Mr. Carrigan’s voice burst out over our heads and echoed off the poster-covered classroom walls. Dylan, Joplin, and Hendrix absorbed his booming oration, as they had many times before. Most of us in the class had heard the opening line to Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18, yet few of us knew the rest.
The girls lifted their gazes and sat up straight in anticipation, while the boys rolled their eyes and slumped in their seats. Mr. Carrigan smirked, looked around at the predictable reactions, and threw his arms out wide.
“Shall I compare the to a summer’s day?” he repeated.
He paced before us, smiling, eyeing each one of us as if choosing his prey. He took a step toward a desk in the second row to my left, where one of the prettiest, most popular senior girls sat. Mr. Carrigan stood beside her and placed his hands over his heart with a grand gesture while he continued to recite the sonnet from memory.
“Thou art more lovely and more temperate…”
The girl smiled demurely, as if she never expected such an open expression of adoration. She fluttered her eyelashes and touched her blonde, silken, perfectly coiffed hair. She looked around at her classmates to make sure we noticed how surprised she was to be in the spotlight.
The boys snickered in half-hearted attempts to mask their own desire to trade places with Mr. Carrigan. Every one of them would give their left arm to have such access to the most beautiful girl in the entire school. Every day, they jockeyed for her undivided attention and claimed victory if she merely batted her eyes at one of them.
Each of the girls, including me, wished to trade places with Miss Popular. I dreamed that someday a man would recite poetry to me with such beauty, reverence, and love. I yearned to be the worthy subject of such overt adoration. My envious, teenage heart ached with every word of the sonnet. Miss Popular was tall, thin, and pretty. She was everything I wanted to be, but would never achieve, and yet again, she sat in the spotlight, the star of the show.
I on the other hand, was the most dreaded of adjectives. I was average. I was not the smartest student, although I was near the top of my class, not the most athletic, although I played sports, and not the most talented, although I played in the band. My short, stout frame combined with my dark curly hair, thick eyebrows and a square jaw ensured that the boys in school would never consider me an example of feminine beauty.
No one would ever recite Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet to me. No one would ever compare me to a summer’s day. No one would ever write a lovely poem for me. I hated to admit, as Mr. Carrigan fawned over the girl, that he had chosen wisely. She was, indeed, more lovely and more temperate.
Mr. Carrigan’s voice rose even more as he recited the last line of the sonnet.
“So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
He stepped backwards away from the girl’s desk and gave a little bow. He returned to the front of the class with his arms spread wide above his head, allowing the moment to settle and fade. He commanded silence without a word and scanned our faces with a twinkle in his eye.
Then, like the flip of a switch, his mood changed. I had the feeling we were witnessing a stage performance, as if he was at the Globe Theater in front of the Royal Family. He scratched his beard and gazed at the posters on the walls. My eyes followed his, suspecting none of his actions were random. Mr. Carrigan was cunning, calculating and wise. He knew how to run a high school classroom. He had his finger on the pulse of the teenage mind and if he knew comparing Shakespeare to Bob Dylan was a smart move, I wondered what other smart move he was now contemplating.
He resumed his track back and forth at the front of the room, his brown loafers curling heal-toe, silent and deliberate. He looked pensively at the floor, again scratching his beard. We waited with silent anticipation.
He paused in front of my row, where I sat two desks back. He stood sideways with his arms folded across his chest and sighed heavily. His eyebrows knit together in tortured thought. He started to speak, and then paused. He began again, speaking in an aside, as if thinking aloud.
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips red;”
He continued speaking Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 in conversational tone, slow, pensive, looking to the ceiling, the walls, and the floor as if he expected to find his next words there.
As he spoke, he inched between the desks toward me. I thought he would pass me by. I thought his target must be someone in the back. No one ever singled me out. I was never the star of the show. He stopped at my desk and leaned on the corner, his eyes shifting from the floor to the wall to the ceiling, but clearly directing his speech at me.
“If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head…”
Muffled laughter punctuated the air. Mr. Carrigan’s voice faded in my ears as I withdrew into myself. My face grew hot as he continued to recite the unflattering verse.
“And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.”
More laughter, louder this time.
I wanted the Earth to swallow me up. How could Mr. Carrigan be so cruel? I looked sideways to see Miss Popular with her nose in the air, barely able to contain her laughter. They were all laughing at me. She had deserved the beautiful sonnet, and I deserved the ugly one. I tried to sink down into my seat, to make myself small, to disappear. This was the worst moment in my life.
Then, with a most theatrical urgency, Mr. Carrigan took my hand between his own and pulled me to sit up straight. Then he bent down close to my face, his blue eyes blazing with intensity, honesty, and encouragement.
Trust me, they said. Hear me and understand. With a voice that rose unfiltered, so that the whole world would recognize the power of Shakespeare’s words, Mr. Carrigan looked at this average girl, with wiry black hair and stumpy legs and declared:
“And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.”
In that moment, Mr. Carrigan’s demonstration to the class helped me understand that the most intense passions and truest of loves can be found beneath mundane façades, and that even the most average person is sonnet-worthy.
*Mr. Carrigan died tragically in a house fire shortly thereafter, in the winter of my senior year. I will always be grateful that he was my teacher, if only for a few short months.
Coincidences often occur in everyday life, but when they are particularly disturbing, the hold it has on our minds can remain for a long time after. I did not know I was sleeping. Many times in dreams, I am aware of my unconscious state, even in the most realistic of scenarios. But last night, as I lay in bed living in my head, the events that occurred were so tangible, there was no way I could discern them from reality. Given the subject matter I am about to impart, I can only say how relieved I am that it indeed was a dream. However, the small, seemingly insignificant happenstance that followed, causes me to question the tenuous distinction between dreams and reality.
The world was a constant flickering of images, flashing from one location to the next, and back again. Faces, some familiar, some not, passed in front of my eyes. Some spoke to me of things I no longer remember. Others merely gobbled up space on the canvas of my world. I felt alone, self-conscious, inadequate, and lost. I couldn’t catch up to the events that sped in front of me, and I couldn’t make sense of the voices and the objects they embodied.
Then I was on a roadside, on the dirt, on my hands and knees, as if some airship had dropped me, with no frame of reference. The air was a rusty brown, and it made everything hazy and muddled. I was wearing a simple frock with a small floral pattern, like the women of Depression-Era West Virginia. My arms were naked and dirty, my feet were bare, and my long, stringy hair clung to my neck and face.
A small ditch ran alongside the road, and beyond were miles of trees. I will not say it was a forest because a forest is green and lush and beautiful. No, this was an endless wasteland of brown, moldy, rotting trees. They stood helter-skelter, crooked and wrong. The ragged landscape oozed with some stench I could not identify. It was not the smell of rotting wood or fetid water. The scent was metallic and…alive.
I became aware of something moving to my left. I felt the heat of its body, and it made noises like a wild animal devouring its prey. I slowly turned my head and raised my eyes to see what thing could be so near.
A large corpus of flesh, naked and dirty, hunched over a carcass. The massive expanse of its back was bisected by its spine, and its skin and muscles slid back and forth over the bony column. The beast grunted and sniffled, sometimes giggling like a maniacal schoolgirl over its bounty. He took no notice of my presence.
Bile rose in my throat, but fear of discovery forced it back down. I sat frozen, afraid to try and run. I knew I would be the next carcass if I made the wrong move. Yet my eyes were riveted to the creature in front of me despite my disgust.
The beast sat up and turned its face toward me, its jowls dripping with saliva and strings of flesh. A smile formed on his lips and his eyes showed recognition. To my horror, I realized the beast knew me, and even worse, I knew him, although I didn’t know how.
I sensed he was a male even before he showed me. In his satiated state of glee, he rolled over onto his side and spread his buttocks wide to display his damp, crimson loins. He kicked his feet like a baby and giggled. I could not look away. My head would not turn.
He sat erect and began barking orders at me. Although I could not distinguish the actual words, I knew I was supposed to help him with the slaughter. He motioned further up the road to another male who was slimmer than the beast beside me but just as bloody and dirty. He hunched over a carcass of his own, which I now recognized as one of a herd of monstrously-sized wild boars.
My beast motioned for me to come closer. I shook my head and backed away. He grabbed my ankle and yanked me to his side. He glared at me in warning, and I lost all hope for escape.
With his other hand, he reached into the neck of the dead boar he had devoured and tore the artery open. An endless stream of blood gushed and spewed all over the two of us. The beast took fistfuls of the steaming red liquid and spread it over my face, down my neck, and over my breasts. He licked the blood from my body and smeared his face into my navel.
Confused and disgusted, the bile returned to my throat. I turned my head to vomit, but to my horror, sudden and shameful arousal overpowered my senses. The hot, smooth blood soaked into my skin, electrifying and somehow soothing me.
Then, without warning, the beast was heavy and lustful on top of me, slipping and sticking, rubbing and tugging. In a moment of distraction, his grip on me loosened, and I tumbled away.
I came to my senses just then, no longer hypnotized by whatever power the beast or blood had held over me. I remembered how badly I wanted to get away. I began to scream and scramble on my hands and knees in the dirt road.
I wasn’t fast enough. The beast grabbed the back of my dress and flipped me onto my back. He forced my thighs apart and entered me. I screamed and begged him to stop.
He did not stop. His greedy face hovered over mine, saliva dangling inches from my cheek. Every thrust shot daggers of pain deep within my body. The violation continued for what felt like forever until I became numb.
And then it no longer mattered. Nothing mattered. I turned my head to the side, closed my eyes, and accepted my fate.
* * *
I awoke with an excruciatingly full bladder and stumbled to the bathroom to relieve myself. I contemplated whether to immediately write down the disturbing events in my dream journal. I decided that writing on an empty stomach was fool’s work and went downstairs. I ate my breakfast, drank my coffee, and read the newspaper, the dream haunting my mind all the while.
As was my usual routine, I started doing the crossword puzzle during my second cup of coffee. The first clue read: Fat and grunting, seven letters. Another clue: Sty denizen, five letters. Yet another: Arkansas team, nine letters.
I started to feel uneasy. Images from the nightmare flashed in staccato bursts behind my eyes. My coffee tasted metallic. It wasn’t until I had completed most of the puzzle clues that I realized the theme.
Every answer was related to pigs.
The beast appeared outside my window.
I dropped the pen, stood up, and backed away from the table. The walls of the kitchen began to rot away, and the air turned putrid and heavy as the beast peered at me, dripping with blood and saliva. As I turned toward the staircase to escape the oncoming doom, the hallucination vanished. The beast was gone. It took a moment for me to regain a sense of reality as I looked around the now-normal kitchen.
I let out a nervous laugh. My imagination had gotten the better of me once again. I took in a deep breath and shook it off, deciding to go about my day as usual and feeling quite silly.
That night, as I lowered my head down onto the pillow and closed my eyes, the nightmare and crossword puzzle theme connection had faded to the back of my mind. I chalked it up to coincidence and quickly fell asleep. . .
* * *
The world was a constant flickering of images. I was on a roadside, on the dirt, on my hands and knees and I became aware of something moving to my left. My beast motioned for me to come closer.
When the Crowd Parted
One of my most vivid dreams came to me when I was in junior high school, fully entrenched in my preteen years. I was no stranger to vivid, outlandish dreams. They filled many a night with witches, giants, and aliens when I was very small. I would relate these dreams to my mother, including every fantastic detail. She never believed my dreams were real and dismissed them as pure fiction of my own invention. But they were all real, and this dream was no different.
I was in an underground castle, where stone walls opened under archways and room after room linked together. Dimly lit dirt floors felt cool on my bare feet, the damp air collected on my skin. Hundreds of people dressed in primitive medieval garments milled about with little space to move. Voices and music filled the air, blending in tempo and tone to become indistinguishable.
I wandered through the chambers, unsure of my purpose. I learned through fragments of overheard conversations, that an important man was holding court a few rooms away. He was not a king or a prince, but someone of royalty. The chatter exited me and I wanted be part of the celebration, so I fumbled about, squeezing between bodies, trying to find the throne room.
Suddenly, a dozen or so women gathered around me and started to guide me through the crowd. They told me that the important man wanted to meet me and that I was so very lucky to be chosen. Just wait until I see him, they said. He is very anxious to meet you, they said. I was nervous and exited when we finally reached the door to throne room.
I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of his face, but dozens of men surrounded him, blocking my view. Occasionally, bodies would part and I would see a sliver of his clothing on an arm or a leg, but never his face. He stood on a wooden dais, beside a throne and an altar. The women around me gathered in close and urged me to go to him, pressing me forward. I was unsure because I could not see his face. Who was this mystery man? Why does he want to see me?
As the group of men jostled around the royal, two of his attendants parted just enough for me to see a fraction of his profile—his left ear, a part of his left cheek, the side of his neck, and the partial curve of his jaw. Short, dark hair edged his profile and accentuated his smooth, tan skin. Though it may sound cliché, I must admit my heart skipped a beat. After only a moment, the gap closed and his profile disappeared. I soon woke from my dream, frustrated that I never discovered who the man was.
I wrote the dream down in my journal, including every detail of the man’s partial profile. I imagined that his skin smelled like incense and felt smooth as silk, and tried to construct the rest of his features around the small fraction I had seen. I believed that I had been given a glimpse into the future…my future.
The image preoccupied me for weeks, gradually fading as such things do for young girls. Eventually, the memory of the dream became buried under other concerns and I forgot about it . . . until several years later, when it came rushing back to the forefront of my mind at a most unexpected moment.
Joe and I began dating immediately after graduating from high school… literally the day after graduation. We had known each other since the second grade, when my family had moved into town from two states away. Our mothers became fast friends, sharing tea several afternoons a week, throwing us together and telling us to go outside and play. The mandatory play dates only served to shape my view that Joe was nothing more than a nuisance. Although we were the same age, he was a few inches shorter than I was, and painfully quiet and shy. It was easy for me to ignore him all those years in school, until the tenth grade when he showed up several inches taller, and fate placed our lockers side by side.
We became good friends and our relationship grew even closer during our senior year. I constantly questioned my feelings for Joe because they contradicted everything I had learned about high school love and romance from books and movies. I was supposed to be swept off my feet. We were supposed to have heated arguments and then he was supposed to apologize with flowers. I was supposed to feel nervous and jealous whenever he was out of my sight. Our relationship seemed too natural, too easy. We never acted on our feelings until after graduation because instinct told me that we needed to be free from the shackles of high school before we could attempt a romantic relationship.
One evening, after several months of dating, we sat on his parent’s couch watching a movie and I glanced over at Joe. My gaze landed on his profile and something clicked into place. I don’t know if it was the angle, or the lighting, or some other factor, but I recognized the curve of his jaw, the hairline, the tendon in his neck, the smooth tan skin below his earlobe. Of course I recognized it—I had known him since we were seven—but this was different. My heart skipped, just as it had in my dream years ago. In that moment, I knew that he was the man from my dream. Joe was the one.
Prudence and logic stepped in at once and I silently checked myself—surely, I was imagining the similarity, surely, I was only filling in the blanks of a faded memory. I waited for a few minutes, studying his profile and arguing with my instinct, until Joe noticed I was staring at him instead of watching the movie. I explained my dream to him, how his profile fit that of the mystery man. He smiled in a skeptical way that reminded me of my mother from years ago.
I am certain that my dream was a premonition of sorts, a promise to a young girl who wished for the right man to come along and sweep her off her feet. How could I have known that the little boy Joe, the kid who seemed like such a nuisance at the time of my dream, would grow into the man of my dreams? I may not have been swept off my feet in the traditional sense, but the perfect man had been right in front of me for ten years before the crowd parted enough for me to recognize him.
We have been married for twenty-two years and have three wonderful children. And my heart still skips a beat when I catch a glimpse of that handsome profile.
When the Crowd Parted by Jana Krause 2016 Submitted to Chicken Soup For the Soul (Dreams and Synchronicities)