Greg woke with a throbbing chest and pressure in his bladder. He couldn’t forget that dream. He slipped his feet to the floor. The cotton slithered against his skin. He struggled with his balance in the night, rocking like a drunk man, stumbling to the toilet. The night was overcast. Rain drops peppered the window. A relaxing cadence, he thought, but could he get back to sleep?
What had been so harrowing about that dream? He traced it to the start, piecing it together.
He had been watching the TV, a few cans of beer scattered at his feet. The news was announcing that the United States would begin granting scholarships to former members of the Viet Cong. That’s when the truth struck him.
“My God! They’re coming for me!”
He said the words out loud. Into the dark and empty hallway of his apartment. Books scattered open and cast aside along the hallway. The bookshelves littered with ruffled notes, half-read articles, volumes he’d left open where he’d found a place to reference, never to return.
Could it have just been a dream? A pile of beers, some Budweiser, sat at the foot of his couch. Just like in his dream.
He struggled through the hallway, back to his room. One foot in front of the other. Stumbling off to the side after a few steps. The hardwood felt cold and hard, like the ground in the morning when you’ve slept near a river bank.
His phone lay on a side table in the corner. The cord slinking around his bedpost like a water snake. He pressed each number with certainty. A deliberate act.
“Joe?! They’re coming!”
“Are you out of your mind?” The voice on the other end struck out like a gentle hand. A whisper with an edge. “It’s nearly three in the morning!” Was Joe’s voice always so hushed? Could he be groggy? Could he be tired? Could he be a hostage?!
“It’s important!” He needed to tell someone. “They’re gonna be here soon!”
His voice bellowed across the bedroom, down the hallway, and into the living room.
Were they here already? Were they in his apartment?
He hadn’t heard a sound when he had gone out. His senses hadn’t been focused. The dark, dreary color of the early morning. Rain draining down the windows. Pebbles of light from the road. Not headlights, but stationary guides for traffic and pedestrians. Red for stop. Green for go. White for where you’re going.
“Hold on.” Static shifted through the receiver, the shuffle of sheets or just Joe’s hand on the microphone. Or Charlie.
“I saw it on the news. The Viet Cong are coming!” He looked at the door to the hallway. The door was open, like he’d left it. Different shades of dark colored the threshold. Shadows of the night. Were the shadows there the same? Were they creeping in?
“Anyone that fought in the war is too old to travel here. They’re your age for Christ’s sake.”
“I won’t teach them, Joe. I won’t do it.” It had been his first thought when he woke. That they were invading his classroom. How could he, as an American, as a Vet who fought and bled over here, stand here in front of a class of Viet Cong?!
“Are you drinking again? No one is coming here!”
“I saw it on the news. Viet Cong have scholarships to come to U.S. universities.”
“Well it’s a good thing you retired then.”
“I have evening classes.”
“Go to sleep, Greg. It’ll be fine.”
“What if one shows up in my class?”
The line went dead. Greg was left with his silence and his thoughts and the drip of rainwater filling the cavity above his bed.