I’ve dreamt about the same man for 19 years. He’s Russian or something, always wearing a fur-lined hat and with a face covered in coarse, wild hair. He has burning blue eyes. He stands eight inches taller than me, no matter how tall I am in my life or my dreams, and he has hands like bear paws. He does different things in my dreams. When I was younger, when the dreams began, he drank tea with me at a dainty table and listened to me talk. Last week, as I slipped in and out of sleep with a flu-driven fever, he appeared by my bedside – a dream? an apparition? an angel? – and sang a song to me in deep rumbling tones that sounded like they originated at the bottom of an Arctic sea.
I’ve had some dreams in which we’ve made love, but those are uncommon, and he’s slightly different in those. Thinner, with duller eyes. He removes his hat and is perfectly bald. He cradles my shoulder blades and moves with the rhythm of sloshing water.
He’s not a purely pleasant fantasy, though. We’ve fought. I’ve awoken in a sweat and full of rage at how frustrating he can be. Sure, he never speaks – at least, not in a language I know – but sometimes his immobile body and peevish expression are enough to summon all my anger, and I scream at him, unloading accusations that sometimes make sense because they relate to my day, but sometimes come out as gibberish. “You never fish! When you carried me I told you fish or fowl, beast or burden, cut bait or go home! Now you sleep and sleep and sleep on me!” I wrote that down at 3 a.m., in the glow of my alarm clock’s face, on the back of a receipt.
My roommate named him Jared, because, in her mind, he looks like the more hirsute iterations of Jared Leto (though this isn’t true at all, but I cannot draw, and when I protest, she giggles), and she blames him for chores I don’t do. “Fuck, Lindsay, didn’t you ask Jared to wash out the sink?” “Hey, Lindsay, do you think Jared could finally take that box of books to Goodwill?” She’s a riot. I hate her.
My psychologist thinks he’s a manifestation of my absentee father, which is so basic it makes my head hurt. “I could have come up with that one,” I say, before launching into a detailed explanation of why that’s not what he feels like – I mean, I’m fuck buddies with this imaginary person, for starters – and that I’ve had lots of stress dreams about my dad, too, but the man doesn’t appear in those. He’s in a separate dream novel. “Maybe he’s the side of fatherhood you didn’t get to experience,” this dumb-ass therapist says. I need to switch again. I change therapists about once a year. (The one I had in college thought the man was my inner strength. He was my favorite, even though he wouldn’t write prescriptions for me no matter what I said in session.)
My mother thinks he’s a ghost. My mother talks about ghosts a lot. She’s one-quarter Mexican, and she has used that as an excuse to dive way too deeply into store-bought brujería, complete with random pepperings of Spanish vocabulary and embarrassing offers to take ayahuasca with me. She lives on the other side of town on a disability pension. I told my therapist we’re in a race to see who becomes full-on crazy first. The therapist told me not to use the word crazy.
But my mother’s right in the sense that this man’s visage and musk and strength and silent guardianship have haunted me for most of my life. So it really sucked to see him on the bus.
He was sitting on the back bench flanked by two bags of groceries. Other than the disconcerting appearance out of context, it was completely him. Fur-lined hat, flaming blue eyes, wiry black beard, impossibly large body. I sat in one of the sideways benches and glimpsed up from my phone from time to time, shyly, to make sure he was still really there. For fifteen minutes, we shared this mortal coil, and then it was his stop. He gathered his paper grocery sacks into his bodybuilder’s arms and ducked his head as he trudged silently out the rear door, then stood there like a dolt, regarding the bus stop’s sun-faded schedule while we drove away.
“I have to find you,” I whispered, ten minutes later, long after I could remember which stop he got off at, just as my mind was already questioning the reality of what I saw. I got home, dropped my heavy purse on the couch, pulled my laptop out of it, and opened up Google. I was waiting for the inspiration for how to begin when my roommate walked in.
“I saw Jared,” I said, closing my laptop as if it had mortifying images all over the screen instead of a blank Google search page.
“Yeah, did he make you sploosh or was it another staring contest?”
“No, not in a dream. In real life.” I turned around and looked at her. She was eating a pint of ice cream out of the carton.
She pulled the spoon out of her mouth. “No shit? I’ve got a bone to pick with him. He keeps leaving his hair ties in the sink.”
I turned back around and reopened my laptop. “Facial recognition search database,” I typed.
“Oh my god, are you GOOGLING him?”
“I’ll clean the bathroom tonight. I promise. Just … just let me process this, okay? It’s a big deal.”
“Whatever,” she said, plunging another bite of fudge-chunky-whatever in her mouth. “I’ll be in my room. Let me know if you’re gonna start masturbating out here. Just holler first. ‘Hey, Birdie, I’m jerking it to Jared Leto pictures from Blade Runner!’ Or, ‘Yo, dream boy’s going down on me, can I use the bathtub?’ Or…”
“I’m serious. Please.” Tears were in my eyes. It was stupid, how defensive I was about this dreamt man. Childish. It reduced me to the feeling of being eight, with an imaginary friend who felt so real.
“Fine. God,” she said, leaving the room. Just before she went in her room, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m just being a bitch today,” then closed the door, leaving me to resume my fruitless search for the name of a ghost.
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