This man showed up in my dream once. In the dream, I was working behind the counter at a CVS. I don’t know why I was there. I don’t know who was watching my kids, either: it was a Saturday, no school. In the dream, my manager was a fat man in a red vest. He let me take five minutes away from my register to smoke. I grabbed a pack of Marlboros from the counter, ran past the fat manager, up the stairs to this man’s apartment. This man met me in the hallway. I knew it wasn’t the first time. He lived above the CVS in a cheap, decaying mini-mall; his hallway had industrial-grade metal handrails with flaking gray paint. Worn concrete steps led down to the drugstore.
Inside his apartment, the man showed me his American Express bill. He’d gone to Germany and said the price of hotels surprised him. It cost him 900 U.S. dollars per night to stay in his hotel. I recognized words on the bill, like Berlin and Haus. I didn’t wonder where my kids were. I don’t know why. I always wonder about the kids when I’m not with them, what they’re eating, what bad things are in the air they’re breathing. I sat on this man’s brown velvet couch and looked at his American Express statement while he told me what he ate at each restaurant listed on the bill: knockwurst with sauerkraut and a dark Dinkelacker beer here, ham and cheese with butter on dry, tasteless bread there, nothing but beer and pretzels at this other place, this Biergarten.
He was watching soccer in the dream. A huge plasma television was suspended from the wall. I thought of the plasma coursing through my veins as the soccer players kicked the ball and each other. Spectators in the bleachers bashed each other’s heads, pumped up on adrenaline. I thought of the girl who was ringing up customers at my CVS register while I was on break, the fat manager’s niece. I could see her stubby fingers and her chipped nail polish, jabbing at the register keys. Her hair was a shabby platinum blonde, but her roots were a beautiful shade of auburn.
The man put his arm around me as I looked at his airfare receipt, Lufthansa there and Lufthansa back. I wondered how he could afford such an expensive trip. The man is a man I actually know, in a way. In real life, he manages a small pet store in my town. He’s handsome, and the other mothers talk about him at kindergarten drop-off in the morning, about how they need to drop by the pet store for kibble. They stand outside in their workout clothes, holding their metal coffee mugs, after all the children have raced inside. Their dogs don’t need more food, they don’t need more of anything. They could get their Iams at the grocery store, but the pet store man is worth the special trip. They drive to his store in their fancy German cars, their Mercedes, their Audis. He’s something, the mothers say. I took the kids in once to get a new collar for the dog. Once I saw him, I understood. Our dog didn’t need a collar. Our dog didn’t need anything. I just had to see what the other mothers were talking about.
In the dream, I was sure they were angry back at the CVS. I’d been in the man’s apartment at least an hour. It doesn’t take an hour to smoke a cigarette. Anybody knows that. I don’t smoke, not even in my dreams. It’s an ugly habit. I realized the manager’s niece was trying to hide her yellow fingernails with the chipped nail polish. I threw the pack of Marlboros in the man’s wastepaper basket. I looked out the man’s window through the metal slats of his mini-blinds and I could see the storefront below, the fat manager pacing outside, taking long drags from his cigarette, looking up and down the sidewalk. I didn’t want to face the scene I imagined at the time clock, the manager sweaty and smoky, hovering over me. Where were you? I was with the man at the pet store, I would say. Everyone wants to be with him. Didn’t you hear everyone at the drop-off, all the sighs and moans at the mere mention of him? I was with the man everyone wants to be with, I would say.
Instead, I stayed upstairs in the apartment with this man. I imagined the lines of shoppers growing longer below at the CVS while he held me close to him on the couch and pointed at objects in the room. Der Tisch, a table. Die Uhr, a clock. Das Bett, a bed. The sounds of a stadium erupting into chaos in a far-off country boomed from the television set. Somewhere far away, my children were tucked into their own beds. I could hear their Hello Kitty alarm clock ticking loudly on the nightstand between their beds. I held the man’s credit card bill and closed my eyes. Ja, ja, I said.