The Lyric Dream Project: Dream 25

I’m an old man. I’m crafty, a thief. My wife, who’s with me, is crafty too, so when the cops come around she finds us a hiding spot, a loft we climb to on a rope ladder, knowing the last place anyone thinks to look is up. The cops find us anyway, but somehow can’t master the rope ladder. They try a metal ladder instead, but we push it off, and it falls to the floor with a satisfying clatter. The cops throw up their hands–what can be done?–and, tugging their beards dejectedly, walk away. We laugh down at them, victorious. What we’ve stolen, what exactly we’ve gotten away with, I don’t know.

For a while we enjoy our alcove. We curl up on evergreen throw pillows, watching from our window the moon’s reflection on water. The peace is short-lived; the cops are back, and this time they’ve found a way around the ladder problem. They’re suddenly close, their uniformed shirtsleeves swiping at our heads. With impeccable timing, my wife discovers a liquid-silver opening in the wall–it’s a portal, she says, a way out–and before I can tell her wait, she leans into it. Her torso disappears and I can see only the cuffs of her jeans, the thick brown soles of her shoes. My stomach drops. Though I’m terrified to follow I’m also certain if I don’t, I’ll never see her again. So in I go after.

I fall out of a flat-screen television. There’s a pause before a trio of teenage girls, their sleepover movie evidently interrupted, startle and leap off the couch. Dazed, I take in the posh apartment, the angular white-and-black furnishings, everything cool and unfriendly and lacquered to the point of looking wet. The TV’s still playing quietly and my wife is nowhere to be seen. I stand before a wall of windows in search of her, an impossible task considering that I have a sky-rise view of Manhattan at night, a whole city blinking below.

Turning again, I face the girls. I ask if they’ve seen my wife and their ponytails sway, heads shaking no. Just then the TV hums, and I know I could fall back into it if I wanted, and maybe meet my wife on the other side. As I’m thinking I’ll do just that, I notice a huff–one of the girls is crying, afraid of me. It’s then I notice too that my body is back, I’m a thirty-year-old woman. The effect is sobering. It’s embarrassing, really, to be crashing this party, to be where I so clearly don’t belong. I look at my shoes, myself once again, and try to find the words to apologize.

New York, skyline

Ellen Scheuermann is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Oregon, where she currently teaches writing. She grew up in Washington, D.C., and lives in Eugene, Oregon.