I let Timmy stay home the next day.
I take some aspirin and go to work.
“You look like shit,” Janice says when she settles in at eight-twenty.
“I stopped counting after five Salty Dogs. Nick was with the kids,” I say, proud of myself for speaking so casually. “I think — well, maybe things are getting a little better.”
It isn’t much. It’s a stupid statement, really, because, like I said, I go through stages. One minute everything’s copasetic. Then I’m angry, blocked, impained. That’s another word Pat and I came up with. I could be in terrible shape tomorrow, but for today, I feel pretty good. Still, I am surprised that the words just spilled out.
Janice smiles sympathetically. “Timmy okay?”
“Broken wrist. He’s staying home today, but I probably could have sent him to school.”
“Well, hang in there, toots,” she says. “Need a refill on coffee?”
I nod and hand her my coffee cup.
Harold pisses me off twice. It’s getting harder and harder not to throw something at him. Lately I’ve been using this little technique where I watch him but I don’t hear him: he becomes a talking head, and I’m enclosed in a protective bubble. Pat taught me this technique.
I make it through the day, determined to have fun with the kids when I get home. It’s Wednesday, Timmy’s turn for one-on-one with Nick, only they’re both home with me since Nick has to work because of last night. We order pizza and watch the last video. Timmy snuggles close to me, and Melissa, the little caretaker, rubs his head tenderly.
Maybe I’m still working the alcohol out of my system because, when I go to sleep, I dream about Harold, and it’s such a strange dream that the next day, on my morning break, I call Pat on my cell phone. Since she works from noon to eight-thirty at the hospital, I call her at home. I’m outside, at the other side of the building from where the smokers are mixing second-hand smoke with fresh air.
In the dream, I’ve done something wrong at work. It’s not clear to me what that wrong thing is, but I know exactly what category of error it is — a little thing, something that can be corrected, but, still, a mistake. Harold has caught me, and he is angrier than I’ve ever seen him, so angry that his hair-sprayed hair bounces as he yells, his face turns red, he becomes a gigantic talking head, and the next thing I know, he has ordered my execution.
“Your execution!” Pat says. “That’s pretty extreme.”
“Yeah, I know.” It is extreme and, in the dream, I’m terrified, but I’m also calm. “Anyhow,” I say, “I call the union to ask them what I should do. File a grievance? Call a lawyer? And the union guy says, hey, we’d like to help you, but he’s perfectly within his rights according to the contract.”
“So the date has been set and it is now the day I am to be executed.”
“How’s it supposed to happen, by firing squad? Lethal injection?”
“It’s a dream, Pat. I only know that it’s going to happen, not how,” I say, explaining how it felt, that ominous ticking-clock feeling, the waiting, waiting, waiting. I go to work on the day I am to be executed and it’s just like a regular day. Then it’s three-thirty and I can leave.
“Is that all?” Pat asks, sounding a little let down.
“Not quite.” What happens next is that I call the union office and tell the guy that nothing happened, so now what am I supposed to do? He says, “Did he issue a stay of execution?” and I say, “No, is that bad?” He pauses to think or maybe to look through the contract. “No,” he says finally, “if he was going to execute you, he had to do it on the day he said he was going to.”
“Does that mean you’ve been spared?” Pat asks.
“Yeah. I mean, the union guy tells me I’m safe.”
“Do you feel safe? In the dream, I mean. Is that ominous feeling gone?”
“Yeah. I guess so. But, of course, I could always make some other stupid mistake.”
“Is that what you’re thinking about in the dream?”
“No,” I say, trying to recapture exactly what I felt as I was dreaming. “When nothing happens, I feel safe. It’s only outside of the dream, when I’m analyzing, that I can see how easily it could happen again.”
I’ve been pacing and now see that I’m heading toward the smokers, so I veer away, smiling to let them know that it’s nothing personal. “You know, I really don’t know why I even went to work that day. Why not fight back? Or get the hell out of Dodge?”
“Hey,” Pat says, “look at it this way. You didn’t die. They say it’s really bad news if you actually die in a dream.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I didn’t die. I didn’t fucking die.”