quiet, playing a computer game in the corner of the dining room, shifting softly on the hard wooden chair. She was still in her short nightgown, breasts hanging loose, hair all a tangle in back. She’d open the curtains, and there on the porch was Joe’s wife and a friend of the wife’s, laughing and smiling, having tea. Startled, she pulled the curtains shut, metal rings sliding on the metal curtain rods. The wife’s conversation paused. She flicked the corner of the curtain back, smiled and waved, then retreated.
Another scene, late afternoon on a weekend. Joe’s house, a big, rambling bungalow with a couple of additions on the back, sits next door. The house is one of the loveliest on their block, just so interesting and compelling inside and out. But the yard, some would say, was not. Rather small for such a house, and it ran, unfenced, next to the sidewalk that led down the inside of the block to the school. Her own house, was smaller, shabbier, in need of updates and repairs. Casual and comfortable, if run-down. The yard, though! Big and parklike and sunny. Low maintenance. Fenced off from the schoolyard behind it with a chainlinked fence and good gates that could be locked. Her family could do what they wanted there.
She came home from a neighborhood walk with her own husband. Her husband knew about her old feelings for Joe; at least he knew enough. Something was happening in their yard, though. A party? A party for Joe’s older son. Lots of friends of Joe’s children and family were there, gathered in her yard, watching a soccer game being played, not in the schoolyard, but on her own tired lawn. The weather had been hot and dry for a while, and with the activity of the players, bare patches of dirt and brown puffs of dust were showing where the grass had quickly given way. His friends were sitting on blankets around the edges, cheering, snacking, and leaning on the fence line. Other neighbors came by, leaning in toward the action from the outside of the fence. Younger children rested their foreheads against the links, making dents in their skin. Their little fingers hooked around then links next to them. She dropped her husband’s hand and went over to Joe.
“What is going on here?!” she didn’t care if she made a scene. Joe looked at her and smiled, his eyes calm and that faraway look in them that she could feel before she saw it. “Oh, just a get-together today. Isn’t it a fun time?” She would not betray her current life. “This is not all right, Joe. I need to talk to you now.”
“You moved in next door.” Her voice was quiet, forceful. “Next door! I see your wife and your children every day. And I love them with joy and innocence. They are bright and shining in so many ways, and though I don’t know them well yet, I am so happy to have them near. But this, what, this! You are in our yard! You! And your wife, and your children, and all these friends! With the home, and the life you lead and the ease you have, you know! This not welcome, Joe!” Heads had turned. She could hear that the players had paused in their game. He leaned closer to her, his body’s closeness encouraging her body to turn toward the open gate. Some of the guests near the gate moved aside. “C’mon,” he said. Let me show you something.” She glanced at her husband, but he had sat down on the ground, grim. He lifted his hat, hand brushing over the stubble on his shaved head. He looked away.
She felt weak and weightless at the same time. The players had restarted the game, and attention turned back to them. It was almost as if no one noticed her moving away, Joe beside her. They went toward the front door of Joe’s house. Up three steps to the wide porch, the door next to a big bay window with a window seat. Comfortable, tasteful furniture stood, waiting. A box of toys. A porch swing at the far end. It was quieter here. He pushed the latch lever down and the door swung open. She had not yet been a visitor here before. He started to say something to her, but she wasn’t listening. She was looking instead, and feeling how it felt to be in this, the first room she could see.
It wasn’t what she expected, as houses in dreams often aren’t. The room was dim and quiet. A big sectional-style couch snugged up against two walls of the room. Extra cushions and pillows were scattered, in a very comforting and haphazard way. A sunlit doorway on the far side of the room led to the kitchen. The big bay window was not part of this space. She could feel him beside her, barely touching the side of her arm with his. Joe. She sensed he was going to speak, to lead her further.
Instead she awoke and let herself lie there in the bed. She stretched out her arms and pulled her toes toward the ceiling, Achilles tendons stretching, ankles popping softly. The space next to her was empty, but for the small striped cat at the foot of the bed. Her husband had left gotten up much earlier. It was Saturday; she could hear the boys downstairs. Cicadas pulsing outside. A look at the clock showed 11:12am—far later than she expected. Thirteen hours of sleep. Finally, fully rested. She knew that as soon as she rose, the cat would thud down from the bed and begin to cry for breakfast.