Dream logic isn't story logic, writes Neil Gaiman, and he's right. But, sometimes, dream logic supersedes story logic, infests real-life logic.
I wake from the dream shaken. My mother stands in my kitchen, wearing her best Sunday dress from ten years ago, blue with shoulder pads and decorative gold buttons. She looks young. She is thin and healthy. She tells me that I'm out of iced tea. Later, she explains she can't bear caring for my grandfather. She will be staying with me for a few days.
I wake and cannot escape the dream logic. Its shape winds its way through my gut and settles somewhere around my heart. I feel guilty that there is no iced tea in the refrigerator.
The ingredients are in my glass mixing bowl, a Martha Stewart special I bought at K-Mart nearly ten years ago. I hesitate, then pick up the phone and call.
"Hello?" She sounds, I don't know, like she didn't read the Caller ID before she picked up.
"Hey, Mama," I say. I hold my breath.
"Hey, shug! What's goin' on?"
"I need a recipe," I tell her. all in a rush. I peer into the bowl, the raw egg floating on top of the onions and red peppers and canned salmon. "You remember those salmon patties you used to make? I was going to make those tonight, but I couldn't remember how you did them."
"You have a can of salmon?" She asks. She pronounces the l - salll-mon. "Take it out of the can, and kind of mash it up with a fork."
"Yeah, I did that, and picked the bones out."
"You don't need to pick the bones out. They're soft. Plus, they're good for you."
"Well, I already did that."
"Add an egg. Cut up an onion and add that."
"Okay. I also cut up some red pepper," I say. "And some garlic."
"That sounds good. Well, you can put whatever you want," she tells me. "Grandmama always added a little ketchup. Then add flour, I can't tell you how much, just enough."
"So it sticks together."
"Right. Then make it into patties and fry them until they're golden brown on, I don't know, medium heat, I guess."
"Okay." I pause, as if I'm doing something to the bowl.
"I was worried something was wrong," she says. "It's not Wednesday." She knows, outside of story logic or real-life logic, that there is something fishy about my calling on a Sunday.
"How are you doing?" I say, finally.
"I'm doing fine."
"He's doing okay. Still crazy. They'll have a room for him soon, though."
"Good. I dreamed you showed up here, unannounced, saying you just couldn't take him anymore."
"Well, I might run away from home any day now." Her sarcasm makes her sound healthier than she is.
"That's fine, anytime. Just give me a little warning, ok?" I tell her I love her and we hang up.
The salmon patties taste like my childhood. My brother is in his high chair, smearing fish and ketchup across his face. I am ten years old, and my mother is young and healthy, smoking a Winston and wiping my brother's face. He squirms away and squeals. I pick at my salmon and construct a small tower of green peas.
"I hate peas," I whine.
"Clean your plate," she says. She doesn't look at me, and I think about dropping the peas, one by one, on the floor. I fear she'll make me eat them off the floor if I waste food, though, so I knock down the tower and carefully build a fort around the remainder of my salmon. I use ketchup as mortar. I'm proud of my creation, and I can't help but call her attention to it.
She uses my middle name, and I'm suddenly ashamed. My brother begins to sob in anger and exhaustion, and I eat my peas as quickly as possible. I don't chew them, washing each mouthful down with sweetened iced tea.
Mama uses my middle name again. "You're going to get choked." She glares at me and I blush.
I eat my salmon patties and my baby lima beans and watch football on television. I see my brother. I hear my mother's voice and she's younger than I am now. My mother stands in my kitchen, dressed in her finest dress, wondering why I don't have iced tea. I feel her death. Dream logic is not story logic. It is far more powerful.