I Dreamt I Could Not Find My Car
Mary and I sit on the back porch of our Florida retirement home. It is dusk, and we are gazing at the largest moon that I have ever seen. Although Mary is talking to me, my attention is on the moon.
I thoughtlessly interrupt Mary to tell her about last night’s dream. I tell her I dreamt I could not find my car.
Mary’s sigh seems a bit self-indulgent. We have been married for thirty years, so she should be used to my nonsequiturs.
“Again?” she says.
“Third time this week.”
“Well, you’re not a very good driver,” she says. “That’s probably a good thing.”
“I’ve only had one or two accidents,” I say. “I should get to keep my car.”
“Tell that to global warming,” she says as she pours herself a glass of iced tea.
“I’m telling you instead.”
“Why me? I don’t depend on you to drive.”
“No, but I’m depending on you to help me figure out that dream.”
“Tell me more,” Mary says. “Where were you when you couldn’t find your car?”
“The San Francisco Probation Department.”
“You retired from being a probation officer seven years ago. What were you doing back there?”
“Who knows,” I say. “I didn’t feel welcome. I wandered the halls, and people I knew did not even talk with me.”
“So you left the building and could not find your car?”
“It wasn’t where I parked it.”
“Did you remember where you parked it?”
“Across the street from the probation department. I always leave it there.”
Mary talks a long sip of tea then places her chin on her knuckles. “I’ll need more information if you want me to interpret your dream. Tell me what you dream of when you’re not looking for your car.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for example, I dream about Italy. I’d like to go there someday. So tell me what you dream about when haven’t lost your car.”
I think for a moment then answer, “A track.”
“A track?” She spits out the word as though it might poison her.
“A track where I can run laps. I dream a lot about tracks.”
“A track?” she repeats. “Where you run in a circle. That has to be the most boring dream in the world.”
“There’s a lot to be said about tracks,” I protest. “Sometimes there are geese on them, and I scatter the geese as I run. Sometimes, a track is powdered with snow, and it’s like jogging in fairy dust.”
“You’re so boring,” she says.
“I’m reliable. Isn’t that enough?”
She swirls her tea; the cubes rattle like bones. She says, “I think I’d prefer it if you weren’t so reliable.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be figuring my dream out?”
“Well, what do you think it means?”
I furrow my brow, pretending to think, but I already have an answer. ”After turning in my badge and gun, I became a published author. I think the dream is a metaphor for shedding a cocoon. I’ve broken the pod I was trapped in to emerge a butterfly.”
“You and your metaphors,” Mary says. “Explain why you went back to the probation department?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know.”
“And why did you end up losing your car?”
“Maybe,” I say optimistically, “I no longer need a car.”
Mary is not amused. “So you really think you’re a butterfly? Why not a moth instead?”
“People are buying my books,” I brag. “That makes me more than a moth.”
“Does it?” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“You write about criminals, stalkers and whores.”
“It’s what I know,” I say.
Mary sighs like a kettle. “Since you write about lowlifes, you probably have creepy readers.”
“That’s better than having no readers at all.”
“I wish I was one of your readers,” she says, “but I’m scared of what’s in your head. Just look at the characters you’ve created.”
“What about my characters?”
“There’s Pomeroy, a narcissist jerk on probation for statuary rape. There’s Chester the Molester, a sweet-talking pedophile who should never get out of prison. There’s Sam the Poontang Man, my goodness. I think just his name says it all.”
“Are there any characters you like? How about Gertie McDowell?”
“She’s such a dumb cracker, I just want to slap her. No, I’m not fond of her either.”
“There has to be one that you like,” I insist.
Mary thinks for a moment then smiles. “Do you remember that story you titled ‘A Second, Less Capable Head’? The one about a tea party activist who grew another noggin. What was the name of that head?”
“Well, I really, really liked Alf. I liked how he burbled and asked for cheese and sang those corny old songs.”
“He’s not a major character.”
“So what? Does that mean I can’t like him?”
I shrug. “I’m glad you speak fondly of him. I’ll take what praise I can get.”
“You’re welcome,” Mary says. She slaps a mosquito and takes another sip of tea.
I want to change the subject, so I look once again at the moon. “It’s bright enough to read by,” I say.
“Are you planning to read by the moon?”
“Maybe a bit of Shakespeare,” I say. “I need my Shakespeare fix.” I quote from Romeo and Juliet, hoping to absolve myself. “‘For naught so vile that on this earth doth live, but to this earth some special good doth give.’”
“That won’t get you off the hook,” Mary says.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Do you ever read books that haven’t been written by dead white men?”
“Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer are hardly dead to me.”
“Well, if you read what people are reading today, you might expand your readership.”
My snobbery gets the better of me. I answer Mary sharply. “Do you know what people are reading today? Pulp thrillers and housewife porn.”
“Are those worse than books about stalkers and whores?”
“Some reviewers call my books classic.”
“So who reads classics today?” Mary says. Sensing my irritation, she brings up my favorite sport. “What else have you dreamt about lately? Your high school wrestling days?”
Mary knows that it’s very easy to get me to talk about wrestling. I was co-captain of my high school team and won a sectional title. Only an injury during a scrimmage stopped me from going further.
“Yes, I’ve been dreaming about wrestling,” I say.
“Tell me about it, stud.”
“I’m in a locker room preparing for a tournament. I can hear the meet through the locker room door. I hear the buzzers, the chirp of whistles, the cheering of spectators. But I cannot find my jockstrap and I cannot find my headgear, and it takes me over an hour to hunt these items down. By the time I enter the gymnasium, the tournament is over.”
“How good a wrestler were you?” she asks.
“I won a sectional. If I hadn’t dislocated my collar bone, I might have placed in the state.”
Mary’s voice grows sympathetic. “You really regret that, don’t you.”
“Athletic dreams die hard.”
She sighs. “Well, I’m sorry you lost the chance to collect another trophy. But maybe an ambition that shallow should have died fifty years ago.”
“I might have placed in the state,” I repeat.
“Or you might have broken your neck. Maybe it’s lucky you got off with only a slipped collar bone.”
Although Mary’s words are consoling, she has skirted the subject again. “Hey,” I say, “you’re supposed to be telling me why I could not find my car.”
“Why is it my job to tell you that.”
“I need your help,” I reply.
“Well, I already told you I don’t want to know what goes on in your head.”
“At least take a shot at it.”
“All right,” she says. “My guess is you parked the car on the other side of the building.”
“I’m certain I parked it in out front. All the years I was a probation officer, I parked the car out front.”
“It might have been stolen,” she offers
“No way. I used a steering wheel lock.”
“Well, maybe you just imagined the car—like you imagine everything else. We only have one car now, and I’m the one who drives it.”
The subject has exhausted me. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
“Can we renew this topic tomorrow?” I say. “I’d like to sleep on it.”
Mary tops off her glass of iced tea. “Pleasant dreams,” she says.
James Hanna is a retired probation officer and former fiction editor. He has appeared in over thirty journals including Sixfold, Crack the Spine, and The Literary Review. His books, three of which have won awards, are available on Amazon.