John Cheever and the Mermaid Dream
Amy Minton

I dreamed of swimming across an Olympic pool even though, in waking hours, I cannot swim without inhaling water and choking. In the dream, though, I inhaled and exhaled at the right moments -- face above, face below the water and not the other way around. Children played in my racing lane, but I swam around them without scolding them. A coach -- a handsome man much older than me -- guided me from the sidelines with a stopwatch in hand. When I reached the edge of the pool where he stood waiting, I flipped and pushed away even though, in waking hours, I have no idea how to perform such a maneuver. Back across the pool, 50 meters -- the length of my backyard fence -- I was swimming without choking or tiring. The man shouted that he was enjoying watching my body change. My arms constricted and the fat dangling from below my triceps disintegrated to feed my body's fiery machinery. My stomach flattened so I could better reach and scoop. How did I know to swim like this when I can only dogpaddle in waking hours? The man's wife appeared on the sideline with him, and he introduced her. She spoke and signed at the same time. How considerate, I thought, since I can only hear half of what she says as I dunk my head -- up and down -- into and out of liquid silence. The man gathered the children playing in my lane. They were his children. While he toweled them off, his wife spoke and signed to me about the importance of recycling, and all I could think was how she looked so pretty with high cheekbones and almond eyes and jet-black hair cut bluntly like an Eskimo doll. Can you not hear your husband's lechery? Beautiful idiot. She gathered her children and left with goodbye kisses for her husband, who was planning how to stalk my changing body even as he told her what time he'd be home. I pushed away from the wall, flipping and twisting and rising for the breath at just the right moments. And this was all I could think, both in the dream and now in the waking hour: Good.