By Steven Wingate
In the dream we were the first husband and wife in America to get executed together, though I don’t think that could be true because they had the Rosenbergs in the 50s, and I hear they died together. We’d gotten the death penalty for mutilating a pair of six year old girls from down the street we kidnapped on their way home from school. Apparently we cut them up into strips as thin as spaghetti and studied them with magnifying glasses to figure out exactly how they worked, what made them tick. You were super-serious about it. I wanted to laugh at us but I couldn’t—standing all day and night in the basement with those girls hanging in strips from the ceiling, and you so serious all the time. Who could laugh?
We knew the second it came out in the papers that there wasn’t a jury in the entire universe who’d acquit us, insane or not. We weren’t rich or famous or beautiful or sports stars—so no hope. There were three books out about us in the first two months after we got caught, and everybody who’d ever spent ten seconds with us was on the TV spouting their theories about why we cracked. The paperboy, all the six year old girls we knew who we didn’t mutilate, the woman who did your hair, the guys I played racquetball with, our bosses. All of them making money off us, hand over fist. Our son Ryan (the one we didn’t have in real life) was fifteen by then and writing his own book. I guess he’d run away from home a couple days before we grabbed the girls, and he told the TV people he knew all along that something bad was about to happen.
But most of the dream wasn’t at the trial or even the execution, which I guess was by lethal injection. It happened on the metal tables at the morgue, where they had us laid out waiting for something. What, I can’t tell you. An autopsy, I guess. But why would they need an autopsy if they gave us lethal injections? And we couldn’t be organ donors—who’d want a mutilator’s liver, a mutilator’s kidneys?
Anyway we were on the slabs at the morgue, naked and just far enough apart so I could tell you were next to me, but not so close I could feel your heat (if there’d been any heat left to feel). I missed you next to me—it was worse than a king-size bed. Your left breast looked almost twice as big as your right one, way more out of proportion after you were dead than when you were alive. My belly looked caved in like I hadn’t eaten for a month, and my privates looked like leftovers that we forgot about and left in a corner of the fridge. We were floating over our bodies, looking down on them and finally understanding why people get buried with their clothes on. We’re beautiful when we’re moving and breathing but when we’re naked and dead, we’re just big lumps of meat stuffed into the ugliest, plainest skins in the animal kingdom.
“Do you think it would’ve happened if we’d talked Ryan into staying?” you ask me, though your mouth doesn’t move. Apparently we can still talk through some telepathic channel that only opens up after we’re dead. We don’t know how long it’s open for, so I guess we want to use it while we can. But sparingly, just in case it has a word limit or something. “Do you think he could’ve talked us out of it?”
“I don’t know if he could,” I tell you. “He’s only fifteen.”
“He’s only fifteen and we’re already dead.”
“And when he’s twenty we’ll still be dead,” I say.
“And when he’s twenty-five?” Your voice goes up when you say the numbers, and they stretch out until they disappear.
“And when he’s thirty.”
“And when he’s thirty-five?”
“And when he’s forty.”
“And when he’s forty-five?” By then we’ve got a rhythm going.
“And when he’s fifty.”
“And when he’s fifty-five?”
“And when he’s sixty.”
“And when he’s sixty-five?”
“And when he’s seventy.”
“And when he’s seventy-five?”
On and on we keep saying the numbers, five years at a time like that, until Ryan’s older than anybody who’s ever lived.
“And when he’s two thousand and seventy,” I say.
“And when he’s two thousand and seventy-five?”
“And when he’s two thousand and eighty.”
“And when he’s two thousand and eighty-five?”
On and on we go, until our voices give out. It’s a song, it’s a chant, it’s a prayer, it’s a wish.