IF ONLY IN A DREAM is chapter 42 in my first novel, THESE PRECIOUS DAYS. I spent 4 years on TPD almost 25 years ago. I went well over 100 rewrites with the work. After it was completed and rejected all over NY, I little by little resigned to put it away. In a way I surrendered to the world. I lost myself. I went through a long spell in my life where I gave up writing. Two years ago the affliction snuck back. I'll never quit again. What's anything worth if it is easy. I lost sight of my youthful dreams. But they are back. In force. I will never quit again. I have to have meaning. I have to leave something. I am now into my fourth rewrite with TPD since lifting it from the ashes of 25 years ago. My hopes are to have it back into Robert Loomis' hands at Random House before the end of this year. TPD was originally 1,400 pages. I am chiseling it to 400 pages. Using all my instincts. What's important is that I tell the truth. TPD was Guy Davenport's favorite work of mine. Lindy Yeager's, too. Lindy was such a special friend for me. I think we both knew he was going to commit suicide. In the 17 years before he took shot himself in the head, he gave me so much. Instilled the importance art. Showed me what it was to be honest. Gave me his time and his secrets. After his wife had killed herself she had all but killed him. One evening before Christmas I went to the VA hospital and fetched him. He was being monitored for lithium. After graduating from West Point and being one of the top pilots in SAC his wife had committed suicide. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with manic depression. His baby sons were taken from him by his mother-in-law. He was happy that I came for him. He had no one. That night, I read him my Christmas story, IF ONLY IN A DREAM. He kept his back to me by his fireplace as I read. When I was done he turned. His eyes had tears. He said the work was beautiful. Such was praise from Caesar. And remains so.
"My mother was the most beautiful woman in the world and I was blind."
IF ONLY IN A DREAM
December 25, 1982
Santa had on his t-shirt during this seventy degree record warm Christmas. He sat with Sensi watching Wide Eyes tear at packages. Santa sat quiet blinking his eyes, absorbing tears, smiling, trying not to destroy the moment.
Wide Eyes had gotten a Smurf sleeping bag, television, aquarium, rock tumbler, art-deco set, auto harp, dolls, games, books, candy and clothes. With each gift she had hugged Sensi, kissing, smiling in excitement.
Wide Eyes was thrilled knowing Santa had consumed her cookies and milk. Our home lingered with his fresh absence. A cherishable linger where we tried to cling to something we could not keep.
Wide Eyes was a day before her fourth birthday. At a time where she cried at the death of a flower, the thought of growing old, hunting a grouse, a doll being mistreated, or a melting snowman.
As the day moved I caught a sparrow in my pigeon loft. It had been eating my expensive mixtures of feed. Wide Eyes carefully watched. "What should I do with him?" I asked her. "Should I kill him?" "Let him go, daddy. So he can fly and sing."
I handed the bird into her moist hands. The sparrow's heart was nearly bursting. Wide Eyes released the bird. Her face glowed.
As we returned to the loft I noted a baby racing homer having died during the night. Wide Eyes' attention concentrated on the lifeless figure, stiff and saurian with skin and forming pinfeathers. Sorrow was in her brilliant eyes. "We will bury the baby," I said. As we finished patting the ground I looked to see a tear.
"Daddy, will the baby pigeon ever live again? If we dig it up later, will it be alive?"
"No. Death is forever. When we buried this baby we can never again expect to see it. Everything alive eventually dies. Let's be happy. You and I are alive. Your mother and I love you. We will always love you. You have given us life. You are my angel. Be happy you live in Aopehh. There's many places worse. Sweetheart, we have a lot more pigeons. Death is a part of having them. I am happy you are sad over the bird. Be afraid, it's alright. Oh Wide Eyes, you are precious."
That afternoon we drove two miles to the modern house on Main Street. The Cadillac and Lincoln were parked in the driveway. Knocking at the side door I found it unlocked. The house was empty. Then I saw mother. She was lying on the fake leopard couch next to the paneled wall and slate bar. Raising her bloated body upright she wiped mucous from her mouth trying to make a sentence. Her botched platinum-blond hair and unfocusing gray eyes then sunk back into the mohair. I looked for dad and True. Both were gone. The rooms were so familiarly quiet. That same quiet from my childhood. The house had that same stench of alcoholism. A smell of no love.
Coming back to mom I stood close at her side. A slight smile appeared over her face. Her little boy was near. The house was grey. All the drapes were pulled. I felt of gloom. I sensed death. Emptiness entered into my heart. Oh mom, you dear fool. You hurt wretch. You kindred spirit. I would tell you I love you. Say it a million times. But I cannot. I couldn't cry. I could only ache.
"Daddy," asked Wide Eyes, entering the door. "Are we going in?"
"No, baby. Your grandmother isn't well."
Sensi stood looking from the door.
There had been nothing of Christmas at that house. One set of elk antlers had tiny colored lights taped to them. All the other antlers were bare. There was no tree. Nothing. Just mom on that couch.
Several hours had passed when the phone rang.
"No Sweat, have you seen your mother the past two weeks?"
"I saw her a few hours ago."
"She's been falling down drunk all week. She's driving me crazy. Between her and True, I'm going broke. I'm going to have to sell my house. True hasn't been around in over a month. She's out doped up with some goddamn piece of shit. I can't give a bunch of bastards a couple a hundred a day to baby sit a drunk and a whore. It wouldn't do any good anyway. She's a goddamn fool. You wouldn't believe. I know you know. But you only know half of it. I've nailed our bedroom door shut so she wouldn't sneak off from me in the night to get a drink. I've tied her leg to mine at night. It doesn't do any good. She's got pills and booze hid all over the fucking house. She hides vodka in Scope bottles. She's got bottles hid in hutches, dried flower arrangements, under the sink, in the bathroom, in True's closet. Last time she was here, True found a quart of vodka in her dance chest, empty. Empty bottles are in every spot you can imagine. She takes valiums and unicons by the handfuls. You just don't know. The goddamn drunk is going to fall from the steps or OD. I'll get blamed for murder sure as Hell. She says she's gonna get in AA. Well whoopee. Fuck. Everything is great. Fuck. I wish she'd just go back on that religious kick. Get back with that goddamn family of hers. They don't give a shit about her. Never have. I drug her ass over to her mother's. You know what that damn old woman said? She said, 'There ain't nothing wrong with her.' I want you to come here. I want to show you how goddamn much your mom has drunk since Tuesday. I don't know how many pills. She drank two cases of my imported Liebfraumilch. She drank two cases of warm Budweiser. Come out here. You won't believe it. How many years do you think she's been drunk? Do you remember when you were thirteen years old and kept marking 'X's' each day on the calendar your mom was drunk? What did you mark? Eighty-nine of ninety days. Well, she'd been a drunk many years before you started noticing. I've done everything to get her to stop but she won't. We'll go to bed cold sober and two hours later I'll hear something. And she'll be stone dead drunk. I'll look at her and say, 'You're drunk.' And she'll say she's not had a drop. She swears she doesn't drink. I've grabbed her hand while it was full of pills and she'll swear there are no pills. That I am making it all up. Last month I sat a half gallon of Fitzgerald on the bar and said 'Hell! Drink to your goddamn heart's content!' Are you gonna come out?"
"We are fixing to eat dinner. Then we'll stop by. Sensi made a prune cake. We'll bring you some dinner. I wanted you all to eat dinner with us, but...
Later, we returned to a house as dark inside as it was out. When I first knocked no one came. But just as we were leaving dad opened the door.
A small light over the stove of the spacious chrome kitchen reflected a quiet man looking out toward the glass doors facing across Main Street to the gaily lit brick home of my grandmother. Without turning on the lights I knew mother rested on that couch. Tonight, her 'Robert Mitchum' was by himself. It was the last place on earth where he wanted to be.
Turning on the light, the coyote's face on the wall rug glared in anger.
The moose stared at the elk. Dad entered his den where mom lay.
"What would you do with that? What am I going to do? How would you like to go to bed with her?"
It was then that my sister appeared wearing one of dad's deer hide vests and jeans. She kissed everyone. "I'm OK. I haven't been shooting up." Her arms were bruised and her hands swollen. She was a youthful degree from mom. We all knew it.
Dad put his large palms to his forehead. "My God!" he said. Then he stared at me in disgust. "Can you believe this? Am I the only sane son of a bitch in the world.”
True rolled back her eyes, exhaling cigarette smoke. "I've heard all your shit before," she said, walking to the door. "I ain’t listening to it tonight." She left for the driveway. A car waited. A car always waited.