It was said about the blind woman who ran the concession stand in the lobby of the county courthouse that she could tell by touch the difference between a one- and a five-dollar bill. Judges, lawyers, felons, and their long-suffering kin spoke of her so-called sixth sense. She was aware of the rumor, which she attributed to ignorance. She understood why people might wonder not only how a blind woman managed to get on all by herself in this world but specifically how she managed to make a living selling Nabs and peanuts and Sprites to a clientele most likely to cheat her out of an honest buck: judges, lawyers, felons, and their long-suffering kin. Money, to her, was dirty paper. She did not care for the feel of it and of course she could divine no difference between denominations. It was the breathing of her dog, Heath, stretched out on the tile beneath her feet, which prompted her to accept or reject a bill. Heath could smell a cheat. To Heath she owed most everything. He allowed her to live on her own, guiding her the three blocks between her apartment and the courthouse. He knew the way to the market, the beauty parlor. Without him, she’d be back living with her sister Edna and those four kids and her surly brother-in-law Kirk. Without Heath. All because of Heath. And yet he beyond irritated her, Heath. She sometimes maybe despised him just a little. Always on the job, always right. Knew the way, kept her safe, kept her lying, thieving, cheating, murdering clients honest. Go sleep in the kitchen, she said to him some nights as he panted on the rug by her bed. She had been known to say uglier things. In public, though—at work—she was all sugar, feeding him treats and using her aren’t-you-a-sweetie voice, which she copied from Edna back when Edna had her first child and was still thinking babies were cute. Would they even believe her if she said it was Heath who had the magic? They look at her and see a woman rescued, a woman who, Heath-less, would be at the mercy of her family or the state.
But one day a boy—he sounded like he might be in his late teens—came up and asked could he pet Heath. She said what she always said, no matter who asked: unlike you or me, he can work and get rubbed on at the same time. She felt the boy bend to pet Heath and heard Heath’s breathing alter before deciding the boy was okay, but the boy said something so purely surprising it rose right up to her: What do you reckon he dreams about? She listened to Heath’s ragged breath. She thought about him panting by her bed at night. A blind woman dreamed same as a sighted one. Why not a dog? He never did get to run loose. She let him off his leash. He ran amok in what she’d heard books call the wilderness. In a pasture he chased some cows. He came to a creek. He leapt and he bounded, taunting squirrels and bees. It did not appear to bother Heath that he’d never catch the squirrel, the moth, the next-door cat. In his dreams, purpose had no place, nor did time or anything that reminded him of the leash tethering him to his charge. The boy’s voice rose again like a blast of cold air coming in from the courthouse door sighing slowly closed in winter. He wanted to know, now, what she thought Heath was dreaming about. It seemed to bother the boy, her silence. She felt that not even hazarding a guess about Heath’s dreams was perhaps her highest form of respect. But she said, He’s dreaming he’s at a party and all of a sudden he is so tired he can’t stand up and the hostess puts him in the back bedroom with all the coats and lets him sleep it off. When he wakes up, he tries to call her name—it’s Laura—loud as he can, but no sound comes out. Finally she comes to check on him and he tells her his sister gave him an aspirin but it must have been some kind of dope. Laura doesn’t believe him and he wishes he’d never said anything about dope. He gets her to help him up off the bed but he’s all bent over still. His head’s lying on his shoulder like it’s broken.
She stopped. She thought the boy would say, Wait: he has a man’s dream instead of a dog’s dream? Because most people would assume she did not know about the back bedrooms at parties where all the coats are tossed, she readied herself with her answer, which was, Of course, why not? But the boy, whose voice was no longer floating up to her but seemed to ricochet off the tile floor of the lobby, said, Oh, yeah. That’s the one where when you finally wake up you realize it’s you who’s been trying to wake up for real. There isn’t any party or Laura and you definitely don’t got a sister. The blind woman reached out her hand for her dog. Her heart settled when she felt his hot breath on her palm. But the pill’s real, said the boy. How’s that, she asked him, and he said, First of all, no dream is all the way made up, and, second, people are always trying to slip you something when you’re not paying attention.
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