Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

What the… Glenn Dey sat up, eyes adjusting to the dark. His perception puzzled together a recognizable landscape, the features of the room losing the distortion caused by the moonlight. Okay, there’s the dresser, the door of the closet, the enormous armoire given to Emily by her grandmother… And there was Emily lying beside him, fragile as an eggshell in the moonlight. Sweet, fragile Emily, like a rescued maiden in a fairytale. But there was something about a dream… Okay, think, what was that dream about? It was about Emily of course. It was about Emily and… He couldn’t remember. It was about Emily and what? Glenn surveyed the bedroom again. He looked like—at the risk of sounding obvious—a man awakened from a dream. But that concept was becoming smeared, the line separating dreams and reality fading. Lately, when he woke from sleep, he needed to focus on objects, landmarks, foot and finger holds, to pull himself to full consciousness. Because lately, his dreams felt more like real memories. So there’s the dresser, the closet, the armoire, and… He jerked as the boiler kicked on in the house’s basement, battling the frigid fingers of a late March cold snap. The boiler grumbling like something organic, the heartbeat of a living being, its blood trickling through the copper piping of the house. Lately the house, all the neighborhood’s houses, seemed like living things to Glenn, a block of sinister, ancient creatures watching people come and go with wise, silent judgment… The girl. That was it. The dream was about Emily and that girl next door. That hippie chick. What’s her name? Robin or something. Egret maybe? It’s a bird, I know that, it’s… Starling. Yeah, Starling, that little stoner bitch. And Gordon said to watch out for her friend, what was the little shit’s name… Kermit or something? Ernie, that’s it. I thought Emily was fooling around with that guy, but it’s really… Emily’s stirring interrupted his thoughts. Beside him, his wife whispered an exhaling coo as her body stretched and reached out of sleep. Would she have to climb out of her dreams using recognizable landmarks as anchor lines too?

Glenn dreamt about Emily and that girl next door. The images climbed back into his mind, as viable a memory as what he did at work that day. In the dream, Emily told Glenn she loved Starling and that she needed to go. Go where? Why would she leave him? The questions spun frantic in his mind. What was happening to him? He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. In the past few months, he’d dreamt everything from the absurd: being on a hunting trip, except Glenn and his friends were the game, being stalked by a group of inebriated stags dressed in bright orange parkas, walking upright, and drunkenly firing shotguns with hoofed hands. To the utterly realistic: Emily sitting Glenn down in their living room, she leaning forward, taking both his hands in hers, and explaining that she was in love with someone else, a woman, the girl next door, and that she needed to… Utterly realistic? How was that utterly realistic? Things were great between them. They’ve never been happier. They were a family. Not to mention Emily wasn’t a lesbian. Or was she? Of course not. It was a dream—Push it out of your head, will you?

Lately, Glenn recalled a dream he had while in grade school. It was a dream about his neighbor’s dog. Amber was the thing’s name. A harmless cocker spaniel that ran in excited circles. But one night, Glenn dreamt about little Amber mauling him with vicious barks and lunging bites. And that dream was enough trauma to cause Glenn’s despising of that stupid dog. Not an opportunity went by, when Glenn passed Amber in her fenced-in yard, that Glenn didn’t throw—a snowball, a stone, a wad of gum—something at that dog. Of course, by high school, Glenn grew out of this cruelty and he felt guilty about it in retrospect. He even helped Carl Henderson bury the dog after a car hit it. But the fact remained, that dream was enough of a catalyst for Glenn to abuse a poor, helpless, friendly dog. To this day, he never forgot a single detail about that dog. In fact, he could still describe it to a composite artist and create a virtual photograph of the thing. All because of that dream. Sure, in the dream Amber was bigger and fiercer, not even looking like a cocker spaniel at all, but after that dream, the dog achieved a new awareness in Glenn’s mind. That dog was not just something he came across in his day-to-day world. It was something more ingrained, like a chick imprinting its first image of its mother. That dog was somewhere deep in his mind, where dreams go when they’re done. In the receptacle of past memories. But lately, when he tried retrieving memories from that receptacle, the memories didn’t always come cleanly. Images of dreams clung to the images of real life like ticks burrowed into skin. But why dream about his wife having an affair with a woman?

Glenn tended to dispel all that dream analysis junk. To him, shrinks were quacks. What kind of job was it to fix someone’s mind like a mechanic tinkering with a carburetor? But still, Glenn certainly had his share of questions when it came to dreams. Amber a perfect example. And the dreams he’s been having lately warranted plenty of questioning. After all, he’s been having dreams about his wife wanting to leave him for… No-no-no. Will you knock it off?

This was all Gordon Webster’s fault. Gordon saying how he saw Emily hanging around last summer with all those stoners. Gordon drunk, draping his arm over Glenn’s shoulder, saying he wanted to tell Glenn something, even though it was none of Gordo’s business, but Glenn was one of his buds, and buds stick together. “Bros before hoes, man, that’s what I always say,” Gordo said, “But the fact is, I seen Emily last summer down the beach, hanging with a group of guys, and… you know Terrance McAlester? Well his little brother, Ernie, was all doe eyed toward Emily.” It was right there that Gordon planted the seeds of doubt. But Glenn tried to pass it off as nothing. He wasn’t a paranoid type of guy. He and Emily were married for God’s sake. He was sure it was harmless. Emily probably took William to the lake, and that stoner chick from next door strikes up a conversation and… Damn it. That girl from next door.

Emily opened her eyes and looked up at Glenn. A wry smile threatened to steal across her lips as she stretched her arms in a rather content way. “Hi,” she cooed.


“Were you dreaming?” she said with another ghost of a smile and another stretch of her body.

“Uh-huh.” He studied her, studied the three, tiny moles below her left ear. Three moles gathered in a circular configuration like children playing Ring Around the Rosy. He noticed those moles in his dream. But, unlike the landmarks of reality he used to pull his way out of sleep, these landmarks were in his dream, and how could he get out if…

“About what?” she said.


“What was the dream about?”

“Don’t know,” Glenn said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 52 — Contagion

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