I go looking for him but come upon a friend instead. He wants to talk about the house, the owner, and how I’m doing. I don’t want to talk, but can’t get away. I wake from the dream just to escape.
Back to sleep, I’m on a bluff over a wide, dark river churned by cold winds blown from grey skies. Beside me now is a child, a boy. We need to cross. A man nearby rents kayaks, but I don’t have enough money. We can’t swim the river. There is no way. I wake myself again.
Returning to the dream, I walk a village street alone hearing a machine grind and screams. I follow the sound to the rented house. Inside, a worn out man not quite in this world, kneels with a floor sander that grinds and screams. He shows that the black smears of adhesive sand off and beneath that is clean wood. Looks to me like cheap flooring, but he goes right back to it without me having said so.
I stare at a house transformed. There’s no longer any other owner who can claim the place. It’s mine, though I’m not sure I want it.
The dream ends.
Hours later I typed a prose poem of the dream, subtracting, cutting words, preserving the mystery. I printed the draft and saw that the child had no reason to be in the poem. I marked up the copy and typed the changes.
On the second draft I chipped away more words. I noted that the child “seems important but is not realized yet.” I left the child unrealized and made small changes knowing I’d figure out what to do with the child. I didn’t want to let it go.
On the third draft the child became a boy. “I” became “we.” The boy appeared near the beginning and began to make sense. A weak phrase — “Wondering what to do” — changed to “Feeling that my choices have narrowed,” even though that too was weak. I’d fix it later.
I typed the boy throughout the poem and used more precise language. One line was too clunky — “We have no right to do this without the owner’s permission” — but I had no fix. I marked it for later. A line appeared: “I haven’t the money.” I liked it.
With that, I was done until tonight and tomorrow. The prose poem stands thus:
A House Remodeled
A boy and I have rented a house for a week. Or two. Maybe longer. Repainted one bedroom a perfect yellow. Torn up carpet in the dining room and front hall. He suggests pulling down a buckled ceiling. But wait. This is not our house. We’re just renting. We can’t do this without the owner’s permission. I must find him. Setting out, the boy and I run into a neighbor wanting to talk. About the house. About the boy. About how I’m doing. We double back to get away and come to a high bank. A river. The owner waits over there. The high banks, the deep and churning river. I can’t swim. Neither can the boy. A man there has kayaks for rent. I haven’t the money. I leave the boy with the boatman and turn back. As if I know what to do. Returned to town, I walk down the empty street. Grey dusk has fallen. A machine screams and stops, screams and stops. The street ends at the rented house. Inside the front door an old man on his knees runs a floor sander. It screams and stops. He says, these black stains, they can be rubbed away. Underneath, it’s like gold. He goes back to sanding by hand now. Silent. Slow. He will never finish. I stand in the entry of a house that is mine alone.