“Dream Merchant”

Volume 8 | Spring 2018

by Colin Sargent

And Base, One-Seven…

Go ahead, One-Seven…

We’re feet dry at pigeons 3.

Copy feet dry, pigeons 3.

Click, click.

Martini didn’t want to go to bed tonight, because he knew his nightmare awaited him in the unconscious ether of his sleep. He got up, taking care not to waken Sandy, his superb bride of eleven years; pulled on his moth-eaten, decrepit Naval Academy B-robe; and tiptoed downstairs. His favorite place was in the sunroom, but only after dark.

He liked the cool feel of the tiles on his feet. It was after midnight now–his time–and he settled back onto a rattan chair and ottoman to try to relax. Lovely, cool air wafted through the screened windows, and that was good, because so far this spring it had been hot down here. Hotter than Hanoi, where his wrists and ankles had burned while he was hung from the meat hook in Hỏa Lò prison.

And Base, One-Seven…

Go ahead, One-Seven…

So what if I got shot down, Martini told the dream. How long am I going to let you bother me?

For years he’d called his dream “You.” He and the dream were closer than Don Quixote and Sancho…Panther. Because the dream was black, and intimate, and quiet as a cat. Even now Martini couldn’t account for three full months of his life, the time he was on his back after they’d pulled him unconscious from the crash site.

Maybe that’s why he couldn’t sleep. He was catching up.

Quickly, Martini turned around.

“What are you doing here?” he asked Sandy. Oddly, she was wearing a single blue slipper. What kind of man was he if his wife had just one slipper?

“Am I interrupting anything?” she asked.

“I just came down here to look at the moon,” he said.

“It’s beautiful down here,” she said.

Martini didn’t answer. He hated Sandy for waiting for him to get better, hated her for loving him now.

“Skip,” she said softly. “Is it bothering you again?”

“It’s not specific anymore,” he lied, covering for the dream as if he were covering for a lover. “You know how you just wake up sometimes and you’re falling? It’s like that. When I feel that happening, I just need a little space, that’s all. I like to cool down.”

“Well, you’re wearing flannel PJs, silly,” she said. “Maybe if you wore your cotton ones you wouldn’t get so hot.”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m going to get you a cool facecloth and put it over your forehead, right now,” she said. “And then I’ll get you something cooler to put on. How about that?”

How about thatthe dream said, because the dream was always cool.

Martini lashed at the dream sub rosa:  Sometimes, I don’t know who’s screwing Sandy or Sherry Archer the most, you or me.

But you always know who’s screwing you, the dream said.

Sandy’s steps retreated. Like a condemned man Martini waited to hear the sound of her turning the faucet on. Whoosh. In a moment she’ll come back and bother us again. What are we going to do with her, dream?

Martini imagined Sandy running cold water over a washcloth upstairs as tears rolled down her cheeks. He marveled that even now, she was still so careful to use only the ‘hers’ side of the his and hers sink because her mother, an Army wife, had told her on the eve of her wedding day, “Now, honey, you’ve always got to give them their space. Don’t go asking them questions all the time and probing them for feelings, it makes you look clingy, and it only brings up a lot of stuff they want to forget.” Martini could sense Sandy’s movements as she wiped her face with the sleeve of her terrycloth robe, turned off the bathroom light with a firm click, and took a big breath as she headed downstairs.

“How’s that, Skip?” she said cheerfully as she put the cool water on his forehead as promised.

Damning her for keeping her promises, Martini felt the little drops of the water run down his neck and shirt. “It’s great!”

Fantastic, the dream said. Utterly fantastic. No one has ever squeezed cool water in such a loving manner on the head of a man who isn’t really sure he’s here any more.

“I’m glad,” she said. “Come up to bed with me, honey.”

“I will,” Martini promised. “Real soon.”

Me, too, said the dream.