'Dreams He Can't Remember' by Carrie Etter
In the days leading up to Lisa’s visit, Nick has dreams he can’t remember. Each time he wakes sweaty and frightened, so he assumes they’re about divorce.
Since Lisa said she wanted to separate a year ago, he’d seen the word divorce at the edge of his vision; he’d heard the word when others had been spoken. He’d been upset, of course, but not distraught, not devastated. He’d knew he’d see Lisa whenever he saw Crystal, and he felt that once they were broken up properly, once they’d been apart and time had passed, they’d have a chance to get together again.
Now, from inside his cell, Nick feels the finality of the word, of the act. The prison changes everything. Divorce means throwing him out like rotten vegetables, unusable, unhealthy. He believes divorce will quadruple his solitude, his fear, his loneliness when they were just bearable before.
So he lifts weights at rec time, limits himself to half a pack of cigarettes a day, doesn’t complain or even grimace as he mops the vast kitchen. He brushes his teeth after every meal; he’s reading for the first time since high school—just the newspaper, but he can’t believe how much happens, how much is always going on that he never thought of before.
He works on his answers. If she says divorce, he’ll tell her about the prison’s family counseling program. If she asks how he’s doing, he'll say he misses her and Crystal. If she says she’ll stick with him, he won’t cry. He’ll kiss her hands before he kisses her mouth.
When the day comes, Nick catches himself eating quickly and slows down. He imagines the softness of her lips and makes himself think about the story on the fundraising drive for the zoo, where he’ll take Crystal. He counts his steps as he walks to the visiting room, pulls his shoulders back as he enters.
It’s Eddie, in a blue Cubs t-shirt and jeans. They sit across from one another, and finally Nick asks, “Where’s Lisa?”
“Sorry, Nick, she got called into work at the last minute, so she asked me to come. Lucky I had the day off work.”
Nick realizes he’s shaking, his whole body trembling before he wills it to stop. The voices of other prisoners and visitors rise up around them.
“So you’re looking good,” Eddie says. “You been working out?”
Nick shakes his head. He can’t do this. He can’t make small talk. “You,” he says at last, glancing at his wedding band. “Tell me about you.”