Cherry Coke

From the Yellow House

By Amanda R. Howland

I saw a woman who looked like my mother but she was young. She didn’t look like my mother when my mother was young, she looked like my mother does now, but young. Her lips were thinner than my mother’s lips were then but rather thin like they are now, pretty, and she wore glasses like my mother, and her hair wasn’t black like my mother’s was then but seemed grey somehow, even though her face was young, and it didn’t look fake, so her hair must have been just cool brown, not dyed steel grey like some people do now. 

            I stole some looks at the young woman—we were in an apartment show and I was not drinking—I just had a cherry coke and felt strangely tall. It was somewhere in the middle of January and there was no snow and there hadn’t been any snow. 

            Someone bumped my arm and I looked into the face of an old boyfriend from a long time ago, I mean maybe before the Iraq war even started, and I liked seeing his face. His eyes were bright and ready on mine as if it hadn’t been so insanely long since we’d seen each other. 

            “Hey,” I said, “I just had a dream about you.”

            “No, you didn’t,” he said, and even I was wondering if I was lying, but I wasn’t. I had dreamed that he was on a bus with me, a couple rows ahead, and that he looked back and smiled like he was now and handed me some kind of flattened pepsi cup, except I couldn’t read it, but it was red, white and blue, and then the bus kept going past my stop and into a place where there were no houses, just factories, the bottoms of factories that went way up and I looked and the man was gone. And then the bus was gone. 

            “No, I really did dream about you—just two nights ago. We were on a bus.” It hurt to smile this much. 

            “Well,” he said, “we try to make meaning out of coincidences, but it’s just because our brains don’t understand statistics. If you pulled random numbers out of a hat, there’d be clusters you wouldn’t expect. Statistically, about once a month or so, people experience surprising coincidences like that.” He was a physicist and his smile was steady and strong. The night we met he’d told me he was doing a PhD in physics, I forget what kind—we were drunk at a punk house show and I wanted to know everything he knew. But we only dated a few weeks before dropping away from each other.

            “Well, I know—I heard about that on NPR one night, but, this is the brain I have and it makes meaning.”

            “Yeah, I know.” He touched my arm and I was knocked out by lust.

            I told him I had to go home to my wife and sick dog, but I wasn’t married anymore. The next act roared up and I hated to miss it, but my dog truly was sick. I looked for the woman who looked like my mother, but instead I only saw people I knew. 

            I didn’t go home to my dog but instead I went to hang out with my brother for awhile, and when I was driving home it was late and I turned on a channel that plays music from the 30’s and 40’s and a woman’s heavy sweet voice began to sing “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” But it was nearly the end of January. The roads were dry. The grass was crumpled but green. 

            I pulled the car over for a minute and wondered if I was losing my shit. I’d only drank cherry coke, but there was a Christmas song on the radio in January. The street was empty. 

            I went home and my basset hound/beagle mix dog was slumped by the door. I carried her to her bed and started brushing her out. She has her own room now that my wife left. That had been my wife’s shit room, filled with books and folders and shoeboxes and all kinds of fabric and things. She went to California and said I could keep it. I did keep the junk for too long, 18 months, almost two years because going through it was boring and depressing but I was afraid I’d toss something important out, and also because it felt like bad magic like throwing away clippings from her nails or hair for anyone on the chain of garbage to mess with. 

            But eventually I just bagged it and tossed it all out, except the books, which I mixed with mine, except for the really stupid ones like thick paperback documents from her insurance company or that went with old computers. I would have kept some pictures, but she didn’t leave those.

            Anyway my dog had her own room now, her own bed because I wanted her to have a bed but she stank too much to be in mine all the time. I needed to get her a lamp because I hated the overhead light. I turned it off and let light spill in from the hallway.

            I lay down next to my dog and wrapped my arm around her and had an imaginary conversation with the woman who looked like my mother. 

            “Hi, I think we’ve met before,” I lied for the second time that night but this time in my head.

            “Yes, I think we met a hundred years ago.”

            Then we were in a cottage by the lake on the far east side. She pulled out some bourbon and poured us each a cup. “There’s a cliff at the end of the yard, just beyond the trees. But you can get down to a little beach by taking a path down the side, through the trees. There’s a moon. You should see it on the water, hitting the rocks.”

            “Let’s go.”

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