Let the Water Hold Me Down
By Dave Housley
He wakes in a full sweat. 2:36 AM. He pulls the dream notebook out of the nightstand and sets it down next to the clock, does it gingerly, like he’s handling a mousetrap. Kate mumbles something in her sleep. The dog stands up, circles, settles back down. He stares at the ceiling. Write anything you remember, the therapist had said. Do it as soon as you can.
Ropes. Fish. A big red fish. Beautiful. Moving away, moving closer. Ropes. A kite? I was a boy.
Let your mind go, the therapist said. Don’t edit yourself.
I was nervous. The fish got closer and then pulled away. I think it was a kite. I was little again, holding a kite, but the kite was a fish? I was scared.
Take stock of your physical situation.
I’m still sweating. Nervous when I woke up. I have a boner.
He scratches out the last part. Don’t edit yourself. He writes again:
I have an erection.
He looks at the clock. 2:40. He looks at what he’s written in the journal. A big red fish. A kite. An erection. God, this is stupid. The idea that this could help – writing down your dreams, “letting your subconscious speak to your conscious” – it is laughable. Like trying to find traffic directions by watching an episode of Family Guy.
I am not the kind of guy, he thinks, who writes in a dream notebook, who thinks that recording the color of the fish in my dream is going to somehow show me a way out of this situation. Red. The fish was red. Still, he thinks. I am not the kind of guy who…shit…the fish was fucking red?
He closes the notebook, checks to make sure Kate is asleep. She is pressed into the mattress, her cheek scrunched against the pillow, mouth open. Her shiny black hair, not a trace of gray despite her thirty eight years, looks dull and plain in the dark. Her honey skin seems gray, the wrinkles around her eyes doubled with shadow. She looks ugly and he realizes that this pleases him. It is a momentary relief, a check in a column, one thing he can at least hold against her in some small way, in some small, secret place all his own.
The rest of the checks, he knows, are in the other column, the one with his name at the top.
He knows she isn’t ugly, of course, knows he is lucky in the first place to have married her, lucky the yoga kept her in such good shape, that she wasn’t the one who strayed. Still, up close, like this, unguarded in the darkness, she looks like an old woman, like her mother, his mother, like somebody’s mother.
The fact that she is nobody’s mother, of course, is part of the equation, part of the reason he’s been waking up in the middle of the night, part of the reason for the secret therapist and his stupid dream notebook in the first place.
He remembers another detail. Details are important, the therapist had said. Details are everything.
We were underwater, but I was wearing a raincoat. I wasn’t swimming. I was walking, was being pulled up toward the surface and I didn’t want to go. I was pulling back.
Maybe it wasn’t a kite.
He closes the notebook and sits up. The only sounds are Kate’s deep breathing and the white noise machine. They have lived like this for so long, how could it all change so quickly? How could he have threatened this, their lovely, silent, good enough equilibrium?
The fish was red. A red koi fish.
He picks up the notebook again, rolls over to shield it with his body. The dog harrumphs and scrambles with his paws, finally settles back in and starts snoring. To be able to go to sleep that fast again, he thinks, would be such a blessing. Things were so much easier before Stacey, before the boy, the whole thing.
The fish was red. Stacey? Red hair.
But the fish was a koi. Asian. Kate?
He tries to remember if the therapist had even told him to go this far, to try to make sense of the mindfuck his subconscious would be throwing at him.
The fish is both. The fish is the boy?
He crosses out this last part, then writes it down again. He puts the dream notebook back into the drawer, is careful to put it at the very bottom, under the books and handkerchiefs and the half-empty bottle of Astroglide. Kate cannot find this. Not yet, at least.
He rolls onto his back, listens to Kate’s breathing, to the comforting hum of the white noise machine. It is all so quiet, so still. He remembers the feeling in the dream of being at the bottom of the ocean. Underwater. How safe it felt. And then that fish, pulling him up toward the air, toward…something.
I should write that down, he thinks. Probably that is important. Probably that means something. He thinks about rolling over, removing the books and the handkerchief and the Astroglide, finding the pen, writing all of this down, reading it aloud to the therapist on Wednesday evening when Kate thinks he’s at the gym. It seems like so much effort. Everything is so still.
Maybe the fish is just a fish, he thinks.
Dave Housley’s second collection of short fiction, If I Knew the Way,
I Would Take You Home, will be published by Dzanc Books. His work has
appeared in The Collagist, Hobart, Mid-American Review, Quarterly
West, and some other places. He’s one of the founding editors and all
around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse magazine.