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Stories - Fiction

Two Fish
March 1, 2004

I never tell you about my dreams

by Brendan McKennedy

Each of Norah's coughs came alive in Roger's dream as the tug of a hand at his coat sleeve, pulling him along in jolts into a blue fog, until Norah had coughed him right out of sleep. He opened his eyes and looked at her, sitting up in bed beside him, her back to the wall, her knees drawn up beneath the covers.

"Are you going to puke?" he said, and shut his eyes again.

"No," said Norah. Her voice was not sleep-husky as Roger's was. She didn't sound as if she'd been sleeping at all. "I had a dream," she said.

"Well," Roger said, "you were sleeping. For instance, I was having a dream too, just now." He exaggerated his slur. He wanted to sound as if he hung still on the lip of unconsciousness, though he was quite awake already.

"Listen to this dream." She had been having these vivid dreams since she'd found out she was pregnant. Two nights ago she had been in a machine gun battle. Some kind of urban warfare. It turned out she was a crack shot with a machine gun. Sometimes she woke from her dream and had to puke immediately.

Text Bite"Do you have to tell it tonight?"

"If I don't tell it tonight, I won't remember it tomorrow. Open your eyes."

"I don't have to open my eyes to listen," said Roger.

"Roger, open your eyes."

He opened his eyes. Norah had slipped beneath the blankets again, her hands clasped atop her chest, but the back of her head still rested against the wall. Her yellow hair looked as if she'd just been in a fistfight, hanging tangled and lumped like torn fabric. Her face was wan in the dark, as if lit by flashlight.

"I dreamed we were two fish," she said. "These very complicated fish, with long tendrils and all." Her eyes worked while she talked—widening and narrowing, eyebrows flexing, as if she were weaving a danger-fraught tale.

"That's cute," said Roger.

"Actually it started out we were just playing fish in a play. We were in this play together. It was you and me. And we were playing fish but actually we were fish. Not just in costume. And we were actually underwater. But it was understood that we were just playing fish. As if at some later date we might not be fish inside water anymore but go back to our lives as humans."

"Were we human-sized fish?"

"Fish-sized."

"Ah."

"Why do you say 'Ah'?" said Norah.

"I'm just getting a mental image."

"You were a black-and-white striped fish with long tendrils. I don't know what kind of fish I was because I couldnít see myself."

"Are you sure you were a fish?" Roger said. He closed his eyes and faced directly overhead and pressed the back of his head into the pillow to stretch out his neck muscles. Then he let himself relax.

"Of course I was a fish. Open your eyes."

Roger opened his eyes. "I thought that was the dream."

"There's more. You were wearing earrings."

"Ah," said Roger.

"Why did you say 'Ah'?"

"Honey, I was just acknowledging. I was a fish wearing earrings. From this point forward, when I say 'Ah,' you can assume that I'm just acknowledging."

"Maybe just don't say 'Ah.' Because 'Ah' sounds like a lot more than acknowledging."

Text Bite"O.K.," said Roger. "I was wearing earrings."

"They were dangly. They were little gold pyramids."

"Where did I have these earrings? Did my fish have ears?"

"It was a dream," said Norah. "No, your fish didn't have ears. I don't know where. But you were wearing them."

"O.K."

"Listen, this is the weird part."

"Ah—the weird part."

"You know, I'm always interested in hearing about your dreams. I don't see—"

"I never tell you about my dreams."

"Well that says it all, doesn't it," said Norah. "I mean, that about wraps it up."

"My dreams are boring," said Roger. "Nobody wants to hear about my dreams. I dream of lying in bed, sleeping all night through."

"Oh fuck you then. I'll just shut up then. I'll never mention anything that crosses—"

"No, that was an actual dream I had. I mean it."

"Do you want to hear this or not?" said Norah.

"Yes. Please. I've been listening all along. Don't stop now. We're fish. We're playing fish in a play. I'm a black-and-white fish. With dangly gold earrings."

"Gold pyramids," said Norah.

"Is it important that they're pyramids?" said Roger.

"I think it's important that I remember they're pyramids," said Norah. "That it left the impression of pyramids."

"Is there an audience at this play?"

"I didn't see one. We were underwater. Maybe the audience was above us. We couldn't really see anything underwater. It was very yellow and cloudy under there."

"O.K."

"The play was about fishing. We were actually fishermen. This is the ironic part. We were fishermen in a boat, having a conversation while we were fishing, only we were really fish. I mean, there was no boat, we were just floating around. Or swimming around. But we were playing fishermen in a boat, somehow."

"That's pretty ironic."

"I thought so in the play. In fact I couldn't stop laughing. I kept ruining my lines because I was laughing because it was all so funny to me." She paused. "It doesn't strike me as quite as funny now as it did in the dream. I mean I was pretty hysterical. And you were upset because it was a play and I was screwing it up. We were on. There was an audience and all."

"There was an audience," said Roger.

"There was the insinuation of an audience," said Norah. "We felt the audience's presence just because we knew we were onstage."

"There was a stage?"

"Not as such. But we were definitely onstage, if that makes sense."

"I think so," said Roger. "That's pretty wild." He let his eyes shut slowly, like electrical garage doors.

"Then there was this cowboy movie," said Norah.

Roger opened his eyes. "A cowboy movie."

"We were watching it, maybe as part of the play. We were in a movie theater watching it."

"Were we still fish?" said Roger.

"I want to say yes."

"Are we still underwater? In a movie theater?"

"Well the theater only lasted a minute or two because then we were in the movie."

"We were cowboys."

"No, we were still fish. Human-sized."

"Now we're human-sized?"

"At that point, as of the cowboy movie, yes, we were human-sized."

"Were we walking, or..."

Text Bite"I think we were swimming in air," said Norah. "That's the impression I'm left with. And it was just the open range. You know, all yellow and flat. Featureless. Like a cowboy movie. And there were cowboys riding around kicking up dust, hooting and hollering and the sound of hooves and metal jingling and all. These cowboys riding all around us raising hell on the open plain."

"What were we doing?"

"We were just in the middle of it all. We were kind of just floating around there."

"O.K."

"I think that's it," said Norah. She thought about it a moment longer. "I'm pretty sure that's when I woke up. I started coughing."

"That's a strange dream all right," said Roger.

"Yeah," said Norah. "What do you think it's about?"

"Oh I don't know. Just a dream."

"It seemed to me to be about something."

"Well what would you say it's about?" said Roger.

"I don't know. What do you think?"

Roger sighed. "I guess...maybe you feel a little trapped? By things." Roger turned his head to look at Norah.

She peered at him with a puzzled look. Her face puckered at the center. "I don't feel trapped. Do you feel trapped?"

"No, I don't. I was just saying maybe you do."

"Where do you get trapped from the open plain?"

"I don't get trapped from the open plain. I was thinking more of the fish. I guess I was thinking of a fishbowl. Or being underwater. I didn't—"

"Do you feel trapped?"

"Norah. No."

"Why would you say that, then?"

"It was just my guess. I mean I can see how—I know you're kind of anxious about the baby. I can see how you'd feel trapped in some ways."

"If you feel trapped then why are we having this baby?"

"I don't feel trapped!" said Roger. "It was your dream for Christ's sake."

"But it was your interpretation."

"It was a guess. It was right off the top of my head."

"It was your subconscious speaking."

"My—no it was not. My subconscious was not speaking."

"I think it was. I think you subconsciously feel trapped."

"I think I'd know if I felt trapped," said Roger. "And I don't feel trapped."

"Your subconscious is telling me otherwise," said Norah.

"Well so what does it mean to you? What does the dream mean to you?" said Roger.

"What I thought it meant was that we're in this together. We're two fish in this cowboy movie together. But apparently fucking not."

"Oh Norah please stop. I didn't—"

"So what do you think the earrings meant then?"

"At this point, I'd rather not say."

"Yeah I think I'd rather you not say either. Good-night." She turned on her side and curled up in a ball with her back along Rogerís arm.

Roger rolled his eyes upward as far as they would go and tried to roll them farther, as if he were trying to get a look at the thoughts inside his own head. He felt the strain on his optic nerves. He lifted his arm and lay it atop the blanket across Norah's side, his palm cupping her hip. She shrugged him off.

They lay in silence for a moment.

"I don't want a baby, Roger," Norah said, her voice aimed away from him.

"We could adopt."

"Adopt? How is that—"

"No, I meant give it up for adoption," said Roger. "You knew what I meant."

"I didn't."

Text Bite"O.K. I don't think we should talk about this tonight."

"Why not?"

"Because Iím half-asleep, and you're getting in a mood."

"Well? Who wouldn't be in a fucking mood? After their husband essentially basically just said he feels alone and trapped in his life with you, instead of like he was in it together with you—who—"

"I didn't say alone."

"I heard you say alone."

"I did not say alone. I said trapped," said Roger.

"Oh, well. Just trapped, is all."

"I didn't say I felt trapped. I was saying maybe you do."

"That was just you projecting."

"Me what?"

"Projecting. You were projecting."

"I don't know what that means, Norah."

"You've never heard of projecting."

"I honestly haven't."

"You're being difficult on purpose now," said Norah.

"I'm not! I have no fucking clue what you're—"

"Don't you curse at me. Don't you get abusive with me."

"I'm—" Roger stopped. He tucked his chin against his chest and made his eyes wide and held a deep breath for a moment, and then let it go slowly, like backing out of a parking space. His voice came out lower and smoother. "I'm not getting abusive. I was...I don't remember what I was saying, but I wasn't—"

"Just forget it. Just fucking forget it. Fucking just never mind."

"O.K. Good-night Norah." He lay and stared at the ceiling for a long time, unmoving. He wanted to get a look at the clock but it was on the other side of Norah and he didn't want to move, to sit up and peer across her shoulder in the dark. Movement seemed to imply concession.

"You don't know what it's like," said Norah.

"What what's like." He was afraid she meant pregnancy. She was only two months along.

"Being...not being wanted," she said.

"Oh honey," said Roger, shutting his eyes tight. "Don't pull that on me. Honey—God damn it. You know me, Norah. What kind of—where I come from. And I know you. Jesus Christ. We know each other. Right? Nobody else in the world knows us but each other, O.K.? So donít tell me I donít know what itís like."

"It's not fair to the baby," said Norah.

"But the baby is wanted," said Roger. "And you're wanted." He waited to see what she would say. She didn't say anything. He said, "We can't decide this tonight. It's just too late at night."

"You're just scared to say something you can't come back from," said Norah. "You don't want to—you want to be able to wake up from this andÖ" She shook her head a little bit and her hair beneath her made a whispering sound on the pillow. "Forget it."

"Please, Norah," said Roger. "I'm tired. I just want to go to sleep."

He lay awhile in silence, expecting the conversation to continue, but not waiting for it. His last word "sleep" rang like a slammed phone. He listened to Norah's breathing as it evened and slowed, and he slipped toward sleep himself. But a lurching sensation hit him and his legs jerked and his eyelids fluttered open. Norah lifted her head beside his shoulder and they both lay frozen in their awakened positions, neither of them breathing, each listening in the dark for the other to say something.

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