I had the privilege of having a short story titled Dual Perceptions published in an anthology called Double Entendre. I decided to post it so it can be read by those unable to get a copy of the book. I hope you enjoy!
by LS Jackson
Clarice walked between the swings of an old play-set. The grass was worn in this area of the church yard. The boy walked with his head hung low, away from her and toward the stone ledge that surrounded the property. She sensed that nothing she was saying to him was making him feel any better. But she kept trying.
The boy climbed the ledge and stood looking over the edge into the flowing water below. She was a few feet away from him and began to speak louder so he could hear her over the blustering wind. He was grappling with an intense feeling of confusion that was making them both sad and she wanted nothing but to help him and show him that she was there for him.
He looked back at her once more before jumping off the ledge.
Clarice startled awake and stifled a scream. Her husband snatched off his headphones and reached out for her, almost spilling his Jack and Coke.
“Honey,” he said with alarm, “are you okay?”
Clarice could see the flight attendant’s concerned look as she headed toward them.
“I’m alright. I’m alright,” Clarice gasped as she waved the attendant away and held on tight to Brian’s hand. “A scary dream.” The passengers seated near them returned to their previous activity before her disturbance.
A moment later, the attendant brought over a cup of water that Clarice was thankful for. Her heart rate was already starting to slow down. Brian accepted the cup as the attendant gently closed the curtain separating them from the travelers seated in coach, to give Clarice a little privacy.
“Stop chewing your tongue and take a sip of this water,” he suggested. “Are you really that upset about visiting your sister?”
“Ugh. That woman and I are not made from the same mold, let’s not forget!”
Brian sighed. “You only acknowledge you’re adopted when you’re mad at her. And the way you’re gnawing on your tongue is telling me you’re stressed. You sure we’re going to be okay taking this trip?”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure. But come on, Brian, this is ridiculous! To blow through an inheritance, get evicted twice, and call me both times to come and help? It’s just stupid.”
Brian gave her hand a reassuring pat. “But you’re a wonderful woman to use your half of the inheritance to help her out.” He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.
Clarice blushed from the compliment. “I guess. But I am mad about it.” She paused to sip the water. “Even still, it will be good for us to see each other. It’s been a long time. Everything will be fine. I will be fine. I promise.” She rolled her shoulders to loosen the tension in her neck and adjusted her legs to prevent a later backache. She inadvertently looked at her purse on the floor and longed for one of the cigarettes she had hidden in there. She once more promised herself she would quit the habit again. And soon. “How much longer before we land?”
Brian checked his watch. “A little over an hour.”
“Okay. I’ll just rest my eyes then.”
Brian kissed the freckle on the tip of Clarice’s nose and gave her leg a light squeeze, then pulled on his headphones to finish watching his movie.
Clarice hadn’t dreamed of the boy in quite some time. It used to be that she dreamt of him frequently. These dreams had a vividness superior to all others. In most, if not all, he was always so sad and it was her job to cheer him up. She didn’t mind because he was such a nice boy. He had frequented her dreams most when she was a teen. She’d helped him through so many hardships. About the time she turned nineteen, she didn’t dream of him much, and only thought of him every once in a while. Maybe when shopping and seeing someone who reminded her of him.
It wasn’t always that he showed up needing help. There were a number of occasions when he had come to her aid.
A dream before fifth grade:
Clarice and the boy had laid under a large canopy bed in a bedroom deep in the west wing of a castle. She had finally finished crying.
“I can’t even say that word,” he’d said.
She chuckled. “Sco-li-o-sis. It means a crooked spine. And surgery. And an awful back brace for six months!”
“Won’t you feel and walk better though? And won’t you get ice cream and presents afterwards?”
When her mom was in that really bad car accident:
“What if something happens to her? Who will take care of us? What will happen to me?”
“She’s proven loyal to you, hasn’t she? Why do you doubt her now?” he had asked as he’d handed her one of his treats. She tried to hide her displeasure in his snack but promised she would eat it later.
When she received her college acceptance letter:
Clarice sat cross-legged inside a palanquin being pulled by a horse. The boy rode atop the saddle holding tightly to the reigns.
“This should be a happy time for me,” she sighed.
“It is,” he said turning in the saddle to face her, “isn’t it?”
“Not for long. Once my grandparents learn I want to go to Berkeley to be with Brian rather than the family Alma Mater in Chicago, the fits going to hit the shan.”
The boy looked confounded.
“It means it’s really going to be bad,” she explained.
The boy contemplated. “The way I see it, they’ll appreciate you being up front and honest with them. Let them know you plan to work hard no matter what. And explain that your education, as well as your happiness, is what matters to you. They’ll come around. They may be mad for a little while, but they love you. Eventually, it’ll all clear up in the end.”
Clarice smiled as she reached out to tousle the boy’s hair. He felt inside the front pocket of his shirt and tossed her a biscuit.
In all the years she dreamt of him, he had never aged. He was always a 5 year old toddler. The advice he gave her was always insightful, but so bizarre coming from such a young child.
Clarice wondered why he was appearing after all this time. As usual, she wondered who he was and what it meant that he appeared in her dreams at all. She felt that she had disappointed him this time, that she hadn’t done enough. She wasn’t sure if falling asleep would bring him back in to her dream so that she could help him, but she hoped the last hour of the flight was enough time to try.
∞ ∞ ∞
Carlton sat on the ledge, swinging his feet back and forth. His bow tie sat crooked around his neck, and he kept adjusting it, trying to get it right. He could hear footsteps approach and knew it would be Doug.
“Thinking of jumping, are you?” his friend joked as he leaned over the ledge to look at the water below. “That’s a better choice than going back in there,” he laughed pointing toward the church.
Carlton snorted a laugh.
“Why are you out here? Having second thoughts?”
Carlton rolled his eyes. Doug knew he was having second thoughts. Third thoughts and fourth thoughts, for that matter.
Doug raised his arms in mock defense. “Alright. Sorry. Calm down.” He let out a nervous laugh. “I’ve known you most of my life—what would you say–a good 18 years? And I’m not really sure what I’m to do here, buddy.”
“Why do you keep forgetting to add the time we were together at that mission home before you were sent to that first family? It’s been almost 21 years now, my friend.”
“Oh yeah. The Miller’s. I do seem to always forget that. Maybe ‘cause we were so young for that one. But, still. We’ve stayed friends through a lot of bad times. You and your stint in juvie and all those times you ran away and left me in that hellhole group home all by myself.”
“Yeah, but you were placed in all those foster homes, leaving me in that hellhole place by myself!” Carlton retorted.
“But I kept getting sent back to you, didn’t I?” Both men laughed. “We’ve stuck with each other through all of that, but I’ve got to say, Carl, I don’t know what to tell you on this one. This is a decision you need to make on your own.”
They’d already had many different versions of this conversation — with them both saying the same thing — and Carlton was tired of it.
Doug grabbed Carlton’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. He reached into the breast pocket of his tuxedo and pulled out a pack of Marlboro’s. “You want to keep chomping on your tongue, or do you want one of these?”
Carlton hadn’t realized he was chewing his tongue. He looked at the box and hesitated.
“What? Did you quit again?” Doug asked as he shook loose a cigarette from the pack. Carlton took it, placed it between his lips, and waited for Doug to light it. The burn of the nicotine was a welcomed feeling that Carlton missed. He would have to once again muster the energy to break the habit.
The funny thing was that he knew what he should do. He was just still trying to convince himself to do it. And there was no way he could explain to Doug that his decision would be based on a dream.
The black and white Border Collie had come back. It was a long time since he had dreamed of her. Actually, a long time since he had needed her. She’d been there for him as long as he could remember. He never understood why the dog had such an influential position in his dreams, but later understood it to coincide with the most afflicting times in his life.
The building of the group home sat atop a rain cloud. Puffs of smoke rose with each step Carlton and the dog took as they walked toward the edge of it. Carlton pulled on his backpack then hooked the puppy parachute pack to the dog and told her to jump. They both fell free for a few moments until they saw land. Carlton pulled the ripcord on the dog’s pack, followed by his own, and the pair glided toward earth. They safely landed and Carlton looked up toward the dark cloud floating high above them. “I hate that place,” he sighed. They walked to a nearby field and Carlton used his deployed parachute as a blanket. He tirelessly threw a Frisbee that the dog would catch in mid-air. The repetitive play soothed his thoughts and calmed him.
Carlton ran through the trees, tears leaving a clean line through his dirty cheeks. The branches whipped at his face, but he would not slow down. He had to get away and stay away this time. Suddenly, the dog appeared running next to him with a mirrored determination. The wind hissed cruel things at him as he ran, things he’d heard that whole week. “Control that temper or you’ll never leave here.” “No one wanted you when you were born, no one’s going to want you now.” “Nobody takes a kid your age.” Carlton’s leg caught onto something. He looked down to see that the dog had his pant leg between her teeth, pulling him to a stop. “What are you doing? We’ve got to keep going.” The dog growled low and tugged harder. Carlton resisted the urge to pull away from her, but knew she was right. He had nowhere to go. She sat and he sat with her. She whimpered before laying her head in his lap with her body curled next to him. Fresh tears leaked from his eyes as he sat in the woods, petting the dog, wondering what was to become of him.
No matter the activity, her appearance in a dream was a constant source of comfort for Carlton and helped him through many trials. After leaving the home and no longer being a ward of the state, Carlton had flourished working in landscaping with a friend of Doug’s foster father. He had quickly branched off and started a prosperous business of his own. Carlton hadn’t dreamed or thought of the cocker spaniel since then. But there she was two nights ago.
Carlton swayed back and forth on a swing of an old play set and threw a tennis ball, which the dog brought back to him each time. He dug into the pocket of his jacket and realized he had no treats for her, but she didn’t seem to mind. She dropped the ball and sat at his feet as her wagging tail displaced the dirt between the swings. He crawled onto the ground beside her and she lovingly licked at the freckle on the tip of his nose. Carlton began to talk and poured out everything that was stressing him. His fiancée was a pleasant distraction from his loneliness, but he wasn’t sure that marrying her was going to fix the void in his life. The familiar petting of the dog’s soft fur brought the usual comfort that he realized he had missed. After a while, she picked up the tennis ball and trotted away from him. Fifty yards away, the dog turned in a circle and sat. She turned to look at him and let out a soft whine before walking another fifty yards and sitting again. Only when she saw Carlton stand to brush the dirt off his pants and finally start to follow her out of the yard, did she stop the low whining in her throat.
“A lot of people in there?” Carlton now asked, his cigarette half smoked.
“Well, her side of the church is almost full. Not much to your side, though. Those two guys from your job with their wives, and one of their kids. Sharon is late. She’s mad at me again. I’d actually be surprised if she shows up at all.”
“Another one bites the dust?”
Carlton was glad that Doug let him finish his cigarette in silence. After the last drag, he threw the butt into the water below.
“Ready to go?” Doug urged.
“Yeah, I’m ready to go,” Carlton answered as he pivoted around on the ledge and hopped onto the ground. He and Doug walked shoulder to shoulder toward the left side of the church. Carlton hobbled past the swing set. The cause of his limp was recently diagnosed as an untreated curved spine as a kid. The docs couldn’t do much for him now outside of a surgery that Carlton wouldn’t agree to, so the minor hitch in his step was a permanent part of his character.
Doug headed toward the entrance of the church and noticed that Carlton wasn’t following him. “What’s up, Carl?”
Carlton turned from the parking lot where he was headed. “I think I’m gonna take the Harley out and ride around a bit, then try that new hibachi place for lunch. Let’s do our usual at Gary’s Pub on Tuesday, though, okay?”