Listen to this story here:
The dream was always the same: it was almost November, and he was ice fishing with his grandfather, and the baby sharks were circling under the thick cloudy ice beneath their boots. He was feeling cheerful, despite the wind numbing the tips of his ears and the unscratchable itch creeping along the middle of his back; these were things that ordinarily irritated him and made him morose. But that day he was feeling good. An envelope had come that morning. From her. There was a photograph, and she moved in it as he rotated it back and forth. This part of the dream he especially liked. At one angle, she looked down shyly, and at another angle, she looked straight ahead with the slightest smile. She was standing beneath a palm tree, an open air market blurry behind her.
On the back, she had written: still waiting for you.
He had never made it past that point. Always the alarm, or Judith nudging him awake, or the kids crawling over him, squealing Daddy, or even when there was nothing to wake him: it just stopped, like the film had run out.
Do you ever have recurring dreams? he asked Ray, over their nightly beers at Smokey's.
What, said Ray, you mean like... oh, for crying out loud! He'd been looking up at the television above the bar. Then he wiped the corners of his mouth, and turned back.
What were you saying? Ray asked.
Never mind, he said. Nothing important.
The sharks he understood. There had been a field trip to the zoo when he was in grade school and an incident with a zookeeper that had turned out to be nothing, really, but had still scared him, being so young. But the rest confused him. He had never known his grandfather. Couldn't even say a single thing about the old man, so what was he doing showing up in his sleep?
And, of course, there was the girl. Still waiting for him, but where? But there was nothing more to be seen in the dream. What he had been given was all there was. So in his waking life, he looked. He looked for her when they went on vacation in Santa Monica. He looked for her in crowds at the mall while his wife shopped for Christmas presents. He kept his eyes open. It was all he could do, until it was night again, and time to sleep.