Once, she asked him, Did you hear about the hotel on fire? They were in bed late on a Tuesday. By then, he supposed, it was Wednesday.
You’re dreaming, he said.
No, she insisted. It was that one in Dubai that had caught fire the year before. It was blazing again, she told him. The one with the ironic name, the Torch, or something. You know the one.
Go back to sleep, he said. You’re dreaming.
But she was right and he knew it. He was following the news on his phone; she had, in fact, been dreaming – but like always, she had a sense of what was happening in the world.
For weeks, he’d been unable to sleep. That wasn’t quite true, of course; he slept in fits and woke tangled in the sweat-drenched sheets, the comforter thrown off him. It had begun when she’d woken him in a panic, checking his breathing. She said it had been so real, the dream, and she didn’t know what to do.
When they began dating, she asked if he believed his dreams. He answered no. Why should he? Random stimuli; random images. You ever flown while awake? he asked her. Jump off that bridge; let’s see those wings. But she insisted: her dreams meant something. She was six, she told him, when she dreamed her uncle was digging a hole in his backyard and a week later he was dead. Little things like that throughout her life, little moments of truth hidden in every dream. How can you sleep, he wanted to know, knowing that there might be something true when you wake up?
Easy, she said. I close my eyes.
He never admitted any belief in her dreams. (At least, not out loud. Not to her.) But the accuracy with which she discussed things that came to be later – it was uncanny. So he couldn’t help but let anxiety take over after she startled him awake those weeks ago. Something was coming. But she wouldn’t elaborate. It’s fine, she said. I overreacted. It’s nothing. Nothing to fear.
The fire: she wanted to talk about the burning hotel. Okay, he said. Let’s talk. I can’t sleep anyway.
What do you think it’s like? Being trapped like that? Burning up?
With the windows open, the gray moonlight cast a haze over the room that almost seemed like smoke. He felt it choking him, suffocating him. His stomach knotted.
He wondered what he would choose if he had to. Would he jump or would he stay?
I think it’s like nothing we can know, she said. One of those things you can’t imagine, like God. Something transcendent.
I imagine it’s worse, he said. For a long while they were quiet. They both seemed to understand the truth they were talking around. Why she had woken him, her dream: they were finding that place where their relationship would ignite at the edges and consume them. Slow at first, and then all at once. Would he stay or would he jump? Which would be quicker, which less painful? He wondered endlessly if he could wait it out, if the inferno would extinguish before it reached their floor.
Smoke filtered in from beneath the door. The room grew warm, and then hot. It became difficult to breathe. Go back to sleep, he told her. We can talk in the morning.
Cole Meyer studied creative writing and classical humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He reads slush submissions and writes book reviews at The Masters Review. His writing appears at SmokeLong Quarterly, SAND, Aquifer: The Florida Review Online and elsewhere. “Nightstands” was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2017 and “Vesuvius” was a finalist for The Best Small Fictions 2018. He lives in Saint Paul with his fiancé and their dog and cat, and works in IT at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Cole tweets about writing and baseball @ColeA_Meyer. More can be found at his website: https://cole-meyer.com.