This is not a dream, you tell yourself, as the vendor hands you a bag of oranges in exchange for the bills you gave her. You tell yourself, again and again, this. Is not. A dream.
It doesn’t stick. You know it’s not a dream, but as you walk through the market, colors muted and scents only tickling your nose, it continues to niggle at your brain, the idea that your life has turned into a dreamscape from which you cannot wake, or at least, from which you have not yet awoken.
The oranges are for your wife. For her cravings. The child she is carrying is not yours. You are for all intents and purposes incapable of creating a child with her, and so she looked elsewhere and found a way. The child is her idea. Not yours. The child is only one facet of this dream that is not a dream. The wife is another.
You take the long way home, walking along the river. Your left leg is heavier than the right. Psychosomatic, doctors have told you. Nothing wrong with your leg, really. It’s only the memory of buckshot locked inside it. There is no lead left, doctors have assured you. But you have been doubted by doctors for most of your life, and so you doubt them right back.
This is not a dream, you remind yourself again, the mesh sack of oranges weighing down your right hand. The orange of the oranges is less vivid than you remember it being; the orange of the mesh is bright, neon, like what you think color should be. It should scream at you, beg you to notice it. At least, if this weren’t a dream it should. But this is not a dream, you chant silently, and unlock the door to your building.
Heave-ho! a woman grunts, and she and her friend reach for the bottom of the couch they’re laboring to bring up the stairs. Her hair is all over the place, in her eyes, getting caught and snapped in her armpit, wild and curly and artificially auburn. You ask if you can help, and you drop the oranges on the ground by the entryway. You bend yourself in two and lift the couch from the center as the two women work to hold steady on either side. You help them bring the couch up three more flights of stairs, though you live in the garden apartment.
Stay for a drink, the friends tell you, the woman with the wild hair and her friend, who has no hair on view at all, tucked still under a headscarf, no strand escaping even in her sweaty climb. They’re an unlikely pair, but who are you to talk about like and unlike? You don’t stay for a drink. You don’t trust yourself, in this dream that is not, to stay sober, to stay sane, to stay.
Someone has placed the bag of oranges on the rickety side-table under the mailboxes. They’ve taken the liberty of paying themselves, relieving you of two of the eight oranges. You unlock the door to your apartment. Your wife isn’t there. She’s left you a note, Gone to Yoga, Love U! Her use of capital letters has always baffled you; it’s as if she’s headlining everything, as if expecting her notes to end up in the newspaper. Maybe she can hear your occasional murderous thoughts. Or maybe she is just cheerful.
This is not a dream, you tell yourself, and you wonder if your wife even likes oranges at all.