Tyler woke with a scream. He sat bolt upright on his brother Mickey’s couch, and, while the nightmare was still fresh in his mind, he forgot where he was. It didn’t come back to him all at once either. The dream faded. His memories of reality came back only with effort.
He had been back in Baghdad, except on the streets of Oakland. Oakland had been Baghdad. Tyler had been on patrol, alone, and had just finished murdering someone in Arab dress. Had it been someone he recognized? He couldn’t remember, but in the dream he’d believed this person had sought to kill him too, only Tyler had been the one faster on the draw, aborting his assailant’s overlarge machete with is AR-15. But machetes were more an African or Asian thing. There was no brush to cut through in Baghdad, or Oakland, whichever of the two had actually been the setting. Strange that it had not been one of the kills Tyler actively recalled. There had been several.
Mickey, in boxer shorts, came into the hallway.
“Hey, you okay, man?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Tyler answered unconvincingly.
Mickey stood and stared at him.
Tyler forced a horrible scythe of a smile to his face, baring his teeth and gums.
“I’m fine,” he repeated. “Really.”
“You had a bad dream?”
“Do you want to talk about it?
Tyler rubbed his palm over his forehead, and it came away with a sheen of sweat.
“Not while you’re in your boxers I don’t,” he said.
Suddenly he hated his brother for his inability to understand. It was a visceral first reaction to seeing him standing there naked, wanting to help. They shared genes but not experience. Mickey thought he could help by letting Tyler stay on his couch, but the two of them hadn’t connected the past two weeks they’d been co-habitating. It wasn’t for want of Mickey’s trying. Being here made Tyler feel no further from death, which was perhaps now his lifelong familiar.
“Hey! Tyler! Snap out of it, I want to help,” Mickey shouted, drawing his brother’s attention back to life.
“Jesus Christ leave me alone will you?”
“I don’t believe that you’re okay. You’re perspiring.”
“What, you think I’d lie to you, just to do it?”
“I love you, brother.”
“I’m going back to sleep,” Tyler lied again.
He curled up on the couch, facing the wall, and promised himself that in the morning he would start looking for a place of his own. He had money saved up. There had been no spending his salary in Iraq. He wanted more than anything to be alone. It hadn’t been his first nightmare since coming home. Far from it. It had gotten so bad, so unpredictable, that he came to fear sleep.
A brief thought of Cather flitted through his mind, and he wondered, strangely, if seeing him might be a boon. There had been something healing about their Greyhound trip together, and how Cather and given Tyler his phone number at the end of it. Like Mickey he wanted to help. Why would he look for one but turn down the other? Where lay the discrepency?
Tyler looked cautiously over his shoulder and saw that Mickey had left.
All at once, as if struck with inspiration, he found himself getting dressed. He put on shirt, pants, and shoes, grabbed his keys and wallet, and left the house.
His body, walking through the pale orange light of the streetlights, felt buoyant without a gun to carry, without bodyarmor and a fifty-pound backpack.
He walked for hours. He circled Lake Merritt and crossed downtown. The creatures of the night were about. Some of them tried to talk to him, to stare him down, but they didn’t scare him. He almost hoped that one would engage him, offer him an excuse to expend the violence within. He was worse than them, more dangerous, he now believed.
Tyler found himself walking down San Pablo Avenue, past the Greyhound station, which made him pause, and then through some of the roughest areas of West Oakland, then through commercial Emeryville, then Oakland again, then Berkeley. He walked fast, as if he had somewhere to be. He wished he had, but walking without purpose had its own quality of liberation.
The sun eventually, gradually, rose, and the sky brightened. By this point, still on San Pablo Ave., he was in Albany, a small suburb of Berkeley. He found himself there without realizing how long he had been walking. It must have been some eight or nine miles from Mickey’s house.
Then, as if serendipitously, he saw a place that perhaps his feet had sought out unconsciously, a place that he could have been looking for in his dreams: Albany Gun Shop. That’s what the sign said.
Tyler entered through the front doors as if it had been a plan, and he knew exactly what he was looking for, though, of course, he didn’t know why.