When Abernathy woke up this morning, he walked to the corner store first thing. The remnants of a dream floated around inside his head, too substantial to dismiss but not solid enough to grab onto. The sun was bright, and he squinted into it as he walked, watching for cars in his peripheral. “I’m Squint Eastwood.” he thought.
He arrived at the store, a shiny new BP. Until a month ago, the store had been owned by a man who lived two doors down from him. Abernathy desired a sense of loss over the corporate takeover, but he couldn’t work up a thing. He couldn’t remember the former owner’s name.
A man stood in front of the counter, his head covered in a grey mesh stocking. He held a gun in a gnarled, hairy hand. It pointed toward the counterperson, an acned, trembling high school kid, probably never wanted to work here in the first place. Abernathy felt strangely unaffected. He walked past the man, toward the the drinks, and the mesh of the stocking moved.
“Thtop where you are.” The man’s words dribbled out of his mouth, all soft s’s and nasal tones. The voice did not scare Abernathy. The gun swiveled toward him slightly, but the gun didn’t scare him either. He stopped anyway though, because a snippet of his dream was beginning to crystallize in his mind. He was standing somewhere, doing something… maybe standing here, maybe walking on past a man with a gun… Abernathy shook his head and continued walking down the aisle.
The robber, unsure of his next move, brandished his gun at the counter person, admonished him to “get on his kneesh” behind the counter, and the counterperson felt threatened, and so did what he was told. As he looked at the selection of soft drinks in the cooler, Abernathy could hear the man with the gun walking down the aisle toward him. Again he had a brief moment of clarity, something coming together in his head. He thought maybe his head was about to come apart. He almost laughed. He couldn’t do anything but almost laugh.
“Did you hear what I thaid?” The man with the gun is right behind me, Abernathy thought. He turned slowly around. This close, he could see through the mesh. The robber’s features were distorted, smashed into an absurd cartoon. His lips moved when he talked, but didn’t open completely. Abernathy saw his moving mouth as a pair of slugs, or a deformed balloon, or a stung finger, and said nothing.
“I thaid to thtop.” The gunman was disconcerted. “Are you lithening to me?”
Abernathy listened as long as he could. Everything came together all at once, and he remembered his dream down to the finest detail, but once he remembered it all, he didn’t know why he cared. He forgot about the man in the mesh mask and so turned around toward the drink cooler.
Things happened quickly after that. The front door of the store squeaked open and the high school kid was halfway out by the time the gunman turned around. He pulled the trigger and there was an explosion as the bullet punctured a 24 pack of Sprite before shattering the glass door. Abernathy couldn’t quite understand what was happening, but he turned and began walking briskly toward the counter. A bullet whizzed by his ear, but it didn’t register.
“What ith wrong with you?” But Abernathy didn’t really know.
He kept moving toward the door. He was close enough now to feel the sugary showers of Sprite arc through the air and dampen his grey overcoat, and it made him think he had walked all the way to the gas station and wasn’t going to get a drink. Of course, he realized that a drink here was now out of the question. For a moment, he thought he should run. Maybe he should dive through the door, find a public telephone, call the police. But he didn’t. He kept walking, wincing as another bullet passed nearby, this one close enough to tear a hole in the floppy arm of his coat. He reached the door and pushed its empty frame open with one hand, taking care not to cut himself on the jagged glass. He felt a sharp pain and wondered how he’d cut himself in spite of his caution. He looked at the teeth on the inside of the doorframe. None of them were bloody, but he was falling. He twisted his body to avoid being impaled, and collapsed onto the floor. His vision blurred and he supposed he was going into shock. Perhaps he’d remembered his dream wrongly. He heard sirens and a bullhorn and nothing else.
When he woke up, he was in a hospital, the one four blocks down from his house. There was a TV hanging over his bed, but he couldn’t focus on it. Abernathy closed his eyes, and thought about how he was still alive. He hadn’t expected to see anymore blurry television sets or sterile white rooms. He thought he was a religious man, but he couldn’t quite remember. He reopened his eyes and stared at the TV, and the swirling colors stirred his subconscious, until the dream he had forgotten, then remembered, then forgotten again, lapped at his memory. He remembered a gun, and some milk, and a rabbit, and the town where he grew up, and they didn’t fit together in any meaningful way. They were only shapes, broken pieces transparent and meaningless. A doorway that didn’t lead anywhere.
Disoriented, alive. He was a little disappointed, but he thought he could live with it.