Even as my dreams go, it was weird enough. The dreamscape was a very wide river, but it was a salt water river. The ocean was rather long than rather wide. There was no main channel at all but a series of sandbars and deep rifts between them like water braided to sand. I was swimming upstream, against the tide of the river, and I saw the fin of a small shark. I realized where there was a small shark there was room for a much larger one. It’s an odd feeling, this species of fear; suddenly the food chain becomes very personal. Such a small predator, a three or four foot long shark is in an instant not some academic study on a nature show or a video, but part of a much larger dynamic.
As I’m writing this out I’m in Starbucks and there’s a couple here with not one, but two screaming kids. The kids are ready to go somewhere, wherever it is the family is going but the parents want coffee, need coffee, and the kids are acting up in order to get the show on the road. There’s way too many people here right now but I’m waiting on someone.
In the saltwater river I swim to a sandbar to take stock of my situation. I have a long way to swim. I can swim from this sandbar to the one dead ahead, and damn, I ought not use that expression, or I can stay closer to shore and kind of crab my way along. Either way I have to cross over deeper, darker water, beautiful that it is in a greenish blue sort of way. A school of small fish spook me because as one they look like a much larger creature and adrenaline floods my body. But if the smaller fish are moving that slowly they are not being chased. I head towards the sandbar in the middle and cross through a channel that could hide a whale.
“If you can’t be quiet we’re aren’t going, I’ll take you home right now” the father is saying to the kids and even I don’t believe him. The mother is cradling her coffee in both hands and sipping hard. The kids both look a lot like her in a way I really cannot define. It’s the skin tone, I think, like a natural tan, but the hair is fair and curly. Dad is as dark as his unshaven face. The kids are marginally under control which is to say they haven’t started a fire yet. One of them, the youngest, which looks to be about three, nearly collides with my table and the father once against threatens to take them home. There are many half naked people here in swimsuit attire and flip-flops. There are also people in here in pajama looking pants and tank tops. There’s a local water park a couple of exits South of here and I wonder if there’s some event there. It’s odd to write out a dream where I’m swimming and so many people have showed up as extras.
Meanwhile, I’m on the sandbar and I realize I’ve made a mistake. The next sandbar is close but the water is running swiftly through the channel between them. But if I can make it to the next island it looks a lot better from that point on. There’s a bend in the sea river and if I make it to the next sandbar I will be able to see past it. A small fishing boat drifts past me and the fisherman in it tosses a lure nearly at my feet. He’s with a woman who is not fishing but sunning and I wonder if they would give me a ride back to wherever I’m going. They drift close by, then slowly away and I lose an opportunity and I feel it. I feel isolated and alone and exposed. I look downstream and I realize I could backtrack and find a safer route. I choose to swim the channel.
“Jaws” came out during the Summer I was fifteen. The movie didn’t scare me at all but the book was made totally of the awesome. Most people who have never read it do not realize the wife of the Chief of Police had an affair with the shark expert. It was a torrid and incredibly intense scene in the book. The children scream about something and the chain of thought is broken. Ellen Brody, the woman in the book, might have looked like the mother of these two screamers. She looks a little like Lorraine Gary who played the part in the movie. The same skin tone, the same eyes, yes, but this is a woman who looks like a car who has been pushed the point of homicide but is hiding it well. She’s drinking her coffee and letting dad try his hand at child management and he’s failing. I wonder what that’s like for a woman, to know, really know, that her partner can’t handle kids in public. He’s trying to herd them into chairs but he can only catch one at a time. Ellen catches me looking and I wonder what she’s thinking. I wonder what women think men are thinking about when they do get caught looking, but in this case, I don’t see her syncing my thoughts about Lorraine Gary.
I’m not a great swimmer but in the dream I make good time. Something brushes against my foot and I swim harder. I feel it again and keep going, trying not to panic, trying to keep it smooth, and the shore comes at me slowly, thirty feet, twenty five feet, twenty feet, fifteen feet, ten feet, I try to stand but it’s still too deep and I realize there’s a ledge here, and I scramble ashore spitting water out of my mouth and feeling scared. I go to the middle of the sandbar, with its thick soft sand squeaking under my feet, and breathe. I feel safer here and as I look upstream I see a giant bridge. There! That is where I have to go! I’m shaking with fear. Something in deep water, unseen and unknowable, knows I am here.
Dad herds the two kids out and Ellen takes her time getting her stuff up. I look again, this time really looking at her, and she looks back, an eyebrow arches, and she looks away. There’s a black tattoo on her forearm, a symbol of some sort and I won’t ever know what it is or why she got it. The kids dart out of the door as dad holds it open and people are coming in so they’ve managed to gain separation on him. He holds the door for everyone, and Ellen goes out in front of him and as she’s walking to the car she look at me through the window. Dad is behind her so he cannot see her flash me a smile, that smile, before she heads towards the car.
I’m swimming to the next sandbar and suddenly my foot hits the bottom far too soon. The water is draining out of the river as the tide goes out. The next sand bar is connected to the one in front of it now, and I can run between the two. I run hard, knowing I can gain time on my feet that I cannot in the water and the waters recede faster and faster and I run faster and faster. It’s an ungodly speed, I’m flying through the shallows now, sending water up in tiny sheets as I run.
Tyger Lynn barks, maybe at me because I’m dreaming, and I wake up as dawn is peeking into the window at us.
Ellen and her kids, and her husband, and her ink, are gone now. Her twenty second affair with me ends with us both agreeing to go our separate ways without comment. I will miss her, of course, and I think it is a shame she’s bred to the wrong man for all the wrong reasons, but she thought she saw something once that might still be there.
Somewhere, I file away the scene to use later, finish my coffee, and wait.