I'm dreaming, and I know I'm dreaming, so it's easy to sit back and enjoy the ride. Specifically, this ride--an endless loop around the parking ramp on the north side of Merle Hay Mall. It's dark, and the headlights barely keep up with my speed. But again, it's a dream. I'm safe.
Then, immediately, the outside of a hotel, an old dilapidated affair. There are lights around it, and machinery and scaffolding--it's being excavated. I'm not an active participant at this point. This is like watching a movie.
Cut to the inside of the hotel. A small team of rugged, anti-social types have gathered to learn whatever secrets this place might tell them. Oh, I get it. This is like Alien or The Thing, and this band of disparate near-strangers will have difficulty working together once...whatever happens. Will it be aliens or ghosts or...well, I guess I'll find out.
The plot moves right along, as the guy in charge--who vaguely resembles Kurt Russell, but not from The Thing but from Stargate, and since this is my dream that's weird, because I hated Stargate--is offering running exposition, even though nobody is listening to him. He passes the desk in the lobby, and lodged between an old-timey ledger and a ceramic cherub is an envelope from Rexall pharmacy. He opens it and pulls out a thick stack of old Polaroids. "This is the key," he says, and hands them to me.
And it's not like a movie anymore. I'm standing alone in the dark, with only enough light to see the photos.
The first picture is of my beloved and much-missed cat Monika. It was taken at my apartment in Des Moines, after Monika had moved in with me when Mom passed away. Of course, the only reason Mom had her in the first place was because I'd abandoned her when I moved away to get married. Wait. No...it's not quite as heartless as it sounds. When I moved, Mom moved back into the house where I'd been living. Monika stayed put. She just had a different master, is all. I didn't "abandon" her. Why did I use that word?
Next photo: The outside of the apartment building where I lived in Iowa City. There seems to be no significance to this picture--there are no people in it, not even my car is visible. The sky is gray and there are no shadows. I don't remember taking this picture.
Next photo: A black-and-white image of the clothesline from the farm where I spent my childhood. The grass is tall, and unshelled walnuts cover the ground. The orchard is in the background. Everyone called it the orchard, but nothing really grew there, unless you count the rhubarb patch. To the right of the photo is the old broken-down swing set that took up a surprising amount of space in the yard, considering it was unusable. Even further to the right is the very tip of a dog's tail. That would be Penny--I know it's her even though I can't see her.
Next photo: Inside the farmhouse, in color this time. Mom's wingback chair. Beside it is the little wooden stand she used to hold all manner of junk, and on top of that is her jade green ashtray--complete with a lit cigarette--and coffee cup. In front of the chair is a ratty foot rest with the remains of the day's newspaper piled on top of it. Behind the chair is the drawing my sister scribbled when she was little, of what she said was "Mighty Mouse all tied up." But it's a more recent photo, after the living room was painted, so the drawing had been touched up with magic marker. And again, there are no people in this photo. It's like a recreation in a museum.
Next photo: Dad's recliner, with the floor model ashtray beside it, and a few empty bottles of Grain Belt on top of that. On the other side is...a stand and behind that...is nothing, literally nothing. It's like my mind can't supply the details, but come on, I spent the best part of my life there, I can remember this, but no, this picture doesn't lie, it's right there plain as day, a document of my faded memory.
Next photo: But no, before I can see it, I feel something, a presence, and I immediately know it's Mom trying to tell me something...
...and suddenly, violently, I'm awake, aware only of what is missing, still waiting for Mom's voice to comfort me, knowing it will never be heard.