By Dean Marshall Tuck
Dreams are a place for lost high school friends. Twin upperclassmen from my school’s jazz band inhabit my own. Tiffany wears a red dress and leather jacket. We’re on the dock of a port city. Lamppost light cascades the pier, the boats, the shacks, bathing everything in ochre shadow, a dull shimmer rippling in the black water. We approach a weathered shack. She gestures that we should enter. I hesitate. She notices, smiles with her eyes the way she used to biting down on her saxophone’s mouthpiece. Inside there’s scratchy phonograph music, laughter of self-assured women, clinking glasses, and a host of just-missed secrets, whispers, glances. Outside, silhouettes of men smoke, leaning against the pier’s railing, their deep conspiratorial mumbles falling like cigarette ash.
Tiffany’s never met these people, but she knows them all, and suddenly I’m aware my discomfort brings her pleasure. I suggest we leave; she laughs the way she used to, long ago, when I’d look to her on the morning activity bus heading to some band competition and say, “It’s going to be a long day.” Grabbing my hand, she’d sigh, and we’d share a set of headphones until my Walkman’s cheap batteries could no longer be coaxed from the dead with her alkaline voodoo.
Another dream: her brother Eddie shakes like Philadelphia ska pumped him full of drugs, left him shriveled, alone, and possessed by deferred fantasies: college, jazz, love. Still the 4-inch pharaoh goatee, the sideburns, the ghost of a gap-toothed grin, he sits beside me in our high school gymnasium. The game is over. We watch a gawky teenager sweep the court in slow, deliberate streaks. Eddie’s misty Chet Baker voice resonates from somewhere above his crumpled heart—the once-familiar tone drowned in gin and “big city,” so unlike my southern drawl. His words are dammed by a musician’s fury, loneliness, years of collecting urban sorrows he knows I could never understand. Like a Baker solo, he’s on the periphery of spilling everything but isn’t sure he can count on my sympathy, and anyway, could he even begin telling before the sophomore finishes the last streak and the lights come down? So we sit in silence, hypnotized by the glare reflected from the pinewood court.
In both dreams, I’m still a teenager, slight and always in clothes a size too large. I’m speechless, numbed at finding my companions so different, like age-enhanced photos of the missing or lost. Many nights I’ve dreamt of them, longing for the flip of her hair, his hand’s grip on my shoulder, the winter scent of her skin, his commiserative confided failures with women—her clairvoyant school bus looks, assuring me she knows my every thought, even the ones I haven’t thought yet, like she knows years later and for the rest of my life, my head will swim with film noir fantasies of her narrow-eyed smile, and her silent ramshackle brother, wasted, and derelict, badly in need of the friend it would take me years of dreams to become.
Dean Marshall Tuck is a writer of fiction and an advisory editor at Tar River Poetry. His short fiction has been featured in journals such as Zone 3, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine. He has work forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review, Natural Bridge, and Drunken Boat.