The football floated in the air, a perfect spiral the laces spinning around in a blur. I was running, trying to catch it but the ball remained just out of my reach. I ran further and faster but it kept going, in my frustration I looked back at my Dad and he was laughing at me. I continued chasing the ball until it disappeared into a stand of large elm trees where it became obscured by the remaining golden leaves that clung to the branches.
My pace slowed as I passed the first elm and came to a full halt when I saw not thirty feet away from me was a young woman holding a long bamboo rake piling up leaves. I stood there motionless and stared at her. I started to to inch forward expecting her to notice me but she just kept on raking as if lost in the process. As I approached I called out and she looked up at me, a radiant smile appeared, her hair was golden, her white sundress ruffled in the breeze, and surrounding her was an aura of light that began to encompass me.
Coughing was the next thing I heard, not a polite cough, but a phlegm induced hack followed by gagging and wheezing, and when that had subsided, just a gentle rattle was left. The contrast between the beauty of the dream and the ugliness of my reality was stark.
The girl was gone and as the sounds about me became more pronounced as I tried to penetrate the fog of alcohol that lingered about me and slowly I began to piece together where I was.
I turned toward the disgusting sound I had heard just a moment ago. Slowly I pried my eyes open and in the dim light looked about. I was on the floor surrounded by others, all of us lying on burgundy mats about four inches thick. The wheezing sound was coming from an old man on the mat next to me some three feet away. His grey hair was long and tangled, hiding most of his face except for a nose that appeared two or three sizes to big and even in the poor light I was able to discern bumps and knobs none of which I had ever witnessed on a nose before.
We were housed in a large room that reminds me of a church hall that our family attended where everyone would go for coffee after the service, and at the front was a counter that looked a bit like the registration desk at a cheap hotel, behind the counter stood two figures silhouetted in the pale yellow cast by the lone light. The figure on the right was unmistakable to me; it was short with a large frame, and her bouffant hair style that made the head look twice as big as any other. The sight of her confirmed what I already knew, that was Claudette, and I was a guest again at the Spady Center.
I tried to go back to sleep hoping to join the dream but it was no longer possible. I struggled to sit up and then again to stand up. I felt like shit and no doubt looked like it. I looked over at the old man next to me and pondered my future.
I still had my backpack, picking it up the stark realization that all I had left in the world was in this backpack, and rather than an unencumbered feeling I felt a profound sense of loss.
I looked around once more as I headed for the door and my last gaze was on the old man, I knew then that I would never be back here, I couldn’t come back.
The sun had just come up as I headed down 101 street. It was still early and things were pretty quiet, knew I had to kill a few hours until the liquor store opened. I counted what money I had left and it totalled $15 and change. I would have enough for a Mickey of vodka and a coffee in the meantime.
I cracked the lid and I raised the bottle to the sun in a toast and then guzzled it down as fast as it would go down my throat. I threw the bottle in the bush and doubled over with stomach cramps. I took deep breaths through my nose and kept swallowing to avoid puking.
In a few minutes a warm glow took over my body and I felt right again. I knew I wasn’t right however and I never would be.
The traffic was picking up as I scrambled unsteadily onto the upper deck of the high level bridge where a vintage street car ran in the summer. I walked along the tracks until I was over the river and then turned and carefully walked to the edge. I looked east at the sun as it bathed the river valley and then started to step towards it, but before I did I felt someone near to me and to my left there she was.
She was just as I remember her in my dream and as she reached out and took my hand I was overcome with a lightness of being. Let’s go was all she said.