Lynn has too many secrets. Family secrets. Secrets carved in her arms, between her thighs.There's Alex's secret meetings in hushed tones. Secret dreams of a girl, a garden, a serpent. Clues surround her: words written in blood and a prophecy from the blind transsexual upstairs. All of them point to her dreams, and danger. Lynn loses herself in the mystery of the garden until it's more real to her than the city-wide scandal exploding around her, so lost she doesn't know she's in the middle of it.
The dream begins in the dark.
Is that the beating of my heart? Is my heart really so loud, or is that incessant throb part of the dream, part of the relentless drive that gives the dream its sense of dread?
A thorny wall. No ---it's a tree. Heart-shaped leaves bigger than my head. They grow heavy with rain, some full as buckets. Thick fast rain. It crushes tiny tender things, it falls like a song, like a swoon.
I'm climbing, clutching the tangle of vines so thick there's barely bark to be seen.
I am searching for the owl who lives in this tree. How do I know the owl will be here? I've never been here before, this is new. Everything is new. But then the owl cries. I turn abruptly into nothing.
Falling. In the darkness, an old woman’s eyes on a young woman’s face.
No colors, only the flash of moonlight on leaves, shining like blades. The throbbing heartbeat, the breaths now long and slow, they move through me, but they are not me. They are the forest itself.
Toes wiggle in shady earth, searching among dark roots. Worms stir there, just as I am---
Awake. The sheets were tangled, a common consequence of lovers leg-locked in nightmares. In the morning she felt closest to Alex. There was often a disconnect in the words between them: too many, not enough, words falling into cracks and wandering down dark alleys where they couldn't find their way back to the subject at hand. But in this waking moment he spoke with his body, clinging to her as if he needed her to breathe, as if she were not separate from him but a sinewy continuation of his circulatory system.
She felt a vague stirring; something was not right. Her instincts had set off an alarm bell loud enough to shake her out of her dreams, but she ignored them. She grasped at the final image of the dream, the constant and creepy eyes. They seemed to be asking something of her, something urgent. Always there, watching. What she sought she couldn’t say, each nocturnal journey raised too many questions. Why had the dream returned?
Lynn’s eyes were shut.
She held the dream in her mind: her swaying with the tree, wind dancing with limbs, leaves twinkling, and so many stars shining that the sky gleamed like a razor's edge.
There was that nagging feeling again, something is terribly wrong, she was afraid to open her eyes. But when she did the room looked normal. The pre-dawn haze barely reached the short wide window of their basement apartment. The strange hour cast the room in an unfamiliar gray. Despite the blankets, Alex’s feet were like blocks of ice. The apartment was messy, but that was typical. Something was desperately wrong but she was still too groggy to put it all together.
Barely conscious enough to crave coffee, Lynn thought, God, I hope I am bleeding.
Not because she was a masochist. Her period was a week late. As she pushed aside the dead weight of her boyfriend’s arm she wished her sheets were stained.
When could it have happened? Curses. It could have been that night, the bar was slow, few drinkers and an hour til last call. In the unisex bathroom. Alex thrashed into her like an angry little boy finally given something precious he was allowed to break. It would have been hot if she hadn't gotten caught. If she hadn't been fired.
Ugh. Why did it smell like vomit?
The little bells said, pay attention, wake up. She rubbed her face and ran her hands through her jagged black hair.
Even when she was groggy and thinking about other things, a hundred tiny signals—some even so slight as the touch of her lover’s skin—coalesced to send her brain the message: The something wrong had to do with Alex. It was unusual for him to snore. Though he mercilessly tortured his liver, his lungs were healthy and his weight was optimal. There was something about the snore too; it was choppy, like he was drowning.
The apartment consisted of little more than a single room: no separate bedroom and the kitchen was only differentiated by its seventies-inspired avocado-green linoleum. There wasn’t much to see in the creeping dawn, just his body face-down in the shadows of the quilt, but she shivered.
She turned the switch of the lamp. He was so pale. Unnaturally pale. The snoring had stopped. She hated to wake him, but the worry wouldn’t let her go.
“Alex?” She shook his shoulder. Nothing. She didn’t like the pallor of his lips. Not blue, but not rosy either. She shook him harder.
After a certain amount of shaking and shouting, her thoughts turned to 911. She didn’t contemplate their financial situation or lack of health care. The real thing that detained her was some child-sized voice that told her she was overreacting, that she would only make Alex angry.
Lynn lifted one of his eyelids. She expected to see—maybe—his eyes rolled back in his head, but the image was more disturbing. Instead his pupils had disappeared, his eyes were solid brown spheres floating in a sea of bleary red veins. Well that was information enough. Her purse was a black thing covered in patches and pockets; she rummaged in it for a cell phone for half a minute before impatiently dumping its contents on the bed. Damn, she hadn’t paid the bill. She threw the phone down.
“TYREE. TYREE,” She shouted. Then she ran up the wooden stairs that led up to the main house, threw open the door shouting her landlord’s name. But wasn’t there some law that even disconnected cell phones could call 911? She ran back down the stairs, and slipped on a pile of vomit by the bed.
One hand landed on the bed, the other on Alex’s limp body. Her attention was caught more by his lack of reaction than the vomit on her knee.
“Hello, my boyfriend’s all pale and his pupils are gone and I think maybe he’s ODed on something.” The dispatcher told her to turn him onto his side, and to check if he was breathing. He didn’t seem to be breathing, but she discerned a faint pulse. She reassured Lynn that someone would be there right away. “Do you know what he took?”
“He was drinking last night, but that’s all I know. No, he doesn’t do real drugs. Yes, I know they’re all ‘real drugs’. Prescriptions?” Alex was wounded in Iraq, and the experience had left him with a pharmacopeia of delights. She stumbled to the bathroom, cell phone in hand. There was a bottle of Vicodin mixed in with the tissues in the trash. The dispatcher wanted to know how many he took, and if she thought he took them on purpose. Lynn couldn’t say. She stared dumbly into the mirror, not seeing the pale, slight girl, but never so pale as the man passed out in her bed. Had he taken too many on purpose?
She shuddered. He promised that wouldn’t happen again.
She barely registered the sirens. Sirens were commonplace in Oakland, but they never came for her. It seemed like seconds later they were banging on the glass of the door that led to the outside world. She ran to let them in. Three firemen went about their task with efficiency. One behind Alex, holding his head, while on either side they positioned a plastic device into his mouth that fed air in through an inflated bag.
Time dilated; before they entered the house everything happened so quickly. Now that she was a bystander everything was in slow motion. The sun had come up, and light was spilling through the open door. The sound of the gurney against the concrete floor, it gleaming silver in the sun and the rescuers shouting, "Move lady!" And oh, they were talking to her.