Apr/May 2003  •   Fiction

Citrus in Absentia

by Suzanne Rivecca

It's one of those dreams where someone passes you a note listing all the reasons you will not get into heaven. One of them is "Accessorizes Overmuch."

The dream-you thinks, "Of course."

It's one of those dreams where you are the teacher of a subject you know nothing about, like calculus, and you stand at the front of a classroom facing the students with their pencils poised. You do not panic, because they don't know anything about calculus either. They are all refugees from a sensory-deprivation experiment, and now they must learn math. They have been without touch and sound and taste for so long, they have forgotten the shame of being human. They trust you. Your mind slides into a bluff like a foot into mud: "Boys and girls, calculus is the study of all things temporal and rigged and we are about to embark on a marvelous adventure together," and they all smile, dazzled by the overstimulation they are about to get; they all copy it down as you draw a wagon wheel on the board with straight, perfect spokes.

It's one of those dreams where a glass of orange juice is put before you. You drink it and can actually taste it, smell it even, tart and cold, your two most visceral senses working in delusional, unconscious tandem, conjuring citrus in absentia like the touch of a person who died.

You drink and drink but you aren't really thirsty.

It's one of those dreams where a person you used to love is hanging around wearing an outfit she would never wear in real life, something tailored and subdued, something she would call "anchorwoman camouflage" and she says nothing, but somehow manages to convey to you, you will never get your ceramic gargoyle back from her, and you are not welcome at this compound unless you wash off your overly feminine cologne.

It is one of those dreams during which the mailman from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood says "We were all so happy when the air conditioning killed the cockatoo. We were all so happy! It was evil."

It is one of those dreams where it rains for a long time. You have a colander you're trying to catch the rain in, and you can't understand why the water goes through the holes like that, why there are such things as holes, such useless things. How are you supposed to hold onto anything? It is a dream where you forget how many holes there are in the world and how much you often need them.

It is not one of those dreams you slowly dog-paddle your way out of. The return to consciousness is serrated and swift: a clean break. It is one of those dreams you wake from in a wash of light so bright it feels like a hospital, and you are surprised at the pecking order all your body parts have assumed in your waking brain's absence: left arm squashed under your chest like a soggy noodle, head angled weirdly as if trying to detach from your neck, fresh scratches on your wrist. Is this the way your body prefers to be, when left to its own devices? Everything scrambled and some part of you gone numb, your arm maybe or your leg still drifting on the other side? There's always that slow part, the dim dog who won't catch up, who lags and sniffs. Before you can rise and take your place in the world, you have to roll over, shake your bag of bribes, "Good boy," wait for it to come back to you.