Updated: Apr 15
By Mike Lee -
After that morning, Charlotte crossed the boundary to delve deep into the desert of her heart. As she lay in bed, an inclined body of revolution, she thought about how the early morning had gone.
It was mixed. Went well and also not so. It depends. This was because of a dream, a crazy one, where Charlotte broke ranks with the obvious around her, and in waking up this was when she deduced that the dream signified inadequacy.
From the time she left for the dreamlands with an eye to dominate, she returned to the waking feeling an intense poverty of the spirit. It was not unexpected if she had only listened to herself; the advice she often gave to others but always neglected when it came to matters Charlotte.
Mama always told her she listened well but couldn’t hear worth a damn. She missed her mother sometimes, usually not. From the stench from her Newports permeating the furniture to the constant judgments that were set from a generation plus five years away from her daughter were two aspects she missed without regret. That, and Mama’s obsession with her ex-husband, Charlotte’s father.
Charlotte didn’t like him, and yes, he was a bad man, a shitty father, a charmless con man who often broke the bonds of reckless abandon to touch the face of insanity that only an addict would know, and she preferred other topics of conversation from Mama.
Like, “how’s your day?” “Would you like to go shopping?” “Is there anything you are interested in that we can do together?” Although, she did take her to all the Harry Potter movies and book parties at Barnes and Noble, dressed up as Hermione Granger, like all the other girls.
Not much else in the memory department Charlotte deemed to be positive. This culminated on the day when Mama humiliated her at graduation, when she ripped open the award envelopes looking to see if there were checks inside. This public humiliation cut the remaining threads.
By the end of the summer, she moved to an apartment with friends in Brooklyn who had a full ride at Hunter. From that point on, Mama became an uncomfortable holiday visit in Queens.
Charlotte stared at the ceiling. Christmas was a few days away, and she did not want to endure smelling stale menthol smoke on another joyless occasion.
What happened in the dream: Fragments were formed into an unfinished puzzle. She was in a city like New York, except this Midtown Manhattan lacked skyscraper canyons. She was with an imaginary boyfriend. Charlotte guessed it was some guy she met in class the previous semester. Never bothered to date, but memorable enough to enter her subconsciousness.
Everything happened so quickly, like a chopped-up movie stock using occasionally related scenes. Entering cafes and stores, crossing the urban avenues like co-conspirators in seeming romance. There was a third wheel involved: a blond female she recognized as an older neighbor who used to walk her dog daily before she moved in October.
Charlotte recalled her name—Tina. The young man’s name, however, she could not remember.
Tina was constantly smiling. At what, Charlotte did not know. This disturbed her.
They went into a used bookstore, cavernous with books stacked haphazardly in pyramids in inopportune spaces, shelves jammed from roof to ceiling with hardbacks. It was the bookstore she only saw in photographs while surfing a Facebook group about old New York.
While they made their way carefully through the narrow pathways, the young man found a ragged leatherbound book and opened it. Charlotte looked to see the words “End of Time.” The rest was obscured by his grasping hand as he looked inside its cover.
She moved closer, peering over to see what he was reading, while thinking she wasn’t in the least attracted to him. He wore black chinos and a white polo shirt, with red and navy stripes on the sleeves and collar. She deemed him the kind who hung out at the German bier room in Williamsburg.
Charlotte went there once. It stank of stale beer and right-wing conspiracy theories.
She saw the faded brown ink, written in cursive, on the frontispiece. She made out the numbers 1896.
Tina cackled behind her. “I need to go outside for a smoke.”
Charlotte woke up.
She rose from the bed and looked out the window. The dawning sky was blood red and orange, the sun skewered by the spire of St. Stephen’s several blocks away. The street below was covered with yesterday’s snow. She instinctively checked her phone. The alert was on, with terse announcements of COVID updates, high winds expected for Thursday, a gas odor on Lorimar Street and a robbery on N. Fifth.
After brushing her teeth and making a cup of coffee, taking care not to wake her roommates, Charlotte climbed into bed. She thought maybe it was too dangerous to go see her mother. Riding two subway lines and taking a bus could give her the Corona, and the high winds might blow the 7 train off its tracks. A robbery could happen, or a gas odor could tempt too much fate from a lit menthol cigarette.
Then the text dinged on her phone. Honey, are you coming over tomorrow?
She thought, smiling, this must be the season of the witch. It was right after Solstice, after all.
Charlotte texted Mama her response.
Mike Lee is a writer and editor in New York City. His work appears in Lunate, Ghost Parachute, Quarantine Review and others. His story collection, The Northern Line (Atmosphere) is on sale. He also has a story in the upcoming Ghost Parachute anthology.