I stumble into a ballroom. The place is draped in bronze, with parquet floors and chandeliers the size of Volkswagen’s. Every head turns to look at me. Attractive woman with blue eyes, green eyes, hazel, brown, all wearing evening gowns. All stunning, or, well, stunned to see me, at least.
There’s a rip in my jogging pants. My ratty bedtime t-shirt is stretched and loose, my hair matted. What can I say, I’m an acrobatic sleeper. But a graceful exit is out of the plans. The door behind me—because there is one now—slaps shut. What sounds like rivets are being set in place on the other side.
As the jazz music continues, I make out the faint lyrics to it now. A lounge singer, barely audible but clear, crooning, “He’s a stupid, silly man. Merely a boy, a scared little boy, yeah!”
Sara, my ex-girlfriend, has aged well. And it makes sense she would move in first, begging off from Emma and my ex-wife, Jen, nodding graciously, her dazzling smile on full display as she approaches. “Well, Paul, aren’t you a sight?” she says, looking me up and down.
“I’m dreaming.” I say, or ask, snagging a glass of champagne from a waiter in passing. I quick sip and I nearly gag on the cough syrup my mom forced down my throat when I was sick. I stick out my tongue, trying to scrape off the memory. Sara only blinks and smiles.
“I’m married,” she says, suddenly, turning her head as she fixes the pink band with the bow on top.
“Yes, I’ve heard.”
“Yeah? Well, everyone has heard. There’s no mystery anymore. But I’m glad you know. He’s a financial planner. We live in the city.”
I nod, scanning the party for my wife amidst the dinner gowns. I must have left her at home again, on the couch. Instinctively I pat down my pajamas for my phone—I’m always on standby, waiting for the call that the baby’s coming.
Sara watches me with amusement. Near the band, Emma and I exchange looks. My high school sweetheart hasn’t aged a minute..She winks at me, her shiny brown hair falling down her back. Eventually, I turn back to Sara. “Yeah? That’s good.”
“Yes. It is,” Sara repeats, almost to herself. She takes my champagne flute and downs its contents. “And Jen’s remarried, too. We were just talking about you.”
Sara’s lips curve into a smile. The flute is now a baby rattle. She gives it a shake. “Everyone is talking about you.”
I look around the room. Music but no band. The waiter is gone. I look back and Sara has vanished. I”m fixing my shirt when Jen appears with a laundry basket. “Here. Take this one.”
She picks out a button down, places it at my neck and nods. “Wear the blue shirt, it brings out your eyes. But you don’t have any matching socks. Hey, why don’t we ever talk anymore? And would it kill you to vacuum once in a while?”
“I do vacuum.”
She scoffs, then thrusts the laundry basket into my hands. It’s full of baby clothes. She storms off, sifting through the walls and fading into the curtains. I start with the buttons on my shirt.
“Well this is lame.”
She hip bumps me. “Pauly!”
“What are, um. What are you doing here?”
She laughs, throws back her hair and looks me over. “Why is anyone here? Hey, what happened to you?”
“I don’t, I really don’t know.”
“Well, we should go.”
She shrugs. “I don’t know, anywhere, this place is a drag.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“What about that place on the hill? Remember?”
I shake my head. “They put a hotel up there.”
She bops to the music, spins around, her hair wrapping around her face. “What? When?”
“Years ago. After…”
“After you passed.”
She stops dancing. “I’m dead?”
I nod. I never went to her funeral, I was with Jen at the time, and well, just chickened out. I try to think of the right words to say as Emma looks around, sips the champagne. Then she doubles over.
She holds up a hand, shaking her head, convulsing in laughter. I straighten. “What?”
“It’s just that,” she wipes her eyes and gushes. “Even dead I can still haunt your dreams.”
She nods. “Yeah. Well, anyway, here comes your new girl.”
The band stops. Emma’s gone. I turn around, turn over, half expecting another ex or coworker, maybe an old crush. But I’m in my bed, with the sheet twisted around my ankles. Someone is tugging on my arms.
My wife, her face pale and puffy. She clutches her belly, let’s out a groan. “I think we need to go to the hospital.”
*Written in response to the Dream Scene word prompt at Writer’s Digest.