When Gideon arrived both women forgot their anger. Judith remained tense all through dinner but it was from shyness. Karin felt a little sorry for her and made an effort to keep her included in the conversation, but as soon as the plates were cleared Judith nervously excused herself, saying she had to take the dogs for a walk.
It took her a while to get them rounded up and leashed, and she lingered in the hallway to button her barn coat and fix her hair under her hat. While she was still in the house and for a minute or two after the screen door banged, Karin and Gideon didn't speak. They listened to Judith out on the front lawn talking in hushed tones to the dogs. Finally the click of the dogs' nails and the jangle of the leashes passed under the windows and faded up the street.
"I probably should have gone with her," Gideon said.
"You definitely should have," Karin agreed. But there was no hint of a reprimand, and they shared a quick and less than guilty smile.
Karin went to the kitchen and brought back a cake and a pot of tea.
“Should I be worried about her?” Gideon asked.
"She’s ok. She seems to be coping. Although." Karin put her elbows on the table, and holding her cup in both hands, sipped her tea with a meditative frown. "Lately, she’s been...a little scary. I've been having these terrible dreams."
There were few lights on in the house. Karin owned the place, Judith was her tenant, paying part of her rent in sweat by helping Karin fix up the house on the weekends. They hadn't gotten around to wiring the dimmer switch to the glass shaded lamp over the dining room table, so tonight they’d made do with five votive candles burning on the sideboard and a pair of tall candlesticks on the table. In the candlelight Karin's hair shone more red than gold.
"What are the dreams like?"
"They don't sound so awful to tell. I write them down---"
She smiled gratefully. "They're dreams, you know, weird, but not really scary. But they frighten me enough that I usually wake up."
"And they're about Judith?"
"They're about both of us. Like in the one I had last night? We were in the cemetery, and Judith was there, naked, and painted all over, like a witch doctor. Are there such things as female witch doctors?"
"They're usually called priestesses in the cultures that have them. Among some Alaskan Indian cultures there are women shamans."
"Oh. Well, so, she's like this naked priestess, painted with all these colors and symbols that I recognized in the dream but I can't describe, and looking really wild and dancing around me. And there are other people dancing with her, men and women, and they're also naked and painted, but just black. They're black all over except the men don't have any paint on their—their---"
"Penises." Karin had been about to speak plain Anglo-Saxon. The euphemisms made her giggle. "Anyway, they're dancing and chanting, and I'm chained to this concrete slab on a grave, nude, with a collar around my neck. And Judith rubs her hands all over me and everywhere she touches becomes hot and I suddenly feel fur growing up my belly and down my legs and over my back and I can't stand on two feet anymore. I have to go down on all fours. And I start screaming but I have no voice. Not a human voice anyway because I've become this big gold cat, like a lioness, or a panther, only yellow. Pretty weird, huh?"
"But not scary."
"I can see how it could be scary." What Gideon could see, and feel, was how it could be very arousing. His ears burned, he was afraid he was blushing, and he was grateful for the presence of the table. He put his chin on his fist and looked thoughtfully out the window, willing his euphemism to subside. This was how he'd gotten in trouble with Judith, interpreting dreams.
James Gideon was a licensed psychotherapist. He made his living counseling troubled students at the high school where Karin taught Spanish and Judith worked part-time as a teacher's aide in the language lab. He'd come to his vocation a little late. In college he'd majored in anthropology, after graduation he'd managed a bookstore, and when he'd tired of that he'd gone back to school to get his master's in social work. After a while he'd grown frustrated with simply telling people where to go for help with their problems and assisting them in filling out the paperwork. Friends had always said that he had a talent for talking to people, so he'd decided to become a counselor.
"So what do you think my dream means?"
"I don't know. A hundred things."
"What do you think it means?"
"Well...for one thing, that maybe I'm not sure I like living so close to a cemetery."
"You never have to worry about the neighbors throwing loud parties."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"I thought you believed in reincarnation. You don't think God makes dead souls wait around the graveyard until a new life opens up?"
Karin laughed. She had a pleasing, musical laugh that usually meant less that she was amused than that she knew you meant to be funny. Gideon apologized for seeming to make fun of her. He knew she was insecure about her beliefs because she was still working them out intellectually. He was supposed to be helping her with that. He said, "That reminds me. I've got a book for you to read. Anyway. Your dream."
"I don't really know."
"It sounds as though you have some unresolved feelings about Judith."
"Well, that's true. I do. I think the dream reflects that, actually. I think it means that I think Judith has a lot of problems and she's trying to make me a part of them."
"How does that make you feel?"
"Angry. Pissed. I'm really pissed at her, I think."
They talked a little bit about Judith. Karin told him about some of the peculiar things she'd been up to. But frankly Judith was a subject they both wanted to avoid. Karin went to make a fresh pot of tea and Gideon, after a trip to the hall closet to fetch the book he'd brought her from his jacket pocket, followed her into the kitchen.
Karin was looking out the window as she stood at the sink filling the kettle.
"You want to hear something funny?" She pointed with her chin out at the graveyard. "Somebody's been having campfires out there at midnight."
"I've seen this orange glow behind the markers on nights when there's no moon."
"That sounds like something out of your dream."
"Probably just teenagers, don't you think?"
At the table Karin rolled a joint with grass from the sugar bowl. Gideon read to her from the book, an anthology of Hindu myths, and they passed the joint back and forth. Karin grew languid and flirtatious. They talked about what Krishna said about passion. They talked about sex. Karin said, "You know why I'm mad at Judith?" When she was feeling sexy, Karin's voice got high and girlish and shy. "I mean, why sometimes I, like, actually hate her?"
"I thought we weren't going to talk about Judith."
"I'm not talking about Judith," she said, significantly.
Karin got up and poured the tea. Gideon had been sitting with his chair tipped back against the wall, his hands behind his head. When she'd set down the cups, Gideon let the front legs of his chair down so Karin could climb into his lap. They kissed so hard and long that their lips ached. They took breaths without letting go with their mouths. Gideon slid his hands under her sweater, ran them up her back, under the strap of her bra, brought them around front, pushing her bra up over her breasts, and felt her nipples rise in his palms. Karin knelt on the chair straddling his legs and forced her hands down his collar and over his shoulders, pulling open the first three buttons of his shirt. They'd have made love right there, in the chair, but a breeze lifted the curtains on the open window, traveled down the hall, blew open the screen door, and banged it on the side of the porch. They thought it was Judith back from her walk.
Karin launched herself backwards from the chair, pulling her bra back into place through her sweater. Gideon buttoned his shirt.
"Judith?" Karin tried to sound welcoming. No one answered because no one was there, but they didn't know that until Gideon went to check.
"Ghosts," he called from the hallway. When he returned to the kitchen, he saw that she didn't think he was funny. She was too angry. When he went to kiss her, she pulled away.
"Oh God! How I hate her!" she said.
---from Witches of Indiana, a story by Lance Mannion. Please consider joining the Lance Mannion Tall Tale of the Month Club.