By Liz Shine
I sleep through my alarm. Sometimes, I let the hell-clock buzz for more than an hour. Sometimes, in the throes of a delicious sleep fantasy, I convince myself that I must have made a mistake in setting it the night before. I tell myself, I don’t have to work today–perhaps not ever. I only need sleep. Sleep is where I am getting the real work done.
At the time, this all seems wonderfully logical.
I blame the dreams every time I’m late for work and even once explained this to a boss.
“It’s this dream! Every night the same dream. There’s this mannequin torso that has been—I don’t know—dumped into the ocean or something—.”
My boss raised her eyebrows, puckered her lips, placed her hand on her disbelieving hip.
“Are you telling me you can’t get to work on time because of a dream?”
“It’s not just a dream. It’s just floating there surrounded by all these jellyfish—hundreds of them. ”
Her nostrils flared. She tapped her foot.
“Go home.” She turned toward a rack of dresses she had been pricing before I walked in late, with my story.
“I’m not sick. That’s not what I’m saying…”
My mouth snapped shut. For a moment, her rejection stung, but by the time I had clocked out and stepped out the into the foot traffic of the mall, I realized the whole thing was really my idea. I mean, I basically quit.
That marked the end of my three month career in retail clothing sales at Tres Foxy. Now, I work at a kiosk selling flat irons. The kiosk is just outside the food court. I’ve worked in one—two—three….nine and a half stores in this mall.
Hold The Bun only counts as half a job because I didn’t make it through the first week. Titty tassels and elbow pads. I just couldn’t do it. Even after I convinced myself that the polyester uniform would be sexy and fun. No amount of strutting after I put it on could make that fantasy real.
Kiosk jobs? Six-Weeks-To-A-Thinner-You, Cell Phones, and Flat Irons. I’ve worked retails clothes, novelties, greeting cards, imports, and mineral make-up, and I still haven’t found my calling.
I’m a vivid dreamer. Lately, it’s been the jellyfish dream. Before that, it was the carousel on top of the mountain. Before that, the bird wildlife preserve. Those are the latest. I have notebooks full of dreams and three dream dictionaries, but it’s tricky to pinpoint what images or events in dreams mean because there are multiple possibilities for any single thing and even then, a thing can represent the opposite of its literal meaning. There are different meanings for chase dreams, flying dreams, and teeth dreams, for instance. And an apple, the smell of licorice in the air, or the color mauve can mean different things, depending on all the other parts of the dream. Trying to remember all these aspects of any given dream takes time and discipline. That’s why I keep a notebook beside my bed. I have a closet full of dream notebooks.
That was my mom’s idea. I used to wake up every night and knock on her door wanting to describe my dreams to her. She bought me a notebook and my first dream dictionary.
“What is this for?” I asked.
“So you can write down all those crazy dreams you have and make sense of them and stop waking me up in the middle of the night.”
It was a hard habit to build at first, but every time I showed up at my mother’s door in my night gown, she would give me that look and shoo me out.
Here I am, late again. Out of excuses. Another day at the fucking mall. Working at the mall is all I’ve done since high school. I spend my evenings watching girls like I couldn’t stand in high school walk up and down the mall, laughing at nothing, whispering, flipping their flat-ironed hair. I tried taking classes at the junior college the September after graduation, but I fell behind and kept missing class, and had no idea what grand future all the thinking and talking and studying would lead me to. The books and essays we read were depressing and the way class discussions pressed me flat, with the weight of what we know and don’t know kept breaking my heart.
Maybe this dream has something to do with me being a Pisces, a water sign. Maybe the jellyfish represent all my ex-boyfriends? I was dating a Scorpio when I read in The Astrology of Love or something like that about Pisces-Scorpio telepathy and ever since, I keep falling for Scorpios.
My friend Miranda, who is also a Pisces, says we are the dryer lint of humanity. I’m in another cynical phase and beginning to think she’s right. A love addict, like a drug addict, cannot causally indulge.
So, I am done with love.
It’s only June now, but I might go back to school in September. I want to be a nurse. Because I’m a caregiver and because Miranda says nurses do pretty well. Her mom is a nurse, sort of. A CNA now, but graduating soon with her LPN.
I am tired of being broke. Tired of selling shit I think is a waste of money. Tired of the mall, the way voices carry and the lights. The fluorescents I am sure are giving me cancer. The grandpa who runs the little supplement store in my neighborhood says so. He also says the colloidal silver supplement that costs only forty dollars every few weeks will cure anything. I don’t believe it, think maybe what I have to cure is of another sort, an incurable sort, but I buy it, just in case.
Cliques of girls walk by, giggling and bumping shoulders. Boys slouch-walk, hands in pockets, iPod jewelry. They all wear flip-flops. Wanderers of my generation looking for what? A flat-iron? If I didn’t work at the mall, I would never come to the mall. Every moment I am there I can feel my life-energy draining away, which is why I am now taking DHA and GABA every day.
Mom always called me her “little genius.” Apparently I’d scored pretty high on some IQ test her genius brother gave me at Thanksgiving when I was six. I didn’t turn out how they thought I would. I heard my mother once say over the phone to her sister, before she took off to “find herself”, “I don’t know what to do. She’s got the brains. She’s just so lazy. I’d kill for her brains.” Now she’s in Costa Rica with her latest and not greatest boyfriend, Bill.
I am not lazy. I just don’t enjoy doing things I don’t feel like doing.
Like this job, for instance. I have flat-ironed twelve heads of hair, the twelfth girl eyed my work in the kiosk mirror, wrinkling her nose and puffing our her lips, as I breathed in the smell of burnt hair and cinnamon from Cinnabon across the way and I knew then that I had to go and that I wouldn’t come back. One can be reckless about employment when the rent is cheap and split six ways, when the work is the sort that is easiest to find, the sort I never had any trouble finding.
Our crammed apartment is empty when I return. I make myself three grilled cheese sandwiches and two cans of tomato soup and eat it all. Satisfied, I pull the curtain that divides my section of the living room off from the rest of the apartment and enter the space I call home, close the curtain again behind me. I sleep and dream the dream.
I sit on the rocks at the end of the jetty. The place is familiar and, at first, there is nothing strange at all. I listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks, feel the thrumming of that repetitive motion, and count things. Forty seven sea gulls. One hundred twenty three mussel clams. Eight starfish. And that’s when things get strange. Just when they seem familiar. How I wind up in the water, I don’t know. One moment I’m counting starfish, the next I’m in deep water without an oxygen tank, floating around in the dark.
Thing is, I can breathe just fine after the initial panic of holy shit I’m in water without an oxygen tank wears off. That’s when the mannequin appears. Just a torso and a head actually, a head that looks just like one of those antique Barbie heads with the slanty eyes and pinched up mouth.
I can’t make any sense of where I am or what I am doing here, though every time I dream the dream, my thoughts are scrambled in trying to make it mean something. The mannequin floats up. I’m staring at her. She is staring at me. She wants me to flat iron her hair. Just as I notice she is wearing white earbuds, her mouth opens in some kind of operatic howl, but all I hear is the sonic whisper of silence deepening.
Then, enter jellyfish. Hundreds of them, faster than I can count. Thousands, maybe and they are all moving in on me. Though I am scared stiff, I want to stay in the dream, because I want to know what it means.
Sometimes my alarm wakes me.
Sometimes my roommates.
Sometimes my own fear because right about the time the mannequin morphs into the big mother jellyfish my heart begins to race, even though I know what will happen next.
The jelly body will swallow me whole and I’ll know I must be dying because white-light is blinding me and everything stops: the beating of my heart, my puzzled thoughts, my wide-eyed shallow breaths.
And then it all starts up again and I am sitting on the rocks, listening to the waves crash and recede, and counting things.
One hundred forty-eight rock crabs.
Copyright Shine 2012