Jarred awake. Disoriented by the light filtering into the room. It was all bright and too friendly, what ought to belong to another time—it ought to have been vaguely blue with the distant sound of a rooster crowing. There we were, mid-morning. Groggy eyes met little children, fresh and chipper from a good night’s rest. Chipper like a chipmunk. I was chipper like a crocodile.
“You want to pet my puppy?” The tot said, by which she meant my puppy, who isn’t a puppy. He’s a very large dog with a very large tongue. He appears at my bedside every morning, hysterical with his joy, like my sleep had created a void between us that had been unbearable for the last six hours. “Do you want to pet my puppy? Do you want to pet my puppy? Do you want to pet my puppy…” I did not want to pet her puppy, but I also did not want to be hysterical upon hearing that phrase repeated again. I rolled over, tossing a hand blindly in Big Dog’s direction. False move. Two massive paws landed on my chest, pinning me there, until his tongue was satiated.
Two minutes later I rolled back over, to safety on the other side of the bed. The cold air of sixty degrees outside was a shock to the skin. I was bent on getting back to that dream—the one with the talking spider I found in the drawer with the flashlights. He was big and round and friendly, and he wanted to tell me something very important. When do you get to ever have a conversation with a talking spider, unless it is in a dream? I drifted back. I did have that conversation, and he was wise, but I’d be damned if I could have told you upon waking what he had to say. He had sworn my conscious mind to secrecy.
Jarred awake, again. It was six hours later, and I had been daydreaming. I was thinking about that spider, searching my mind for some hint to the mystery of his words. What had I lost by misplacing it all in my subconscious? It was perturbing. But not as perturbing as the fifty pieces of straw that were poking me simultaneously in fifty different places on the backs of my thighs. The wagon jostled. I sat there on the end, looking down at the dirt road moving away, every pine cone and deer track just out of sight as soon as the eyes rested on it.
I accidentally took this picture of my thigh being poked by the fifty pieces of straw.
“I think I saw some bears,” my husband said to our boy. “There were a lot of people when we left the festival, I don’t think there will be as many when we get back.” The boy didn’t bat an eye. He’s homeschooled—he knows there isn’t much to speak of in regard to bears in Florida. The church lady sitting next to us—sharing our hay but not the prime seating of being on the very back of the hayride—lifted an eyebrow. The wagon wandered out of the woods, and followed the dirt road around a group of vehicles parked in the grass. “That’s where we go to get in the van,” my husband continued very matter-of-fact. “And that,” he gestured to the old graveyard on the other side, “Is where we will go, hopefully when we are really old.” The church lady furrowed her brow.
God we are weird, I thought. A woman was sitting entirely too close to me—the someone-else’s-thigh-touching-mine sort of too close—when the little girl on her lap sneezed in our faces. Mucus dripped down her miserable lips. We are weird, and now we are also sick.
That blasted spider. What was he saying? It was right there, on the tip of my tongue, like the vanilla ice cream. I was sitting on the grass, half listening to a country band that was sending echoes of liveliness to bounce off the walls of the old church. I was watching a lady driving a tractor pulling a train ride for little kids. She was the quintessential country woman—the mascot of the idyllic county fair. She had fluffed up hair and large breasts popping out of her tank top, tight jeans, finished off with cowboy boots that she propped on the upper side of the tractor. She was a character worth observing.
The Dream Spider! No, just an ancient live oak.
My mind traveled back as I watched the lady strut around. If I could just jog my memory. I went back to the moment when the tot woke me again, disrupting the spider’s conversation. “Be careful for ants in your bed,” she said in her wise two-year-old voice. She likes to imitate me, giving random bits of unsolicited advice, minus the appropriate context. Thirty-two years of being bitten, and I’ve got fire ant bite immunity, I thought, before rolling over again, not bothering to question her authority.
Then the magic happened—a vague connection with the dream was made, just enough. There was the spider, and he said: “You should start wearing pants to bed, it was supposed to be sixty degrees out this morning.”
Damn it, subconscious. I had really hoped for more.