“The best interpreter of the dream is the dreamer.”
Zane had spent his first day off in weeks staring at the ceiling, and now the panic was setting in as he turned his head to see his alarm clock switch over from 9:59 to 10:00. He knew he was going back there in the morning and had wasted his one day sleeping and being a combination of too hung over and too empty to move.
The night before had been a celebration, getting off work about thirty minutes early due to his knowledge of the final stretch approaching, and on his way home driving thirty miles over the speed limit he stopped at the one gas station between the warehouse and his apartment and bought as much beer as they would sell him. He was in such a good mood he even took the time to ask the clerk working there about his day and if he was looking forward to the weekend. The clerk who had a name tag that read Barry didn’t seem interested in the question and literally called into question the whole intention behind what he was asking.
“You don’t have to pretend that you give a fuck,” he said while scanning the six packs of various liquid bread that would be the fuel for Zane’s after hours bender. The minimum wage cynicism of one convenient store clerk wasn’t something that Zane was going to let get him down especially since he finally had his freedom. He tossed his bounty into the trunk of his barely functioning used car and drove with his headlight’s high beams always on because without them they were too dim to illuminate anything. He was so excited to take it easy for a while he cracked his first one open the second he pulled out onto the main road. It was mostly open country between where he lived and where he worked so he wasn’t afraid of the police, but that changed when the music blaring through his already partially burst speakers was interrupted by the dissonant cry of a local police cruiser. After saying fuck about ten times he pulled his car over to the shoulder and turned off the engine. He downed the rest of the beer without thinking and threw the can on the passenger side floor to then cover it up with his work jacket that he had sitting just above it on the seat. The silhouette of the cop grew bigger against the spinning red and blue lights at his back until Zane could feel his presence right out side his window, he looked over and said nothing until the stranger spoke.
“You look weirdly familiar have we ever met before?” The officer said after a few more seconds of silence. Zane took a good look at the guy and was positive he’d never seen him in his life, but had an idea about why he was familiar to him.
“I was a minor league Hockey player until about three years ago, played for the Weylin Wolves. It’s possible you could’ve seen me in a highlight or something because I’m pretty sure we’ve never met.” The officer looked up at the sky and Zane could tell he was in the process of remembering. He knew it clicked when suddenly the officer gave the door a slap with both his hands.
“That’s right I know exactly who you are you’re Vernier, Zane Vernier. The guy who beat the fuck out of his coach in the middle of a game while you were on bath salts or some shit.” The cop laughed and leaned back. Zane had had this interaction numerous times and was used to explaining it. The humiliation had long passed and only snuck up on him in his private moments when he was alone and thinking about how far he’d fallen. He had been a fighter all his life and was used to being regarded as a kind of animal. He had more blood buried in the flesh of his knuckles than he did in the whites of his eyes. Officer “sports fan” shined his flashlight throughout the car and took stock of everything that was in plain view. The vast amount of beer was mostly concealed in the trunk but there were a few bottles of cheap vodka in the backseat he had bought earlier on his way to work anticipating the ensuing party he would chase at the culmination of his day.
“It wasn’t bath salts by the way,” Zane chimed in as an attempt to clarify his reputation while also hopefully distracting the cop from the contents of the bottles in the car. It seemed to work until the cop shifted his gaze from the backseat back to the front and his flashlight beam settled firmly on the coat that covered the entirety of the passenger side floor. Everything became formal all of a sudden and the last words Zane remembers were to hand over both his license and registration.
Zane returned to his apartment about half an hour later after the process of waiting to be cited. The fine was about twice the cost of all the liquor in his car, but that was trivial to him at this point. He had enough money in the bank because he was a hard worker and lived only for himself. It wasn’t uncommon that he would risk upsetting the local authority in exchange for some momentary fun. These were the kinds of sacrifices he made for himself since he refused to live any other way than completely alone.
After a quick shower the first thing Zane did was light up the joint he had rolled that morning as a kind of meditation on the significance of his final day. This was one of the many coping techniques he used as a way to survive the constant grind of meaningless labor and time. He treated every proverbial “Friday” as his absolute last day even though he knew it was a lie. While he smoked he sat in the wooden rocking chair he kept at a diagonal from his T.V. His whole apartment had hardwood floors and so he took advantage of it. He had always enjoyed sitting in rocking chairs ever since he was young and would watch Hockey games with his grandmother. They were big Maple Leafs fans and when they were playing poorly his whole immediate family gave him lessons in profanity in ways that have stuck with him even up until now.
Zane could feel the joint kicking in and as it did he made his way over to the kitchen counter where he poured himself a glass of vodka with ice and opened another beer he could use as a chaser as needed. Cross fading was one of the only ways he was able to sleep anymore and he only smoked strong indicas to help fight his raging insomnia that he once explained to a girlfriend by describing it as a raging fire in a school bell factory. He turned the radio on for a while which is something most people he knew gave him shit about because who listens to the radio anymore, outside of in the car if the auxiliary port is broken? There were a few stations left out where he lived though that kept the music that he liked in circulation and the D.J.s were good enough to stay for. One of them was on a rant now about how the downtown area was full of fucking fascist cops, and after just escaping an encounter with one, Zane raised his glass in solidarity and took a swig.
After a few more beers and another joint Zane looked at the clock and saw that it was still pretty early in the night. He picked up his landline that was connected to the wall through a long cord and set it on the end table by his rocking chair and sat down. He only had the landline because it was included in the rent for the apartment, but there was a part of him that liked using it better than his smart phone. It just felt more real sometimes talking into actual plastic rather than some glass candy bar that stuck to the side of his face. He picked up the phone and scanned the small directory sticker he kept above the dialing pad with an oscillating list of girl’s numbers. There were seven names currently listed and he chose the first one that stuck out to him and dialed the number. It rang for a while but right as he was about to give up hope and try a different number there was an answer and a soft but confident voice greeted him through the earpiece.
Her name was Layla and Zane got her number from a work friend who said she was looking for a guy to potentially start going out with. They had talked a couple of times before, all of which went well and they had kind of established a friendship. This was the first call that he had initiated since the first time they ever spoke and one of the first things she always did was give him shit about using a land line. She worked at a flower store on the edge of town and it was the only other place he drove past on his way to work other than the gas station he frequented to buy beer. It made him happy when he found out she worked there because it seemed to give him a connection to something outside of himself that he would see everyday. He didn’t get a lot of that.
“Hows it going?” she said over the background noise that sounded like a combination of T.V. static and a distant highway. He was a a bit at a loss and his brain wasn’t working at its fastest capacity since there was a good amount of drugs and alcohol moving through it. Frantically thinking of something to say, his thought process was interrupted. “This is the first time you initiate the call since we first met and you haven’t even thought out what you were planning on talking about? What the fuck is your problem?”
“Hey, sorry, I’ve been partaking a little bit since I got off work, and just kind of lost my train of thought. How are you? How’s the flower shop?” He could tell his response was weak and that he was already on thin ice.
“I asked you first, but I’ll give you a second to think since you’re being a degenerate this evening. As for the flower shop it’s a fucking nightmare and I almost wish it paid less so I could justify leaving. Margaret the old woman that owns it is a total cunt and won’t leave me alone to just do my work. Every single thing I do is wrong and she’s constantly rearranging the bouquets I put together because a she’s a fucking control freak.” This statement was followed by a crunching sound like she was eating something between sentences.
“What are you eating?” Zane asked in a burst of clarity while grimacing slightly at the chewing noises. She sighed and then answered him condescendingly.
“I’m eating pretzels and watching The Searchers with the cable I steal from my upstairs neighbor. You still haven’t answered my initial question by the way, and if you could do me a favor, set the phone down a second and don’t say anything else until you’ve downed an entire glass of water.”
“Is that an order?” he asked slouching in his chair and running his palm across his forehead. Her response was just to exaggerate the crunching of her pretzels into the mouthpiece which he took as a yes. He set the phone down next to the receiver on the table and walked into the kitchen. He kept a pitcher of water in the fridge so it would stay cold, but when he opened it he found that it was empty. This kind of self sabotage wasn’t anything new for him and so it didn’t upset him like it should have. He filled the pitcher in the sink and then drank half of the room temperature water in just a couple of gulps. He figured that half a pitcher should satisfy Layla’s request and he returned to the rocking chair where he picked the phone back up and heard singing.
“What song is that?” he asked re-establishing the cadence of his rocking.
“I don’t know it was some jingle from a commercial I just sat through. I think it was for some kind of frozen dinner, or some shit. I was only half paying attention.” Zane remembered her initial question and that the ball was on his side of the net.
“I’m doing fine by the way, sorry it took me so long to say that. I have the day off tomorrow so I’m in the best mood I’ve been in for weeks.” He lit the half smoked joint he let sit in the ash tray and took a long drag while he listened.
“Zane Vernier, did I just hear you light something?” She asked ignoring his response to her oh so important question.
“Maybe.” He said before coughing and confirming her suspicions.
“My dealer ran into some trouble recently and now I can’t get any, so sorry if I sound a little jealous,” she said. “The cops raided his house and one of them shot his dog almost immediately. I talked with him about it a little bit last time I saw him, and he said that the shot didn’t kill it, but had completely severed the lower jaw off of the animal. He said it took everything he had not to lose it and fire back, but he played it cool and got the minimum sentencing. He’s on parole now so he can’t really make a living the same way.”
“Did the dog end up making it?” Zane asked frozen now after taking it all in.
“No the cops just left it there after they arrested him and when he got back after making bail it was just gone. He thinks it walked out to the woods and bled to death, but since he’s on house arrest he can’t go out and look for the body.”
“You weren’t sleeping with this guy were you?” He asked without thinking.
“So what if I was? It wouldn’t be any of your business. Jesus, you really are drunk.”
“I’m sorry you’re right it isn’t any of my business. I shouldn’t have asked that.”
“No you shouldn’t have.” There was a warranted awkward silence after that and Zane was scrambling to recover from his blunder with something funny or redemptive, but he couldn’t think of anything. All he could find in his mind were images from fights he had on the ice three years ago. He remembered his name on the big screen that presided over the rink whenever he made someone bleed. He remembered how cold the ice felt against his face when he lost. “Do you want to finally meet in person tonight, Zane?” She asked bringing him back down to the planet. He was worried that this could be a test and he could be heading towards saying the wrong thing, but he wasn’t in the state to be planning out all of his moves, so he just decided to be honest.
“Yes, I would like to meet you in person that would mean a lot to me.”
“You don’t have to get all sentimental on me, I was just asking. So how about you meet me halfway? You know where I live right? We’ve talked about that before?”
“Of course yeah that works I’m okay with that.”
“I’d invite you all the way over if you didn’t have me convinced you’d throw yourself off my balcony. Oh, and bring something to smoke if you catch my drift.”
“I can do that sure.”
“And one more thing make sure you walk I don’t want to hear about you wrapping your car around a fucking telephone pole for my sake got it?”
“I promise I won’t drive.”
“Good I’ll see you in a few minutes.” She hung up the phone and for a moment Zane could only hear the dial tone. He got up from his chair immediately and put on some jeans and a hoodie. After that he dug out the one bottle of wine he had left that he had almost forgotten about. It looked more purple than red through the dusty bottle, but he knew it was something she would probably like. He rolled two joints and put a small dime bag together for her to take home, as a kind of apology for being such an asshole, and then he set out on his way.
It was nothing but empty fields in between working class apartment complexes in their good for nothing town, and so he walked along the shoulder of the empty road carrying the booze beneath his jacket. There were no lights so he relied on his eyes adjusting to the dark which wasn’t really a problem because her apartment was just down the road a ways, and in fact he could see the lights of its parking lot from where he was just a couple of miles away. That’s how little there was between them and how empty their world had become. No one cared about places like that beyond what they reaped from them in the form of long haul truckers stopping by warehouses like where he worked taking everything these people built off to somewhere else. They left enough behind to keep things moving, but it wasn’t hard to see where they fit into everything. He was meant to die behind the wheel of a forklift moving cargo where it was needed, and she was meant to sell the flowers for his funeral that was the circle of life as far as they were concerned. That was their destiny.
He hated looking at it all because it often brought back memories like he could feel it doing now. There were fields like the ones he walked by back up in Canada where he grew up with maybe a few more ponds scattered about them. Every winter his father and brother and him would skate out onto them and play Hockey until the sun went down, sometimes later. When he was a bit older Zane watched his father drown in one of those ponds after falling through the ice. They were running drills alone together because Zane was practicing to make the varsity team at his high school. He tried jumping in to help him, but his father waved him off. He knew it was probably because he didn’t want him to die out there too, but after growing up it was clear to him that the real reason was all of this. All this wasted time and potential they were forced to sit in to keep the system going. Zane was sure his father had just had enough and wanted his last day on earth to be on the ice with his son and not in some factory making pencils for higher-ups to keep in colorful mugs on their desks. At the tryout that year Zane went into a rage and fought all of the upperclassmen and won. He had a massive black eye by the end of practice, but in the locker room the coach threw him a jersey and announced to the whole team that Zane was the new enforcer and it was his job to keep order on the ice. He played the game that way until he couldn’t.
The halfway point between their two apartments came together right where the light posts from town met the darkness of the outskirts. He saw her walking all lit up by the trail of streetlamps, and she saw him emerge from his place in the shadows.
“I brought wine,” Zane said handing her the bottle before putting both joints in his mouth and lighting them. Once they had good flames going he passed her one along with the dime bag.
“Is this for me?” she asked shaking the small bag between her thumb and index finger.
“Yeah consider it an apology for my stupid question earlier that was out of line.”
“Thank you.” She took a deep hit and blew the smoke in his direction temporarily blocking the stars from his view. “You don’t look how I thought you would,” she said while continuing to smoke.
“What do you mean?” he asked accepting the passed wine bottle and taking a drink.
“You just seem tired in person, not like you do on the phone.”
“Well, how do I seem on the phone?”
“I guess pretty much the same. I’m sorry I’m kind of nervous and don’t really know what I’m saying.”
“It’s okay,” Zane said. “I can guarantee that I’m way more nervous than you are.” They stopped talking for a minute and kept smoking and drinking. “How does this stuff compare to your old dealer?”
“I’m not really sure yet,” Layla said getting higher and higher. “Can I ask you about something you might not want to talk about?”
“You can ask me anything.”
“Do you ever miss playing Hockey? I mean I know it didn’t end well, and you were mostly known for fighting, but you don’t get to the minors without a deep love for the game.” Zane thought about that for a minute, and tried to find the most honest way to phrase his thoughts.
“I don’t miss the game so much as I miss the purpose connected to it, if that makes any sense.”
“I think it does,” she said finishing off the wine. “That was a good bottle, and this stuff is about on par with what I’m used to,” she continued before tossing the bottle across the road and into the weeds. “I think I want to sit down.”
The two of them sat on the side of the road and continued to make conversation and eventually they forgot what they were nervous about. After a while they had finished off their joints and moved closer to keep each other warm.
“Is this okay?” he asked her and she just nodded while looking upward at his eyes. She slid her hand down the front of his pants which surprised him and caused him to pull away. “You don’t have to do that,” he said to her but she wouldn’t stop.
“I want to though.” She undid his pants so it would be easier and they became quiet for a while. When it was over they started talking again. “You know there’s an ice rink that does a public skate about an hour North of here?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I played there before at some point back before I was a professional,” he said.
“You have the day off tomorrow right? You should take me skating, wouldn’t that be fun? You could show me how good you are out there.” Zane laughed at this.
“The only thing I was ever good at was hurting people I wasn’t known for how well I could skate.”
“I bet you still can skate pretty well though.”
“Okay then I’ll take you, it’ll be fun.”
It was at this point when the alarm clock read 10:03 that Zane realized what he had done. He got dressed rapidly and sprinted out the door towards their meeting place. He didn’t bother calling her because he was sure she wouldn’t answer if he did. His only hope was if she waited for him, but the odds of that were nearly impossible and he knew it. Ultimately he wasn’t sure why he was running, maybe it was because he just wanted to retrace his steps and remember how it felt to be out there with her. When he arrived at where the streetlights met the darkness there was no one there and he collapsed to his knees. He had broken his promise and stood her up along with wasting his one day of freedom. He looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps and for a moment he was hopeful that maybe there could still be a chance, but when he looked up what he saw was simply a stray dog missing the entirety of its lower jaw. Its tongue flopped out like a tentacle and moved erratically. Zane stared into its eyes and the two of them connected in that moment as if it somehow understood. The hound turned toward the other side of the road and walked on until it disappeared into the night. With nothing left in either direction Zane stumbled to his feet and slowly followed.