By Paul Richard Watson
My parents ask me if I can house-sit for their friends since it’s spring break and I’ve got nothing to do outside of reading on the roof and trying to get a peek through the trees at my neighbor’s stepdaughter sunbathing. They say their friends will be gone for three nights and they’ll pay me a hundred dollars a night. Seems like easy enough money. Sure, I say, and go back to reading my book. It’s about lucid dreaming. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The idea is you do something, like look at your hands, all the time when you’re awake. If you do it enough, they say you’ll do it in your dreams and realize you’re dreaming, and open infinite possibilities.
I’m basically trying to turn my dreams into video games, but more interesting.
In the Ramseys' house, there’s a long marble counter in the kitchen across from a stainless steel refrigerator and a liquor cabinet with handles that turn into fake vines and spread their way across the glass. All along the walls of the living room, there are little shelf-alcoves with pictures of the Ramseys. They are young, probably fifteen years younger than my parents, no kids. He looks like he was in a fraternity in college. I don’t look at him much. But she is beautiful and innocent-looking, though clearly well into her thirties. She looks like she is in a book club. She looks like she teaches Sunday school. I look at him one more time. I bet he cheats on her.
Their note tells me I should feel free to make myself food, watch TV, whatever. I let their two little Shih Tzus out to play in the back yard and then I make myself a grilled cheese for dinner. They’ve got some real fancy cheeses—Gouda, muenster, taleggio. I eat my grilled cheese and watch cartoons on their sixty-inch, high-definition TV. During a commercial break, I go to the back door and let the dogs back in. A middle-aged lady is mowing her back yard next door. She waves at me as if I belong. I smile and wave back.
Night falls. This neighborhood gets quiet. I’m used to the sporadic night-shouts and distant music of a college campus. This place is different though. Here, like businesses, lives have set and invariable hours of operation. There’s something nice about that.
The dogs lay beside me on the couch. One snores near my shoulder, the other lays in my lap, not sleeping but indifferent. I’m getting tired myself, as the glow of the TV flickers blue and orange. They say that if you can learn to become aware in your dreams you can do whatever you want—go to Hogwarts, have lunch with your dead grandmother, fly like Superman, fulfill your heart’s desire. I’m drifting into sleep and wondering if you wake up in a strange house—an empty, strange house—could you be a different person, live a different life?
I brush the dogs off, stand up. Walk through the kitchen and up the stairs. They made up the guest bedroom for me but I walk past that, too. All the way down the hall I go, and into the master bedroom. The bed has posts, and a lily-white canopy above it. I imagine I am him, only a better version of him, more like me.
Long day, I say.
But now you’re home, she says.
I say, Thinking about you, here, waiting for me, is the only thing that gets me through. I love you, I say. I’d die without you.
I know, she says, smiling. I know.
And I lay next to her and kiss her and I find myself enfolded in the sheets that are mine now, lost as I fade into their soft cotton, more tired than I’ve ever been, never more glad to be in a bed.
Paul Richard Watson was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and now lives down the road in Bowling Green, Kentucky. His fiction has appeared in Catfish Creek and Zephyrus. When he isn’t reading or writing, he enjoys caffeinated beverages, men’s shoes and films featuring Jimmy Stewart.