Chapter Excerpt

Tea Dream

He no longer wondered where to lay down blame or whose was the responsibility or what the responsibility was. Her body, finished with its rage, had settled in the cancer the way one slips into a tub in a dark bathroom, into hot water, and
soon the skin is no longer a barrier, an integrity and definition ; one becomes part of the water, the cancer. The skin goes in the way the breath does, out like a ripple of the surface of a still pool ; part of a quota, it does not return. She lay in the tub, and under the water, crossing the rise of her belly, a place that was darker than water : a dark towel, taken from the blankets and pillows and towels in the backseat of the car, because it gave her some com-fort. Her head rested on a rolled towel, placed where the tile and the porcelain met ; chalk of the small hollow valley of her left cheek, her lips slightly parted, her shallow and stertorous breath-ing. The glass doors in the wall of the room beyond her were
a field of light, reflection cast from the side of the rented car, up from the white gravel outside the motel room in Arizona. Occasional figures of yucca advanced, danced, and faded in the opaque field. He sat in a chair, in the dark in the side of the room, watching the gun.
The gun lay on the bed in the middle of a white towel.
She sighed in the distance. It was a small, blue-metal instrument with symmetrical indentations on its surface. He liked the romance of it, his privacy and her groggy sound. He reached out
toby olson
Pinch. A Design Office. Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
Seaview | Galley 01 :: 24 July 2006
Pinch. A Design with a finger and touched the tip of the butt, better aligning the L–shape with the towel’s edge.
And then he thought of the two bags of cocaine, each pressed in a Diamond Kitchen matchbox that was taped shut, in the trunk of the car, under clubs, blankets, and clothing. He thought of the way Melinda would give it up, her body slipping as her quota of breaths left her : neck, chin, and upper lip, her nose blowing feeble air against the water’s surface (small indentations, minute waves), then going under. He lifted the gun up from
the towel then and put the barrel between his teeth and pulled the trigger on the empty chamber.
“Melinda, are you okay in there?”
“Yes, I’m okay, honey, fine.”
He came back from the click as he had come back from the Tea Dream that time. In the Tea Dream, he was sitting on a bench to the side of the blue markers at the back of a narrow tee. The tee was long enough to accommodate all the markers, and from where he sat he could see the white ones halfway up, and near the foot of the tee, where it dropped off into rough and the slope started up to the high par-three green about a hundred and eighty yards away, the red, women’s markers, were set in. He had his cap and his glove on, and he was holding a seven-iron, the head resting in the grass to the side of his right foot. He looked from the club head, down the row of markers and up to the green. Beside the flagstick, gripping the shaft in her left hand, there
was a woman standing in full view and facing down at him. She was wearing a white bathrobe, and she wore no jewelry.
Her hair was dark and uncombed, and she was holding hazy implements in her free hand at her waist. There was a smoky fog, a thick cloud that began coming up behind her, rolling over
the green’s surface. It got to her, and her feet and legs were envel-oped in the smoke, and he couldn’t see them clearly anymore.
But he could see their changing bulks and her right foot rise a little and paw at the low, delicate carpet of grass.
The fog rose up around her ; she seemed to recede back into
Pinch. A Design Office. Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
Seaview | Galley 01 :: 24 July 2006
the cloud. It cowled her head, and then she disappeared com-pletely. He started to get up, to go and find her, though he feared her, but as he rose the smoke-fog began to clear. It gathered up from where her feet had been, and when he followed its path, he saw the place of the cowling shrink and the smoke gather and disappear into two rings, and as the final billows were sucked in, he saw the head of the horse appear where her head had been, and he realized that the rings were the horse’s nostrils, the smoke his breath blowing in the suddenly cold air. The horse was white and large, very stately and very powerful looking. There was a device attached to its side, a leather trussing, and the long stick with the small red flag with the white number 3 sewn into it was standing, straight up above the horse’s broad back, the little flag waving. The horse pawed at the green, scarring the surface, kicking little divots out. It blew its heavy steam. And then it dipped its head once and started down the hill toward him. It pranced a little, slowly selecting places for its hoofs as it came down through the rough. He fell back on the bench and waited for it. It was massive and getting larger in its coming, but he did not fear it, not in the way he had feared the woman. He had tightened his grip on the seven-iron when he had seen her, but now he released it, his knees parted a little, and he relaxed.
The horse reached the far end of the tee and started down between the markers as if they were running lights. He could hear the creak of the trussing, the hoof-thuds, and the sound of the nostrils blowing. It got to him, and he could smell its sweat and see the doe-leather look of its soft muzzle, its powerful grind-ing jaws. It stood for a moment over him, moving its head from side to side, looking around. Then its thick neck began to arch over, and it brought its huge head down to him. He sat very still. He could feel the blow of the nostril smoke on his cheek, and he could smell it at the same time. It had the smell of jasmine, slightly sweet and musky.
And in the dream he seemed to open his eyes as if they had been closed, and he turned his head slightly toward the horse
26 toby olson
Pinch. A Design Office. Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
Seaview | Galley 01 :: 24 July 2006
Pinch. A Design and looked up into its face. And the horse’s eyes grew smaller, and through the smoke between the two of them the face of the horse began to change into the face of a woman. Melinda began to appear to him as he woke up. She was sitting on the floor beside the bed, at a level with his head, and between them, on the night table, was a steaming cup of tea. And he saw the oval of Melinda’s lips as she lightly blew the rising tea smoke across his face. Her mouth changed to a smile as his eyes came into focus. He had risen gently from his dream ; it was the smell of tea and its touch against his cheek, insinuating itself into the dream without break-ing it, that had awakened him. And the dream and what he might have chosen to call reality had come together like a kind of smoke net to lift him up. He had moved to his elbows, turning his head toward her. He had never come to himself so gently. And Melinda had seemed to know this, and that is why she smiled and did not speak for a while but only looked at him as the tea smoke lifted.
“Melinda, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m ready to come out now.”
He wrapped the gun in the towel and put it in the suitcase and then he went to the bathroom. She smiled up at him from the dark water in the tub.
“Should I put the light on?”
“No. Leave it off, okay?”
He put his hands down into the warm water beside her body. “The towel,” she said. He pulled back and reached to her belly
and lifted the wet towel off of it, wringing it out as he took it from the water and placed it in the sink. He took a dry towel, folded it, and put it over the edge of the tub. Then he reached into the water with both hands and arms to his elbows, sliding one arm under her back and the other under her knees. He knelt down
on the floor and lifted her up carefully out of the water and swung her legs over the edge of the tub until she was sitting on the towel. He took another towel and draped it over her shoulders. She began to rub herself with the towel, and he took another
27 Seaview
Pinch. A Design Office. Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
Seaview | Galley 01 :: 24 July 2006
towel and dried her legs and feet. Then he got up and stood over her, looking down at her matted hair, her huddled body. He steadied her with one hand on her shoulder. He pressed her after a few minutes.
“Are you ready?”
“Okay,” she whispered softly and with effort. She held the towel with a white hand across her breasts, and he reached under her again, making a chair for her. He lifted her and carried her into the other room and sat her down on the edge of the
bed. The reflection in the glass doors had changed slightly. It was midday, and the light now brightened the foot of the bed. The glass doors were still opaque. He made sure she was steady ; then he left her sitting and went over and pulled the drapes.
He returned to her and helped her recline on the bed. He took a blan-ket from the shelf in the closet and offered to put it over her.
“No. No thanks,” she said, raising her arm slightly. “But could you turn down the air conditioner a little? You can leave the blanket here.” She motioned to the bed beside her. He did these things. He bent over and kissed her forehead.
“I’m going out for a while. Do you want anything?”
“No, just a little rest is all.”
“Not long,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll sleep.”
“I mean, I won’t be gone long.”
“Oh, I see. Okay.” She let her head down on the pillow and looked at the ceiling. He went to the door, opened it, and left the room.

Excerpted from Seaview by Toby Olson
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.