Ever since I’d woken up from that dream, I’d felt like years and years had passed. I dropped by to see people I knew, and it seemed like they were in completely different places in their lives. My brother’s ex-wife even greeted me warmly at her door, old grudges all forgotten. She cooked breakfast for a houseful of guests. They all sat around the kitchen laughing over eggs. Who were these people? It was the same with everyone else. Old friends were all doing new things, working new jobs, telling unfamiliar jokes, stressed over different problems. I felt adrift, disconnected, alienated from the people around me. I blinked my sleepy eyes. All of this overnight?
I chalked it all up to the epic span of the dream itself. It was that sense that a whole lifetime had passed in my sleep. I’d only dreamt that years had gone by, and that feeling had resonated upon waking. I tried to explain all this to my family as they sat around on sunken couches in my grandmother’s living room on Christmas afternoon, the garland wound around the bannister, the lights strung along the wood paneling. My brother sat at a table and nodded over a glass of eggnog, but I could see that none of them really understood what I was saying or how strange it all felt. It was just a dream. How could a mere dream throw someone so out of sync?
I figured that if they could see it, maybe they’d understand. I had sold the movie rights to the dream and I wheeled in the old silver TV with the rabbit ears and everyone gathered around on my grandmother’s floor to watch. The dream had told the story of a dog. It had been a little puppy when we were all kids crouching there in the grass to pet it. It was white with patches of black, and it grew as we all grew. It was a frisky little critter. There was a scene where it squeezed through a wooden fence and started paddling around in an alligator tank, and we stood outside the fence reaching our hands and yelling out the dog’s name and hoping and praying that one of the alligators wouldn’t bite it. On the floor in front of the TV everyone laughed at that part and thought it was cute. Then the dog got older, even as we all got older and we moved out of the house and went our separate ways, and there it was in the winter twilight all mangy and laying at the end of the driveway in the snow, whining, wondering where we’d all gone. The credits rolled on this somber note.
After the movie, I went home with my wife. But things were off there as well. The place was a cramped basement apartment with high windows. It wasn’t the cozy country house out in Perry that I remembered. I tried to tell my wife, but she wouldn’t listen. She just dragged me from room to room being playful. “None of this is right,” I told her as she pulled me along by my arm. There were throw pillows and broken coffee makers and dirty dishes and junk everywhere. I picked up a discarded towel with my free hand. “I know that we used to keep the house a lot cleaner than this,” I shouted over her laughter, showing her the towel.
She led me into the kitchen, which was just as cluttered as the rest of the place. The cabinets were all crammed full of open cereal boxes. The walls were bright yellow and there was an old icebox style refrigerator, the kind with the latch you pop out to open the door. None of this looked right. And then I noticed a small room off the kitchen. “What’s this?” I asked my wife. She shook her head. She didn’t seem to know. She suddenly grew serious. I thought I had seen all the other bedrooms and rooms of the apartment on my dizzy guided tour.
I crept into the room. It was actually more of a hallway, as it led to the laundry room down at the other end. The light shined down from another basement window high on the wall above and my desk was beneath this window, piled with loose papers and folded laundry, leaving no space to work. Even the chair was piled with laundry. But as I got closer, I saw that it wasn’t laundry. There was a bundle of people in the chair, or maybe just their heads. I brushed back the dark hair from one of the faces and the eyes stared back at me, and then I jumped and jolted and screamed and finally found myself back in my own bed.