This work first appeared in Yemassee 22.2 and was the 2015 William Richey Short Fiction Contest Winner.
Art by Jon Timmons
There are only five people in dream club now. There were six, but Candace dropped out. Hal says it’s not his fault, but she never came back after he shared that one dream about her: And then Candace showed up on my doorstep, wearing an apron that didn’t cover what God gave her, and she told me, she said, Hal, I’m in love with you and I feel terrible about it. But so help me God I just might die if you don’t stick it in me.
Hal! Louise said.
God, you’re such an asshole, Stella said.
Oh, Hal, Mallory said.
That is not okay, Hal, Candace said.
I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think Hal should get in trouble for sharing his dream in dream club.
Hal is now restricted from dream-sharing for the next month. He once told me he dreamed I shared a recipe for butter cookies with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if I make an erotic appearance in one of his dreams, but I guess I won’t know for sure until next month.
Tonight’s meeting is at Louise’s house. Even though Louise started the dream club, she is not the leader. She was very adamant about that at the first meeting, that only people with a genuine interest in interpreting and discussing dreams should join because she wanted the club to be a communal, collaborative, cooperative effort. Louise said something about the wording of her original ad attracting a few odd ducks: a couple into swinging, a man with a nose ring, a woman who sold Mary Kay. She never really explained why she started the club but I think Louise is the kind of person who just really likes clubs. I’m not usually a club-joining kind of person. The only reason I joined dream club is because Louise is my neighbor and she is a very hard person to say no to.
The best thing about Louise’s house is the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room. She can’t keep the windows too clean, though, because otherwise birds get confused and fly into them. This once happened during a meeting and when we left Louise’s house, the bird was lying there on the sidewalk, bloodied about the face but still alive. Can’t we do something? Mallory asked. She was crying. And not just a little, like a few sniffles, but really crying. Most people look very unattractive when they cry like this, but Mallory is not most people. Mallory asked Louise to do something because she’s a nurse but Louise said that being an ER nurse did not mean she knew how to care for an injured, clearly dying, bird. And then Hal scooped up the bird with his bare hands and threw it in a dumpster, which only escalated the situation.
I hope that at tonight’s meeting Louise is not wearing her scrubs because they are rarely clean. I try not to look but I can’t help it. What are those smears—dried blood? pus? poo? Candace used to be the one to ask Louise to change out of her dirty scrubs. I don’t know whose job it will be to talk to Louise about the scrubs now that Candace is gone. I hope it’s Stella, since she’s Louise’s sister.
The second best thing about Louise’s apartment are the bookshelves. She has lots of self-help books and a very impressive angel collection. There are sixty-seven angels in all, no two alike. Some look dreamy, others stern; one looks confused. They are made of porcelain and wood and colored glass. I asked Louise when she started collecting them and she smiled cagily and said that someone gave them to her a long time ago. I would like to speculate with Mallory about this angel collection. I would say, Maybe Louise was someone’s mistress and he gave her an angel for every week they were together, and she would say, Oh my gosh, you shouldn’t say that! in the shocked voice girlfriends on TV use when they are gossiping together. I practice this in front of the mirror sometimes, changing the emphasis: You shouldn’t say that! You shouldn’t say that. You shouldn’t say that!
The only bad thing about dream club at Louise’s house is that she does not serve good snacks because she is always dieting. Today’s snacks are water and celery.
None for me, Stella says. I’m allergic to celery.
Stella is allergic to everything.
Celery is just water, Hal says. And no one is allergic to water.
That’s not true because I once saw an episode of Phil Donahue about a little boy who was allergic to water. I hope that little boy is okay. I wonder what he smells like at this point in his life.
Sometimes Louise starts the meeting with a fun activity. The last time she hosted, Louise asked us to smell each other’s coats. She said it would open up our minds and let us tap into our senses as we prepared to interpret each other’s dreams.
What bullshit, Stella muttered, but she said it quietly so that only I heard. I don’t think Stella really likes dream club but since she is Louise’s sister I guess she feels obligated to attend.
We passed around our coats and it was all very exciting, like a sorority initiation.
Hal—vegetable soup, cigarettes, Axe cologne
Louise—Glade air freshener, face powder, an undertone of cherry cough drops
Mallory—vanilla and blackberries
Stella—cigarettes and hairspray
Do you use fragrance-free laundry detergent and unscented deodorant? Mallory asked.
I’ve snuffled over this coat like a pig at a trough and I swear to God, I can’t smell a thing, Stella said.
It’s like you’re a robot, Hal said.
Someone once told me I smelled like the day after a rainy day, I said. This is not exactly true. But I hope that someone, someday, tells me this.
Well, he sounds like a jerk, Louise said.
No activities tonight, Louise says.. I am disappointed by this but mostly relieved because Louise is wearing a stain-free Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and jeans. Work was crazy, and I didn’t have time to think of a suitable icebreaker, she says. Now, who would like to start?
Before we get started, Hal says, I have a few announcements to make. As you all know, I’m on probation. I got in trouble with Boss Lady—here he points at Louise—for my dream about Candace. So I will only be listening and not sharing my dreams for the next month. But I wanted to ask you ladies if I could bring my wife to the next meeting.
You’re married? Stella asks.
Hal points at a ring on his left hand.
You’ve never worn that before, Stella says.
Sure I have, he says. Well, maybe that’s not true. I didn’t wear it while she was gone, but now that she’s back, I’m wearing it again.
What do you mean, she’s back? Stella asks.
She left and now she’s back, Hal says.
Was she on a long vacation? Mallory asks.
Hal makes a noise with his mouth, a click-clacking sound. If you can call three years a vacation.
Do you have a picture of her? Louise asks.
Of course I don’t have a picture of her. She’s my wife, not one of my kids.
I think his wife probably looks like an aged movie star, one of those who spent too much time in the sun, too many years smoking to stay thin, but who now has a stained prettiness about her.
You have kids? Stella says.
Four, he says. Don’t you hens listen when the rooster talks?
The last time Hal hosted dream club his bathroom lacked toilet paper, soap, and hand towels. I once saw a show about a dog who ran away and then returned to his family two years later. The family was very happy when the dog came back. I think this was a real story although I might be thinking of the movie Homeward Bound. Regardless, it sounds very similar to Hal’s situation. Maybe now that his wife has returned to him like a lost dog he will have some, or all, of those things in his bathroom.
Let’s vote as to whether Hal can bring his wife to future meetings, Louise says. She makes a show of counting everyone’s raised hands. Looks like Hal’s wife will be joining us next week, she says with a sigh.
What’s her name? Stella asks. We can’t go around calling her Hal’s wife.
I’m looking forward to meeting her, Mallory says.
Yeah, me too, Stella says. Since this is the first time we’ve heard of her. Ever. And we’ve known you for a whole year and you’ve never once mentioned her. Not once.
Hal shrugs. It is what it is.
I wonder if this means he won’t dream about me making him butter cookies now that his wife is back.
Can I start today? asks Mallory. She wore a different coat to today’s meeting. I wonder if this one also smells like vanilla and blackberries. Her other coat came from a store I pass on my way to work. You have to be buzzed inside to enter this store. What if I rang the bell and no one buzzed me in and I was left standing on the street in my Old Navy coat, which is actually a maternity coat but you can’t tell, unless you studied the pockets, which are a little higher than normal. No one has ever said to me, Ohmygod, is that a maternity coat?! When it’s hanging up in my cubicle at work, it looks like a normal winter coat. I think the people who work in the store where Mallory got her coat would be able to tell there is something off about mine, though.
The most interesting thing about Mallory, more interesting than the fact that she has two winter coats even, is that she’s an artist. She makes wooden bowls, which she sells online for a lot of money. Last Christmas, she gave us all a bowl said to represent our respective personalities. I keep mine in my bedroom on my nightstand table because I don’t want anyone to make judgments about me based on this bowl. In one of the woodworking magazines I subscribe to, I once found an interview with Mallory, “How to Turn a Basic Bowl,” and there was a photograph of her wearing safety goggles on top of her head while drilling into a round piece of wood. The caption read: Mallory Duchamp, master craftsman, demonstrates how to turn a bowl with basic tools. I cut out the article and framed it and put it on my nightstand table next to the bowl. It’s like being friends with a celebrity, having a friend who’s a master craftsman.
Mallory, please begin your dream-sharing, Louise says.
Mallory clears her throat. Okay. So. I was on an airplane. And I looked out the window and there were these perfect circles, in shades of brown and green, sort of like the pillows I have on my couch—do you guys remember those?
I nod because how can you forget pillows that have actual peacock feathers sewn onto them?
Actually, sorry, back up, Mallory says. I knew the circles were out there, before I even opened the window because something was preventing me from seeing those circles. First I realized my seat was in the bathroom and I didn’t have a window. And so I moved to the front of the plane but all the flight attendants were sitting there, playing cards. So I found a seat in the middle and when I opened up the window I saw the circles, exactly where I thought they’d be, and they were exactly what I thought they’d be. I spent the rest of that flight looking at them. They grew and expanded as we flew. And then I woke up.
At the first meeting, Louise asked us to end our dream-sharing time with the words THE END but most people do like Mallory and say something like, That’s all I remember.
Now we will move on to questions, Louise says. I’ll start. She turns to Mallory. Did the plane land?
Mallory shakes her head.
Did the circles change colors? Stella asks.
Color, no. But definitely in size.
What kind of game were the flight attendants playing? Hal asks.
It may have been Hearts. Or Solitaire. But a game of Solitaire that included everyone.
Was food served? I ask. I always ask just the one question during the Q&A session. At the first meeting Louise said we should really try to work with the information the dreamer gives us, that the questions should only be to clarify what was already said, not to glean additional information. But sometimes I just get so curious I have to break the rules a little.
Long pause while Mallory drums her fingers against her bottom lip. Yes, she says finally. It was bread and wine.
Like Communion? asks Louise.
Exactly. Except it was nothing like that. Oh, and I totally forgot to mention this earlier. When I bit into the bread, it was soft, like Wonder Bread, but it cracked one of my front teeth. Mallory’s taps one of her teeth, all of which are perfectly straight and very white.
Are there any more questions for Mallory? Louise asks. When no one says anything she says, Okay then, let’s help Mallory figure out this dream. There’s a lot going on in it, she says to Mallory, almost accusingly. Louise and Stella both have a tendency to sound cranky. It must be a genetic thing, them being sisters.
We all get out our dream books. Hal and I have the same book but different editions. Both our books have stars and a moon on the front but mine has a man hanging from the moon (or being hanged? It’s hard to tell) and Hal’s is man-less.
I flip to the “c” section and skim through the entries: cage-fighting, calves, castanets, cesspool, chastity belt. There is a whole page dedicated to circles.
According to my book, circles represent either perfection or completeness. Or immortality. It can also mean that you don’t let your guard down, that you are closed off. Or that you are well-protected from danger. Or that you are self-absorbed. Or that you are struggling with your inner self.
I don’t understand how we’re supposed to interpret dreams since the book contradicts itself. Most things in life have a right or a wrong answer and I don’t see why dreams should be any different. In a conversation, there is one meaning to what you say. For example, if you tell someone you liked reading her article about turning a bowl, you are not saying that you wish she would take you shopping with her, or that you are in love with her. Surely dreams aren’t any different, surely they are not excused from the rules that make up our daily lives. If you dream something, it must have one true meaning, not that it means this or that or this other thing. But most of the time in dream club all we do is (ha) talk in circles.
I think you can connect the circles to your bowl-making, Louise says after we look through our books for five minutes. When Louise hosts dream club, we are on a very strict time schedule. Bowls are round, you craft and mold them. Are you working on a new bowl by any chance?
Wow! Mallory says. I hadn’t even made that connection, Louise, but I think you’re right. I’m trying out a new wood that is softer and has more give than I’m accustomed to, so I’ve been a little frustrated with it. Sometimes these dreams are so obvious they practically interpret themselves, you know?
I wish that I had thought to say that the circles represent bowls because I know more about bowls than anyone here. Except Mallory, of course. No one else in dream club subscribes to three woodworking magazines. No one else watches YouTube videos of how to turn a bowl. Or if they do, they don’t talk about it. I don’t talk about it either, though. Maybe we all have the same amount of information on bowl-making, maybe we all know as much as Mallory. But I really don’t think that is the case with this group. The funny thing is that Mallory and I went to high school together. I was so surprised when she walked into Louise’s house that day. Mallory Duchamp! In the same club as me! There are thirty-eight photos of her in our high school yearbook. That is nineteen times more photos of her than of me.
Or it could mean you feel as if you’re doing the same thing over and over again, that your life is repetitive and monotonous and unfulfilling, Stella says to Mallory. Like you’re going in circles in your life.
Sometimes I think Stella doesn’t like Mallory because she always finds something negative to say about Mallory’s dreams. Like when Mallory said she dreamed she was shopping at Whole Foods and the produce section was filled with boneless bananas, Stella said it sounded like her subconscious was trying to tell her she was spineless and over-privileged. Even though Mallory has not one but two (!) coats from a very nice store, she is not spoiled. If I thought Mallory were spoiled, I would not have put her down as my emergency contact at work. So far nothing has ever happened to me at work where they needed to call her since my job is not exactly a dangerous job. Although there is always the possibility of injury in any job. If I stood on my rolly chair, for example. In the office safety video we had to watch, that exact thing happened, a woman stood on her chair to reach something on a shelf and she fell off and broke her arm. So you never know.
Mallory and I don’t talk a lot at dream club. Since we went to high school together, we try not to be overly friendly with each other, in case the others in dream club feel excluded. In fact we have never once mentioned that we both attended Fairburn High School and that our lockers were in the same hall. We’re trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the other dream club members. They might be terribly hurt if they knew I didn’t list them as my emergency contact.
I think we need to address the heart of Mallory’s dream, Hal says. You gals get too caught up in the obvious and bypass the hidden meanings.
Hal, Louise says, please remember our discussion about the word gals.
What about broads? he asks. Kidding, kidding. But the most important part is what happens at the end of the dream.
What, the non-Communion Communion? Stella asks.
Yop, Hal says. Because what happened when she bit into the bread? Her tooth broke.
Chipped, Mallory says. It did not break, per se.
Clearly the circles were roadblocks put up by your subconscious to stop you from seeing what’s at stake here, Hal says. When he gets really excited spit collects in the corner of his mouth. Sometimes I lick the corners of my own mouth to let him know to take care of the problem. Those circles were there to distract from the real meat of the dream, he says.
Hal is really smart. He’s taken a lot of online psychology classes so he doesn’t have to consult his dream book a lot.
There are lots of reasons people dream about their teeth falling out, Louise says. Feelings of powerlessness, malnutrition. Have you struggled with either of those recently, Mallory?
Mallory shakes her head.
It can mean a family member is close to death, Stella says.
Everyone in my family is healthy right now, Mallory says. She makes a fist and gently taps the side of her head. Knock on wood.
I think it means money is coming your way, Hal says. Because when you’re a kid and your teeth fall out, what happens? The tooth fairy brings you money.
We didn’t have the tooth fairy in my house growing up, Mallory says.
What do you mean you didn’t have the tooth fairy? Stella asks.
My parents didn’t like the idea of lying to us. And they also thought that the tooth fairy was a scary, rather menacing, idea. I mean, a grown woman flying into a child’s dark bedroom to take away teeth? It’s unsettling.
She’s not a grown woman, she’s a fairy, Stella says.
Hal slaps his hands against his legs. But that’s perfect! This is exactly what I’m talking about. This new bowl that’s frustrating you could potentially bring in a lot of money but your subconscious mind can’t get past the mechanics of fashioning the bowl. It’s like your mind is preventing you from counting your chickens before they hatch. All the frustration with the circles is building up to the part where your teeth fall out, which is clearly the climax of the dream.
Hal, Louise says, warningly.
That’s certainly one explanation, Mallory says.
In my mind, it’s the only explanation, Hal says.
Mallory has a trust fund, Stella says. Why would she be worried about more money coming her way?
What?! Mallory bursts out laughing. What in the world gave you that idea?
Your clothes, Louise says.
Your car, says Hal.
Your attitude, Stella says.
I do not have a trust fund, Mallory says.
But you get an allowance from your parents, Stella says.
No, Mallory says. I don’t get an allowance. And I’m sorry, but what does any of this have to do with my dream?
Back on track, folks, Louise says. She turns to me. Cassie? Do you have insights to share about Mallory’s dream?
I shake my head. I was just going to say what you guys said.
That’s what you always say, Stella says. She narrows her eyes at me in a way that is not very friendly. Why do you even come to these meetings?
Sometimes I’ll see something at a store and think of Mallory. She has really great taste and style. One day I will give her all the things I’ve bought and say, This is just my way of saying thanks for being my emergency contact, Mal. I don’t know if anyone else calls her Mal. How great would it be if I were the first?
I don’t know, Stella. I guess I just like hearing all the dreams.
Kelly Morris holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, and her short stories have appeared in various literary journals. She currently teaches at SMU. When she’s not writing, Kelly can be found hanging out with her kids, who remain unconvinced that being a writer is actually a very cool job.