by Brett Paesel

It’s a dream. I know this because the moonlight hits the water like it’s in a cheap motel painting. My two-year-old son walks along the edge of a pier, naked, wobbling impossibly on the drop-off. I follow him, covered in layers and layers of clothing. I think, “Wow, this is weird.” It’s weird in the way that twice-baked potatoes or pretzel salad is weird. But I’m not too fazed. I know that this is a dream for Christ’s sake and it could get a whole lot weirder. In seconds I could be eating my contact lenses, which is a recurring thing with me.

Suddenly, Spence dives into the water. I stop. Every cell of my body electric. My heart thumps fast and my eyes lock onto his watery form. He kicks his legs, but doesn’t rise to the top.

I have to jump in. I start removing the layers of clothing. I think, “I’ve got to get these clothes off, so I don’t drag him down.” And at the same time I know that I shouldn’t bother with the goddamned clothes. I should just jump in for God’s sake. But I can’t. I’ve got to get these clothes off, and I rip them -- tearing them off me as I keep my eyes fixed on Spence who sinks further down.

Then I think, “Wait! I can stop this. I can just stop the dream.” And I force my mind through some thick cosmic goo till I get to the cheesecloth layer between sleep and not-sleep. I push and push-- and my eyes pop open.

I land in my bed—damp, agitated, conscious--and roll over to find my husband breathing rhythmically. Looking at the slope of his shoulder moving up and down, I think, “Why didn’t I think fast enough? Why didn’t I just jump in the water and save my son?”

Day’s after the dream, I sit on a bench next to four other mommies. I watch my son pour sand from a dump truck into his pants. Shit, that means slinging him in the tub when we get home. Or I could let him run around naked until the sand on his ass dries and falls off onto the carpet.

“I simply can’t get Jack to eat vegetables,” a mommy next to me says.

“Cover them in cheese,” another mommy says. “They’ll eat anything covered in cheese.

I’m so bored I feel like crying.

A mommy looks at me and says, “What about you? How do you get Spence to eat his vegetables?”

What I want to say is, “I don’t know about you ladies, but what I could go for is a big, hairy cock.”

Instead I say, “I just do the reward thing. You know, if you eat four peas, you can have this can of Pringles.”

The mommies look at me like I suggested my son eat his own feces.

I don’t have this mommy thing down.

I’ve been bringing Spence to this pre-school for a couple of weeks now. And suddenly, all that we were together-our little club of two-is out in the open. My mommy shortcomings are on parade. I can’t cook. I don’t do crafts with dried pasta and glue on rainy days. Talking to other mommies makes me want to bite them.

Jesus. It took me two hours to make the twenty deviled eggs I promised to bring to the Pre-School Halloween party. The skin of the eggs wouldn’t separate from the white part so I had to gouge each egg with my fingernail in order to peel it, leaving big dents. When I laid the egg white ovals on the paper towel, each one looked like the surface of the moon. I sat in my kitchen and sobbed.

Spencer came up to me, covered from head to toe in red marker, looking like he had Ebola.

“Mommy’s a little bit of sad,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “I’m a little bit of sad.”

A mommy at the school says, “I hide the vegetables in a tuna sandwich.”

Cock, I think.

“All he tastes is the tuna fish.”

Cocksucker

“Or you can hide a piece of spinach between a cracker and a hunk of cheese.”

Lick my juicy pussy.

“Peas are the easiest to get them to eat, because they’re sweet.”

Fuck me up the ass, Soldier. Then dick slap me till I cry for mercy

A teacher comes out and yells, “Circle Time!!!!!”

The kids all run around like lab rats screaming “Circle Time!!!!!”

Spence runs up to me and grabs my hand, “It’s share time. What do I have to share?”

Just that your mom’s a big loser, I think. Because I forgot the damn thing to share.

As we walk into the classroom I look at all the other kids bringing in shiny trucks, dolls with glossy hair, bags of marbles.

I bend down to Spence.

“What about your subway ticket?” I say, pointing to his pocket, where he keeps the tickets for the subway we ride to school every day.

“Yeah,” he beams, reaching into his pocket. I know he is remembering our routine of riding the escalators, talking about the trains, paying for the tickets.

I lean against the wall of the classroom, watching child after child show their loot and gab about it.

“It’s a truck,” says a boy with sandy hair.

“And where did you get it?” asks the teacher.

I can see where this conversation is going, and it’s not far.

The other day, as I dropped him off, the teacher told me that Spence is “slow to warm.” It sounded like she was saying he was unbaked bread.

“Slow to warm,” I thought. “That means…what?”

She continued, “so it will take him longer to become integrated.”

Not wanting to lay my mommy ignorance bare, I nodded and said, “yes, ‘slow to warm’, I’ll have to look into that.”

At home I agonized over Spence being “slow to warm.” Was it a physical thing, like his circulation was bad? Was it an intellectual thing, like he couldn’t grasp simple concepts and had to warm up to them somehow by not taking them head on? Was it an emotional thing, like he carried things inside him - a human pressure cooker, ready to explode one day in violent pre-schooler rage? What the fuck was “slow to warm”?! Were we in serious trouble here?

By the time I picked Spence up, I was close to tears. I pulled the teacher into a corner, shaking with shame and dread. She looked at me like I was a stalker, so I loosened my claw-like grip on her shoulder. I took in a long breath, and tried to steady my voice.

“What does ‘slow to warm’ mean?” I asked, preparing for the worst.

“Oh,” she said, suddenly relaxing, “It means he’s shy.”

Relief flooded me and I felt like a doctor had told me that the black spot on my lung x-ray that he thought was cancer, was just a mark from someone’s coffee mug.

The sandy-haired boy sits down and the teacher calls Spence up to share. He reaches deeply in his pocket and fishes around, building the suspense, and pulls out a dog-eared ticket.

“It’s a subway ticket,” he says.

“Wow,” says the teacher, looking confused.

“What’s a subway?” asks a kid.

“It’s underground,” says Spence. “I go with Mommy.”

After Circle time, we all go outside to do an art project. Spence sits next to a girl who licks the edge of the table.

A mommy hands out pieces of construction paper cut to look like the facial features of a ghost: spooky, slanty eyes, button noses, smiley mouths. The kids begin to glue the pieces onto an outline of a Casper shaped ghost. Spence glues down two eyes. He wants to make the nose another eye and begins to put an eye where the nose goes. A mommy reaches over and takes the eye out of his hand.

“That’s not a nose,” she says. “It’s an eye. You can’t have three eyes.”

I could take her down right here. What a supreme idiot. Of course, a ghost can have three eyes-It’s a ghost!!! Christ on a stick.

But I just smile weakly at Spence, and remember to tell him when we’re on the subway, that it’s fine to have three eyes.

So I revisit the dream. I lie in bed and conjure the pier, my naked son, and me in layers of clothing. I see the moonlight. And I will myself there. I follow my son. He dives into the water - and this time, without hesitation or panic, I dive in after him. I feel the weight of the clothes pull me down, but my arms are strong, making sure arcs through the water. I go under. I see him suspended in bouncing, shifting light. I reach out, grab him, and swim toward the surface. The heavy clothing falls off of me and I kick easily back to the pier, my son safe in the crook of one arm.

I wake from the dream, my limbs light and floaty. Goddamn it, I finally got something right. I lift myself from the bed—maybe I’m still dreaming—and walk into my son’s room where I see him under the covers, curled up safe. I scoot in next to him. I look at the ceiling and feel the roundness of his back against my arm. And I know in one of those fleeting moments of clarity, that I can do this. I will learn how to do this. Because I cannot lose him.