Emily woke up in a sweat, the air in the room felt as thick and heavy as a bowl of tapioca pudding. Another dream about him, will they never end? She had dreamt that she was twelve years old, back at the kitchen sink, washing dishes in the big Victorian house she was raised in. He was somewhere behind her, laughing and saying, “I don’t need a dishwasher, I have her and she doesn’t work half the time, either.” He came over to the sink, plunged his hand into the dishwater, and screamed that it was not hot enough. “Stupid bitch! How do you expect to get these dishes clean in cold water?” He picked up the wooden spoon that was now in the dish drainer, and hit Emily upside the head with it. As she lost consciousness in her dream, Emily woke up to real life. This was home, the one that she and Will had made. This was a home that meant love and comfort like a real home should.
Here she was, thirty-five years old, a married woman with three kids, and what she needed most in the world right now was to be held and rocked like a baby. Emily had been having these nightmares ever since her father died a year and a half ago of cancer. Emily remembered his final months, she had gone to her parent’s house every evening, after Will returned home to stay with the kids, to help her mother and wait. She waited for her father to give some explanation of why he was so cold and cruel to her as she was growing up. She waited for him to say he was sorry. But he never did. Oh he said he loved her, and he thanked her for coming to help empty his bedpan and change his sheets, but he never said he was sorry. Father, that’s a good word! Emily preferred calling him the sperm donor, because he was never a “father.” The son-of-a-bitch drove her brother, Rob, out of the house, and that night was the night Rob died.
Rob was nineteen at the time, a budding young man, strong and handsome. The donor was giving Rob a good reaming about one thing or another, and Rob was flexing his new found man muscles, when suddenly, like lightning, the donor picked Rob up and hung him on a nail in the wall. He just hung him there by the collar of his jacked. I’ll never forget the look of pure humiliation on Rob’s face when he saw me watching from around the corner. When he finally got himself down he stormed out of the house. He got drunk with some buddies and on that night Rob died in a drunken driving accident. That was the last time Emily saw her brother alive, hanging from a nail in the wall, his own crucifixion.
After Rob died Emily started having dreams that he would descend a misty, celestial staircase and they would visit. They would talk about all kinds of things, just as if he was still here and they could carry on every-day conversations. At the end of each of these dreams Rob would tell her “I have to go back.” And that he would see her again. These dreams came on a regular basis, and Emily began to feel like she really was communicating with him in some preternatural way. He was her big brother, checking in on her to make sure everything was all right. These visits ere warm and wonderful and had a soothing effect on her. They helped her to accept Rob’s death. Now, however, Emily had to ask herself, if she really believed that she was communicating with Rob, why then couldn’t the donor be reaching through death to communicate too?
Still needing comfort, Emily blinked away her tears and curled up next to Will. Knowing the drill, Will wrapped his strong arms around Emily and said in a sleepy voice “its ok, Em, I’m here.”
Emily drifted back to the first time that Will had confronted her about the dreams she was having. “Look, Em, this is crazy, what the hell is giving you these nightmares?” Will only knew the donor as a man on city council, the good provider, a man who went to church every Sunday. But when Emily told him the whole story, Will began to see the truth that was hidden behind the front door of that big Victorian house. Emily told him about her memories of being beaten with a hairbrush for being on the phone too long, and about the time that she accidentally bumped the donor walking through the hall one day and he beat her with the new sandals he was carrying until the leather broke. Will had recalled the time, when they were dating, that he came to the house with one pizza and the donor yelled at him to leave and not come back unless he had enough pizza for everyone. And Emily had to tell Will that, on that night; she was beaten with a belt for being upset that Will was sent away.
Emily’s mind was in a whirlwind, she was too frightened to try to go back to sleep or get out of bed/ instead, she figured she would have a cigarette in the hope that by the time it was done she would be able to get back to sleep. She wiped the sleepy nightmare tears from her eyes, placed the cigarette between her quivering lips and put her Zippo to work. The tiny flame was bright as any searchlight, and that’s when she saw him, the donor, outside the bedroom window. It was mid-spring and Emily had opened the bedroom windows to let in some sweet, fresh air. He looked right at her and then tried to get the screen out of the window.
Emily felt as if someone had socked her in the gut and no matter how hard she tried she could not pull air into her starving lungs. Every nerve in her body was alive as she leaped from her bed and ran into the bathroom that adjoined the bedroom. Slamming the door shut and leaning with her back to the door she could finally steal some air and it now felt like too much. It was like sucking helium form a balloon, she thought. Her lungs were too full and her breaths came in tense wheezes. Emily’s heart was beating much too fast as she heard a noise at her right. Looking up she saw, with the help of the night-light, that he was now at this window, again trying to get in. She tore open the bathroom door and with tears streaming freely down her face she ran out toward the dining room. And again he followed her, shadowing her movements from outside the house. “I hate you, leave me alone, you’re dead so why don’t you just die and leave me alone!” Her cry came out in broken sobs of futility.
By now her knees felt like they would buckle and her legs and arms felt like rubber bands. But Emily started to think. The hall bathroom doesn’t have any windows. She forced her jellied limbs and concrete feet to carry her there. Again, she slammed the door shut. Why didn’t I put a night- light in here? In the dark Emily scrambled to find the light switch. Her fingers searched frantically for what seemed like days before they finally found the elusive switch. When her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw him there, in the mirror, his hands already through and grasping the frame, pulling himself into the bathroom.
Emily’s mind bent and twisted in confusion, how can this be happening? If I try to make a run for the door he will be able to reach me, God only knows what horror he’s here to deliver. With no escape in sight she stepped back into the bathtub, and pulled the shower curtain shut, not wanting to watch her fate come any closer. She slid down and hugged her knew close to her chest, trying to breath quietly in order to hear. All sounds were muffled through the curtain and echoed because of the acoustics of the bathtub. The only sound she could make out was what can only be described as a multitude of souls whispering to one another in phrases that she could not understand. Their whispers growing louder and louder, filling her mind until there seemed nowhere to turn, no exodus from this hell. My sense of hearing is of no use to me either! Emily clamped her eyes shut and covered her ears with her trembling hands, willing herself to disappear. A screeching wail escaped her as she felt a hand grasp her arm. It felt hot, as if the fires of hell coursed through its veins. Her body was electric, alive with fright as she scampered for anything safe; something solid to grasp onto that would take her anywhere but here. She heard him whisper her name “Emily, Emmmiiilllyyy.”
Her breath was short and her skin crawled but she finally willed herself to open her eyes. She knew she had to face this devil one and for all. As her eyes focused the vision changed from the donor, to her husband, Will. “Wake up now, I’m here, Emily, it’s me Will!” Emily realized that she was throwing punches into his face and arms. Stopping, she allowed him to caress her. “It’s okay Em, you were dreaming again. Damn girl, that must have been a bad one, are you okay?” Will pulled her close, and Emily buried her face into his wooly chest and let herself cry. As she grew up she didn’t want the donor to know how badly he was destroying her, so she didn’t let him see her cry, no matter what. “Look Em, I have meetings all day tomorrow, I’ve got to get some sleep. Why don’t you watch television for a while and get that crap out of your head.”
“Okay, but I think I’ll go out to the living room, there’s no sense in keeping us both up.” Will gave Emily a tight squeeze and a tender kiss and Emily headed for the living room.
As she climbed out to bed Emily glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand, she was not surprised to see that it read 3:15 a.m., exactly the time of Rob’s death. She always woke up at 3:15; it was as if Rob were saving her as he often did when they were children. Rob used to get between the donor and Emily when the donor was in a particularly bad mood. Rob was her big brother, and he took the job seriously.
Emily spent the rest of the night sleepless, and before she wrapped up in her big quilt and headed for the couch, she closed the windows and drew the shades. She was glad when the alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. It meant that the sun would be full in the heavens soon and the shadows left from last night’s dreams would fade. She folded the quilt and put it in its usual place on the arm of the couch and went straight in to wake up her three children.
Their sweet youth always amazed her, but this morning she was more amazed than usual. As she watched them come sleepily, one by one, to the breakfast table, their little hands chasing the sandman away, she wondered how anyone could beat such innocent and defenseless creations. Before they left to run for the school bus she hugged each of them tight.
Emily stayed in the shower until there was no hot water left. Frustration filled her as she slathered on enough makeup to cover up the dark circles under her eyes. Emily made it through her day at the office though the work seemed extra tedious. She picked up the kids at the sitters and when they arrived home she found Will napping on the couch. Too tired to cook, she picked up the telephone and ordered pizza for diner. They passed the evening watching television and eating popcorn. Emily put the kids to bed with a kiss and tonight’s chapter of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Then she went to work taking every precaution she could think of to stave off the nightmares. Emily lounged in a warm bubble bath as she listened to soothing classical music and drank a glass of wine. After emerging from the tub, she and Will made love. Finally she sank into the fresh cotton of the sheets. She was relaxed and completely contented. A wave of exhaustion washed over her and she asked God to help her get some rest.
Soon she was floating in a warm, quiet, womb of black nothingness. Emily swam through the thick dark turning somersaults as she went. She felt like a toddler whose naked state allows him to have the freedom of nature. But then, faintly at first, she heard the whispers coming toward her. Emily’s heart immediately sank and she wondered what method of torture the donor had in store for her tonight. She could feel the whisperers drawing nearer, their cold breath giving her chills. The nothingness, that was so wonderful just minutes before became the dark closet in a child’s room where monsters hide.
Invisible hands crept from the abyss to pinch and poke her, their fingernails scratching. Emily felt the warm flow of blood trickle down her arms and back. No hysterics she said to herself as she yelled “I will not let you scare me, you can’t hurt me anymore!” All sound, all sensation was instantly sucked from the blackness. There was nothing left but an incredible feeling of dread. What have I done? The silence was so overwhelming that Emily thought that her ears would burst. She felt like a volunteer in a sensory deprivation experiment and she waited for what would come next. Then it came. To her extreme displeasure it was the sound of the donor laughing. “I’m everywhere, there’s no way to hide from me now.” Like the cracking of thunder he struck her and she felt her body whirl in the dark from the blow. From the blackness she could hear all the curses he had thrown at her while she was growing up. “Stupid Bitch! I’ll give you something to cry about! Why can’t you do anything right?” She could hear the familiar sound of his belt buckle clinking as he took off his belt to beat her.
Emily was lost, helpless, still spinning from the last blow when the next and then the next came. Her arms and hands were spread, grasping in hopes of finding something to hold onto. “Robby help me, please!” she cried. Suddenly, like her Zippo in the dark, a light opened up, and magically she could hold onto it and stop the spinning. The light grew in intensity and as it did Emily realized that it pulsated and it was warm and loving. From the dark abyss she could still hear screeches of anger. “Do you think that bastard brother of yours can help you? I killed him once and I’ll do it again! Come back here right now or it will be twice as bad!”
Emily looked back to the ever-growing light and saw Rob. He looked like the pictures in Catechism books of Christ’s resurrection into heaven. He smiled at her and put his arms around her. Then he looked into Emily’s eyes and said “Emily you can do this, you have to do this. I have to go back and the best way for me to help you is to tell you that only you have the power to overcome your fears.” The realization of the truth in Rob’s words made Emily feel as if she had just slammed into a brick wall. She looked at Rob with a tear-stained smile and said, “I know.”
As Emily turned toward the evil in the dark she pulled back her shoulders and drew in a deep breath. Her mind searched for the answer. What can I do? What should I do? If I do the wrong thing all hell could break loose! Then it came to her, this was a dream. This was her dream. She could do whatever she wanted; she did have the power.
Emily willed the scene to change to the cemetery. She stood at the donor’s grave, and she jumped back as she saw, as she had seen in dreams before, that he was trying to dig himself out. She could see his hands, fingernails full of dirt and grass, breaking the ground. Emily pulled herself together and willed a sledgehammer into her hands. She cocked the sledgehammer back, and as she crashed it into the headstone, she could hear the donor’s voice screaming, “You Bitch! You’ll join me in hell for this!” The voice faded with each blow of the sledgehammer until finally it was gone. He was gone. She was finally free.
Emily woke up smiling with tears of joy in her eyes, and when she rolled over to look at the alarm clock it read 3:15 a.m. Without fear, she looked out the bedroom window and saw a bright star in the night sky; it seemed to pulse, like Robs light. She smiled and said, “Thanks Rob, I love you.”