In his dream, things float. Cars lift unsteadily, the invisible bubbles they are in burst, and the cars crash back to the ground. People are under the cars sometimes. They splash fits of red and guts. In this dream he is teaching in a classroom that is actually a hotel room on the fourth floor. He worries his students may float from window and crash. Or he might fall.
It is summer in the desert. The artificial grass in the backyard has to be sprayed cool with water so his feet don’t burn. Even if the grass has been cooled, there is always the threat of stepping on a piece of mesquite tree that broke off on a windy day. Lately, there has been nothing but windy days. Sometimes fifty mile per hour gusts rip chunks from the mesquite hanging over his backyard fence. The very smallest pieces have thorns, which can pierce leather gloves, and they stick in his feet when he waters the lemon tree.
The wind blows when she comes over in the afternoons after teaching summer school. They have sex and watch television. They drink wine until she leaves for an early bedtime so she can start a new day with the students who depend on her freshness. Sometimes he falls asleep on the couch.
There are no clouds when it is so windy. The robin’s egg blue sky turns to almost white as it nears the sun. From his bed he can see the transition between low horizon and high stratosphere. The seal of one of the windows is cracked and the wind comes through when she is there with him. They nap on the bed, and his big dog takes up the space below her feet. She sleeps in a tight ball with her knees against her breasts. He holds her until they both sweat under the thin sheet. When it gets too hot, he rolls over to watch the transition and listen to the air seep in.
He dreams he is back in the hotel room, and it is the first day of school. His students crouch on the floor, sit on the bed, and stand in the bathroom. Some of them seem familiar; he had them in one of his classes in the past. He even remarks, I have had most of you before, but if he were awake their faces would be unrecognizable. His “classroom” overlooks the parking lot, and three cars are parked below in the windless night. None of the cars are his. A yellow light between two trucks—one red and one black—lights the cars. The third car is a white compact that looks ivory in the yellow light. The light makes a circle, and if it were a picture, it would look as if the contrast had been increased until the edges of the photo blackened and crept toward the center of the photograph.
There is a young man outside on his phone. Maybe he’s student. He sits on a low concrete barrier in front of the black truck, with his knees tucked to his chest like it’s cold outside, though on the first day of school it should be August and hot. The young man wears a baggy jacket with a hood, and a blue glow leaks from inside the hood where his hand holds the phone. The young man’s shoes are very white.
The students in the fourth floor classroom are well-behaved, but while teaching, he can’t see all of them from one place, so he has to move through the classroom to deliver his lesson. He begins his lecture on rules and protocol, but is interrupted when the red truck, with an extended cab, quivers in the parking lot. It sways as if a strong wind is about to tip it, but there is no wind. The back wheels of the truck rise first and fishtail momentarily before the front wheels also lift. The truck floats up as if its invisible bubble is struggling with the weight. The young man on the phone doesn’t notice the red truck rise and turn upside down ten feet in the air. The bubble holding up the red truck breaks, and the truck swells downward onto the man and the black truck in a silent explosion of glass, metal, liquid guts, and green coolant. The trucks, young man, and phone fuse as one mass, then rise again. The white shoes are still on the ground.
From the window upstairs he sees, and doesn’t call out. His voice would be muffled anyway; he’s tried to call out before. He wonders if his green crossover, parked in another lot, has risen as well, and he leaves the room to check on it. When he reaches the hotel elevator, the dream ends. He remembers details—he didn’t make copies of his syllabus, one of the students’ names is Brian—but he can’t remember the course he is teaching or Brian’s face.
Outside the circle of yellow, where the two trucks and the young man became victims, there is only dark, and he’s sure something is there. He tries to alter the dream—bring a flashlight, build another light, wear night-vision goggles—but nothing works.
Summer school is out for the year, and she comes over in the mornings when the wind blows through the crack in the seal of the window. They fuck in the bed and sweat after. He tells her about the dream. She listens, carefully, and says, You are the man on the phone. The black truck is your failure; it keeps you from going forward. The red truck is fear, and it squashes you. The white shoes and white car are your big goals, they are pure, but they stay on the ground as fear and regret lift you into the unknown. He kisses her and takes off her shirt, but he thinks the whole time what bullshit her answer is.
It gets hotter. When he was young he could run barefoot on the blacktop when it was one hundred and eleven degrees, and his feet might bleed, but by the end of the summer they were all-over calloused so nothing hurt, and he felt he could walk on melting glass. Now, he has to wear shoes just to walk twenty feet across concrete and fake grass to water the lemon tree.
At the end of July she moves in and isn’t worried that he has the same dream every night. Of course, there are other dreams as well: He teaches in a building made from sea rock where the students are half-submerged in tropical blue water and sea grass: He is driving a car from the back seat and can barely reach the steering wheel. But he chooses to believe those dreams are irrelevant.
In August, near the first day of school, she says, I’m pregnant, and he has to believe it’s his, even though he’s not sure. She comes out of the bathroom naked and smiling. He lies on the bed looking at the blue, and she announces the life they made on a hot summer afternoon. He says, That’s great, and kisses her belly. They consummate the new life slowly and rhythmically.
After, he again dreams about the trucks, but then he dreams about her aunt and uncle. Her uncle wears glasses, and he argues with her aunt outside on a white flaking porch that looks like a run-down plantation home from an old movie. The uncle turns away to avoid a fight and the aunt has a gun from somewhere. She screams. The uncle turns back and she fires. There is no time lapse, but the uncle is close now—his glasses are gone and there is a swelling cut above his right eye. He says, I’m just lucky I had my glasses on. The bullet just bounced off the frame. Now, I have to decide whether to divorce her or not.
He wakes up. He is still holding her. His hand sweats on her belly. He stands, still naked, and goes outside. His feet are burned by the grass and pierced by mesquite shrapnel. His body quakes and lifts off the fake grass by the lemon tree. He floats up into the blue transition. If she were awake, she could see him from the little square windows. And he floats, knowing the invisible bubble he’s in will burst, and he will fall.
David Pischke lives in a Phoenix suburb with his wife and two little boys. He taught high school English for the last ten years and will teach elementary school art for the next ten years, presumably. One could read his stories and poems at Driftwood Press, Mason’s Road, The Blue Guitar, and elsewhere. He received an MFA in fiction from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
“Burst” originally appeared in Digital Americana‘s American Summer issue (2011).