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Anxiety Dreams

Story by Timothy Boudreau (Read author interview) September 18, 2023

Art by Engin Akyurt

An insectoid girl, beach mode, tank top, white shoulders, sloping belly, slop-slopping in flip flops. Insectoid as in oversized-compound eyes, as in visible exoskeleton. “Hey ya, hey ya, how you doing? I saw you last year right? How’s your wife? How you been?” Insectoid as in scratching her side with her long leglike appendage; as in burbling, contented noises as she scratches and swivels her eyes, a low level buzzzz.


Your friend B. went on extended brown rice fasts. After two or three weeks his face firmed and glowed. He rarely accepted visitors during those stages, couldn’t entertain in that pure state. He read philosophy, theories of afterlife, energy absorbed into the universe’s mists. For years he dreamt of a final stage in which he vanquished all personal cravings, in which he shared his living space with books, spider plants and angel wing begonias; in which he was sustained by glasses of water, fresh mere air.

Last year B. died of cancer in an agony of want, unable to eat or digest. His brother H. moved in, carried B. bodily, had to position his wasted legs on the commode. B’s last words were wrung-heart cries for more, Please, I want morphine.


Sleep with no dreams. Violet shades. Spent blossom floating on a black pool.


At your grandfather’s, in sleeping bags on the spare bedroom floor. Hear his call from the kitchen, “The rats are back.” Feel something brush underneath, spike it with a sewing needle. Follow it into the hall, sop up the blood with rags. In the morning remember he never told your father he loved him, teased him with earwigs he found in the woodpile, hit him across the backside with a two-by-four.


A faraway trip, Central America, flowers like on Washington Street, giant johnny-jump-ups, sunny yellow pansies like Mom’s. A buffet table with heaps of giant alive shrimp, slithering colorful eels, long beetles with striped shells. Make your plate and by the time you sit everything has scurried off the plate onto the floor.


Before he was married your friend’s former boss Hugo was a monster on the dating scene. Your friend says, “But he wasn’t attractive at all.”

“How did he have the confidence?”

“It’s not courage, it’s hunger.”


The blood, the squirming eels. Hunger, loneliness. Our task. Thread the cravings together.


Sure, you rarely call. But your mother also knows how to work a phone, doesn’t she? Yet would rather sit, welled up with tears, waiting for your calls. All your numbers saved in her contacts. She will literally let herself perish, leave this mortal coil, bones and flesh turned to dust, with her phone beside her on the counter, and never once call. Just so the first thing she can say when she arrives at the Pearly Gates is, I died of sadness, my kids never called.


Table discussion with the family:

“Your poem’s not gonna be famous.”

“Sure, but whose is?”

Scribble a poem with a dull pencil on old company stationery, but the words fade from the page. The perfect final line you can’t write with this implement on this paper, but hope you won’t forget when you wake up: “No one ever liked you.”


Your face crumbles and peels off like a snake’s, falls into the sink beside a green-blue puddle of spat out toothpaste.


Help your dead grandfather sort through the items on his desk. Receipts, a 1982 Hunter’s Digest, 1969’s Farmer’s Almanac. Blizzards of paper. “These are interesting,” he says, “don’t you think?” His eyebrows arch like a cockroach’s. At the bottom of the pile a funeral program with your picture and the date of your death, “July 16, 2039.”

About the Author

Timothy Boudreau lives and works in northern New Hampshire. His recent work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and a Pushcart Prize. His collection Saturday Night and other Short Stories is available through Hobblebush Books. Find him on Twitter at @tcboudreau or at timothyboudreau.com.

About the Artist

Engin Akyurt is a photographer from Turkey.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-One

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