Chapter 30


A Trailer Home Companion

… in which Kelly’s prayer is answered.

For weeks, Kelly had the nightmare.

She sank in deep blackness. The universe had no up, no down. Sounds came through her skin, not ears. Clicks. Whistles. Groans like ship timbers shifting in invisible currents at the bottom of the sea. Cries of seagulls, children. 

Cries of pain.

Every night in the dream, an open window appeared in the darkness. Kelly peered through, apprehensive. 

A shape swam out of the endless darkness and came close to the window. Blotchy. White. Hooded eyes. Thick lips. 

Fish? Man? 

It opened its mouth, and a silver sound bubble exited and streamed upward like a melting mirror.

It happened over and over, always the same. 

Kelly always felt fear. Night after night, she tried to strike out, beat the heavy shape away. But night after night, she found her wrists bound tightly over her head, her legs restrained by Velcro straps. 

Kelly writhed, raised her head in panic. She discovered that plastic tubes entered her nose, pierced through the skin of her arms.

The sinister shape laughed, now less fish, more face. Almost human.

I am everywhere. I know everything. The mouth opened and spoke and the silver bubbles rose through the ink. 

Again and again, Kelly woke in fear. First, it happened in intensive care, that black room. It felt too real to be a dream, even masked by the drugs, the heavy stone of lithium placed back on her chest.

Days later, it continued to happen in the quiet hospital where they parked people with special problems. Problems that caused falls off high trestles into cold, cold places.

Kelly kept having the dreams months later. She had returned to the ratty trailer home, its metal walls clicking in the dark as they lost heat from the Indian-summer Alabama day. Night after night, her old cat, Chessie, leaped wildly off the bed, tripled in size by fear, hissing like a snake at things in the room Kelly couldn’t see.

Or maybe at nothing.

Something in particular disturbed Kelly. She distinctly felt the pale thing in the dark had touched her. Touched her intimately. It made her dream a nightmare, real or not.

Kelly dreamed thick, fat fingers. Violation.

Everywhere. Everything.

The empty leer. The silver bubbles rising.

Kelly felt most troubled that she didn’t remember much at all about her days in the special room at Lafayette General. Kelly, who remembered everything … especially the worst possible thing … couldn’t remember those long ticking hours.

Her memory had always been her curse. Kelly even vividly remembered her jump into the Black Warrior, all the rushing detail of the fall. The impact.

But she couldn’t remember the days she dreamed in her nightmare.

Had someone come into the hospital room? A doctor? Only doctors and nurses were granted access, she’d been assured, time after time. She believed it.

Until later. Until the dreams.

Had a great fish approached her deep under the death-black waters of the Black Warrior that night? Had a fish pressed against her … here, there, and here … then waited with its massive jaws poised to gobble her the moment her last silver bubble of life escaped? 

The dream, over and over. All those weeks and months. 

Kelly made up a prayer. A prayer of self-defense. A prayer to herself, nothing else, no one else.

It’s not what you did. It’s what you will do.

It’s not who you were. It’s who you will be.

It’s not why you did things. It’s why you will do things.

Repeating the words, Kelly learned to sleep again.

Then, something happened.

Her prayer answered her.

One Sunday morning, Kelly lay in bed, like always. Same clothes as the day before. Same sheet on the bed as the month before. Same half-eaten bowl of canned beans by the pillow, with the same dirty spoon.

A knock on the trailer door startled her. 

No one ever knocked. Neeley never bothered. He just opened the thin aluminum excuse for a door and stepped in, uncomfortable, awkward. He always removed his policeman’s hat, and he always held it in both hands in front of him, nervously turning it and turning it like a little blue driver’s wheel. 

“Who’s there?”  Kelly’s voice, out of practice, barely carried past the mattress. 

Knock knock knock knock.

“Who’s THERE?” she repeated. 

She recognized the voice instantly. And the others.

“Kelly? It’s me. And Will. And Mary.”

Mama! Mama! Mama!

Kelly would never in her long life forget those childish cries.

She remembered with a flash of horror the last time she heard those.

Mama! Mama! Mama!

“It’s not what I did,” she said out loud. “It’s what I will do.…”

She called their names. Will. Mary. Elmore, too.

She flung the door wide.

Their little faces. She had never seen anything so beautiful.

So forgiving.

Elmore stood behind the twins. Tall. So striking. 

They rushed the doorway. All three of them.

Kelly’s life began again.