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Humankind cannot bear very much reality;

Obviously I didn't keep up with this. Maybe some day I'll get back to…


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Obviously I didn't keep up with this. Maybe some day I'll get back to posting at least semi-regularly.

I just polished up the final version of "God Bless The Daylight" to submit as an application for a workshop class next semester.

Title God Bless the Daylight
Word Count 3177

The incarnation of man’s deepest fears and desires exists within his dreams. Not always apparent, this embodiment sketches out the primordial consciousness that drives our quotidian behavior. Dreams lay bare a person’s wants in their purest form, free from the pollution of responsibilities and promises. His waking existence means nothing in the face of his dreams. Jack O’Connor, a man of infinite audacity, cannot keep himself from confronting the jarring truth of his subconscious existence. A mention of lucid dreaming tempts him into a foolhardy experiment that tears at his hold on reality.

In his dreams, Jack imagines he is happy. He is cherished and adored by everyone who knows his name.

It is for this reason that he decides to never wake up.

Jack researches his subject with the zeal of an eccentric. The so-called experts he consults assure him he has little chance of mastering the technique at all, much less in enough time to keep his interest from waning. He scours bookstores for any related information: in his study sits an entire bookcase devoted to volumes mentioning conscious awareness in dreams. Most, he admits, are useless collections of second-hand accounts, but in a search like this, one can never know where the answer might appear. So he wades through the drivel, taking notes on the occasional gem. It is frustrating and tedious, but Jack is certain it will be worth the trouble.

Jack has always kept odd hours: he works for a small flower shop called Lily’s of the Valley, which requires that he be at the shop at predetermined intervals to water the plants. His justification for working there is simple, and not what he told his wife: wandering the aisles of the humid greenhouse, amid the trailing candida vines and callas, reminds Jack of a bygone fascination with the rainforest. Frequently his employer, Mr. Lily, busies himself with a potential client discussing the folklore of certain plants: in such lulling moments, Jack leans against the far east glass wall, pushing his nose into the lush blooms of the belladonnas, breathing deeply. Tending to the flowers’ needs proves to be a rewarding occupation, though not in the way his wife – or his mother – would prefer: how many times has he been told he doesn’t make enough to support a family? It fills his days, though, and makes him happy.

His time quickly becomes exhausted not only by his passion for exotic fauna, but his determination to control his subconscious. As his reign over his dreams tightens, Jack sleeps longer, sounder. His wife, Amy, mentions the change in his sleeping habits once over a game of Parcheesi, and then forgets about it shortly after his muttered explanation. For the first time, he finds himself thankful that she is less than attentive. He hasn’t always enjoyed sleeping: when he was a boy, Jack had been plagued by awful nightmares that kept him from sleeping for nights at a time. In fact, sleeping only became easier once he began to do it beside someone else.

Much to most everyone’s disgust, Jack’s third wife is considerably younger than him. Once, she had been a frequent customer at Lily’s, stopping in on Sunday mornings for a small bouquet of violent purple lisianthus. They were her dying grandmother’s favorite, she had told him, smiling impishly from behind a blossom. When the grandmother died, Jack had expected the girl’s visits to dwindle; he was not disappointed. Her last visit, Amy had stood at the counter, fingering a scarlet rose.

“When you take me out tonight, give me this.” Her voice, flawlessly solemn, brooked no argument. Jack had nodded, and pricked his palm when he took the flower from her. The dripping blood matched the silken petals.

Four months later, they married. The classic ceremony presented well in the professional photographs; the bride in white, her blonde curls forming a halo around her head. Jack’s mother, a severe woman of seventy-six with a permanent scowl, had seated herself, arms crossed and face creased, at the front of the bright chapel, just behind Jack. At the reception, she and the father of the bride grumbled to each other about the unfortunate match. During their first dance, Amy had simply smiled and pulled her husband closer.

“This is our dream-come-true, not theirs,” she whispered, pressing a kiss to his throat.

Jack’s strenuous research eventually pays off: in five weeks, he has mastered the art of lucid dreaming; consequently, his relationship with reality begins to falter. On Friday nights he crawls into bed at eight, and sleeps until two Saturday afternoons. And so, he lives his ideal life in the only way he knows how; and he quiets the voice steadfastly reminding him that none of it is real. His body adjusts to the generous amounts of sleep, becoming weak and listless in the waking hours. After several months, his weekend indulgences evolve into nightly occurrences until he loses his job for sleeping through the day. Amy listens to the announcement with no small amount of outrage. Jack sleeps as his wife watches the sum of their bank account drop, the grass of the lawn grow unruly, and her own eyes grow frigid with neglect. She rants at the dog while Jack sleeps.

Eventually the night comes along when Jack sleeps through dinner completely, followed by breakfast the next morning. Unconcerned, Amy hums about his need for rest as she plumps his pillow. In a fit of devotion, she arranges to take Jack to the doctor once he wakes again. He does not. As it happens, three days of near-continuous sleep pass before she makes the call for help. The doctor she brings in – David Cameron, a minimally acclaimed neurologist – seems bored, certain that Amy has allowed Jack to fall into a diabetic coma. However, a brief perusal of the bookcase in Jack’s study renders the doctor notably more interested. By that afternoon, worried faces – Amy; the intrigued physician; Jack’s frantic mother – loom over Jack’s still form on the bed; a body which now lives due only to the thin plastic tubing supplying nutrition and whisking away its remains. The assemblage paces the small bedroom, muttering about how little sense the situation makes. Accusatory glances shoot between parent and significant other.

“He mentioned something about lucid dreaming, but I never thought…” Amy’s voice wavers.

The doctor nods sagely. “…That he’d choose his dreams over you?”

The moment never comes when the power he holds over his subconscious troubles Jack. Nevertheless, the logical, ever-rational part of himself cannot help but point out the inherently nefarious nature of controlling such an organic thing as dreams. Jack shrugs away any unease, and silences the nettlesome voice with visions of oak-lined streets in summer, kneeling children with sticks of chalk in their grubby hands, and the nostalgic hum of an ice cream truck as it ambles through the neighborhood: he chooses to haunt this place, the childhood he remembers. He’s seven or eight, and still innocent enough to enjoy life with the fervor he lost to adolescence. He plays with the neighborhood children: Lucy, who grew up to become a power-hungry doctor; Mitch, who killed his girlfriend when her eyes began to stray; and Nik, who hung himself with his father’s tie when they were twelve. None of that touches them here. They concern themselves only with whose turn it is on Lucy’s tricycle, or how to evenly divide the chocolate bar they buy with their pooled change.

“Lazy” describes their summer utterly. It drifts by them in a haze of powdered lemonade and the thick smoke off a barbeque grill. As children do, they find ways to fill the long hours that stretch before them like highways. Jack likes hopscotch. He always has, ever since he learned how to jump; it makes him feel like he is a tree frog, a green one he once read about in a book about the Amazon. He has powerful legs for his age, his mother tells him. She asks if he might like to run for a team when he grows up, and Jack asks if there is a team for hopscotch. She shakes her head solemnly, her eyes shining like she wants to laugh but doesn’t have the heart. It’s just as well, he thinks. He’s too good for a team; the other guys would never have a chance.

Nik is the “quiet one.” Jack’s mother often suggests they invite him along on their adventures; Jack knows she does it because his mother feels sorry for Nik. Sometimes, Jack wishes they didn’t have to bring Nik along, because the boy cries like a baby when they forget him. Nik collects stones. He likes the cool weight of them in his palm; likes how, when he plops them onto the earth, they sound like the steady beat of his heart. Some nights he spends repeatedly dropping one on the carpet of his bedroom, in part to drown out his mother’s shrieks, but mostly to remind himself of the same rhythm thumping inside his chest.

Over his sleeping body, the worry has bled from the guardian faces, ushered out by bitter frustration. The women plead with his still form, beat half-hearted fists against his chest. The wife has to be taken forcibly from the room when her hysterical cries begin to irritate the old doctor. Physically, nothing ails Jack: he is as healthy as he was at sixteen. And yet – though it is his mind that is ill – that is dying – Dr. Cameron quietly tells Jack’s mother that if they cannot wake him soon, Jack’s muscles will begin to atrophy and his brain will shut down: Jack will be permanently disabled, if not dead. Silently, the mother weeps.

In the wake of this information, Amy sleeps on an inflatable mattress at the foot of their shared bed. The first few nights she passes by Jack’s side. The specters which haunt her dreams drive her to haul the mattress out of the garage: her mind finds it unsettling, she imagines, to lie so intimately beside a body which owes more of itself to death than life. Her nights pass restlessly, vast hours of contemplation and doubt. Buried somewhere inside her is the surety that her husband will never wake; that she will never feel his strong fingers in her hair; that his voice will fade from her consciousness.

Teachers call Mitch ‘aggressive.’ His mother shakes her head as she reads his term report cards aloud. Anymore, she growls to the socks she folds, no one appreciates a boy who knows what he wants. Later, Mitch will channel the bulk of his energy into boxing, but an excess will remain that he’ll find makes relationships difficult. Lucy considers his aggression a useful trait for her particular mission.

“What do you mean, ‘we aren’t real’?” Mitch asks. He sits on Lucy’s front lawn, arms stretched behind to prop himself up.

Lucy explains that Jack is manipulating them to find happiness. She knows it sounds crazy, she says, but it’s the truth. And the worst part is that if Jack decides he likes his real life better, the rest of them will be gone, like dust: dreams are immaterial.

Mitch accepts the explanation easier than Lucy had expected. “We have to keep him happy, then,” he says calmly. His head nods in slow agreement to his own statement. Lucy smiles, her eyes grim for an eight-year-old’s: it sounds like an easy feat, but she knows that eventually, Jack will know that they are all nothing more than shadows.

In the wheat fields behind their subdivision, a barn stands abandoned, forgotten: except by Jack and his friends, who spend long summer afternoons in its musty loft. Hay still litters the floor, and scratches at their skin when they lie on their stomachs, legs kicking in the air as they tell each other stories. Jack likes it here, likes the stale smell of horses, likes the sunlight that filters through cracks in the roof. He imagines living here, running away from his family and their idea of “respectability”; he imagines living the rest of his life in this barn. It would be a dream come true, he tells himself.

“Wouldn’t it be great if life could be like this forever?” Lucy asks, her voice soft. There is a stone clenched against Nik’s palm.

“That would be so perfect,” Jack replies, a slow smile spreading across his face. “The best life ever.”

“There’s no change,” Amy tells her mother-in-law. “You really don’t need to stay here.”

“Dear, I am not leaving until my son wakes up.” The older woman scowls, the lines in her face worn and practiced.

Living under the same roof as her daughter-in-law proves to be an immense challenge. The girl perceives herself to be in charge, believing she knows Jack better than his own mother. The impudence annoys more than it makes sense to, but the old woman supposes that in a situation like this she deserves to be a little tetchy. At night she lies awake on the sofa in the den, her breaths shallow as she prays. It’s not an activity she indulges in often; she believes that whoever is listening has better things to do than attend to the complaints of mortals. But these nights she feels especially adrift, and anxious. These nights, her heart beats quicker than usual and fiercely pushes her blood through her body. She has never felt more mortal: so she begs a god she hardly believes in to save her son.

They take their meals separately. Amy eats an hour earlier than her mother-in-law, who finds it absolutely barbaric to sup earlier than eight in the evening. It’s her Southern upbringing, she explains tersely.

“You can’t expect me to be perfect,” Amy responds, eyes helpless.

Jack lies in bed at night, superhero sheets pulled up to his chin. The plastic stars above his head twinkle in their own way: they provide an eerie backdrop for the thoughts that circle his mind. Childhood is easy. He is not the first in realizing this, nor is he the last. As a young boy, he has no responsibilities, beyond finishing his vegetables. He has time to be happy.

After dinner one night he asks his mother what kinds of things he can grow up to be.

“You can do anything you like, Jack,” she says as she scrubs at the meat platter. “Anything at all. And as long as you’re happy, I will be happy too.” She smiles and hums to herself, and Jack does not tell her that when he grows up she will very much disapprove of his profession. She will tell him often, in her favorite clipped tones, that he will never be able to support a family on a florist’s wages.

The children enjoy their idle days, languid in the broiling sun. This day smolders, the air thick enough to kiss their sweaty shoulders as they trudge through the cropped field. Lucy hums a lullaby to herself; Nik scoops up flat stones from the hot soil. The faded red barn looms in the distance, shimmering in the oily lines of heat. Mitch and Jack smirk sidelong at each other before taking off at breakneck speed, leaving the woeful moans of Nik behind them. The wind is refreshingly cool against their faces, and they taunt each other through harsh breaths. They collapse in the shadow of the barn, laughing and choking on air as they wait for the others. Nik pouts, glowering with teary eyes at his friends; Lucy clumsily wraps an arm around his shoulders and she whispers gentle placating words, and spares a glare for the other boys. Together, they slide the door open enough to allow them through, wincing as one at the protesting shriek of the hinges. Once they’ve climbed the creaky ladder, they stretch out in the loft. Jack claims the dwindling pile of hay; he bites a piece between his teeth, waggling it at his friends. Nik drops his stones over the edge of the platform, relishing the sharp crack each one makes as it meets the concrete floor below. A mocking bird sings from under the eaves.

“What do you guys think about growing up?” Jack asks, the question riding on a rush of exhaled air. Only barely does he have to fight to keep his tone innocent. Mitch looks at him sharply.

“Why would you ever think about growing up?” Lucy asks carefully. There is a hint of disgust behind her words, Jack notes.
Eyes focused on the beams in the roof, Jack shrugs. “Just wondering what it will be like.” Except I already know he does not think. Nik drops another stone, and the electric tension breaks.

That night, Jack takes a bath. He splashes and makes a great mess, much to his mother’s dismay. He plays submarine and war and thinks nothing of the men he sends to watery, bubbly deaths. The voice, when it speaks to him, startles him enough to drop the plastic boat in his hands. Its sweet cream tone is achingly familiar. Bubbles deflate in the water around him. Jack’s eyes widen when the entreaties hum in his ears.

“Jack,” she whispers. “I don’t – the doctor said you might be able to hear if we spoke to you.” Amy takes a breath and even from here Jack knows she is crying. “You have to wake up, Jack. There’s no point to this. I need…Your mother and I need you to be here.” Jack feels a phantom hand on his small chest. “Life is so much better than you think.”

Jack holds his breath, but nothing else follows. He looks down at his bathwater, and the plastic toys floating by his knees. In his logical mind, he knows this isn’t real, nothing more than smoke, but to be faced with Amy, to know how she suffers from his actions: it has been easy to forget all of that before, but to listen to Amy’s voice as it cracks with grief, as though she has already begun to mourn him proves to be distressing. His child’s heart pounds in his chest. The rational part of himself whispers “coward,” and that curse settles round his neck like a loyal albatross.

In the comfortable confines of his office, Doctor Cameron begins to draw up a case summary. He admits that a situation such as this would be better in the hands of a psychologist; but he’s never seen anything quite like it, and so can’t bear to give it up. If the patient’s wife can be trusted, Jack O’Connor has been unresponsive for just under two months, which is long enough to make any doctor cringe with dread. He feels with his medic’s surety that this ordeal will not end well, and he suppresses a shudder at the thought of the wife, distraught. Perhaps a psychologist would be better suited, after all.

Days drift pass Jack, but the voice does not fade from his thoughts. It creeps in when he thinks it has gone, and whispers him to tears. His friends notice the sudden change in his mood: more than once, he catches Lucy glaring pointedly at Mitch. After a while, Jack refuses to leave his bed. His mother blames the flu, and brings cool drinks and a wet flannel to his bedside. Visitors are turned away.

Lucy, Mitch and Nik loll about in the loft, and one would suppose they are bereft without Jack. Nik rubs a stone between his fingers. A strong breeze whips through the open door, tearing scraps of hay through the barn. The children press fingers over their eyes to protect from dust and errant hay. Once the air around them settles, Mitch reaches his palms towards the sky and blows out a breath between his teeth.

“He’s wondering.” It is not a question, but a statement of what they have feared most in the last month.

“I know he is,” Lucy sighs. “We haven’t done a good enough job.”

Mitch’s jaw clenches. He does not like feeling powerless: that is why he learned to fight back. So now, knowing that at any time his existence (imaginary as it is) can blink out, Mitch feels, quite simply, scared. He refuses to be at the mercy of Jack.
“We have to end it, before he does.”

Lucy eyes him seriously. Her rigid frame expresses her reservation clearer than the words she does not say. Nik drops his stone, eyes going round when it shatters upon impact.

The moonlight is iridescent. Jack shivers and blinks; he cannot remember how he got to the loft. More frightening than that, though, is the realization that his body no longer belongs to a child, but a middle-aged man; in this instant the awareness pummels him: he is no longer in control of the dream. The barn door is closed and latched, and an unshakeable foreboding closes over him. Over the rush of blood his in his ears, Jack can hear three stones dropped, precisely, behind him. His lungs turn to ice.

“It’s not worth it, Jack,” Lucy intones. “You’re happier here with us, and you know it.” Jack shakes his head and opens his mouth to plead, to swear any oath.

“We know what you’ve been doing!” Mitch yells. His voice is raw, as though he’s been screaming for days. “And we know that you’re thinking about ending it! We know, Jack!” Jack can feel the boy’s dangerous anger sparking the air. The ghost of Amy’s voice clings to him, and he feels warm.

“Mitch, do it,” Lucy hisses. The hands press against his shoulders so quickly that Jack cannot think to struggle. His feet stumble under him as the body at his back propels him towards the edge of the loft. It’s a twenty-foot drop at least; he knows he won’t survive, and briefly wonders if it’s true what they say, about dying in dreams. As he flips through the air, he imagines he hears a sob, ringing in his ears. He gasps in that instant before his bones smash against the concrete floor, shattering in a solid crack.

It’s three in the morning when the doctor leans back from the bed. His face is solemn, his voice preternaturally soft as he tells them that there is nothing he could have done. Amy bursts into hysterical shrieks, as he’d predicted. The mother stares unseeingly at her son’s body; in her head, she hears his laughter as it had been when he was a child, hopping around the house like a frog.
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