Welcome back, Dear Reader! If you’ve read the first nine excerpts, feel free to skip this preamble to the meat a few paragraphs down. If you haven’t, well, thanks for joining me!
These are exciting times for your ol’ pal Jerry – after talking about it for most of my life, I finally put the proverbial money and mouth together and started my first novel, Of Dreams & Angels, in the fall of 2019. It’s still in the first draft, but I thought it would be fun to start putting pieces of it (and thereby my entire soul, don’t you know!) out into the universe. Maybe you’ll get caught up in the intrigue and start following along too.
The synopsis – well, before we get to that, Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing, wrote that many of his stories can be expressed as a What-if question, and after reading that, my imagination (as it pertained to story ideas) started framing situations that way. Of Dreams is this question: What if a man started dreaming about a woman he’d never met, but who actually exists; falls in love with her based on what he sees in the dreams and sets out to find her?
Don’t ask me where it came from, and believe me when I say I’m just as shocked as you are that my first idea for a novel – ok maybe not the first idea in the grand scope of my life, but the first one to make it to fruition – was a fantastical love story. But as soon as I thought of it, *I* wanted to know what would happen, which made me think others might want to, too.
At all rates, here you have it, Dear Reader (also a not-so-subtle borrow from Mr. King, who as you may know refers to us as “Constant Reader”) – another excerpt from Of Dreams & Angels. We’re picking up where we left off in Excerpt 9; Joe is now dreaming about Claire (and has learned her name, among a whole lot of other things!) every night–still trying to figure out if this is the most elaborate instance of lucid dreaming in the history of humankind, or if she just might be real. Enjoy!
The worst part about a failed marriage (and again, Joe couldn’t say how he knew this—especially having never been betrothed himself—he just did) was the grieving process. The lack of rationality and roller-coaster of feelings it wrought. Claire simply wanted to be able to hate David; hate him for the betrayal, the lack of love, the death of their intimacy and sacred trust… but all at once she couldn’t. What she hated more than him was the part of her that still held on; that still questioned what might have been different, if they might have survived somehow, if she could have loved him better, why he didn’t love her enough. She longed for the clean emotional break, freedom from the equal parts grieving, loathing, and longing. Simple detest would have been easier; predictable, dependable, practical. Yet there she was, every second Sunday, making that dreaded walk from curb to the door—shrouded and surrounded by her opposing armies of dichotomous feelings she couldn’t reconcile. That was the worst part.
Her sister, Audrey (whom Joe had come to learn was the figure he couldn’t quite see but sensed in that first vision), had been mostly an oasis and lifeline throughout. Shortly after David moved out, Audrey moved herself in, knowing better than Claire what Claire needed. Audrey quickly and quietly assumed her role as point guard, knowing if she was in the home, David would not. She was four years younger than Claire and had yet to marry or start a family, also choosing career (in this case, fledgling artist) over long-term relationships, but had always carried herself with an innate knowledge (if not cynicism) of the dynamics of male-female couplings. She had terrific instincts for the patterns and paradigms that came with love and loss, and knew there would come the inevitable moments of post-breakup weakness between David and Claire. Despite David’s for-the-moment heart-afire for Miranda, Audrey knew he would come unscrupulously knocking at some point, and he most definitely had.
There had been a post-separation crisis episode—the “Maybe we made a mistake” talk—on a Friday evening a few months following the fallout. David had come to collect the children for his bi-weekly weekend, inviting himself in and talking Claire into a glass of wine “while the kids readied their things”. Of the latter excuse, the children were already prepared; Claire always ensured their bags were packed on Friday mornings, not wanting to prolong the exchange at the door (and yet sometimes simultaneously, always paradoxically, wanting to draw out the minutes). Despite their readiness, David sent the three children off again on some ridiculous errand to collect ice skates, beanies and mitts for an excursion Claire was almost certain would never happen. Two-thirds of a glass of wine later, Claire could hear herself agreeing to a “movie night in” with the five of them, “for old times’ sake,” and had very nearly started the popcorn maker when Audrey emerged from her suite above the carpark.
Audrey would have normally been standing literal guard during these hand-offs, but David arrived twenty minutes earlier than usual while she was still in the bath. The rustling of kitchen wares, and the kids on their errand designed for distraction going through boxes in the carpark, had alerted Audrey something was amiss. She emerged in the kitchen, a towel wrapped around her hair and robe painted against her skin as it soaked up water she hadn’t had time to dry in her haste. She stood beside the island, arms folded across her chest, daggers shooting from her eyes as David—glass of wine in hand and an initial Cheshire-cat smile of charm across his face—stood beside Claire. She held a bowl in one hand and bag of popcorn kernels in the other, an initial smile on her face, too. Audrey said not a word, simply regarded the both of them. David finally cut the silence after setting his goblet down—smile and colour draining from his face—saying “On second thought I should probably run. I just realized we’re low on groceries and need to stop at the market before it closes.” Audrey had responded with a glare that suggested Yes you do. You better leave, and you better do it now.
There had also been a physical toll at some point; Joe could sense (but not quite grab) other memories of a leave of absence from work for a time, and frequent doctor and therapist visits. Then had come the requisite rebuilding phase—at least a rebuilding and reinvention of the exterior self, if the mind, soul and heart took longer to catch up. Yoga. Meditation. A running group, for a time. All whilst continuing to put the children first. It didn’t matter what the theories said, the metaphors casually tossed about (by people who rarely seemed to know first-hand knowledge) along the lines of “put the life-mask on yourself first before you apply it to a loved one.” Any parent knew such a sensible theory never made sense to the instincts during acute danger. The children were always to be protected first. Overcoming that impulse—even with the rational knowledge that if Claire didn’t take care of herself first, it might eventually become impossible to care for the children—was like trying to stop a freight train by grabbing onto the last coupling and digging one’s heels in.
She had been determined that no matter the pain, no matter the cost, Jack, Holly, and Ainsley’s pain—at least their immediate trauma caused by the separation—would stop then and there. If nothing else, at least their exposure would stop. If that meant the gym at 5 a.m. and yoga at 10 p.m., when Claire was already exhausted by 10-hour days (that never really stopped even after she stepped out of the office) and medical appointments scattered throughout, so be it. She would spare their tiny and tender hearts in any way she could. In that first year of crisis, that compulsion to protect them from further pain became more vital than the air she breathed.
Audrey had been a life-saver in that regard, too; while Claire endeavoured to be back home from her morning workout in time to wake her darlings up, Audrey worked in tandem to have breakfast going downstairs. Later in the day, she’d have dinner in progress when everyone arrived home. Endless pickups and drop-offs to school, whenever Claire couldn’t do it herself (she tried, but some days called her into the office earlier than others, or forced her to stay late). Audrey had even for a time done the biweekly pick up from David and Miranda’s, but was unable to hide her disdain and acrimony, and this effort to be helpful ended up causing just as much harm. The children could clearly see and read it, and Claire eventually stepped back in to shoulder that particular indignity, in an effort to spare them pain.
No matter her see-sawing level of loathing, Claire often recalled what one of the therapists had said: children forever see (if unconsciously) half of themselves in one parent, half in the other. When one parent is harmed or insulted, the children absorb that as a lack or failure in themselves as well. Thus after a relatively blissful few weeks of not seeing David face-to-face (her sister also standing point at the matrimonial home for David’s pick-up, while Claire retreated to the bedroom), Claire had grit her teeth, concealed the wrenching in her stomach and stab to her heart. She told herself it only amounted to perhaps ten minutes of interaction time every fourteen days, but it still felt like a small eternity each time.
Thanks again for stopping by, Dear Reader! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.