It hadn’t been my idea to go to the psychic for a reading. But since I went, I felt I had to listen to what she said.
“Keep a dream journal, meditate. You have considerable psychic abilities.”
“But what about a job?” I asked, hoping my abilities would lead to gainful employment.
“Everything in its time,” was her answer.
Time I had, so I started writing down my dreams. Last night, I dreamed I was a sacker at the grocery store. My hair was in a strict bun. I wore a stiff white apron. I worked wildly to keep up with the groceries, but the bags ripped at my touch. I was trying to stick a Sara Lee pound cake into a sack, when my clothes disappeared. There I stood, naked and embarrassed, clutching a frozen dessert. Then I noticed my ex-lover, Walter, in the check-out line.
“Sandy what are you doing here?” he called from behind a box of Tide. What, indeed.
Luckily, I couldn’t afford the book that would allow me to interpret this dream and unlock my subconscious. I didn’t want to know all the things that were going on in there. Consciously, nothing was happening except that I was looking for a job, worrying about money, and feeling lonely because Fletcher, my most recent lover, wasn’t around to share my morning tea.
My mother had said, “Be glad Fletcher is gone. He was nothing but a sponge.”
That was another thing the reading made clear. I needed to give. Fletcher could take endlessly.
He had spent his time sprawled across my sofa, working on the world’s most beautiful banjo. He played at the Plaza one day a week, using what little money he made for food. If he wanted drugs, simple: two concerts.
“You worry too much,” Fletcher said. He wanted to help with my meditation, but I wouldn’t let him. I did let him live in my neat one-bedroom apartment, curl wood shavings throughout my living room, and spill his entire demented childhood on me. I gave all I could. I even gave Fletcher his freedom.
“I won’t go if you don’t want me to, Sandy.” He was cleaning his wire rims on his perpetual green flannel shirt.
I didn’t know then that I needed him. “No, Fletcher, leave if you want to.” And he had done just that.
As I drank my tea, I hoped I wouldn’t remember my dreams tonight. Last night’s dream about Walter confused me — I hadn’t thought of him in years. He had been two lovers before Fletcher, my first serious relationship as a divorced woman. I wondered what had become of him.
The telephone rang.
“Yes?” I said primly.
“This is Personnel, with Power and Light. I’d like to set you up for a job interview.”
After a month of job-hunting, this was my first call for an interview. Maybe writing down my dreams had worked.
“Two-thirty tomorrow, Administrative Department.”
I hummed a little Hallelujah as I hung up. In the four years since my divorce from Peter, I had experimented with the notion that money was nothing and work should be a matter of whimsy. I thought material things and middle-class measures held nothing for me. I had gone from an IBM executive to a flower woman.
But recently I realized I not only wanted a hot bath twice a day, I wanted the tub filled with Crabtree and Evelyn bubbles.
I clutched my old red terrycloth robe around me and walked out to get the paper. As I picked up the Times, a car honked. I recognized Walter’s ancient yellow VW. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe I was psychic.
Why doesn’t he stop, I wondered, running to the curb and waving frantically. Walter hesitated at the corner. Then he turned right and was gone. I slid the string from the paper over my wrist, and took some deep breaths to slow my heart down.
Visions of Walter danced through my mind. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Instead of calling potential employers, I decided to take a bath. I grabbed the last of the Ivory liquid, knowing the dishes could stand plain water better than I.
The claw-foot tub was cold. The rust stains under the spigot seemed to have grown. I turned on the water and stood at the sink to brush my teeth.
Bottles of Fletcher’s vitamin C, B-complex, and lecithin were still in the medicine cabinet.
“They’re yours.” Fletcher had acted like he was bestowing me with a new life.
That was one reason I let him go. In our year together, I had never taken a pill, not even a healthy one. Fletcher’s mind was on someone else.
I squirted the dishwashing liquid into the tub, and sank deep into hot water. My ex-husband would laugh if he knew I had to choose between cleaning myself or my dishes.
“I thought that was all out of your system, Sandy. You did the poverty shtick in college.” Peter would sigh and shake his martini to make it extra cold. He was in St. Louis now, being a successful tax attorney. Maybe if I dreamed about Peter tonight, he would drive by tomorrow and throw money on my lawn.
I spent the rest of the day reading want ads, calling people, being organized.
“I’ve never seen you like this,” Fletcher said when I decided to get a real job. I had vacuumed away the wood shavings, made files out of the milk cartons Fletcher stole to hold his albums, and spent hours typing resumes.
“This is like living with Miss Kelly girl,” he would complain, sanding his banjo at the kitchen table. “You’re losing your flexibility, Sandy. Have a vitamin E.”
In the late afternoon I went outside, headed for the mailbox. It didn’t seem at all strange to see the yellow VW parked in front of the house. Walter was in the car, reading a glossy textbook. I knocked on the passenger window.
He leaned over and rolled it down.
“Hi, he said, his smile as crisp as a first bite of apple. “I’ve been waiting for you to come out.”
“Why didn’t you come?” My hair whooshed into the car as I bent over.
“I didn’t know who you might be living with. Get in, I’ll give you a lift.”
“Let’s walk.” I wanted to keep control of the situation. After all, it had been my dream.
Walter unfurled himself and came over. He looked good, tall and fresh, not like a man who’d been sitting in a small car for hours. His reddish-brown hair was as curly and thick as before. We considered each other, and decided on a quick, strong hug.
“I’m glad to see you.” I spoke as I would to any old friend.
“How are you?” Walter asked gently. He was in real estate, and I knew he was mentally condemning my neighborhood. I imagined him running through my apartment building, measuring, squinting, shouting, “Condo it!” Walter always thought bigger and better.
“I’ve had a strange year, but I’m getting over it.” I told Walter about Fletcher, and about my decision to find a more productive environment.
“I knew you’d eventually come to that conclusion.” Walter smiled approvingly. I had been a waitress in a natural foods cafe when he knew me. Had he really understood I would need to change, or did Walter assume that everyone, like himself, always wanted more?
I asked about the book he was reading.
“Real estate finance. I’ve almost got my masters. When I’m done with school I’m going out on my own.”
The back seat of Walter’s car was usually full of “FOR SALE,” “FOR RENT,” and “OPEN” signs. I imagined him driving a town car, filled with nothing but expensive leather upholstery.
We reached the mailbox too soon. It was getting dark. We headed back.
“Do you want to come in?” I asked.
“No, I’ve got to go. I’m living with someone. It might be love. When I drove by this morning and saw you in that horrible old robe, something happened. I just had to come back and talk to you.” His voice grew soft as the touch he gave my cheek.
“I understand.” I was furious with myself. I hadn’t even asked Walter about his personal life. I just assumed he was waiting in line for me, like in my dream.
“I’m glad you stopped,” I said, like an adult.
“I may have to call you.” Walter got into his car and waved goodbye.
I felt as empty as a broken washing machine. I’d had no idea I still cared for Walter. Maybe it was just my loneliness and the confusion of seeing someone I used to love. But I didn’t think so.
The smell of banjo wood lingered in the apartment. I didn’t know what I would do if Fletcher returned. He had left all his vitamins and half his clothes. He would probably be so weak after fourteen days without health supplements, he would have to crawl back. That would suit me fine.
After tomorrow, I would be transformed beyond Fletcher. I would be employed. I would primp myself into suits every day, reason with calculators, and spend Monday mornings away from the phone. I wouldn’t have time to admire the curves of his banjo or listen to his latest song. I wouldn’t have so much to give.
“Considerable abilities,” the psychic had said. I dreamed Walter back into my life. Who knew what else could happen?
I plopped generic tomato soup into an old pot and turned the stove on low. I sat on the grubby linoleum floor and breathed deeply, the way Fletcher always did. I let my thoughts drift. I was no longer in a little apartment with no money and an unclear view of life. I let a white light convince me I was strong, successful, beloved. I envisioned the light filling my body. I breathed and released, deep into my diaphragm, as if Fletcher were directing me.
When the phone rang, I didn’t move. I tried to let the light obliterate the sound. On the fifth ring, I knew it was Walter. He always rang ten times. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to answer it. I walked to the telephone, just in case. Perhaps I still loved Walter. But I didn’t pick up the phone.
As I stirred the soup, I thought of Peter. He was probably dining out, putting it on his expense account. He made it a point to mention tax or law at every meal.
I rinsed a bowl and poured in half the soup. I sat down, one foot under me, and took a cautious sip, burning my tongue.
The phone rang again, but I didn’t move. It might have Fletcher, calling collect. Probably it was my mother. It could even be Peter. But I preferred to believe it was Walter, calling to ask me back, calling me from a dream.