There’s this song by The Cranberries called Linger. It’s a relic from the 90’s, a familiar tune that I never offered a second glance until recently. Someone uploaded a video on Youtube playing that song but as if you were listening to it from another room. At first you question the audio; why would someone corrupt the sound quality in such a way? Then it hits you; not the sound, but the feeling. The video has thousands of views and everyone’s commenting about what emotion this elicits. Allow me:
It’s the feeling of standing on the outside looking in; the childlike longing of hearing something intriguing from outside your room, home, or yard, but not having the means to get to it. It’s the sound of a band playing at the Jackson County Fair, the blaring of stock car races on Saturday evenings, the beat of drums echoing across town during a Friday night varsity game. It’s the party down the road, the radio upstairs, the TV in every room you are not.
This is the sound of the world moving on.
I’m standing in my childhood kitchen with its cramped wooden table and creaking chairs when my dad walks in. He wears a ratty old cap and plain gray t. I have a strong desire to go fishing and confess this to him. He glances out the window, at the fading daylight.
“It’s too late to go out by yourself,” he says.
“Can you come with me, then?” I ask, which is a big ask, because that’s what he just finished doing. I know this not because of the fillet’s simmering in a pan on the stove, the stink of fish guts wafting from the backyard or his tackle box parked on the front step; I know this because this is a dream. And in this dream–just as in life–my dad obliges without complaint.
We take the robin’s egg blue ranger down to the dam; the truck I recall riding in middle school whenever we’d go fishing, the truck I commandeered when I acquired my license, the truck with its scratchy analog radio and yellow foam bubbling out the seats.
The dam is two miles down the road; a place where I lost lures and caught more snags than I ever did fish. In the dream, however, we park at the entrance of a canyon and hike. The path is stony, with a cliff wall on our left and a shallow river on our right. It’s part of a rock quarry, part of a mining operation. The sun has set, the path illuminated by industrial white lights each with their own circus of fluttering moths. Several others are already fishing when we reach our spot. I unpack and cast. Although I hold one pole, two lines reach out, two lures splash under the moonlight, two hooks reel back. I drag against a bed of seaweed, and just as I haul the mess to shore, a loud bark echoes through speakers high on the canyon wall. Blue flashes from a series of circular warning lights, heavy equipment grinds to life while thick, waterproof doors seal shut.
There are moments in dreams where you experience things that are impossible, have memories that never happened, or know information you shouldn’t; every night they release the dam. Our time is short. The walls of the dam lower, liquid rushes over the top and pools at my feet. We take to high ground, watching as the water rises impossibly fast and engulfs where we stood moments ago.
The other fishermen have taken off ahead of us, clearly understanding the danger in tarrying. My dad and I are slower, but we reach the top and join them on the higher path. It’s somewhere down this trail when I blink, and precisely seven hours expire. The moon is replaced by the morning sun, the path is now a bridge; one of those old steel giants you see rusting on abandoned county roads. My dad is no longer with me. The bridge has been commercialized with offshoots of various shops. To my right I see two young women who appear to be for sale; they lay against the glass, chains clamped around their wrists. I approach the first and study her face. She has a nose ring, acne, and wears the mask of the petulant. Her eyes are glossy and wander into the clouds. I ask her a question.
Reality starts to crumble like a tower of blocks. I don’t recall what the question was, or the answer–or if she even gave one–before the morning rays shining through the bridge are replaced by the pale dawn seeping in through the skylights in my bedroom. I lay there for a minute, attempting to put the pieces together, but all meaning escapes me.
I believe things happen for a reason–perhaps not everything to a grandiose extent, but I would argue to a point and say that nothing is wasted–yet does this apply to the wanderings of our minds during sleep? My wife comments about how vividly I remember dreams, even though I forget far more than I recall. This one, however, seems to crystalize in the days ahead. Several weeks later I’m lying in bed recounting the details–the splash in the water as the lure strikes the surface, the low rumble of diesel engines, the way the rust on the bridge flakes to the touch–when suddenly I’m sucked back into 11th grade English class. Mr. Majerus is leaning against his desk, his hands resting lightly on his khakis when he asks the class, “What does it mean?”, as if we were discussing one of those dreadful Emily Dickenson poems.
Nobody responds. He looks at me like I imagine a shrink would, then expounds. “The walk to the dam is the long journey of your youth. The sun is still shining as you begin but fades to darkness as you grow older. The water represents death, and the lights and sirens are the warnings. You climb up the path and away from death, like everyone does. You think you are safe, but death comes for us all.”
I lean back in my seat and fold my arms. “Then what’s the bridge?”
Mr. Majerus crosses his legs and looks at me squarely. “Your mind never shuts off; it’s constantly observing, consuming, and churning everything through the proverbial meat-grinder. It’s this ability that allows you to recall things with incredible detail; from useless knick-knack memories like how I sighed and nodded gravely when discussing the state of the union or the future of our country, to painful still-frames like the death of your father.”
I feel the heaviness and hurt surge through me like an injection. “It’s the details that make us,” I admit. “And the details that break us.”
Mr. Majerus softens his voice, his eyes deep and penetrating through his wide lenses. “I know what memory you’re thinking. Go ahead, describe it.”
I pause for a breath, consider this ability as if it were a trinket to hold, then convert memories to words. “A defibrillator rests useless on a gray Rubbermaid cart while his closest friends and family form a half circle around him. His hand peaks out from under the blanket. Two fingers have already begun to pale.”
The classroom is silent for some time. Mr. Majerus moves off his desk and toward the window, his voice reduced to a whisper. “What is the bridge, you ask? Why, Danny, bridges carry us past the impassible.”
And like a magician at the end of a trick, Mr. Majerus disappears, the classroom fades, and this reality swirls into a vortex. It’s color and sound and touch, an atmospheric migraine that smashes and blots out and reboots to nothing, and when the blackness subsides, I open my eyes. I’m lying in bed, I’m standing on a bridge, I’m gazing out across the ripples in the water and looking where to cast my line. I move up river, past the recently cut grass, the wet sand and slippery stones, and pull aside an arm of branches.
He’s sitting on a plastic bucket, his pole resting lightly in both hands while a nub of a cigar burns in the corner of his mouth. The river is quiet, filled with the slow tide of water lapping against the rocks while cicadas busy themselves in the trees. I cast and take a seat at his side. There is no exchange; no grand proclamations or quiet pearls of wisdom, no satirical metaphors or passing comments about the weather, no discussion of life and death and everything in between. Instead, we watch the water, feel the weight of our lines, and listen to the sound of the world moving on.
Dan Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as an electrician for his own company, 12 Stones Electric. Having numerous short stories accepted for publication over the years, Dan’s work has appeared in places like Downstate Story, SQ Mag, and Words on Fire Anthology. Visit Dan’s website, www.storyunlikely.com, to read more of his work. Sign up for the mailing list to receive a story every month.