Sometimes a Dream
a short story by Oren Shafir

Church bells. Ringing, ringing in seven varying tones, each pure and sweet. But then, the sounds gradually changed in mood and tone until they became something different, something unpleasant, wrong, out-of-tune.

Flies. Buzzing, buzzing, seven fat and filthy flies. Buzzing so loudly, when he could not stand it any longer—he shrieked.

Doron awoke to the persistent buzzing of the apartment doorbell. “Minute,” he yelled through numb lips and parched throat. He tripped over an empty bottle of Glenfiddich, looked in the mirror—he was naked—wrapped a faded white-blue towel around himself, swallowed a gob of toothpaste and yelled, “Just a goddamn minute.”

At the door stood a policewoman. ‘Butch policewoman at my door, what the hell?’ he thought. She had short hair, a tight skinny face and a long witch-nose. Her shiny gold badge identified her as Officer West.

“Doron Gold?” she asked.

“What time is it?”

“Are you Mr. Doron Gold?”

“Yes.”

Then she said the words. The words that would be etched in his brain as if chipped in granite. The words that would send a cold shiver up his body, make his stomach sink, his scalp tingle, his heart pound. The words that would thrill and kill him.

She said, “You were expecting your wife and children, sir?”

“We’re going on vacation,” he said.

But he knew. He knew that this was the most dramatic and horrible moment of his life. They were dead. Everyone he loved was dead.

She removed her cap. Her hair wasn’t short at all. It fell way down her back. He looked closer at her face and was startled to see that she now resembled his first-grade teacher, the beautiful Mrs. North with the long golden hair.

“I’m afraid there’s been an accident,” the policewoman said.

He backed up. A sound escaped from somewhere within him.

“I’m sorry to inform you that there’s been a car accident. Your wife and children were killed.”

He backed up further. The towel fell. He was naked. Naked as can be. “No,” he said matter-of-factly, as if he were answering a yes or no question. He pulled his hair. He pulled and pulled. He ripped a chunk of his hair out. A big chunk. He looked at it in disbelief.

Officer West held him. She held him tightly. She was strong. He began crying on her neck. Once he started he could not stop. He cried wonderfully, as he had not done since infancy. The more he cried, the tighter she held, the faster she rocked him. He could now feel her small breasts on his chest. His penis rubbed against her thick belt as she rocked him faster and faster. But he felt it was not his body. He had no body. Still his penis rose, got harder and harder as she rocked him. She pushed him away looking down in disgust.

At first, he did not know what was happening. Then, he too looked down. “Oh no.”

At that moment, his elderly landlords, Sid and Ruth Bernstein walked by the open door. They stopped and looked in at the incredible sight. His penis shrank like a popped helium balloon. He was naked, naked as can be.

After that, there were gaps. He felt lost—swept away on a cyclone. The next thing he could remember, he really was lost; looking for the cemetery where the funeral would take place. He did not know where to go. Had he been told? If only he could remember the name of the cemetery, he would take a cab. Then, he saw the sign “Angels vs. Giants Tonight,” and he remembered. It was the big cemetery by the baseball stadium. He parked the car and started walking.

Twilight’s yellow lights and shadows now surrounded him. He was still lost. He saw a man, a dark man with big white eyes and dreadlocks hanging like dead vines from an orange, yellow, and green knit cap. Doron was not afraid. He would ask for directions.

But the man spoke first. “Hey mon, you looking for tickets?” the man asked, smiling and revealing brilliant white teeth.

“What?”

“Yeah mon, no problem. I’m Leo. Leo fix you up. Forty dollars, mon.”

Doron began to run.

“Hey mon, watch-ya running for?” the man roared. “You afraid of Leo just because he black.”

“No, no.” Doron stopped and turned around. “I’m just in a hurry.”

“Leo have a degree in psychology, don’t ya know,” Leo yelled. “Leo a certified therapist for the bereaved! You think I’m a criminal just because I’m black, mon?”

Doron didn’t want Leo to think he was a bigot, so he stopped and explained.

Leo understood. “Aye, mon. C’mon, follow Leo. I show you a shortcut to the cemetery.”

Then he was following Leo, bending over and crawling through hedges that scratched his neck so hard he had to reach up to feel if he was bleeding. They were in someone’s backyard. Leo opened the sliding backdoor and walked right into the house. In the kitchen, a woman was pulling shiny, slimy pink guts out of a chicken. In the living room, half a dozen children were laughing shrilly at Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. A fat man with gray wiry hair and a shiny, bare purple-black stomach stood shaving in the hallway mirror.

“Hello Leo,” the fat man said casually. Leo waved perfunctorily as if he didn’t have time to actually say hello.

Then, they walked out the front door, and Doron was following Leo through long wet grass. His shoes were getting soaked. It was dark now. He could not see a thing. He could feel his toes getting wet. Leo moved faster.

“Hey, where are we going?” Doron asked, but Leo was gone.

Doron turned around 180 degrees. He could not see his hand in front of his face. He walked forward in the direction he believed Leo had gone. Then, he tripped on something, a tree stump possibly. His toe throbbed. He’d probably cut the toenail. “Ow.”

When he looked up, he saw his mother-in-law.

“Late,” she said with disgust. 

There were three coffins—two little, one big. He recognized the faces of friends and family but could not remember anyone’s name.

“Look at him wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” his mother-in-law said ostensibly to her husband but loud enough for everyone to hear.

He looked at his clothes. He felt sure he had put on a suit. He wanted to explain, but he did not know what to say.

“And look at this cemetery,” she continued. Now she was glaring straight in his face.

“But ...” He didn’t even remember making the arrangements; and after all, he wanted to protest, it was his wife and children. Now, however, he was looking around the cemetery and was amazed to see that around the other grave sites were elderly men in SS uniforms. He glanced down at the nearest gravestones and read the names Lt. Gerhart Heimlich and Major Wolfgang Wagner. He heard the faint singing of “Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles.” The singing gradually grew louder but the song took on a different tone; subtly, the melody changed. Now the friends and family of Doron were singing. What was it? The children’s favorite song, the one their mother always sang for them: “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” But the words didn’t seem right.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds scream,
Sometimes life is a nightmare,
And sometimes, it’s just a dream.

The funeral guests held hands and sang as their tears poured like rain. Only Doron did not, could not cry. “He’s not crying,” he heard someone, more than one person whisper. The song ended. Everyone stood silent.

Flies buzzed around Doron’s ears. He kept swatting them away but there were too many flies. Buzzing, buzzing, seven fat, filthy flies.

Then, gradually, the sound changed. It changed to something clear and optimistic.

Church bells. Ringing, ringing in seven varying tones, each pure and sweet. Ringing, ringing, louder and louder. When he felt them vibrate through his entire body, he bolted upright in bed.

Doron awoke to the persistent ringing of the apartment doorbell. Nightmare, he mumbled to himself as he quickly brushed his teeth. The bell kept ringing.

“Okay, okay,” he laughed, “I’m coming.”

His wife and children stood at the door with arms crossed in identical postures.

“You’re late,” Paula said.

“Yeah, Daddy, you’re late,” the kids echoed.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

They answered with an appreciative laugh. “C’mon stop fooling around. We’ll miss the plane.”

“Okay, okay.” Doron decided to pretend that he knew where they were going, but Paula pulled him back.

“Are you planning on going in that funeral suit?”

He saw Paula was dressed casually, so he quickly changed into jeans and a T-shirt. Only later, in the cab, did he realize he hadn’t packed a suitcase. “Don’t I need some clothes?” he asked.

“I already packed for you. Just relax and leave everything to me,” Paula said. He sat back and put his arm around her. He felt immeasurable contentment. Ronnie sat on his lap. Elsie sat on Paula’s.

“Daddy, I know what the square root of 144 is,” little Elsie said, wiping the snot from her nose with the back of her hand.

“You do?” Doron asked surprised. “I didn’t even think you could multiply—or add.”

Little Ronnie tried to repeat what Elsie had said, “I know what the skare rut of forty forty is.” He repeated everything his big sister said.

“It’s 12,” Elsie said.

“It’s 12,” Ronnie repeated.

The airport wasn’t as Doron remembered it. They waited in a long line with the other tourists outside by the runway. A Hercules jet slowly pushed forward with monstrous power, blowing a hot current that he found slightly unpleasant. The kids’ giggling reassured him. A giant UFO-style ramp lowered from the back of the Hercules. The children held hands and ran on the plane followed by their parents.

Beautiful Oriental stewardesses in long colorful print dresses came by and pulled the straps that were located above each passengers head, rattling the long suspended chain that each strap was attached to. ‘It’s just a security measure, Ma’am or Sir,’ they repeated for each passenger. Doron’s eyes followed the strap to find where it was attached. Upon turning his head, he discovered that it was connected to a bag on his back.

“We’re parachuting,” he said to Paula. “When I parachuted in the army, I was petrified. But I was alone. I feel really good with you guys.” He did. He felt secure and peaceful. “It’s going to be great,” he said.

All the passengers stood in a line and slid one foot forward, again and again, inching their way to the door, where a stewardess barked, “Jump! Jump!” Two other stewardesses used all their might to drag the lines back in from the fierce air pressure outside the plane door. As he moved closer, Doron felt and heard the strong wind pushing through the open door. He saw the tiny people on a beach far below. Only this time, he was excited, not scared.

“Jump!” the stewardess yelled.

He remembered to count, 21, 22, 23, 24 before looking up to see if his chute had opened. He was flying. He felt marvelous, light and free. He flew over to Paula and the kids, and they held hands and formed a circle. The kids faces were lit up with pleasure.

Then they separated and flew freely. For some reason, Paula and the kids reached the ground before him. 

The stewardesses were already there. “Welcome to Oztralia.” From far above the beach, he saw them greet the passengers by putting a lei around their necks and kissing them once on each cheek. The children got lollipops. Paula started taking towels out of the suitcase (Where had it come from?) and changing the kids into bathing suits.

Suddenly, Doron felt the Earth getting closer. By now, the beach was crowded with people. He recognized some of them. There was his mother’s Uncle Frank, only young, lifting weights. And the clerk from Builder’s Emporium, Henry M, wearing his uniform with its polished gold name tag reflecting in the sun. And the Baums, his neighbors, and the neighbors he had had when he was a kid (What were their names?), and his dog, Otto. There were also some famous people: Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Captain Kangaroo.

Doron looked for a place to land. He was now hurtling downwards at top speed. He did not want to hurt anyone. He tried to aim for the water, but much to his surprise he landed in the empty, white lifeguard tower.

Hundreds of people on the beach stopped what they were doing and laughed and applauded, craning their necks to look up at him.

“Thank you, thank you,” he said.

Paula said, “C’mon honey, stop fooling around. Get out of that funeral suit and come get into your bathing suit.”

He looked down at himself and saw that once again he was wearing the dark suit.

He changed and then lay on the hot sand, the sun on his eyelids, everything warm and orange. He could hear the children playing in the water, squealing with delight. It was perfect.

It was perfect. Somewhere in the distance, he heard church bells. Ringing, ringing in seven varying tones, each pure and sweet. But then, the sounds gradually changed in mood and tone until they became something different, something unpleasant, wrong, out-of-tune.

Flies. Buzzing, buzzing. Seven fat and filthy flies.

  

©1999 Oren Shafir

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