Janelle stared out the hotel window at the grey clouds bearing down on the city rooftops. She was in a strange city, and didn’t want to be there. C’mon. It’s been 10 months. You need to move on. You need this interview. But it would be easier to stay home in bed.
She went to the lobby to see if she could find out more about the city with her free time after the interview. The young man at the desk had a wide, dark face and a friendly, accommodating smile. Janelle was aware that he was answering her questions, but fixated on his nametag. Jacob. Jacob, Jacob, Jacob. Oh God, why is his name Jacob. Her stomach clenched and she felt the tears breaking through her defenses, threatening to spill over and crack the façade she was working so hard to maintain.
“Ma’am, are you ok?” The concern was evident in this Jacob’s voice. Janelle looked up and attempted a watery smile. This was not her Jacob. It was a coincidence.
“Yes, sorry, I must be allergic to something. I’m sorry. Long flight. Could you please tell me again where Reading Terminal Market is?”
She clutched the brochures and went back to her room. The dreams from the night before kept floating up into her consciousness, something about the tricycle and the sound of brakes squealing. The sounds haunted her, and since arriving in this city she had heard them more and more. She could have sworn that her dear, sweet son had woken her up this morning with his smile. Doubtless there was some rational explanation that her therapist back in Rapid City would be able to explain to her, something about the subconscious taking an opportunity to process trauma once she was out of her normal environment. But to her it felt real. She had hugged her son this morning.
Janelle spread the glossy brochures out on the bed in front of her. She stared down at them without really seeing them, thinking of how this trip would have gone if she had her son and her husband with her. How different things would have been if she had not been bringing ghosts and sadness with her instead. Out in the hallway she heard the family from two rooms down leaving, the two small kids taking off like greyhounds as soon as they were released from their room. “Slow down!” she heard the mother call after them.
The tears came. Big, wretched, painful cries came out of Janelle’s throat and heart. The anguish was more than she could take. She curled up on the bed, crushing the brochures and sobbed.
She must have fallen asleep, because she felt the bed sag a little bit, as if someone had climbed up into the bed with her. She felt a small, warm hand touch her shoulder, and heard the familiar rasp of rough corduroy pants. Jacob had been wearing corduroy overalls that day. Little red and blue ones that her sister had found at a thrift store in Denver. Janelle had loved those overalls. Jacob looked like a picture perfect kid in them with his floppy black hair and oversized cheeks. The red in the overalls was brighter than the red of his tricycle, which was brighter than the red of his blood after the car had hit him.
A little hand reached up to her face and Janelle felt it touch her wet lips and nose. Jacob had always reached up to touch her nose when they were cuddling or reading or singing songs. He would giggle and laugh and touch his nose too. It was a silly, private little game they played. She held her breath, not wanting to wake up from this wonderful dream.
“Mama,” a little voice whispered.
Janelle smiled. It was Jacob’s voice, and Jacob’s hand, and if she stayed in this dream she would have her Jacob back.
“Mama, you have to go. Mama, it’s time to get up.”
“No, Jacob. Let mama sleep. Stay with mama, sleep with me for a little while”.
Janelle felt the little body move and crawl into the space between her knees and her chest. Jacob always liked to be close to her, always wanted to be in her lap or to wrap his arms around her neck.
“But mama, you need to go now. You need to go see that man”.
She knew her son was right. She knew that she had to get up, to wake up from the wonderful, comforting dream and get ready for the interview.
“Jacob, mama loves you”. Janelle’s voice choked up as she said it, reaching out to wrap her arms around the little boy who was warm and real.
“Mama, you have to get up. Look mama, I’m ok. Ok, mama! Look!”
Deep inside, Janelle knew that if she opened her eyes, Jacob would be gone. She rubbed her hand down the little boy’s back and said, “I know, baby. I know you’re o.k. Just lay down with me for a minute”.
“Mama, nooooo! Mama, get up!”
The tone of frustration in her son’s voice made Janelle’s eyes fly open reflexively. She stared up at the blank, white ceiling. Her son was gone, and there was no way to bring him back to her. But he wanted her to get up and go to this interview.
She climbed out of the bed and into the shower. She dressed, put on her make up and headed out of the room. The interview went well, and she found herself walking back to the hotel feeling hopeful about something for the first time in months. She stopped in an old park full of trees and statues, folded up her umbrella and lifted her face to the rain, letting it wash her tears. Janelle imagined her tears being carried down into the street, into the gutter, to the river, to the sea. For the first time in nearly a year, Janelle smiled.