Impossibly, Manning and his mother were having the same dream. “The funniest thing,” she said, “last night I dreamed that all anyone had to do was put their hands over their ears, bend their knees, and with a little push, float up into the air. It was marvelous.” Manning felt the hairs on his arm stand up. His mother spoke while rearranging two needlepoint pillows so that the one that had been in front was now behind. “The only thing was that while everyone’s head looked perfectly normal, mine felt as if it was huge, like,” she paused, staring at the pillows. “Like a pumpkin?” Manning asked. “Yes, like a big pumpkin, a carving pumpkin.”
Manning didn’t tell his mother that he’d had the same dream. He told his sister. “That is so typical,” Alice said, embroidering furiously. “Of course Mom would be dreaming about you.” “She wasn’t dreaming about me, we had the same dream.” “Well, she’s never had the same dream as me,” Alice said. “She didn’t mention the shoes,” Manning said, “so maybe it wasn’t exactly the same.” “What about the shoes?” “It felt as if I was wearing heavy shoes, like the hooves of a cartoon cow. I couldn’t see them. It’s hard to move your head.” He spoke more to himself now. “I think you need to keep your hands on your ears.” “What happens if you don’t?” Alice asked.
It turned out if you took your hands off your ears, you floated up. If you looked down at your feet, which appeared to be perfectly normal, despite the weighty feeling, you fell. Manning discovered this tumbling down and out of sleep one morning. He limped into the kitchen. His mother said, “I had that dream again.” “What dream?” Manning’s father appeared in the kitchen, his bathrobe belt trailing behind him. “Mom flies around with a pumpkin head.” Alice said. “He does too.” She jerked her thimbled thumb at Manning. “You do?” Manning’s mother said. “I’ve never seen you there.” There are other people there?” Alice was beside herself. “Who else is there?” “Oh, I don’t know. Everyone seems occupied with whatever they’re doing. I don’t want to interrupt.” “What are they doing?” Alice appeared as if her own head might grow larger. It was at the very least, changing color. “I’ve had lots of flying dreams,” Manning’s father said, “strange bicycle contraptions with wings, great fun.” Manning and his mother looked at each other. Whatever he was talking about they both knew that Manning’s father was not experiencing what they were experiencing. There were no machines; everyone was self-propelled through the vast, lavender space.
Manning recognized some of the other people floating there; a life guard from the pool, a substitute teacher he’d had in fifth grade. No one spoke to anyone else. He tried acknowledging people as they passed, but everyone seemed, as his mother had said, occupied in something. He saw a friend of his mother’s, Nora Wooley. She smiled pleasantly as they passed each other but didn’t seem to see him. He began to wonder about his mother.
He asked her, “Do you see people you know?” “Oh yes,” she said, scraping carrot skins into the sink. “Remember Doctor Lieberman? You had that odd rash. And that heavy-set man that sat in the back row at church.” Have you ever seen me?” She apologized, “no darling, I never have.” And this began to bother Manning. Why hadn’t his mother seen him? Alice squinted as she threaded a needle. “Well do you see her?” “I saw Nora Wooley.” “What? What was she doing?” And then before he could respond, Alice added, “Oh my God, that is hysterical. You know,” she said point her needle at him, “I’m beginning to think you are experiencing a shared psychosis.”
Manning felt reasonably sure it was not psychosis. The more nights he floated, the more people appeared. Some nights it was almost impossible to move in any way but in unison with everyone else. People were vaguely familiar but he never saw anyone he really knew. He began to wonder how he looked to other floaters. Was his face as placid, as serene as theirs, or did it look how he felt, increasingly panicked, claustrophobic?
“It’s like this,” Manning’s mother was showing Alice a photograph from a magazine. The caption read, A Smack of Jellyfish in the Pacific. “A smack?” Alice asked. “That’s what they’re called, a smack of jellyfish,” Manning’s mother said. “You know, like a gaggle of geese, a mischief of mice.” “But a smack?” Alice said. “A slime would be better, a slime of jellyfish. Ooh, they give me the heebie-jeebies.” The creatures pictured were a gelatinous mass of pink and purple tentacles dangling. It was obvious to Manning that none of them were thinking about anything. He became mildly nauseous wondering if somewhere in that smack was a jellyfish like himself, striving to connect in some meaningful way with other jellyfish. He investigated the picture closely imagining that he might find one jellyfish staring at the photographer. “Do they have eyes?” He asked. “Jellyfish do not have eyes, they have ocelli, or eye pits,” said Manning’s father. He read from the magazine article while scratching his head. “No eyes and no brain,” he added.
Manning decided to confide in his friend Arby as they sat in a fast food restaurant eating spicy chicken fingers. Arby was philosophical. “Dude, it’s like when I found my dad’s porn.” “No it’s not. How is it like that?” That time my dad got fired? He didn’t want to go back because of what he’d said and shit. He sent me to clean out his locker and there were magazines with pictures of Asian chicks. And first I was like, whoa, and then I was like, dude!” “How is that like my dream?” “You and your mom are the same. You have the same hobby or whatnot.” “It’s not a hobby and I don’t have a choice.” Arby shook his head, “Dude, who does?” Manning poked some fries into a glop of red, gelatinous ketchup but then left them there.
Maybe he did have a choice. He tried staying awake but failed. He took cold medicine in an effort to knock himself beyond dreaming but that didn’t work. One night when the group swooshed pleasantly up or around, he tried to move in the other direction which sometimes meant just not moving at all. It required great concentration but his efforts began to have some effect. If he removed his hands from his ears, then looked at his feet, then replaced his hands quickly he shifted in a herky jerky way.
He was in the kitchen with a slice of orange in his mouth when he felt his mother standing in the doorway staring at him. Alice sat at the table sorting embroidery threads. “Something very strange,” his mother said. “What,” said Alice, “what?” “Your brother,” Manning’s mother said. “Your brother is up to something.” Manning grinned an orange rind grin.
That night he again was effective in not moving with the group and for the first time he heard a sound in the silent, velvet world. A voice called, “Stop it, stop it, stop it.” He kept going, away from the group, away into something else.