I’m an idiot.
Pickles dragged me back the trail we had just trekked – she did so by choking herself. She sniffed till she was more familiar with that leaf and the deer droppings beneath than she was with our basement, which she wasn’t allowed in because she’d eat the Christmas ornaments again and need more stitches on her tongue. I swear she’s a smart dog.
I had called into work, cancelled my precious students’ editing appointments and their classes for the week (each class costing each student roughly $60 in tuition) because I was delusional about a dream and a doctor who might also have been a dream. I had driven two hours to the forest looking for what I’d seen in a dream. And I couldn’t find it.
Wind swept the leaves and they tumbled down a hill. Pickles chased them and stuck her nose in a hole trying to force her head in it to see if the owner was a mouse or a snake or a gopher. She didn’t care which; she had few prejudices about snacks.
But there was a hole in my shirt! That was real!
A squirrel sprinted up an oak and Pickles tried chasing it but fell on her back because her claws were designed for scratching my arms when excited and not for climbing trees. She crooned, pleading with the squirrel to return to the earth so they could play Chase-and-Kill – but the squirrel didn’t understand; they were speaking different languages.
Maybe the hole had been there before – my work shirts were the first batch I bought for substitute teaching the year after college. The seams were frayed and each had a unique pattern of grease stains from my mid-day burger bought at the Ruck’s, our campus café, and eaten in my office to avoid the prattle of colleagues and students.
My mutt hauled me like a Ford F150 pulls a trailer down the interstate at 80 miles an hour, up hills, down, around river bends, weaving through traffic – all while the trailer creaks and complains and threatens to come loose.
But what about the spade tattoo? I hadn’t been drunk! I did that once and never again. It didn’t even taste good. It didn’t even feel good. So where’d the tattoo come from? It had to be the dream. Can dreams give you tattoos? No, that’s silly, stupid, certifiable.
I let Pickles roam. Her leash dragged over the ground and pulled dead branches from their leafy graves. She trekked faster with this trust. She smiled more too. She trotted at my side and even led me down paths I would’ve skipped, but I followed because this slobber-brain knew where to look as well as I did.
What if it wasn’t a dream? That’s even crazier. There’s no stone shrine or light-smoke or unnatural row of trees. Just the usual spattering of oaks and sycamores and birches and whatever else – my scouting days only taught me the basics. And there was no black orb.
Pickles found a brook dammed with smooth rocks. She lay flat in the deep before the dam.
But the forest was a big place.