The dream the man was having gave him the warm-fuzzies, the type of comfort that can only come from the things you love: a warm blanket, a favorite shirt or jeans, the feel of your child’s face between your hands. They were symbols of what was right in your world, that dots of Zen were perfectly connected and perfectly aligned. He had been having the same dream for months. He never remembered it, but it always gave him comfort that stayed with him for a short while after waking. Today, though something began worming itself into the dream, began to force him up, up through the layers of subconscious until he was awake. The ‘something’ that had broken the dream, the popcorn-skin-stuck-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth annoyance, was the person he used to be: slick, coherent and diamond hard. That ‘him’ brought a razor sharp realization that sliced through the soft edges the man had put around himself. It told him he was mad. It said he needed to get rid of at least some of his things. Otherwise he was going to suffocate. But how, how do you get rid of treasure? The person that he was wrested control and forced the man out of bed and began to move him with purpose through the house. His close, warm, fetid house full of his things. It was his dragon’s treasure cave.

He doesn’t know why he must give up those things. He vaguely recalls  a scene from his past. Recent? He’s not sure. He’s not sure what day it is, in what year.

“It’s dangerous here,” his daughter said.

“It’s unhealthy here,” his son said.

“How can you stand the smell?” his other asked.

His wife looked on silently, turned, walked away.

 

Maybe that was the something that had brought the ‘other’ out. That one drove him now, perhaps realizing its hold tenuous. He breathed in, drawing air deep, savoring all the rich aromas. Picking up a canvas bag that bore the logo of a team that he loved when he still had a team that he loved, he looked for the least of his treasure to get rid of, just enough to make the ‘other’ go away. He picks up an empty Pop-tart box, reads.

“If the pastry is overheated, the filling can become extremely hot and could cause burns,” he mutters.

Something stirs in his mind. He suppresses it savagely, placing the box in the bag. Continues. Another container that had contained cat box liners. Peering closely in the dimness, he reads the warning about toxoplasmosis and pregnant women on its back.

“I have a cat?” wondering, placing the box in the bag. A moment later he finds its desiccated carcass. Suppressing a giggle, he feels clarity slipping away. The ‘other’ grabs hold of clarity roughly and shakes it, slaps it savagely. Not done yet. Focus. A finger and thumb picks up the body by the tail, lowers it into the bag. He hurries now, desperately looking for more things, some small anythings to part with among these only things he has left. Treasure. A pamphlet on the table of his wife’s side of the bed.

“Insulin aspart is used with a proper diet and exercise program to control high blood sugar in people with diabetes. Injection site reactions (such as pain, redness, irritation) may occur.”

Pausing, he checks stomach and legs for injection sites. The pamphlet isn’t his, but he knows where to check. Who has diabetes? Pamphlet in bag, moving on. Bathroom and hall had too many wonderful things to choose from. Finally in the kitchen he finds a  grocery receipt: pancetta, parmesan, sage, gnocchi. Ingredients for a favorite dish of his wife’s. A memory like a television screen flickers to life, a family dinner he cooked. Crumbles the receipt, shoves it under the cat, shutting off the memory.

Daughter’s room next, having to force the door open. Crates of…something have fallen over and partially blocked the door. Moving papers over, he sits on the bed looking around. He spies a package peeking from under the bed and snatches it up. A baby blanket.

“The only way to make this terry-cloth walrus towel cuter is to wrap it around your baby after a bath!”

He sees a face then, a child, dimpled cheeks, dark eyes, curls peeking out of the same robe. No, not this. He pulls it out and drapes it over his shoulders. He considers the packaging for a moment, then shoves it into the bag on top of the dead cat.

Son’s room, picking up and replacing item after item. On the wall, a painting from first grade, framed. Mommy, Daddy, Brother, Sister, and Cat, his name a childish scrawl underneath.

“Give kudos to kids’ artwork—print it on a photo canvas…” he quotes softly. His fingers rasp over the canvas. “5×5, From $27.99.”

He scrubs his face with his hands. Something is uncoiling inside and clarity begins to retreat. Shakes his head, trying to tamp it down, maintain control long enough to finish. Clutching the bag, rushing to the front door, he opens it and scurries out and down the walk. Placing the bag reverently on the ground he walks back, thinking, it was done, a start, the turning of a corner. From the doorway he stares at the canvas bag with the logo of the team he loved sitting forlornly on the street. There is a tugging inside. What was he doing?! These were his things, his treasures, his memories. He couldn’t let them go. The ‘other’ still wasn’t gone. He slaps the door in frustration. Walking in small circles, he hugs himself, his hands clenching, unclenching. ‘Other’ tries to will him inside, close the door. CLOSE THE DOOR! CLOSE! THE! DOOR! He jerks into motion and walks stiff-legged back down the sidewalk. He grabs the canvas bag and runs back into the house, slamming the door. He is safe, his treasure is safe, ‘other’ tucked away. The world is soft again, fuzzy. The great weight of his things, settles around him, soothing.

***

Mike Horan was born in North Carolina, raised in Tennessee but now lives with his family in the desert outside Palm Springs, California. He teaches elementary school during the day, writes and does dad stuff in the evenings, and practices kung fu in the spaces between. His poetry has appeared in Mad Swirl, Kindred magazine, Sheila-Na-Gig, and Good Works Review. This is his first venture into short story writing.

Photo by Barthelemy de Mazenod on Unsplash

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