a fiction short by Claire Dandridge Selleck
[email]claires [at] burningword [dot] com[/email]

There was nothing extraordinary about the way the day began. The alarm clock rang at the usual hour and, however reluctantly, I rolled at once from my bed vaguely aware that a dream had been interrupted. Scraping the hair back from my forehead, I stumbled to the kitchen and eyed the sink full of dishes still submerged in soapy water from last night’s false start. As I paused to watch the mist rising from the river that flowed some one hundred feet from my kitchen window, I was reminded why waking to dirty dishes no longer bothered me. At night I had only the four window panes to reflect on as I washed up; unless the moon is full, the darkness here is impenetrable. In the morning I had this dancing river to entertain me, the swirls of steam flowing upward like a lavishly choreographed ballet. I could linger as long as I pleased, the dishes a guilt-effacing alibi.

This morning, even the river could not pull me from the dream that tugged at my consciousness. It consisted mostly of faces and I recalled them one by one. I had names for them all, those ghosts from my past that I had loved and left behind. Simmy the Sweet, the most successfully helpless woman I knew. Simmy achieved her lifelong dream simply by being kind and loving and completely dependent on her circle of friends and family. As much as I enjoyed Simmy’s company, it was just too draining and the friendship faded as slowly and sweetly as it had begun.

Paul the Mauler was Simmy’s accomplishment. She had not only managed to reel him in from a freewheeling bachelorhood that had earned him his dubious moniker, but they had actually been happy all these twenty-odd years. Their kids, the first being the bait, had grown into pleasant, competent adults. There was nothing not to like about the family and I felt a brief sadness that I had not stayed around to be a part of their lives.

And then there was Linda. Lucky Linda, who fell into success effortlessly. I felt uncharacteristic jealousy despite my genuine affection for her. It took me a few years to realize that there is no such thing as luck. By the time I had learned to give Linda credit where credit was due, our friendship had been reduced to hugs and promises at chance encounters in Walmart.

Linda was Paul’s sister. She dated my brother Mikey for awhile, but it was no great love affair. Linda’s eventual marriage was one of the first indications that I had certain…well…powers is what most people call them, but they leave me feeling more helpless than powerful, no matter how innocuous the revelation.

I remembered standing in my hallway on a clear Spring day. I was late for an appointment and looking for my keys when the sudden thought of Linda was pleasant, but mildly annoying. I remembered exactly what I thought, too. Word for word. ‘Gosh, it’s been ages since I’ve heard from Linda. I won’t be a bit surprised to hear she’s found herself a man and is planning to marry.’ I remembered dragging my thoughts back to my keys and the attorney I had to see. I eyed the stack of mail on the hall table. As I lifted the letters from atop my missing keys, a card fell from the center of the stack. It was a wedding invitation from Linda. I tried to tell myself it was a coincidence, but it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. And it wouldn’t be the last. Sometimes it would be a fleeting thought of an old friend who would call within hours. Once I agonized over forgetting to tell my daughter not to speed through Georgia, later to realize it was the precise time a State Trooper was writing her ticket. Cool, but spooky.

Jeff was Paul’s best friend. Jeffy-cakes. Such an unlikely nickname for me to conceive, let alone speak aloud. Our romance had lasted a year, but the friendship remained intact as various events pulled us back together. The death of Linda’s mother. The christening of each of Simmy and Paul’s children. My own brother’s wedding. Jeff and Mikey remained golfing buddies, much to my second husband’s chagrin.

Jeff was the bright spot in the center of some miserable years
and I used to wonder if I had made a mistake in letting him slip
away. He was wildly adventurous in bed and equally comfortable
in the kitchen. But, I think my intensity frightened him and we
never spoke of love. The memory made me shiver.

He eventually married a sullen and neurotic woman whose chronic illness was enough to make him stay. He?s a nice guy, my
Jeffy-cakes. What else would a nice guy do?

So, that was the circle of friends who crept into my dream. Friends well loved, but recalled fleetingly, casually, individually. Now here they all were, together again, their faces hanging in my head like contrived B-movie apparitions.

I wiped my hands on the towel, barely aware that I had finished the dishes during my reverie. I wondered why a dream where nothing bad had happened would bother me so much; why it would cause this dull ache to rise in my chest and urge me to take action of some kind. It was only another moment before I knew what was missing. Jeff was not among the faces in my dream. The chill moved slowly from my shoulders downward.

I dialed Mikey’s number and felt a surge of love when my brother’s warm southern drawl filled the earpiece.

“Mikey, it’s Fran. I need you to do something for me.” The words tumbled out and I didn’t wait for his reply. “I had a dream and I need you to check on Jeff for me.”

“I was just about to call you.” Mikey’s voice cracked slightly, his emotions only barely in check. “Jeffy’s dead, hon. I’m sorry.”

The receiver clattered to the floor as I stared out at the ceaseless river, its dance now mocking and unkind.

“I knew that.” I said, as if my brother could still hear me. “I knew.”

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