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Jeremy wants to remember, not so much the image in his dream, but the sublime and liberating sensation of possessing Ella Sproul, of loving her without consequences or judgments. He wants to reclaim the dream for a moment before he is fully conscious because then even he would judge himself a scoundrel. In this hypopompic state, Bridget does not exist, is not his wife, is not pregnant; Wally is not under the twin bed in the next room wearing two pairs of flannel Pokemon pajamas, one on top of the other, and Ella reciprocates his love. But the gauzy moment evaporates and the day unfolds, and Jeremy is reminded of the movie “Groundhog Day” as he carefully squeezes a dollop of toothpaste and brushes as quietly as possible. He keeps a full glass of water on the counter from the night before so he doesn’t have to use the faucet and risk the sound of the splashing against the sides of the sink. It’s 5:30 am, what Jeremy calls his “precious hour” before Wally awakes and begins making demands to which Bridget on bed rest can only partially respond. There will be the insistence on again checking the deck of Pokemon cards to make sure they are in alphabetical order----Abra-type psychic; Absol. Last night, Jeremy reviewed the Pokemon names with Wally in exacting detail for over an hour, but Wally squeezed his eyes shut when they got to “H” because “H” Wally said, is an unlucky letter.
“Why?” Jeremy asked. “I never knew that “H” was unlucky for you?”
“It’s the eighth letter of the alphabet and on the eighth month of this year, our demon is being born.”
“Your little sister is not a demon,” Jeremy chuckles, the way he imagines other parents sound when reacting to an utterance of their wise and wry child---like the Linking Tunnel instead of The Lincoln or asking why people say that teeth come in, when they actually come out. There’s more worry than wonderment though when Wally speaks because his voice sounds robotic and he’s not trying to be funny. Wally’s serious about the demon. Wally says he can see through his mother’s stomach, through her membrane.
In the semi-darkness, Jeremy’s foot brushes over the Banana Republic khakis that he wore yesterday—the ones that Ella Sproul said looked good on him. “Just the right fit, Mr. Artichoke,” she said. And the pants, which heretofore, had meant so little to him became a wrinkled totem. He had been too tired to hang them before he went to bed. Wally had started crying around 9:30 about the letter “H” again.
“It’s what hate and hell begin with.”
“And happy,” said Jeremy, but still Wally cried until 11:00.
After that Jeremy needed to watch the local news broadcast. He needed the stories about house fires and capsized boats on Long Island Sound and Wall Street swindlers. And then he needed David Letterman’s monologue. Letterman had confessed to sleeping with an intern. He said it was a stupid mistake, a lapse of judgment. How long does a lapse of judgment last, Jeremy wondered. How many more awkward moments would there be when Jeremy and Ella stood in alone in a classroom otherwise emptied of students, and linger as the late afternoon sun hung on the dusty windowsills. How many more times would his hand brush her shoulder. And both of them would find there was nothing to say. Ella was a sparkling conversationalist about 21st Century conflict, anti-slavery movements, the value of micro-loans to entrepreneurial equatorial women. When Ella Sproul stopped talking, it was for a reason. What was the reason, Jeremy wondered, and then he thought of his dream and he hoped he was the reason. So far, Jeremy was Jimmy Carter---a man of thoughts and no actions, tempted not fallen. Perhaps it was not even temptation, but merely an acknowledgement that he was alive.
“Jerry!” This is the name that Wally uses to summon Jeremy when he is in a sour mood. “I’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed.”
Jeremy enters Wally’s small bedroom, black shades on the windows, shelves of Star Wars memorabilia, a single bed with its quilt still made. Wally, on the floor tucked deeply in a sleeping bag, blinks his brown eyes.
“Before you say a word,” Jeremy whispers, “just know that you couldn’t have awoken on the wrong side of the bed. You didn’t sleep in the bed. Please, don’t put yourself in a mood that will ruin the whole day.”
“It’s the left side that’s unlucky,” Wally says.
“Can you get dressed, please? Time for school.”
Wally squirms out of the sleeping bag, a frown across his face. He opens his drawer and pulls out a pair of corduroys.
“Take off your pajamas first, Wally.”
“One pair only. I need the other pair on today to protect me from my clothes.”
Dr. Eastman advised Jeremy and Bridget to pick their battles with Wally, but Jeremy already knew this and wondered why he had to pay $145 per hour for her clinical pearls of wisdom. Jeremy had experience eleven years of battles, skirmishes, negotiations, tantrums, and meltdowns. Jeremy wished he could tell Dr. Eastman about Ella Sproul. That Dr. Eastman could focus on him for half the session. That he could somehow unpack Ella, spread her across the canvas of his emotions and analyze in detail what she was beside what was so obvious---the buttery lips, the plaid pleated skirt, knee socks---physical, sartorial clichés of immature desire, Jeremy thinks. He wants to kick himself in the head, kick out the ruinous thoughts. But he likes the thoughts. They are soothing and distracting. And they are only thoughts. Thoughts are legal. But thoughts lead to words, words to action. And there was no turning back. What was that quote from St. Augustine? There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. The disease of curiosity.
Jeremy doesn’t argue with Wally about leaving the first pair of pajamas on.
“Fine,” he says. “Just dress yourself.”
Wally shimmies out of the sleeping bag and stands before his dresser. He makes the sign of the cross three times, opens and closes the drawer twice, touches the alarm clock once. Jeremy watches from the doorway, straightening his flag of China tie---the one he bought on the semester abroad with his junior class three years ago. It was easy shuttling those girls around from The Great Wall to Tiananmen Square---their blonde hair, red hair, chestnut hair contrasted with the sea of black heads. There were some pretty girls in that group, but they stuck together in a tight pod. Ella Sproul was just a freshman then, not even on his horizon.
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