Everyone has a dream signature. An icon that keeps popping up in the dreamscape, that has particular meaning for you and you alone. For me it's windows. My nightmares are always viewed through windows. Look out the window and see the world go up in a mushroom cloud. Look out the window and see the ghouls devouring the bodies buried in the backyard. Look out the window and see the ghostly children carrying candles, their robes as colorless as their flesh. Look out the window . . .
We were still living in the project: old army barracks hastily converted to living quarters in the face of the massive housing shortage at the end of WWII. Row on row of single story buildings. In between the rows ran asphalt roads - no curbs, no sidewalks, just asphalt and gravel over the dirt. It was summer. A hot, humid night, the way New England summers can be. Everyone had their doors and windows open. There was no air conditioning; an open window and maybe a fan was your only hope of relief from the heavy, hot air.
I was five years old. My father was working the night shift that week, which left my mother in care of my brother and me. I think it was the crying that woke me up. The bedroom door was closed but the walls were thin. I heard voices coming from the living room: my mother and another lady - the one who was crying. I slipped from the bed and crept to the door, opening it quietly. I'd get into trouble if my mom found me up and sneaking around. I peered out into the small living room and froze. It was Mrs. Nolan, Kathy's mom. Kathy, my best friend. Mrs. Nolan was weeping, bruised and bleeding, holding her latest baby tightly to her chest. I don't remember the baby crying, but it must have been. Or maybe it was too frightened to cry.
Where was Kathy? I didn't know what was going on, but I was suddenly terrified for my friend. Mr. Nolan was a mean drunk. He'd beaten his wife before, and his sons. Kathy was frequently locked in her bedroom - for her own protection, her mother swore. I would clamber up on the coal bin outsider her window, and we'd whisper to each other - her trying to be brave, me trying to cheer her up. Each of us scared that her father would see me there.
I started to run out into the living room, searching for Kathy. My mother ordered me back into my room, harshly. I knew that voice, and I retreated. I had just closed the door again when I heard the roaring out in front of our house. Mr. Nolan. Drunk and raging, looking for his wife. I don't know why he didn't see her standing there in our living room. Maybe my mom had shut the door. Maybe he was too drunk to focus.
I hurried to the window and looked out. He was on the edge of the asphalt road, so drunk he was stumbling. He kept turning quickly in half circles, as if he were trying to surprise something behind him. His arms were thrashing violently, like he was fending something off or maybe he just couldn't stop hitting, even if it was only the air around him. All the while he screamed. Raged and cursed. He scared me to death, but I couldn't look away. And then suddenly . . . he saw me.
"I see you! I see you staring at me! Fucking pig face! I see you!" His arm was out, hand in a fist.
I backed away as fast as I could, but he was still there, still framed in the silhouette of the window, still screaming. "I see you!" Oh God. I think I stopped breathing. He could see me. He was going to get me. He was going to beat me. No one could help me; it was only the two of us, facing each other through the window screen. Me and the monster.
I don't know how long I stood there, too horrified to move, listening to his shrieks of anger. Then there were sirens and cops and more screams as they subdued him and got him in the cruiser and finally, silence.
My mother never checked on me. No one ever spoke of it.
Sometimes . . . sometimes our nightmares are flesh and blood.