Karen and I are drinking dirt-cheap beer and laughing through a season of “It’s Always Sunny” when the connection in my TV goes out.
“No worries,” I say, standing and facetiously beating my chest. “I shall fix this! Come citizens! Follow me!”
We’ve pounded our way through a twelve pack, so we both kinda stumble down the hall to my room, where my laptop sits charging on my desk. I open it and bring up Netflix, and soon the Paddy’s Gang start their antics right where they left off. She and I drop down on my mattress and watch through a beery haze.
I’m drunk enough I actually don’t notice her hand start to move between the snaps on my shirt. Honest to God, I don’t actually catch on to what’s happening until one snap pops, and when I look down her cool palm is running its way across my ribs.
“Whoa,” I say, sitting up and moving back a bit. Karen’s fine and all but, uh, this isn’t us. We aren’t…
“Oh, what?” she says. She’s smiling, her lips a darker red than I can remember ever seeing them before. She scoots closer as I scoot farther.
“Oh, fuckin’ come on,” she says, rolling her eyes, and now she’s working down the strap of her purple tank top. “It ain’t like it was never leading to this.”
She’s pressed against me now and in the warmth I become so much more aware of her than I ever have been before. The crotch of her jeans scrape against my fly, and my heart rockets when I realize that soon, very freakishly soon, my skin will be pressed against the skin wrapped so tightly in those jeans.
She looms over me, wolfish grin and locks of distressed brown hair. The curl of her right eyebrow mimes the curl in her sneer. Porcelain white teeth threaten to eat me alive in the most comforting way imaginable. She pulses then, in a deep red light.
I look up and see the big red button, flashing bright. It reads: ABORT For some reason, I slap it.
And I wake up.
It’s Thursday morning. Practically the start of the weekend for me. Landscaping work is tight this time of year, so I wake without the usual strained aches of hard labor. Four crushed cans of Old Milwaukee litter my nightstand, and my laptop hums by my feet. Netflix tells me it has timed out due to inactivity.
I sit, still in the jeans and white tee shirt I fell asleep in. I rub my eyes and mutter “Aw, shit” over and over to myself.
Karen and I are drinking cheap drafts at a little hot dog place we tend to favor. Shamefully, I’m in the same wrinkled clothes I woke up in, because when you landscape for a living your perception of clean and dirty is fundamentally altered. She’s got on a brown sweater and tight jeans, the tightness of which I don’t think I would’ve noticed before last night’s dream. I drink a little faster when the memory comes to me.
“Ugh,” she groans, nudging a loose plastic stool on the eating station beside us. “Fucking seventy degrees in the middle of goddamn January. Someone needs to tell fall it’s time to give it a rest.”
She pulls off her sweater then, and underneath she’s wearing a deep purple tank. I almost spit my beer back into my plastic cup.
“You okay?” she asks me, loose hair cascading over her brown eyes as she looks at me.
Oh, goddamn it. God. Damn it.
Later we make our way back to my house, and Karen helps me swap out my engine mounts, which means that we actually have to lift the motor up and out. Before heading over we’d loaded her engine net into the bed of her pickup, and now with it set up in my driveway she and I curse and hiss and finally have the block loose enough to haul into the air. While she locks it in place I slide an engine stand underneath, then grab the mounts from the trunk.
When we get everything swapped out, we lower the engine and hook it back up, Karen complaining the whole time. “Goddamn motherfuck,” she groans, “why’d you ever buy this fuckin’ bitch, anyway?”
“Bitchiness is an appealing quality to me,” I answer back, pretending not to notice her shaking cleavage as she wrestles hoses into place.
When we’re done it’s dark. We’re sweaty and scratched up, and our skin and our clothes are smeared in grease. “I need a fuckin’ shower,” she says, grabbing a beer from my cooler and wiping grease from her wrist on the ass of her jeans.
“Go for it,” I tell her, lugging the cooler inside behind her. “Least I owe ya is some hot water.”
“Yer goddamn right you do.” She shotguns her beer and tosses it in the cardboard box I use for recycling. “Won’t take me fifteen.” And she disappears down the hall.
I sit in my threadbare recliner and keep drinking, and I guess I fall asleep ’cause I feel someone running their hand against my face. I have to blink for almost a minute because I can’t make out who’s standing in front of me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I finally see it’s Karen, ’cause really who the fuck else would it be?
What does surprise me, though, is how comfortable she is standing around naked.
Her hair is dripping wet, and without thinking I reach out and put my hand to her hip. Her skin is soft from scrubbing and cool from drying, and she sets her hand against my wrist and moves it lower. Her leg is so smooth I have the weird impression she’s melting from the heat of my hand, like cream. Her skin is deep brown and sun-kissed.
She leans down, her mouth open, and her lips are so close to mine I honestly don’t know if they’re touching or not. My mouth is open too, more out of shock than anything, and I can feel her breath coming and going across my tongue.
There’s a shimmer of light from behind her, and I look over her shoulder and see a massive insect’s wing wafting behind her. There are two of them, one on either side, and I look to her side to see a second, smaller pair below them. They shimmer with pulses of what seems like sunlight, and as they flutter the sunlight drips through the air like rain against a window. The liquid light spatters across my carpet, soaking deep into the fibers, and after a moment little hands reach into the air. Smaller Karens stand, emerging from where the light splashes. These Karens also have wings, pulsing, dripping, sunlit wings. It occurs to me that, if I keep watching, even smaller Karens than the ones I see will begin to appear. She is flooding my home, soaking it in shimmers.
There’s a different light now, a flashing red standing out against the pulsing white and yellow rays of sunlight. Across the front, the red glowing button reads ABORT. Without wanting to, moving mechanically, I move my foot to it and press it with the toe of my boot.
Fairy Karen’s fingers disappear from my cheek. I’m alone in my dark living room. When I check the time I see a text on my phone. “Didn’t wanna wake ya. I’ll be back tomorrow to grab my motor caddie. Sleep easy. Thanks for the beer. You need more conditioner. – Karen”
When Karen comes to get her motor caddie, she’s in canvas cargo pants and a thick flannel shirt that almost makes me think she knows what I was dreaming about. We laugh and drink beer at her place, slugging each other’s arms when we need to shut up or we’ll miss a good part of whatever show we marathon on Netflix. This morning, I dreamed we were lying on our sides in my bed, just looking at each other. The warmth under the sheets told me neither of us were wearing anything. We didn’t touch, didn’t kiss, just lied there with it feeling like we should. Her brown eyes held mine. The side of her mouth curled in a smile. Her right eyebrow was cocked, mimicking the curl of her lip. If I’d moved my head an inch, our noses would’ve touched.
But for the flashing button between us, I could’ve.
It’s Sunday, and we drink a lot. It starts to get dark, and it dawns on me I’ll have to head back soon.
“I need to cool it,” I tell her, waving away the offer of another beer. “Gotta drive back eventually.”
“Oh, fuck that.” She waves her hand. “Just sleep in back. Bobby ain’t due back in town for another couple days.”
Bobby. The boyfriend. I know him. He’s a good dude. A good dude who never makes an appearance in my dreams. In my dreams it’s just me and her.
But I persist, and when my buzz wears off we hug and I make my way back home. When I go to bed the space across my bedspread where I dreamed her is cool and smooth. Eventually, some undetermined time after I finally fall asleep, she’s there again, smiling, eyebrow cocked.
Her expression seems to say the same thing it seemed to say this morning. What happens now? And this morning, what happened was a slow, regretful push of a button.
Now again we lie and look at one another, the ABORT button flashing between us. Now I drag a pillow across it, and lay my head closer to hers. Now, here in my dream, our noses touch.