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Night Drives

by Diane Hoover Bechtler

Late at night I drive and drive away from town until the large things become small, until the skyscrapers look like randomly stacked Legos. For hours I drive with the river on my left flowing against me. When I jerk my head back from the coming doze, I turn the car homeward and guide it safely into its snug garage bay.

I pass the bed and head for my computer to shop. From my list of possibilities, I choose a suitcase. I will search for the perfect suitcase knowing all suitcases have compromises. The perfect suitcase does not exist.

Nearly asleep at my keyboard, I finally crawl then fall into bed; I wish, dreamlessly. But no, the dreams arrive on schedule before dawn, predictable in their timing if not in their content.

Often I return to California in those gray hours so like smog. My husband appears to me with his new wife. He says, “I'm leaving you,” or he says, “You can come along with us, the third at the altar.”

I do not sacrifice myself but turn and walk away, ruined. While light fights to overcome night, I am pulled to that moment, those days, that darkness.

The dreams change, but not the end. He leaves me.

I walk the sidewalks of UCLA. I'm still a smoker in this dream, and I stamp my cigarette on the ground. A passerby says, “Pick it up. Throw it away. Don't drop your detritus, your minutia for us to clean.” A crowd gathers jeering, “You cannot so easily leave things behind. Not the large. Nor the small. Pick it up.”

“Some people can leave things behind,” I reply.

I'm driving on one of the tangled Los Angeles freeways. A truck crowds me into the guardrail to my left. My infant plays in his car seat, so I steady my hands on the wheel, that endless circle guiding us. The car door scrapes the metal rail, sending sparks across the pavement. My son looks at me with all the trust a baby has. I hit the rail, the truck pushing us into it time after time, the sparks flying and I remember...

The fire.

I throw my pots and pans into the crib and place my son in the left corner. My husband is not home; I am alone. The Pasadena hills behind me blaze. I drag the crib to the road and push it. My son needs my protection. We choke on smoke as the crib begins to move down the hill on its own, me running after it, the boy smiling, reaching. I cannot keep up. The crib disappears.

My husband drops into my dream. He speaks of his coming child, his pregnant wife beside him. He speaks of my son by his name. “But he is your son also,” I do not say.

“We're here to help. Just call.” The couple walks away and my son becomes just mine.

After driving for an hour, after searching for the perfect suitcase online, I collapse in bed again.

At dawn, I stand in front of my door watching the police car arrive. I hear the crunching gravel. The man comes to me holding his hat in his hands. I fall to my knees...

Then wake.

I am too heavy to move from my treacherous bed, my nightly conveyor belt to hell. I cry on the pillow until I can drag myself past my display of broken shells given to me by my son, the ones left behind, the shells nobody else wanted. The collection is from the cruise, when the water was smooth, and he was the one smoking, and I telling him to “pick it up” when he flung the stub on white sand.

If I don't tell him, will he pick it up?

I sip strong coffee to help me face the day. I call it the nightmare chaser. I need its help once more.

Copyright © 2009 by Diane Hoover Bechtler

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