What It Means

Sarah Tourjee

They were the most vile scenarios – "Like a dog now." "No, no, you're to be the dog," and so on until I awoke, my face red and hot, my palms clammy, and the sheets twisted up in my fists.

A dream, I consoled myself and my eyes confirmed my surroundings. The numbers, 4:03, glowed red on my bureau next to the framed pictures of my grandchildren, and the dusty rosary beads that had settled long ago in the left corner.

A dream, thank heavens. But a dream says something about you, doesn't it? Something you can't edit. Something you won't edit. Something I ate maybe – that bit of chocolate only 30 minutes before bed. I've been warned against it, maybe I asked for it. But what does that mean if I know that to eat the chocolate is to ask for something unpleasant, and then to go on and eat the chocolate anyway? Is it the sweet I'm after or the consequence?

My husband's been dead ten years and we never did it that way. But maybe we both thought about it all those 49 years, subconsciously, and it's taken 59 for it to finally bubble up. If I'd died yesterday, as I was surely just as likely to do as not at this point, I'd never have known about this thing that had been in my brain for 59 years. And he never knew. Maybe he knew that he was thinking about it, but surely never that I was thinking about it, since I didn't even know. Maybe for years it was on the tip of his tongue – "like a dog now" – oh but what a horrid thought, that I might have been married to someone who was always wanting to say "like a dog now" and never getting to say it.

But well, I'm sure he never was just about to say it. He was not like that. We were not like that. We made a history of reading minds, of walking into a room and not speaking and then giving the other what they wanted. We stopped going to mass but never talked about why. Just one day stopped going because we had both, we both knew, woken up that morning and felt that all that praying had not gotten us here. We had gotten us here, and so there we stayed that morning.

I remembered this when my husband was dying and I thought I would not pray for him. I would not make this the moment. I would just think of him as he had made himself, and as we had made ourselves. But at night I had lay in bed alone, as he was in the hospital, and could not stop myself from imagining what it would be like without him, that sleeping would be like this every night. That the mornings would be quiet, deliberate, and the afternoons, and the evenings, and on and on, and that it could be possible I would go entire days without looking into a person's face and knowing I had something to give them. A great panic overtook me, and as there was nothing else I could do, I prayed.

Still he died. And since no one else could read my mind, I had to learn to say the words if I meant to communicate something. If I wanted someone to know that I had a dream about mating as dogs do, I would not call my children about this subject, but perhaps a friend, and for a long time I would be quiet, trying to think of the words, hoping also that she would understand without me speaking. When she did not understand the silence, I would open my mouth and say, well, I would end up saying something about my grandchildren, or her grandchildren, or my loose knees, or her stiff back. Though now there are fewer and fewer people to call, and they will continue to diminish the more years I live.

If he were here, I'd have turned in bed and looked at him and he'd have looked at me. He'd have known about the dream, and we'd have laughed. "Just a dream," he'd have said. We'd have sipped tea all morning then, not thinking of the dream, or perhaps we'd have enacted it – both of us the dog, each making space for the other.

Sarah Tourjee's fiction has appeared in the Sonora Review and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. She is pursuing an MFA at Brown University. She lives in Rhode Island with a herd of small nonhuman mammals and her human partner.