Fiction: Matthew Liebowitz
Before they divorced, near the end of the fighting, the boy had a dream. He woke up early and slid into the empty left side of the bed. The sheets were ruffled and pressed with a vague indentation left by the father. The father slept on the foldaway downstairs, or sometimes on the recliner in the basement, or sometimes elsewhere, which was where he was sleeping now. Or sometimes: sometimes the father stayed in the boy’s room on the top bunk where the boy’s sister had once slept, but now didn’t, because she had died in June, on a mild summer day with a murky sunset.
The boy woke his mother by touching her shoulder. That’s not him, the mother thought. She said it then, a whisper: That’s not you. In her half sleep she couldn’t understand all the things it meant. The boy tapped her again and said, Mom. She moved a clump of hair from her face. I had a dream, the boy said.
Tell me, the mother said. If you want to, you can tell me the dream.
But the boy didn’t start talking. Instead, he parted the curtains covering the window on the father’s empty side and stared out. The moon was a few days from full, but big enough to throw wide shadows beneath the elm trees lining the street. Across, in the field, two deer walked together, in the same direction. The boy noticed one deer’s legs were bigger, but they kept up with each other, stepping when the other stepped, stopping when the other stopped. The boy waited for one to run ahead. Maybe it’s not a race, he thought. Both seemed to be looking for something to eat probably, or another deer. Maybe they’re going somewhere, he guessed, and they need to be close to one another. He put his face against the glass so his nose pushed in a little and his head kept the curtains apart. He held his breath until the deer were too far away, blocked from sight by a row of tall hedges, emerging for a few seconds before disappearing again behind a white barn and a cluster of willows.
What is it, honey? What’s the dream? The mother scratched a rough spot of skin on her elbow where the sheets had burned her from rolling around.
Nothing, the boy said, his nose still against the glass. I can’t remember what it is. It’s nothing.
Much later, after the boy had fallen asleep on the father’s side, after the mother came back from the kitchen with ice water and the last of the orange she’d had after dinner, after the father called to tell the answering machine he’d be home in about a week—after all that, the mother looked at the boy and thought: It is you. She was awake now, her lips sour from the orange. The boy had taken the blankets and wrapped himself tightly, leaving the mother cold, uncovered. From the cedar closet she took an old, pink-flowered comforter with the daughter’s name stenciled into the petals. She turned on her side, faced the boy, shut her eyes, and tried to lull herself back to sleep with it, this time aloud, more than a whisper: It is you, it is you.
MATTHEW LIEBOWITZ is a 2004 graduate of the B.U. Creative Writing M.A. program. He is a high school literature teacher in San Diego, California. This summer he will be a writer-in-residence at The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where he plans to finish a novel, tentatively titled Everything Looks Blurry. This is his second published story.
(c) copyright 2006, Matthew Liebowitz; author retains all rights.