A year and two days ago, she called me at 3 a.m. to tell me about a dream she had: fish, all colors, most with the odd protruding bubble-heads of fancy goldfish, “the kind they sell at Wal-Mart,” she said. “Orandas, I think.” In her dream, she tried to contain them, capture them from the air and shove them into glass jars brimming with water. “I couldn’t tell if I was trying to save them or kill them,” she told me after describing their fins, thin as tissue paper, waving protests, and the tracing of veins she could see through scales. “But I knew it was urgent. I couldn’t stop.”
A week after that, she called me again, at a more reasonable hour, to tell me that she had dreamed the same thing again. “It’s so weird,” Lara said after finally taking a breath. “So odd…it scares me a little, like I’m supposed to know what it means.”
“Nothing, I would guess. Dreams are the random effluvia of the unconscious mind.”
She laughed. “I love you for saying things like that. I should marry you, not Richard.”
“Definitely not — you couldn’t have the perfect life with me. I’m no good at weddings and commitment and 2.5 kids.” I used to be in love with Lara, but third-grade love had passed into the kind of friendship where I wouldn’t consider hanging up on her if she did call me at 3 a.m. — comfortable, and reassuringly platonic. We’d kissed once under an apple tree in my backyard, in an elementary-school-era mock wedding ceremony. She had worn a torn tulle skirt, 25 cents at a yard sale, and the day had been hot, the kind of day perfect for bee stings and grass stains. We would never kiss again.
“I’ll tell him you said that,” she said, and laughed. “He’ll be home next week from London…the study-abroad thing is wonderful, but I’m so glad he’ll be home soon. With the wedding this summer…”
“It’ll be wonderful. Everything you’ve always wanted. I’m sorry I can’t be there. Is that all I need to say?”
“You’re too impudent for your own good…you know you’ll miss me and my floaty tulle when you’re slogging through the Amazon.”
A month later, she came to visit me while I packed for mud and practicality. I saw her dimly through a plate-glass door, and didn’t recognize her at first, tugging the door open with the politely discouraging expression I designated for door-to-door salespeople before realizing who it was: Lara. And she had cut her hair — once a long, shocking orange-red, it was now a blond bob with swinging bangs and a perky flip at the back.
“Richard and I — we’re having problems,” she confessed after coffee and exclamations about her change. “I feel like I don’t … or can’t … understand him anymore. I think — I think he met someone in London, that maybe he doesn’t still want to marry me.”
“Of course he does,” I said with the father-confessor air of an old friend. “He’s probably just having trouble adjusting to being here again — relocating between cultures is always tough. You know he loves you; you’ve been together three years now, right?”
“You’re right,” she said after a long silence. “I just needed to talk to you. I think I’m going crazy — my perceptions are all skewed, and I’m still having those dreams.”
“About the fish?” I stopped dissecting and cataloguing the remains of my cranberry muffin and stared at her.
“Yes … it’s different now. I have to plug holes in the jars to stop the water from escaping. It’s frantic — maddening. I wake up and want to scream.”
She only called me once more before I left, and said nothing about either the fish or Richard. I described my preparations and goodbyes, the conversation stuttering along like an exhausted Chevy before it puttered out with a few halting farewells. I told her to write to me; she didn’t.
But a week after I returned with a tan, a few scars, and more research than clothes or money, she visited me again, as I unpacked and recategorized my life. She perched on a torn jacket between scarcely organized piles of paper, and smiled a little when I told a story about piranha and the myth of purely nocturnal feeding. Her hair had grown out, mostly red now, not blond, and had started to curl at the ends.
“How are you?” I asked, a portentous question.
“Fine, fine,” she said, her gaze wandering over the room, never settling. “Your mom may have told you…I’m not — I didn’t get married. Richard left me a month before the wedding. For a — a guy, actually, that he met in England.” She twisted her hands together repetitively, a motion I associated with mental patients, and focused on the carpet. “He says he needs to be happy.” She finally looked at me, her eyes wide but tearless. “I told him I do too.”
“You’re not, then?” She didn’t answer. “Stupid question,” I added. “Well,” she said, smiling a little. “I’m not having the dreams anymore. They stopped a week after Richard left.”
“That’s good. You don’t miss them, do you?”
“A little,” she answered. “Sometimes, yes, a little.”