Police Dreams

A Short Story


ABOUT A MONTH BEFORE JEAN LEFT HIM, CASEY dreamed he was sitting in the old Maverick with her and the two boys, Rodney and Michael, The boys were in the back, and they were being loud, and yet Casey felt alone with his wife; it was a friendly feeling, having her there next to him in the old car, the car they had dated in. It seemed quite normal that they should all be sitting in this car, which they had sold two years before Michael, their seven-year-old, was born. They were on a dream street, all angles and doorways; it was quite dark, quite late. The street shimmered with rain. A light was blinking nearby, at an intersection, making a haze through which someone or something moved. Things shifted, and all the warm feeling was gone; Casey tried to press the gas pedal and couldn’t, and it seemed quite logical that he couldn’t. Men were opening the doors of the car. They came in on both sides. It was clear that they were going to start killing; they were just going to go ahead and kill everyone.

He woke from this dream shaking, and lay there in the dark imagining noises in the house, intruders. Finally lie made himself get up and go check things out, look in all the closets downstairs, make sure all the doors and windows were secure. For a cold minute he crouched by the living room window and peered out at the moon on the lawn. The whole thing was absurd: he had had an awful dream, and it was making him see and hear things. He went into the kitchen, poured himself a glass of milk, drank it down, and then took a couple of gulps of water. In the boys’ room he made sure their blankets were over them; he kissed each of them on the cheek and placed his hand for a moment (big and warm, he liked to think) across each boy’s shoulder blades. Then he went back into the bedroom and lay down and looked at the clock radio beyond the curving shadow of Jean’s shoulder. It was 5:45 A.M., and here he was, the father of two boys, a daddy, and he wished his own father were in the house. He closed his eyes but knew he wouldn’t sleep. What he wanted to do was reach over and kiss Jean awake, but she had gone to bed with a bad anxiety attack, and she always got up depressed afterward. She had something to work out; she needed his understanding. So he lay there and watched the light come, and after a while Jean stirred, reached over, and turned the clock radio off before the music came on. She sat up, looked at the room as if to decide who it belonged to, and got out of bed. “Casey,” she said.

“I’m up,” he told her.

“Don’t just say ‘I’m up.’”

“I am up,” Casey said. “I’ve been up since five fortyfive.”

“Well, good. Get up, up.”

He had to wake the boys and get them dressed and ready for school, while Jean put on her makeup and got breakfast. Everybody had to be out the door by eight o’clock. Casey was still feeling the chill of what he had dreamed, and he put his hands up to his mouth and warmed them with his breath. His stomach ached a little; he thought he might be coming down with the flu.

“Guess what I just dreamed,” he said. “A truly awful thing. I mean a thing so scary—”

“I don’t want to hear it, Casey.”

“We were all in the old Maverick,” he said.

“Please. I said no—now I mean no, Goddamn it.”

“Somebody was going to destroy us. Our family.”

“I’m not listening, Casey.”

“All right,”he said. Then he tried a smile. “How about a kiss?”

She bent down and touched his forehead with her lips.

“That’s a reception-line kiss,” he said. “That’s the kiss you save for when they’re about to close the coffin lid on me.”

“God,” she said, “you are positively the most morbid human being in this world.”

“I was just teasing,” he said.

“What about your dream that somebody was destroying us all. Were you teasing about that, too?” She was bringing out of the closet what she would wear that day. Each morning she would lay it all out on the bed before she put anything on, and then she would stand gazing at it for a moment, as if at an image of herself.

“You’re still lying there,” she said.

“I’ll get up.”


“Are you all right?” he said.

“Casey, do you have any idea how many times a day you ask that question? Get the boys up or I will not be all right.”

He went into the boys’ room and nudged and tickled and kissed them awake. Their names were spelled out in wooden letters across the headboards of their beds, except that Rodney, the younger of the two, had some time ago pulled the R down from his headboard. Because of this, Casey and Michael called him Odney. “Wake up, Odney,” Casey murmured, kissing the boy’s ear. “Odney, Odney, Odney.” Rodney looked at him and then closed his eyes. So he stepped across the cluttered space between the two beds to Michael, who also opened his eyes and closed them.

“I saw you,” Casey said.

“It’s a dream,” Michael said.

Casey sat down on the edge of the bed and put his hand on the boy’s chest. “Another day, another school day.”

“I don’t want to,” Michael said. “Can’t we stay home today?”

“Come on. Rise and shine. ”

Rodney pretended to snore.

“Odney’s snoring,” Michael said.

Casey looked over at Rodney, who at five years old still had the plump, rounded features of a baby, and for a small, blind moment he was on the verge of tears.

“Time to get up,”he said, and his voice left him.

“Let’s stop Odney’s snoring,” Michael said.

Casey carried him over to Rodney’s bed, and they wrestled with Rodney, who tried to burrowunder his blankets. “Odney,” Casey said. “Where’s Odney? Where did he go?”

Rodney called for his mother, laughing, and so his father let him squirm out of the bed and run, and pretended to chase him. Jean was in the kitchen, setting out bowls and boxes of cereal. “Casey,” she said, “we don’t have time for this.”She sang it at him as she picked Rodney up and hugged him and carried him back to his room. “Now, get ready to go. Rodney, or Mommy won’t be your protector when Daddy and Michael want to tease you.”

“Blackmail,” Casey said, delighted, following her into the kitchen. “A clear case of blackmail.”

“Casey, really,” she said.

He put his arms around her. She stood quite still and let him kiss her on the side of the face. “I’ll get them going,” he said. “Okay?”

“Yes,” she said. “Okay.”

He let go of her and she turned away, seemed already to have forgotten him. He had a sense of having badly misread her. “Jean?” he said.

“Oh, Casey, will you please get busy.”

He went in and got the boys going. He was a little short with them both. His voice had just enough irritation for them to notice and grow quiet. They got themselves dressed, and he brushed Rodney’s hair and straightened his collar while Michael made the beds. Then they all walked into the kitchen and sat at their places without speaking. Jean had poured cereal and milk and made toast. She sat eating her cereal and reading the back of the cereal box.

“All ready,”Casey said.

She nodded at him. “I called Dana and told her I’d probably be late.”

“You’re not going to be late.”

“I don’t want to have to worry about it. They’re putting that tarry stuff down on the roads today, remember? I’m going to miss it. I’m going to go around the long way.”

“Okay. But it’s not us making you late.”

“I didn’t say it was, Casey.”

“I don’t want toast,” Rodney said.

“Eat your toast,” Jean said.

“I don’t like it.”

“Last week you loved toast.”


“Eat the toast, Rodney, or I’ll spank you.”

Michael said, “Really, Mom. He doesn’t like toast.”

“Eat the toast,” Casey said. “Both of you. And Michael, you mind your own business.”

Then they were all quiet. Outside, an already gray sky seemed to grow darker. The light above the kitchen table looked meager; it might even have flickered, and for a bad minute Casey felt as if the whole morning were something presented to him in the helplessness of sleep.

HE USED TO THINK THAT ONE DAY HE WOULD LOOK back on these years as the happiest time, frantic as things were: he and Jean would wonder how they got through it; Michael and Rodney, grown up, with children of their own, might listen to the stories and laugh. How each day of the week began with a rush to get everyone out the door on time. How even with two incomes they never had enough money. How time and the space to put things were so precious and how each weekend was like a sort of collapse, spent sleeping or watching too much television. And how when they had a little time to relax, they felt in some ways just as frantic about that, since it would so soon be gone. Jean was working full time as a dental assistant, cleaning people’s teeth and telling them what they already knew—that failure to brush and floss meant gum disease; it amazed her that so many people seemed to think that no real effort or care was needed. The whole world looked lazy, negligent, to her. And then she would come home to all the things she lacked energy for. Casey, who spent his day in the offices of the Point Royal Ballet Company, worrying about grants, donations, ticket sales, and promotions, would do the cooking. It was what relaxed him. Even on those days when he had to work into the evening hours—nights when the company was performing or when he was involved with a special promotion—he liked to cook something when he got home. When Michael was a baby, Jean would sometimes get a baby-sitter for him and take the train into town on the night of a performance. Casey would meet her at the station, which was only a block away from the hall. They would have dinner together, and then they would go to the ballet.

Once, after a performance, as they were leaving the hall, Jean turned to him and said, “You know something? You know where we are? We’re where they all end up— you know, the lovers in the movies. When everything works out and they get together at the end—they’re headed to where we are now.”

“The ballet?” he said.

“No, no, no, no, no. Married. And having babies. That, Trying to keep everything together and make ends meet, and going to the ballet and having a baby-sitter. Get it? This is where they all want to go in those movies.”

He took in a deep breath of air. “We’re at happily ever after, is what you’re saying.”

She laughed. “Casey, if only everyone was as happy as you are. I think I was complaining.”

“We’re smack dab in the middle of happily ever after,” Casey said, and she laughed again. They walked on, satisfied. There was snow in the street, and she put her arm in his, tucked her chin under her scarf.

“Dear, good old Casey,” she said. “We don’t have to go to work in the morning, and we have a little baby at home, and we’re going to go there now and make love. What more could anyone ask for?”

A moment later Casey said, “Happy?”

She stopped. “Don’t ask me that all the time. Can’t you tell if I’m happy or not?”

“I like to hear you say you are,” Casey said, “that’s all.”

“Well, I are. Now walk.” She pulled him, laughing, along the slippery sidewalk.

SOMETIMES, NOW THAT SHE’S GONE, HE THINKS OF that night and wonders what could have been going on in her mind. He wonders how she remembers that night, if she thinks about it at all. It’s hard to believe the marriage is over, because nothing has been settled or established; something got under his wife’s skin, something changed for her, and she had to get off on her own to figure it all out.

He had other dreams before she left, and their similarity to the first one seemed almost occult to him. In one, he and Jean and the boys were walking along a quiet, treeshaded road; the shade grew darker, and they came to another intersection. Somehow they had entered a congested city street. Tenements marched up a hill to the same misty nimbus of light. Casey recognized it, and the shift took place: a disturbance, the sudden pathology of the citygunshots, shouts. A shadow figure arrived in a rusted-out truck and offered them a ride. The engine raced, and Casey tried to shield his family with his body—only the engine was at his back, and then a voice whispered, “Which of you wants it first?”

“A horrible dream,” he said to Jean. “It keeps coming at me in different guises.”

“We can’t both be losing our minds,” Jean said. She couldn’t sleep nights. She would gladly take his nightmares if she could just sleep.

ON THE MORNING OF THE DAY SHE LEFT, HE WOKE to find her sitting at her dressing table, staring at herself. “Honey?” he said.

“Go back to sleep,” she said. “It’s early.”

He watched her for a moment. She wasn’t doing anything. She simply stared, as if she had seen something in the mirror. “Jean,” he said, and she looked at him exactly the same way she had been looking at the mirror. He said, “Why don’t we go to the performance tonight?”

“I’ll be too tired by then,” she said. Then she looked down and muttered, “I’m too tired right now.”

She had awakened the boys; they were playing in their room. Their play grew louder, and then they were fighting. Michael screamed; Rodney had hit him over the head with a toy fire engine. It was a metal toy, and Michael sat bleeding in the middle of the bedroom floor. Both boys were crying as Casey made Michael stand and located the cut in his scalp. Jean had come with napkins and the hydrogen peroxide. She was very pale, all the color gone from her lips. “I’ll do it.” she said, when Casey tried to help. “Get Rodney out of here.”

He took Rodney by the hand and walked him into the living room. Rodney still held the toy fire engine and was still crying. Casey bent dowm and took the toy, and then moved to the sofa and sat down so that his son was facing him, standing between his knees. “Rodney,” he said, “listen to me, son.” The boy sniffled, and tears ran down his face. “Do you know you could have really hurt him, you could really have hurt your brother?”

“Well, he wouldn’t leave me alone.”

The fact that the child was unrepentant, even after having looked at his brother’s blood, made Casey a little sick to his stomach. “That makes no difference,” he said.

Jean came through from the hallway, carrying a bloody napkin. “Is it bad?” he said to her as she went into the kitchen. When she came back, she had a roll of paper towels. “He threw up, for Christ’s sake. No, it’s not bad. It’s just a nick. But there’s a lot of blood.”She reached down and yanked Rodney away from his father. “Do you know what you did, young man? Do you? Do you?" She shook him. “Well, do you?”

“Hey,” Casey said, “take it easy, honey,”

“Agh,” she said, letting go of Rodney. “I can’t stand it anymore.”

Casey followed her into the bedroom, where she sat at the dressing table and began to brush her hair furiously.

“Jean,” he said, “I wish we could talk.”

“Oh, Jesus, Casey.” She started to cry. “It’s not even eight o’clock and we’ve already had this. It’s too early tor everything. I get to work and I’m exhausted. I don’t even think I can stand it.” She put the brush down and looked at herself, crying.

“Look at me, would you?

I look like death.” He put his hands on her shoulders, and then Rodney was in the doorway.

“Mommy,” Rodney whined.

Jean closed her eyes and shrieked, “Get out of here!”

Casey took the boy into his room. Michael was sitting on his bed, holding a napkin to his head. A little pool of sickness was on the floor at his feet. Casey got paper towels and cleaned it up.

Michael looked at him with an expression of pain, of injured dignity.

Rodney sat next to Michael and folded his small hands in his lap. Both boys were quiet, and Casey wondered if he could teach them something in this moment. But all he could think to say was, “No more fighting.”

DANA IS THE WIFE OF THE DENTIST JEAN HAS worked for since before she met Casey. The two women became friends while Dana was the dentist’s receptionist. The dentist and his wife live in a large house on twenty acres not far from the city. They have an indoor pool and tennis courts, fireplaces in the bedrooms. They have plenty of space for Jean, who moved in on a Friday afternoon almost a month ago. That day she just packed a suitcase; she was going to spend a weekend at Dana’s, to rest. It was going to be just a little relaxation, a little time away. Just the two days. But then, Sunday afternoon, she phoned to say she would be staying on through the week.

“You’re kidding me,”Casey said.

And she began to cry.

“Jean,” he said, “for God’s sake.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, crying. “I just need some time.”

“Time,” he said. “Jean. Jean.”

She breathed once, and when she spoke again he heard resolution in her voice, a definiteness that made his heart hurt. “I’ll be over to pick up a few things tomorrow afternoon.”

“Look,” he said, “what is this? What about us? What about the boys?”

“I don’t think you should let them see me tomorrow. This is hard enough for them.”

“What is, Jean?”

She said nothing. He thought she might have hung up.

“Jean,” he said. “Good Christ. Jean.”

“Please don’t do this,” she said.

Casey shouted into the phone. “You’re saying that to me!

“I’m sorry,” she said, and hung up.

He dialed Dana’s number, and Dana answered.

“I want to speak to Jean, please.”

“I’m sorry, Casey—she doesn’t want to talk now.”

“Would you—" he began.

“I’ll ask her. I’m sorry, Casey.”

“Ask her please to come to the phone.”

He heard a shuffling sound, and he knew Dana was holding her hand over the receiver. He heard another shuffling, and Dana spoke to him. “I hate to be in the middle of this, Casey, but she doesn’t want to talk now.”

“Will you please ask her what I did.”

“I can’t do that. Really. Please, now.”

“Just tell her I want—Goddamn it—I want to know what I did.”

He heard yet another shuffling sound, only this time Casey could hear Dana’s voice, sisterly and exasperated and pleading.

“Dana,” he said.



And Dana’s voice came back, very distraught, almost frightened. “Casey, I’ve never hung up on anyone in my life. I have a real fear of ever doing anything like that to anyone, but if you curse at me again, I will. I’ll hang up on you. Jean isn’t going to talk to anyone on the phone tonight. Really, she’s not, and I don’t see why I have to take the blame for it.”

“Dana,” he said, “I’m sorry. Tell her I’ll be here tomorrow—with her children. Tell her that.”

“I’ll tell her.”

“Good-bye, Dana.” He put the receiver down. The boys’ room was quiet, and he wondered how much they had heard, and—if they had heard enough—how much they had understood. He had dinner to make, but he’d done it before, so it offered no difficulty except that he prepared it knowing that his wife was having some sort of nervous breakdown and was unreachable in a way that made him angry as much as it frightened him. The boys didn’t eat the fish he fried, or the potatoes he baked. They had been sneaking cookies all day while he watched football. He couldn’t eat either, and so he didn’t scold them for their lack of appetite and only reprimanded them mildly for their pilferage. Shortly after the dinner dishes were done, Michael began to cry. He said he had seen something on TV that made him sad, but he had been watching Dukes of Hazzard reruns.

“My little tenderhearted man,” Casey said, putting his arms around the boy.

“Is Mommy at Dana’s?” Rodney asked.

“Mommy had to go do something,” Casey said.

He put them to bed. He wondered, as he tucked them in, if he should tell them now that their mother wouldn’t be there in the morning. It seemed too much to tell a child before sleep. He stood in their doorway, imagining the shadow he made with the light behind him in the hall, and told them good night. Then he went into the living room and sat staring at the shifting figures on the television screen. Apparently, The Dukes of Hazzard was over; he could tell by the music that this was a serious show. A man with a gun chased another man with a gun. It was hard to tell which one was the hero, and Casey began to concentrate. Both men proved to be gangsters, and Jean, who used to say that sometimes she put TV on only for the voices, the company at night, had just told him that she was not coming home. He turned the gangsters off in midchase and stood for a moment, breathing fast. The boys were whispering and talking in the other room.

“Go to sleep in there,” he said, keeping his voice steady. “Don’t make me have to come in there.”He listened. In a little while, he knew, they would begin it all again; they would keep it up until they got sleepy. He turned the television back on, so that they wouldn’t have to worry that he might hear them, and then he lay back on the sofa, miserable, certain that he would be awake all night. But sometime toward the middle of the late movie he fell asleep and had another dream. It was, really, the same dream. He was with Jean and the kids in a building, and they were looking for a way out. One of the boys opened a door on empty space, and Casey, turning, understood that this place was hundreds of feet above the street. The wind blew at the opening like the wind at the open hatch of an airliner, and someone was approaching from behind them. He woke up sweating, disoriented, and saw that the TV was off. With a tremendous settling into him of relief, he thought that Jean had changed her mind and come home, had turned the TV off and left him there to sleep. But the bedroom was empty. “Jean?” he said into the dark. “Honey?” No one was there. He turned the light on.

“Daddy, you fell asleep watching television,” Michael said from his room.

“Oh,” Casey said. “Thanks, son. Can’t you sleep?”


“Well—good night, then.”


SO JEAN IS GONE. CASEY KEEPS THE HOUSE AND THE boys. He’s told them their mother is away because these things happen; he’s told them she needs a little time to herself. He hears Jean’s explanations to him in everything he says, and he can’t think of anything else to say. It’s as if they are all waiting for her to get better, as if this trouble were something physiological, an illness that deprives them of her as she used to be. Casey talks to her on the phone now and then, and it’s always oddly as if they have never known anything funny or embarrassing about each other, and yet are both now funny and embarrassed.

They talk about the boys; they laugh too quickly and stumble over normal exchanges, like Hello and How are you? and What have you been up to? Jean has been working longer hours, making overtime from Dana’s husband. Since Dana’s husband’s office is right downstairs, she can go for days without leaving the house if she wants to. She’s feeling rested now. The overtime keeps her from thinking too much. Two or three times a week she goes over to the boys’school and spends some time with them; she’s been a room mother since Michael started there, two years ago, and she still does her part whenever there’s something for her to do. She tells Casey over the phone that Rodney’s teacher seems to have no inkling that anything has changed at home.

Casey says, “What has changed at home, Jean?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says.

The boys seem in fact to be taking everything in stride, although Casey sees a reticence about them now; he knows they’re keeping their feelings mostly to themselves. Once in a while Rodney asks, quite shyly, when Mommy’s coming home. Michael shushes him. Michael is being very grown up and understanding. He acts as if he’s five years older than he is. At night he reads to Rodney from his Choose Your Own Adventure books. Casey sits in the living room and hears this. And when he has to work late, has to leave them with a baby-sitter, he imagines the baby-sitter hearing it, and feels soothed somehow—almost, somehow, consoled, as if simply to imagine such a scene is to bathe in its warmth; a slightly older boy reading to his brother, the two of them propped on the older brother’s bed.

This is what he imagines tonight, the night of the last performance of Swan Lake, as he stands in the balcony and watches the hall fill up. The hall is sold out. Casey gazes at the crowd and the thought runs through his mind that all these people are carrying their own scenes, things that have nothing to do with ballet, or polite chatter, or finding a numbered seat. The fact that they all move as quietly and cordially to their places as they do seems miraculous to him. They are all in one situation or another, he thinks, and at that instant he catches sight of Jean; she’s standing in the center aisle below him. Dana is with her. Jean is up on her toes, looking across to the other side of the hall, where Casey usually sits. She turns slowly, scanning the crowd. Casey imagines that he knows what her situation is. The crowd surges around her. And now Dana, also looking for him, finds him, touches Jean’s shoulder, and actually points at him. He feels strangely inanimate, and he steps back a little, looks away from them. But this is too obviously a snub, and he knows it, and a moment later he steps forward again to see that Dana is alone down there, that Jean is already lost somewhere else in the crowd. Dana is gesturing for him to remain where he is. The orchestra members begin taking their places in the orchestra pit and tuning up; there’s a smattering of applause. Casey finds a seat near the railing and sits with his hands folded in his lap, waiting. When this section of the balcony begins to fill up, he rises, looks for Dana again, and can’t find her. Someone edges past him along the railing, so he moves to the side aisle, against the wall; he sees Jean come in, and watches her come around to where he is.

“I was hoping you’d be here tonight,”she says, smiling. She touches his forearm and then leans up and gives him a drv little kiss on the mouth. “I wanted to see you.”

“You can see me anytime,” he says. He can’t help the contentiousness in his voice.

“Casey,” she says, “I know this is just the worst time. It’s just that—well, Dana and I were coming to the performance, you know, and I started thinking how unfair I’ve been to you, and, and it just doesn’t seem right.”

Casey stands there looking at her.

“Can we talk a little,” she says, “outside?”

He follows her up to the exit and out along the corridor to a little alcove leading to the restrooms; she finds a red velvet armchair, which she sits in, and then she pats her knees as if she expected him to settle into her lap. But she’s only smoothing her skirt over her knees, stalling. Casey pulls another chair over and then stands behind it, feeling a dizzy, unfamiliar sense of suffocation. He thinks of swallowing air, pulls his tie loose, and breathes.

“Well,” she says.

“The performance is going to start any minute,” he says.

“I know,” she says. “Casey—” She clears her throat, holding the backs of her fingers over her lips. It is a completely uncharacteristic gesture, and he wonders if she might have picked it up from Dana. “Well,” she says, “I think we have to come to some sort of agreement about Michael and Rodney. I mean, seeing them in school”—she sits back, not looking at him—“you know, and talking on the phone and stuff—I mean, that’s no good. I mean, none of this is any good. Dana and I have been talking about this quite a lot, Casey. And, you know, just because you and I aren’t together anymore—that’s no reaon the kids should have to go without their mother.”

“Jean,” he says, “what—what—” He sits down. He wants to take her hand.

She says, “I think I ought to have them a while. A week or two. Dana and I have discussed it, and she’s amenable to the idea. She has plenty of room and everything, and pretty soon I’ll be—I’ll be getting a place.” She moves the tip of one finger along the soft surface of the chair arm, and seems to have to fight off tears.

He reaches over and takes her hand. “Honey,” he says.

She pulls her hand away, quite gently, but with the firmness of someone for whom this affection is embarrassing. “Did you hear me, Casey? I’m getting a place of my own. We have to decide about the kids.”

Casey stares at her, watches as she opens her purse and takes out a handkerchief to wipe her eyes; it comes to him very gradually that the orchestra has begun to play. She seems to notice it too now. She puts the handkerchief back in her purse and snaps it shut, and then seems to gather herself.

“Jean,” he says, “for God’s sweet sake.”

“Oh, come on,”she says, her eyes swimming, “you knew this was coming. How could you not know this was coming?”

“I don’t believe this,” he says. “You come here to tell me this. At my Goddamn job.” His voice has risen almost to a shout.

“Casey,” she says.

“Okay,” he says, rising. “I know you.” It makes no sense. He tries to find something to say to her; he wants to say it all out in an orderly way that will show her. But he stammers. “You’re not having a nervous breakdown,” he hears himself tell her, and then he repeats it, almost as if he were trying to reassure her. “This is really it, then,”he goes on. “You’re not coming back.”

She stands. It’s as if she’s not sure he’s serious. She steps away from him and gives him a regretful look.

“Jean, we didn’t even have an argument,” he says. “I mean, what is this about?”

“Casey, I was so unhappy all the time. Don’t you remember anything? Don’t you see how it was? And I thought it was because I wasn’t a good mother. I didn’t even like the sound of their voices. But it was just unhappiness. I see them at school now and I love it. It’s not a chore now. I work like a dog all day and I’m not tired. Don’t you see? I feel good all the time now, and I don’t even mind as much when I’m tired or worried.”

“Then—” he begins. He can’t say anything. He’s left with the weight of himself, standing there before her.

“Try to understand, Casey. It was ruining me for everyone in that house. But it’s okay now. I’m out of it and it’s okay. I’m not dying anymore in those rooms and everything on my nerves and you around every corner—” She stops.

“You know what you sound like?” he says. “You sound ridiculous, that’s what you sound like.” And the ineptness of what he has just said, the stupid, helpless rage of it, produces in him a tottering moment of wanting to put his hands around her neck. The idea comes to him so clearly that his throat constricts and a fan of heat opens across the back of his head. He holds on to the chairback and seems to hear her say that she’ll be in touch, through a lawyer if that will make it easier, about arrangements concerning the children. He knows it’s not cruelty that brought her here to tell him a thing like this, it’s cowardice.

“I wish I knew of some other way,” she tells him, and then turns and walks along the corridor to the stairs and down. He imagines the look she’ll give Dana when she gets to her seat; she’ll be someone relieved of a situation, glad something’s over with.

Back in the balcony, in the dark, he watches the figures leap and stutter and whirl on the stage, and when the performance ends, he watches the hall empty out. The musicians pack their music and instruments; the stage crew dismantles the set. When he finally rises, it’s past midnight. Everyone’s gone.

He makes his way home and, arriving, doesn’t remember driving there. The baby-sitter, a high school girl from up the street, is asleep on the sofa in the living room. He’s much later than he said he would be. She hasn’t heard him come in, and so he has to try to wake her without frightening her. He has this thought clear in his mind as he watches his hand roughly grasp her shoulder and hears himself sav, loudly, “Get up!”

The girl opens her eyes and looks blankly at him, and then she screams. He would never have believed this of himself. She is sitting up now, still not quite awake, her hands flying up to her face. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says, but it’s obvious that he did mean to scare her, and while she struggles to get her shoes on, her hands shaking, he counts out the money to pay her. He gives her an extra five dollars, and she thanks him for it in a tone that lets him know it mitigates nothing. When he moves to the door with her, she tells him she’ll walk home; it’s only up the block. Her every movement expresses her fear of him now. She lets herself out, and Casey stands in his doorway under the porch light and calls after her that he is so very sorry and he hopes she’ll forgive him. She goes quickly along the street and is out of sight.

Casey stands there and looks at the place where she disappeared. Perhaps a minute goes by. Then he closes the door and walks back through the house, to the boys’ room. Rodney is in Michael’s bed with Michael, the two of them sprawled there, arms and legs tangled, blankets knotted and wrapped, the sheet pulled from a corner of the mattress. it’s as if this has all been dropped from a great, windy height. Casey kisses his sons, and then gets into Rodney’s bed. He looks over at the shadowy figures across from him. The lights are still on in the hall and in the living room. He thinks of turning them off, and then dreams that he does, that he walks through the rooms, locking windows and closing doors. In this dream, he can’t quite see, he can’t open his eyes wide enough. He hears sounds. An intruder is in the house. Many intruders. He’s in the darkest corner, and he can hear them moving toward him. He turns, still trying to get his eyes wide enough to let light in, only now something has changed: he knows he’s dreaming. It comes to him with a rush of power that he’s dreaming and can do anything now, anything he wants to. He luxuriates in this as he tries to hold on to it, feels how precarious it must be. He takes a step, and it is as quiet as the sound after death. He knows he can begin now, so he begins. He glides through the house, tracks the intruders down. He is relentless. He destroys them, one by one. He wins. He establishes order.