I’m kicking off September with a recent dream. If I were a dream interpreter (and I’m not) I’d say it’s an allegory of searching for story ideas, of grabbing something and pulling, and writing what surfaces.
. – . – . – .
I live in a brown and white trailer two miles from the gravel pit. I’m the kind of guy who typically minds his own business, but I always pay my debts.
The old woman said she was there to cash in. She said she knew it was late and I had to work tomorrow, but it wouldn’t take long. Besides, she said, I owed her. She gave me a ride to the marina. She smoked the whole way there. Unfiltered Camels.
“Crack your window if you want,” she said. I tried but the window button didn’t work. I kept trying. She pulled onto Darker Waye without looking for oncoming traffic. Next thing I know, we’re at the marina, and I’m standing in thigh-deep water and it’s two hours past my bedtime to help the old woman. I just wanted to pay the slumped silhouette what I owed and go home.
Before her hands got wet, she lit the Camel between dried lips. They were cartoon-shaped, like searching for a permanent smooch. From the side, her lips resembled a duck’s beak. They were orange from the cigarette glow. I noticed she never puffed out. Smoke just sort of exited through natural and man-made orifices. The water was cool but warmer than I thought.
“Here. Feel,” she said, only it came out of her beak like, Help. Fear. The Camel bounced as she spoke. It left an after image against the night in my eyes and killed my night vision. I reached my hand into the water and felt sand and sweeping weeds. She grabbed my forearm and moved it back and forth in the water until she hooked something.
“Yes I do.”
“Pull,” I think she said, so I did.
She spit what was left of the Camel into the water. “I said pull!”
We pulled but nothing came. “Harder,” she said, “on three,” only she didn’t count to three first. She just pulled harder, so I did too. Something let go of it, at first reluctantly, then it slipped free and sort of bobbed to the surface.
“Lift it out of the water and hold it,” she said. “Rest it against your legs. Let it drain.” Water poured and poured into the lake but the pulled thing never got lighter. We just held it there, bent over in an unnatural way. I was soaked and it was chilly.
I just wanted to go to bed so I could get up and go to work. Maybe because my work smelled like work, not like this. For once, I wanted to just do what I do and not be where I was. I just wanted to wake up in my own bed and wake up refreshed and head into work.
I work at the Incredibly Shellfish Seafood and Bar and Bait Shop (that’s what the sign says, “Incredibly Shellfish Seafood and Bar and Bait Shop”). I manage to pluck a crusty living from the back room from Monday to Friday, and sometimes Saturday. I don’t know what I do on weekends, which is how I end up owing people like her and doing things like this.
“My back is killing me.” I said.
“Shh.” She nudged me with a bony shoulder. We froze in our positions while the thing continued to drain and not get lighter.
A man paced along the dock and shouted a name into the darkness in our general direction. She didn’t answer and neither did I. He called out random names. We ignored him. I’m glad he never said my name, because I may have answered him.
Finally, he stopped talking and stood there, probably getting his night vision, the one I lost to a Camel. Boats screeched against their moorings. Waves sloshed in response.
“Any luck,” he asked. There was a long pause, then the woman spoke.
“Maybe,” her duck lips said. The man seemed satisfied with her answer and walked on down the dock and boarded a fishing boat. Before long, we heard his boat leave, presumably with him aboard because he never came back.
“Now,” she said. We grabbed wet fabric and dragged whatever was in it to shore. We loaded it in the back of her small car dripping and she drove me back home dripping.
“Thank you.” She said. The car stopped rolling in front of my door. She stayed in the car and kept it running. I got out but held the passenger door open. I thought maybe I should offer her a dry towel or a drink, but I knew she would strike up a Camel and I didn’t want my place smelling like unfiltered smoke.
I noticed from the light from the interior light that the thing in the rear of her car was wearing a rust-colored sweater. I tried to compose a free-verse poem to help me deal. I told her I called it Torn Worsted Wool, then I said this to the old woman:
Torn worsted wool
torn worsted wool
insufficiently suctioned in mud
Not enough to stop the rising
“Do you feel better,” she asked.
“I think I do,” I said. “Are we even?”
She looked straight ahead but didn’t answer. She revved the engine. A loose fender rattled. I spoke again to break the awkward silence.
“Did you know Sienna?”
“Was she a relative? A friend?”
I scratched my nose and waited like a gentleman and waited.
“Sienna,” I said. “The girl. It.” I nodded toward the back but didn’t look.
“We’re even. Now go inside. Go!”
I shut her car door. She tried to roll down the window on my side, but nothing happened. I could have told her it didn’t work but I didn’t. I waited. She tried and tried. Nothing. Then she reached over and rolled down the window with the hand crank. Yes her car was that old. She poked her duck lips out the side and looked up at me.
“How do you know it’s a girl?”
“Look at her.” She didn’t.
“Why did you name her Sienna?”
“She needs a name. Her sweater is rusty.”
“So, I named her Sienna. Only a girl named Sienna would wear a sweater to match her name.”
She lit a Camel. Smoke oozed. “Have a nice life,” she said and drove away and headed in the direction of town. In the middle of the road she made a u-turn and headed the out-of-town way. I waved to the old woman and to Sienna, but mostly Sienna.
I went inside, locked the door, took off my clothes and crawled into bed wet. I never saw the old woman again after that. I fell asleep writing a story in my head, or a poem. I only remember it in pieces and the pieces didn’t make sense without the stuff in between, which I couldn’t make up.
I replayed the pulling in my head, and became convinced that it would have been easier to drag the thing to land by holding it just below the surface. Let buoyancy be our friend, I should have said. It must be easier to pull substantial things to shore that way. It must be. In fact, using my method, one person could do the pulling.
Over the years, I’ve fought the urge to return to the marina, and to test my method. I think I could fish that place dry. Sometimes in my dream I wade chin-deep, reach out eyes closed and touch whatever touches back. I pull hard against the tide until something breaks free. I pull until I find a new name.
I rarely think of the duck-lipped woman, but sometimes I think of how odd it was to see someone roll down a window by rolling down a window and not use the button. Sometimes I think of Camels and unfiltered smoke. Mostly I think of Sienna and the pull.
– . – . – . –