Most of the time Ellen dreamed, she dreamed of lovers who moved on, who once celebrated her in poems, or songs, or brought her gems or flowers or joy or promises but in the dream are completely indifferent, stoic, a boy-man presence who was there solely to remind her that she simply wasn’t enough.
Lately, when Ellen dreamed, she dreamed of closets: her parents’ walk-in closet with the spilled light on the floor and her mother’s ironed shirts and her father’s rifles under glass; her childhood room closet with a sliding wood door that once unveiled a performance of vibrant, animated puppets inspired by scarlet fever; her ex-boyfriend’s closet where he kept his pants rolled up like torpedoes.
The only closet in her recent apartment had a well-made door that was painted a dozen or so times throughout the centuries and now matched the linen white of the McIntire trim. On the door hung a framed print of Lydia Cassatt, Leaning On Her Arms that gave off an aura in the dark, and Ellen often stared at that print thinking of her father and how that was the last thing he carried from his truck before the cancer took him.
Lately, she had heard tussling in the closet, just before falling asleep, at the portal of a dream. Too drowsy to get out of bed, she reasoned that it was a mouse; the apartment in which she lived was part of a ship captain’s home, built in the seventeen hundreds (before Lydia’s time) and had its generations of mice (she had caught several in a have-a-heart trap.) It was not logically possible for a mouse to make such a ruckus, but the near-dreaming mind is not a reasoning entity.
Most nights, sleep came swiftly, surreptitiously stealing consciousness as Ellen read or watched the evening news. Her days keeping teenagers on task, grading papers, planning lessons, braving cafeteria duty and spit balls, not-so-clandestine note passing and insufferable parents made sleep seem like a refuge.
But on one particular night, there was a loud bang and she sat up. She turned on the light. Outside there was a voice, someone—her neighbour Joscelyn—smoking a cigarette and talking to her friend on the phone. Ellen and Joscelyn weren’t particularly close, but they shared a certain loneliness known only to single women in their twenties and were often company for one another on a Friday night when neither had any plans. Ellen smelled the smoke from below, carried by a warm late spring breeze, and felt comforted that Joscelyn was there, nearby, within calling distance, just as her father was nearby when he was mowing the lawn on a summer evening and her mother put her to bed while there was still light. She was lulled back to sleep by Joscelyn’s conversation, and dreamed of an ex-lover; he was working in a coffee shop as a baker. When she visited with a friend—a dream friend, no one she had ever known or seen in her waking life—he talked only to the friend and passed her his number on a paper napkin, the creases of his palm caked in flour.
The next night, after reading a paragraph from a novel and then drifting off, she heard knocking. She thought it was coming from her dream where her father was moving her furniture. Her eyes snapped open. She sat up, turned on the light, kicked the covers, stood up, walked over to the closet. She stared at Lydia in her haze of chartreuse and waited, noting the romance of the chandelier—Lydia must have been at a theater. Was she with a gentleman? Ellen grabbed the doorknob, turned it, and flung Lydia aside to witness her calm and composed clothing, her imperturbable shoes.
Ellen went to the mirror and examined her face; she looked ill. She felt a panic start to rise up. This closet bullshit was causing her to have interrupted sleep; often she stayed up for hours thinking about lesson plans or parent calls before she could drift off again. She could get into an accident after all, swerve off the road, half asleep. She took a pill, went to bed, and slept soundly, woke up without irritability, without the hollow yearning that comes from witnessing an ex-lover’s stoic and discriminatory behavior or the maneuverings of a ghost.
It was early Sunday morning when she saw the light coming from under the closet door. It matched the light coming from the window—the diffused light of approaching summer that held within it the titillating notion of possibility. The closet door slowly creaked open and a figure stood before her. The figure told her not to be afraid; it—he—she interpreted it as a he—was full of love.
Ellen felt as if she were in a warm swathe and was comforted, despite the fact that the figure had no recognizable face and seemed only to be mimicking a male human form. He communicated without words, wanted to embrace her. Ellen was hesitant. There was the question of trust. But the heart part of her, the part that was eternally hopeful, inspired her to rise from the bed in a celestial leap and land in the figure’s would-be arms. She leaned in and kissed him, as she did that night he made her dinner, under the stars in the skylight and the moon, and he welcomed her embrace and she was filled with ecstasy, every bone, every cell, ecstatic.
Her mind rewound to: No. He had driven away, left her on the sidewalk, despite running his hands over her leather jacket moments before and telling her they should keep in touch. She pulled, coaxed her spirit with visions of movement, of memory, of standing, of walking, even dancing, but her soul could only stretch the chord so far. Eventually the light moved on, became less brilliant, and Ellen returned to the body, to all that is laden and foreseeable.
Laurette Folk‘s fiction, essays, and poems have been published in upstreet, Waxwing, Literary Mama, Flash Fiction Magazine, pacificREVIEW, Boston Globe Magazine, among others. Her novel, A Portal to Vibrancy, was published by Big Table in June 2014 and won the Independent Press Award for New Adult Fiction. Totem Beasts, her collection of poetry and flash fiction, was published by Big Table in May 2017. She is a Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions nominee and graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing program. www.laurettefolk.com
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