Raft

— Sylvia Sukop

I wish Id written this when I first woke up; dreams are always best fresh from the unconscious oven. Instead, I sailed straight into morning at the mercy of a cat who needs to be fed and played with and have his boudoir cleaned. His tall-tail confidence depends on me. But all day the dream trailed me—a bloated cartoon thought bubble—and now it’s midnight. Once again the cat’s in charge. A perfect circle, floating in blissful repose on the warm swell of my thighs while my so-called laptop is pushed at an awkward angle off to my left, teetering on the up-curved armrest with no support. I’m torquing my upper body, already prone to a pinched nerve in the cervical spine, to reach the backlit keys with sideways hands pressing harder than necessary to keep the whole set-up from keeling over. The dream was intense. I want and do not want it revived. I have to get to an island named for a tropical one in the Pacific, however, this one is barren, seven miles offshore from a cold place, short on daylight, surrounded by black and bumpy seas. I decide I can get to the island on my own—even though I’m setting out later than planned, near nightfall, and the water freezing, with nothing but a small inflatable raft. This same round raft, rimmed in yellow rope, that my father had blown up with his once-ample breath in Atlantic City, our only-ever beach vacation when I was young. He made us all hang onto it, his many children petals clinging to a manic daisy, as waves reared and tumbled. We shrieked. We flailed. We begged to return to shore. Was this fun? At least the sun was shining, the water was bright blue, and my father stayed with us, though the next day he’d be in the hospital with sun poisoning. Sun poisoning! Even now, to verify such astronomic villainy, I have to look it up. In the dream I must reach the island that night for a special event somehow centered on me. While still on the mainland, I encounter several friends, one silent in a heavy coat emptying his mailbox in a grid of mailboxes in an apartment building lobby, flickering candles, creaking hinges, Dark Shadows. Outside, another friend, seabirds squawking overhead, wanly suggests I should maybe look into flying—she’s heard there might be flights. But no one tells me it’s impossible. No one says: You will die out there, don’t do it. I am terrified, my determination fake. How did I become my only doubter? The raft is red on one side and blue on the other. For all I know my father’s feet never left the ground.


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