Living the Dream
by Gordon Gregory
It took him some moments to realize it’d been a terrible dream, a nightmare. In it, his life had flashed forward and he was an old, old man: paunchy and stooped low, achy, with a rough cough that was more than a cough. He’d been alone in the dream, and so lonely. His hair was gone, his face no longer recognizable behind the puff and the sag and the shrinkage. His wife was long dead, and his child, his girl, his bundle of magic love, was moved far away and grown and complete in her life without him. Everything he valued was in a package of memories he could stare at but not touch.
But it had only been a dream, and he rolled over to find it wasn’t too late. He felt the thin film of his wife’s nightshirt, the warmth of her body radiating toward him like sunrise to a flower. He breathed in her fragrance, a lovely mixture of citrus and woman. The aroma of her flowed into his nose and through his brain and then seeped like a seasonal spring through his body. She was on her side, her back to him, and he reached forward, rolling his hand down the sweep of her side and up the hill of her rump, then down the ridge of her thigh toward the outcrop of her knee. Such amazing, impossibly wonderful contours.
She moved to his caress, and he reached forward to embrace her middle, to pulled her to him. She turned his way, and he saw the morning smile seep across her mouth, her eyes closed, every movement slow and sleepy and perfect. He lay there, absorbing her presence with his eyes, content to the very cells of his body. He heard a concerto in her breathing. Then she reached around him and tucked her lips into the crook of his neck. How he loved the feel of her lips on his skin.
There were no words between them, their communication coming in tones of intimacy as practiced as they were intense, slight movements so familiar and so particular to them as a couple, even to the match of their respiration and heart beats, each a mirror of contrast to the other: her soft cheek against his bristles; his hands rough, her flesh supple; their mingling of affection and sensation and love.
After, they lay together in a union of life and purpose, two beings without need or want. He rose and stepped to the bathroom, moving without effort or pain, his lungs alive and strong. Standing, emptying his bladder, he remembered the horror of the dream and felt the pound of respite and appreciation beat at his senses and gratitude flood across his fine body. He laughed with the pleasure of his remarkable fortune.
On his way back to the bed, he grabbed his pajama bottoms from the dresser, slipped them on and returned to his wife. “I love you so much,” he said.
Her lips spread in acknowledgement and she closed her eyes and breathed in a sigh, held it and then released the spent air into their bedroom, adding more of herself to the world. They remained in the embrace of their contentment, slowly drifting back toward sleep, almost reaching that realm, when the bedroom door flew open and their six-year-old girl scampered across the carpet and jumped on them.
“It’s morning!” she said, and wedged herself between them under the covers.
They lay for a few minutes, he and his wife on their sides looking to the middle of the bed, their daughter nestled in. “It is,” he said.
Then his wife rose and stretched, lifting her arms and reaching backward, looking to him like a dancer, her spine bending as if she was opening herself to all that was before her. “I’ll let you two play,’ she said, and he watched as she drifted from the room, a cloud flowing over the mountains, evaporating into rather than exiting through the door.
He pulled the covers over them. “Quiet,” he said softly into the ear of his child as they huddled in the darkness. “Hear it?” He had his right leg outside the covers and began tapping his foot against the side of the bed. “It’s awake, and coming.”
“Shush, the giant has very good ears and will hear,” he said.
They tried to control their movements. “Whatever you do, don’t laugh,” he cautioned. “The giant hears laughter better than anything, and he really doesn’t like anyone to have fun.”
For some reason the words hurt him, a quick stab of guilt landing deep in his gut. “Don’t laugh.”
He tapped his foot harder against the bed. “It’s getting closer,” he whispered. Tap, tap, tap. “I think it’s in the room.” TAP, TAP.
His child squirmed and tried to stay quiet. “Where is it?” she asked, her voice so soft it might have been imagined.
“Near, very close. Careful he doesn’t hear.”
He moved his hand slowly toward his little girl, his fingertips skipping atop the bones of her ribs, the quiver of excitement and anticipation running through her. “Whatever you do, don’t laugh.”
Again, a small, piercing guilt reached into him.
Then he strummed his fingers across the tender part of her side, and peals and layers and rolling waves of laughter burst from her in an ocean of joy that tumbled him over and over and over and would have drown him if it hadn’t been made of everything that was good in his life. “Oh no, he’s going to find us now! He’s going to get us! Oh no.” His fingers worked the strings of her joy, and her squeals ran through him and filled his heart.
“Daddy, daddy, daddy …” her voice, the one word, the moment: all a pinnacle—no, the essence, the sustenance of his life. “Daddy.”
They slipped toward sleep, his little girl against his side, her head on his left shoulder, her arm across his chest, which rose and set and rose and set and rose as the air moved so easily into and from him.
They drifted off, together at first, and then apart.
It was the cough that woke him. He felt wonderful, at first, his child’s laughter still in his ears, her small body tight against his side. Until he noticed the cold silence of the room, the emptiness of his bed, and finally, the vacancy of his spent life.
It took him some moments to realize it had been a dream, the best dream he’d ever had.
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Gordon Gregory is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He’s dabbled in fiction for many years, though been putting a good deal more effort in writing since his daughter moved away to attend Berkeley last year. He and his wife live outside a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California and have two horses, two cats, a dog and an empty nest.