I need the talents of an animator. Words alone cannot convey the horror of the dream I awoke from this morning:
Pearl had been at her neighbors’ house, and they stood together outside saying goodnight. They were selling the house and moving, abruptly. Pearl was sad. She had thought they’d never leave. They were moving to Ouray, the Little Switzerland of Colorado, alpine peaks capped with snow year round, hot springs.
I can’t say, said Sara, not yet. You’ll know later.
Did Pete get a job at the old Cocker ranch?
Yes, said Pete, and Sara shushed him, but it was too late.
I won’t tell, said Pearl. What, are you the foreman?
They stood outside under the stilted deck. But what’s there to manage? she pursued, there’s no cattle, it’s just that old oil well at the top.
It dawned on her. The old oil well must be fruitful again. But you’re a coal man, she argued, what do you know about oil?
It’s what he’s known for, Sara said with her slow southern smile.
This was news to Pearl. She knew him for fruit.
The renters came with a question. Pearl walked away. She turned back, and caught up with Pete near the top of the driveway. But why? she asked.
I don’t trust anyone anymore, he said. She shrugged, hurt, and walked away down the road. At the intersection with the dirt road, massive construction was underway. She thought this odd, as it was just dusk. Backhoes were scraping the slopes on either side of the road. Concrete mixers were mixing and pouring a turf-green foam along the west side. Are you making a sidewalk? she asked the foreman. Yes, he said. But on the south side, where she was walking, the shoulder was being scraped away, and the road was all roughed up along the edge, and there was nowhere for her to walk except the middle of the road, and she couldn’t get there anyway, she was too far down the slope to step up to the roadbed. Ron, it was Ron from the phone company years ago, helped her up into his pickup bed, and from there she stepped into another truck bed, and from there was able to access the road.
She walked the middle of the dirt road around the first curve, and was appalled to see that the cliff on the south side had been gouged all the way to the top. There wasn’t a cliff on the south side. But there was, and it had been gouged and scraped, a rough roadcut that was even now still dropping loose rocks. Three teenage boys walked around the next curve toward her, dodging rocks. She dashed past them and narrowly escaped a rock crashing down behind her, and turned into her driveway. But it too had been torn up with an earth mover, and she scrambled her way through piles and walls of rough dirt along a narrow path. What the hell?
The walls of dirt rose higher and higher around her, the driveway now a former road filled with a gathering of local ranchers and churchgoers. It was Helen Wakefield’s funeral, and barely a field remained on one side of the mountains of dirt that crowded the lane. The people sat at picnic tables and on pickup tailgates, and milled curiously in the lane. Across the field a cliff rose.
Where is my driveway? Pearl asked someone. It should be here.
She started down a fork that curved sharply to the left and crossed a buried stream. This was not her driveway. She returned to the gathering and asked again. I need to get home, she insisted. Your house is gone, a man said, it fell in on itself while they were working. But my dogs! She thought she had left them in the pen and maybe they were alright. She took off down the straight fork, through a narrow canyon of scraped cliffs and piles of dirt mounded on both sides of what should have been her driveway.
Far ahead she saw her black cat, plumed tail twitching, walking toward her, but he veered out of sight. She caught a glimpse of Raven even farther away, and ran toward them. But she could not get through the piles of dirt, which grew taller and taller, and then found herself amidst cranes, bulldozers, pylons and barriers of concrete, a jumble of excavating equipment and blocks of rock and cement, and slabs of steel and exposed rebar. And hostile workmen who jeered at her efforts to clamber on over and beyond their awful mess of random jagged chunks of destruction.
She climbed down and down deeper into the unwinding pit of their debris, it made no sense, it went on and on, picking her way carefully stepping from one slab or chunk to another always heading down, knowing at the end of this travail would be her home and her dogs. But it would not end. The workmen became sparse, the mass of blocks and spikes and boulders and grew up around her as she climbed down and down. Scaffolding emerged, the jumble expanded, opened out before her ever increasing in scope. Anger and anxiety gave way to careless despair, and soon she was swinging under scaffold bars and dropping onto concrete cubes perilously angled and sliding onto more tilted slabs and chunks. As far as she could see out and down just mountains of steel and concrete. No light. Shades of grey, and black, blocks and slabs and scaffolds, rods and stacks and sheets of metal, truck-sized hunks of aggregate, concrete, I-beams, and then some containers, boxes, crates, wood and metal and cardboard.
A man in a red Home Depot shirt waved at her from above to the right where he stood on a shelf. Dust covered her, and sweat. She crawled and leapt and stepped down and down the winding mountain. There had been no daylight for a long time. Hours. Maybe days. She could not bear to look up because when she did all she could see was more of the same chaos. No light at the end, or at the top, or anywhere among the sides.
At one point she spied her two dogs, below and beyond, and veered and called to them, and in the shifting planes of their efforts they came closer. She was able to hold Raven’s head for a moment, look into Stellar’s eyes, and then they were separated again. The air became murkier, dustier, dirtier. Concrete and steel had given way entirely to containers. Huge shipping containers piled akimbo, wooden crates, corrugated cardboard boxes bigger than she was. Small boxes slipping down behind her. She picked her way more carefully. The newness of all the crates and boxes faded as she slipped and slid and fought her way down. Surely, surely this would end eventually.
There were ramps, now, between the dusty piles of cartons, bins, racks, and shelves that towered around her. The angle of her descent decreased. The going was easier but she was exhausted. A menacing figure loomed suddenly and began to chase her. She outran this person, spotted her dogs far ahead, and then a zombie, yes a real live zombie reared up from behind a pile of crates and roared at her. She was fed up and reckless. She had nothing to lose. She yelled back at the zombie and it paused. She turned and ran on through corridors of containers, crates, now flimsy boxes. She ran and ran, now and then catching a glimpse of the dogs, frequently struggling through obstacles of boxes and walls and tilted floors.
A slant of light pierced the dust. She was almost there! Almost through this nightmare. Then it was gone. She ran on through an endless garage of filthy clutter piled now only twice her height, corrugated doors to nowhere, here and there a glimpse of sunlight filtering through a crack in the oddly angled walls. Each hopeful glance of light she aimed for, and always it was obliterated with more piles, another hostile person threatening her. A wide patch of light at the end of the concrete slab she ran on, and there were her dogs.
They ran together, dodging collapsing piles, all squares and cubes and angles, and finally, finally slipped out through a crack in the wall, onto her old gravel road. A man in a pickup truck said he would be right back. He would bring her a piece of paper and a pen. A contract.
It was pre, pre-dawn. Just enough light to know it was no longer the middle of the night. Trembling, I curled from my stomach onto my side, tucked my knees between the sleeping dogs, wrapped the girl dog with my shins and feet, the boy dog with my arms. Breathed. Heaved in the cold air. Shuddered it out. This. This is real. I inhaled deeply again. And again, slowly. Exhaled. Inhale. Exhale. Squeezed the dog. Tucked tighter between the two of them, still half asleep, the dream still vivid. This, I thought, this is water.