In the four months since my husband died, I dreamt of him only twice. In the first dream, he ate berries, reclining in a shadowy room while our girls played on the floor. What a thrill to see him eating. No tumor blocking the way. No feeding tube. No puking in pink plastic bins, no constipation alternated with atomic diarrhea. His hair had grown back. His body, too. And his clothes: no gown, no diaper, just jeans and a t-shirt, the way I liked him best.
Those last months, I’d run into acquaintances who’d ask “How are you?” I’d say, “My husband’s dying,” and track their reactions.
“Someone take off my suffering,” my husband had said, those final addled days. He said, “I want to be a paratrooper so bad.” Elephants on the ceiling. He wanted a wife just like me.
In the dream, my husband ate each berry one by one: strawberry, blackberry, strawberry. I felt such joy, not just in me, but in the girls, the carpet and the furniture, the mossy light of the room: A heaven! Then my husband made a choking sound, brought his fingers to his throat.
I’d expected more dreams after his death. Visitations, even. I’d heard stories from other widows. As my friend lay in bed the night her husband died, she felt invisible arms wrap her in an enormous hug. After my coworker’s partner died, a coyote my coworker had never seen started prowling her yard. When my husband died, no animals visited. I did not feel an enormous hug. What I felt was relief. You might even say elation.
In the second dream of my husband, I went to a party I didn’t want to attend, full of poets I didn’t know. A table held many cakes. One cake had Jackson Pollack frosting. I sneered at it. When I returned home I found my husband sitting at the kitchen table. “Boy,” he said, his smile huge, “those poets sure liked that experimental cake.” Suddenly the party didn’t seem so bad.
A few days after the second dream, I wandered the aisles of the supermarket.
“How are you?” an acquaintance said.
“My husband’s dead,” I told her. She held her chest, said, “I didn’t know,” and started to cry. Her cheeks puffed, little pillows.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I patted her shoulder.
In the next aisle, I found my husband, cowboy-legged in front of the pickles. He grabbed a jar, our favorite brand, by the lid, and pivoted my way.
“You want me to open this?” he asked.
“I can open my own damn jar,” I said. Though, truth be told, my hands are small, and sometimes I needed help.
“I’ll open it at home then,” he said, reading my mind.
“Okay.” I placed his hand on the cart under mine. We strolled through the forest of foodstuffs, stripes of light beaming soft off the floor. People roamed by, lost in themselves, while we discussed our purchases.
Jennifer Wortman’s work appears in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, Hobart, PANK, JMWW Journal, Vestal Review, Okey-Panky, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an online instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at www.jenniferwortman.com