how will you live now?
I am standing in an empty hunting lodge, watching snow erase the great mountains to the west while I dissect the dream. My fingers are bruised with cold. There is no heat. I place my hands in my pockets and wait to see if another raven will be carried past the window by the storm.
In the dream, a boy I knew, one who has been dead many years, meets me in our town to renew a love affair we never had. Our reunion is smooth and natural. It’s as if the boy has been away only a short time, not long enough for a suitcase or a late-night telephone call. I seem to be wearing a belted skirt. We practice our affection maturely, especially in the presence of others. The boy is tall, more handsome than he could have planned. If asked to play a soundtrack for the dream, my own dream, which I did not control in any way, I would choose smoky, bluesy songs. The kind that ache but aren’t tragic. The boy has simply found me, and loved me. That is what I’m meant to know.
Except I didn’t care for this boy when he was alive. And he didn’t care for me. He tried. He bowed to a sloppy haircut. He played all the sports. None of it worked. So he moved to the city and the knowing of things our town did not recognize as knowledge. He loved men. And, because of that love, he died.
So why did he come into my dream after so many disconnected years? Why did he take my hand when I never did anything for him at all? This is what I ask myself while the wind vibrates the timbers of the lodge as if they are reeds of a bassoon.
It occurs to me that my sister sometimes talks about her dreams. She complains of falling into tiny apertures or running through the linked cars of empty trains. Her dreams, their fears, are wandering sentences without verbs when she tells them. She doesn’t say anything about love, however, that empty theatre where she enjoys staging my failures. Would my sister claim I was jealous? Or also diseased in some way that matters? Try as I might I can’t recall the last time I saw the boy in the real world, that boney, rejected person.
He had parents. His father became someone who fished on lakes. He decided to be a person who kept the world behind him while in front there was only emptiness.
I read in the hunting lodge to pass the time. There are books in the library, and a woolen blanket I was told would keep me warm. Small brown bats roost in the dusty folds of curtains that are never closed. The room smells as though it contains a Victrola. Animals heads, expertly preserved, are mounted on the walls. I have spent some of the evening—for it is now growing dark—looking at an antlered caribou as quizzically as he looks at me. His replacement eyes are true amber, ageless in that way. There are animal traps above the shelves of the library too. Iron, rusting. They are large traps, the kind that snap shut on the legs of wild creatures and never let them go.
Read Alyson Hagy’s “Heron” and “How Will You Live Now?” in the print edition of The Arkansas International 6.
Alyson Hagy is the author of eight works of fiction, including the novel Scribe (Graywolf, 2018). Recent stories appear in Michigan Quarterly Review, Inch, and Kenyon Review Online. She lives and works in Laramie, Wyoming.