By Michael Chin
In that first dream when I lost Jules, it was to a group of tall men in dark suits at our front door. The shortest of them—who still towered over me—told me I’d need to “hand over the boy.”
He said it coolly, with an implication of malice. It reminded me of those bullies at school who’d talk around threats in favor of suggesting you loan them your homework or your favorite pen or however much cash you had in your wallet.
I handed the baby boy to them in terror, but with the inescapable sensation that I was doing the right thing, because they’d get their way no matter what I did—it was just a question of whether Jules or I got hurt in the process.
When I told Meryl about the dream, she asked, “You’d give up our son—just like that?”
I tried to explain about the overwhelming odds and living to fight another day, and switched gears a little too late—after Meryl had already spiraled—to rationalize that it was a dream and of course in real life I’d at least close and lock the door. I’d at least called the police—
That second dream when I lost our son, it was to the police who took him. A routine traffic stop and I figured I had a busted taillight. Only when the officer stepped up to the driver’s side window, he wasn’t interested in my license or registration. He was interested in seeing Jules’s birth certificate.
I told him I didn’t have it and watched a reflection of myself in the officer’s dark sunglasses while he said the “uh-huh” of a cop being told a driver going eighty didn’t realize the speed limit was fifty-five; or that the shoplifter had merely forgotten to pay for the groceries on the undercarriage of the cart; or that the clear-cut, dead-to rights murderer didn’t recognize the gun with his fingerprints all over it.
The officer took Jules. He said I could pick him up from the police station when I had my documents in order. I didn’t like it, but I’m a white guy from the suburbs—the kind raised to believe, and never given reason to question that the police were good guys and on my side.
I didn’t like the officer taking Jules, but there wasn’t time to argue—he somehow got our boy from the car seat quicker than I ever had, and Jules didn’t even cry.
The officer was gone and I was driving again before I thought to wonder if there were a car seat in the police cruiser, and before it registered that I didn’t have the officer’s name or a case number, and that I wasn’t completely sure where I even was to know which police station to find Jules after I’d found his birth certificate from the mess of important documents and junk mail on the kitchen table that Meryl and I hadn’t gotten around to organizing since our son was born.
Meryl—it registered, even in the dream, that she’d be mad at me.
I told her about the dream the next morning, and of course she was livid, bobbing up and down, cradling Jules’s head while she whisper-screamed, “I don’t care if they were police. I don’t care if it’s your own mother. You give away our child to anyone and I’ll murder you.”
The third dream was life or death.
The mountain lion narrowed the gap between us and him with every stride. We were in an open field, no place to hide, no place to climb.
I carried Jules in my arms and there was little doubt he slowed me down with his extra ten pounds of weight, with the awkward running form necessary to clutch his body to mine.
When I looked back, the mountain lion was closer.
I knew without Julian I could run faster. Not fast enough to outrun this beast forever, but enough to buy an extra minute or two. That, and I recalled the old truism of the two men fleeing a bear in the woods: I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.
I let go of Jules. I immediately regretted not saying any last words to him, not kissing his head one last time.
I didn’t have the heart to look back. I ran free. I ran until I awoke.
I told Meryl that dream while she sat on the couch with Jules someplace between suckling from her breast and asleep himself—not an unusual space for him to occupy.
“There was nothing I could do,” I tried. “Do you think it would have been better if we both died? Are you trying to tell me you would’ve fought a mountain lion?”
“I wouldn’t have fought.” At first, I thought she meant she’d have kept running, before I caught the gleam of rage in her eyes—a gleam I’d never seen before Jules was born, and never would have expected from the bookish, rail-thin woman I’d fallen in love with during grad school years before. The one who dodged stepping on worms on the sidewalk after it rained and who trapped spiders in plastic cups to carry them outside rather than smashing them. Her eyes gleamed, and I can only imagine she pictured a mountain lion, sizing up the beast’s teeth and claws and haunches. She smoothed back Jules’s hair with her hand. “I’d have killed.”
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Georgia with his wife and son. He has two full-length short story collections on the way: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue from Duck Lake Books and Circus Folk from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle. He has also published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with Burrow Press, Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press. Find him online atmiketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin