Rêves Canadiens

by Paul Corman
     Some nights Gregory dreams he is back on the ward. He slips past the floor nurse and waits by the iron gate at the end of the lane where the high stone wall runs along the road. His parents drive up in the big grey Ford. They smile and he knows he is forgiven and they will take him home.
     Tonight, though, Gregory has the other dream. He climbs out his bedroom window and runs across the field behind the house and into the woods. When he arrives home all the furniture is gone. The house is empty and dark and he wanders from room to room looking into empty closets.
     Augusta's voice floats through his head like dark, greasy colors in a crayon book. When he opens his eyes she is standing in the doorway to his room. Her heavy body fills the frame. She wears the T-shirt with a moose head on the front that Gregory has always been afraid of.
     Augusta shuffles her feet and lets out an exaggerated sigh that flutters her lips. "Look at this!" she snorts in disgust. "Can't you act like a grown man?"
     Gregory isn't sure how a grown man acts. He looks a this bare grey mattress with it's hard little buttons. At night he thrashes about in his sleep kicking at the sheets. He looks to where they lay, in a crumpled heap, on the floor and wants them to say something, but they never do when he really needs them.
     Augusta rattles pills in a paper cup and thrusts them at him. Two red and three yellow. He wants her to smile, to be happy. To like him.
     Instead she huffs off down the hall to start his bath. His mouth tastes like copper wire and over the sound of running water he hears her yell at him to get up.
     He pads across the floor on bare feet. His big shoulders hunched, sandy hair hanging in his eyes, big soft belly jiggling. A shaft of morning light cuts through the window, opening a scalding crevice on the white linoleum. Gregory carefully steps over it afraid to look down.
     Tom is in the kitchen cooking breakfast. The others sit at the dinning room table waiting. Joey rocks back and forthing his chair. Andy has his hand down the front of his pants smiling as he plays with himself. Augusta yells at him to stop, which he does, but starts again as soon as she looks away.
     The greasy sausage slithers around and around on Gregory's plate as he chases it with his fork. "Don't forget your parents are taking you to lunch today," Augusta tells him. The fork pauses on the way to his mouth and a piece of egg falls back onto his plate. Gregory sees the yellow yoke run into the home fries.
     He feels Tom and Augusta watching him. He wants them to like him. He wants to be good but he knows he can't. He wants to tell them how he feels, to say no, not today, I don't feel good. But the words stick in his throat as they always have.
     The room narrows around him, his ears begin to buzz. His arm fires the fork across the room missing Andy's head by inches as it ricochets off the wall. He hears himself screaming and somewhere in the background Augusta is on the phone yelling. His arm sweeps the plates and cups off the table. They crash on the floor-a slash of catchup runs down the wall.
     There are footsteps running in the hall as the room fills with people. They have him by the arms and force him to his stomach on the floor. Someone has his shoulder pinned under a knee and there is a foot near his face. He smells a dirty old running shoe.
     Later. Gregory traces his finger over the picture. They are in the back yard of the old house in the city, under the big soft tree that drips yellow flowers in the fall. His father wears a black suit that smells like the closet in his bedroom. His lips are held in a tight straight line. His wrinkled forehead is lost in a mop of sandy hair. His mother wears a blue summer dress, her drooping lids are nearly closed. She smiles painfully. The soft white hair on her arm tickles the tip of Gregory's finger. He looks at her face and wonders if her shoes are too tight.
     His mother looks down at his younger brother Donnie. He has one hand on his father's leg for support and his freckled face is bleached white in the bright sun. He wears cowboy chaps and a Roy Rogers hat with tufts of red hair sticking out and points a gun at the camera. Gregory know she's trying to shoot him.
     It was from his brother that he first heard the word Autistic. Donnie would taunt him as he sat on the floor spinning his toys. "Hey retard! Weirdo! Airhead!"
     Gregory is not in the picture. He's not in any of the pictures in his album.
     Tom sits at the dinning room table writing up the morning's observations. 'Anxious,' he says about Gregory. 'Parents visiting today.'
     The notes will end up in the grey filling cabinet, in the office, in the main house. There is a report there, about Gregory, from a year ago. 'While in the village store Gregory grabbed a young boy by the hair. No serious injury occurred. Gregory was directed to the van and we returned to the house. PRN Lorazepan administered. He chose to spend the rest of the day in his room. It is unknown why Gregory targeted the boy for aggression.'
     One of the boys red hairs is caught in a dust ball under Gregory's bed where the vacuum cleaner can't reach. Gregory knows it's there but he won't speak to it, if it doesn't speak to him first.

     The table cloth is checkered and as his father talks to the tall thin waitress Gregory straightens the napkin holder and sugar container so they are aligned with the red and white squares. Right now he needs some order to help him be good.
     The voices in the restaurant blend into noise, like an orchestra with no melody. He sees his father's mouth move. The waitress moves her mouth back at him. His mother sits with her hands folded on the table looking at her nails and Gregory sees wrinkles around her eyes. He wonders if she is growing old. Will she die like his brother Donnie. Will they take him to see her body in the funeral home, with it's sticky sweat smell of flowers, and crying aunts and uncles.
     Behind the counter with the cash register is the kitchen with it's shiny silver ovens and walls covered with long snakes of wire. One of the cooks throws pizza dough into the air. Gregory watches it spin round and round.
     People leave and Gregory hears words emerge from the scramble of sound. His mother looks at him with a tense smile while his father watches the thin waitress juggle plates of spaghetti. Tomato sauce runs down Gregory's chin and his mother wipes it off.
     "Can't we eat once without fighting!" he hears His father ask.
     "Nothing I'd like better."
     "You wonder why I never call."
     "What ever you want."
     George grabs his glass of pop and gulps it down. His father looks up at him and then quickly back at his food. He wants to tell them not to fight, that he's sorry.
     "Do you need to use the washroom?" his mother asks. He signs 'toilet', 'yes'
.      She takes him down a long hall beside the kitchen and leaves him at the washroom door. When he is finished he stands beside the toilet and flushes. It feels good watching the water swirl around and around before it plunges down the hole. He flushes again and again until he remembers his parents are waiting.
Gregory walks down the hall and through a door. his parents are gone. Instead, he sees shiny silver ovens and men dressed in white uniforms and he wonders how he got back to the institution. He feels the thick heavy walls close in around him.
The men in white turn to look at him. He knows they will throw him in the shower and then into the room with pillows on the walls. He closes his eyes so he won't have to watch what they do. He imagines himself made of stone. Hard, solid and untouchable. ...

     Gregory sits at the picnic table behind the house watching the sun slip towards the horizon. Wispy clouds turn pink as the orange ball dips behind the woods. A cool breeze shakes the leaves in the Maple tree. Somewhere in the distance a lonely crow call for company.
     The neighbor, Archie, has been cutting hay behind the house. His tractor sits in the field. Square bails scattered about on the stubble. One sticks out of the bailer like a word caught in the throat.
     Derick is on the evening shift tonight. Sometimes Gregory and Derick walk over to Archie's for a visit. In the winter they sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee. The smell of wood smoke on their clothes and hair.
     One time they went to visit and Archie was crying. "My wife left me," he told them. "I know it wasn't my fault. I did everything I could."
     Gregory wonders if he's doing everything he can. Maybe like the psychiatrist told him, he's just different. It's not his fault. It's just who he is. It turns black as he sits watching the stars. A meteorite streaks through the sky leaving a silver tail.
     Derick calls from the back porch. "Time for bed Greg." A few minutes later he comes down to the picnic table. "Hey Greg. Time for bed."
     Gregory doesn't want to go to bed. He isn't ready.
     "No!" he says.
     Gregory is surprised to hear his own voice. It makes him feel strong and good. He grins and throws his head back. His mouth is open showing his teeth and tongue. He spits out the words. "No. No. No." They don't want to stop and he bites them off with his teeth.
     They sit together in the growing darkness. Where the sun went down a bright light glows just above the horizon. "That's Venus." Derick tells him. A bat flaps over their heads and the frogs begin the nightly chorus.
     "Vee..nus." Gregory says, enjoying the feel in his mouth. Holding on to the word. Saving it up.
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