This story first appeared on this blog in Oct 2015
Chloe laughed self-consciously and settled deeper into her armchair. “Derek prodded me into it. They have a school contest for parents’ costumes. He chose this ridiculous costume.” Her thirteen-year-old son had laughed like crazy when he first found the tawdry costume in a rental shop. He had insisted she borrowed it. It was so funny she might even win the contest.
“What costume?” Marsha repeated.
“A naked mermaid with huge quivering boobs and a scaly tail. Green. With seaweeds everywhere.”
“Marvelous!” Marsha’s laughter gurgled in the phone. “Do you get to keep your legs?”
“Yes,” Chloe said primly. “The tail goes behind the legs. The costume includes a green hose for the legs. With dangling weeds.” She giggled.
“It’s almost like those nightmares of yours. Remember?”
“Things of the past,” Chloe said breathily.
Marsha still laughed when she finally ended the call a few minutes later. Chloe put down the receiver and stared at it. She had had the recurring nightmares all through middle and high school. They had attacked her every few months, those strange and disturbing dreams where she dashed through the school corridors naked. In the dreams, everyone sniggered and pointed, and there was nowhere to hide, just endless corridors, her shame, and jeering classmates. Even now, years later, she remembered her dream-self’s mortification and helplessness.
Mercifully, the dreams had stopped when she started college. She had forgotten about them until now. Must be a coincidence, she thought with amusement. It would be hilarious to tromp along the same school corridors dressed in the naked mermaid costume, trailing nylon weeds.
She chuckled as she made her way to the bathroom. She had about an hour until Derek came home from his karate practice. She would take a shower and then make pizza for dinner. She was already undressed and running hot water, when the phone rang again.
“Mom, could you pick me up,” Derek said. “The practice ended early, and Jake’s dad can’t get here until six. Jake can walk home, but I’m kinda stranded. Pick me up in your car, okay.”
“Yes, sure,” Chloe said. She turned off the water and sighed, eyeing her dirty jeans, sweatshirt, and underwear on the floor. She didn’t want to put them back on. The drive to school was only ten minutes. She didn’t have to dress. She could just put on her long mackintosh atop her naked body. If she stayed in the car, Derek wouldn’t even notice her bare legs.
She grabbed her car keys, buttoned up the old mackintosh, and hopped in the car. At the last intersection before the turn towards the school, she waited for the light to change. When it flashed green, she pressed the accelerator. She was halfway across, when a car appeared out of nowhere and turned at speed, careening straight at her. Chloe pressed the brake, tried to swerve, but it was too late. Her last thought before darkness was about Derek. Thank God, she hadn’t picked him up yet. He was still waiting for her. Still safe.
When she came to, the intersection was flooded with vehicles, flashlights, and sirens. A policemen was trying to open her driver’s door, but it seemed stuck. Her chest hurt from the safety belt, but her hands and arms seemed to be working. She flexed her fingers—no problem. She wriggled her toes, moved her knees, and didn’t feel any pain. Only her chest hurt and her head throbbed. And her neck.
“I don’t think I’m badly hurt,” Chloe muttered. “It’s just my head.”
The policeman nodded. “Sit still, ma’am,” he said. “I’ll get you out in no time. The ambulance will take you to the emergency for a checkup.”
While he labored on her door, she found her cell phone and called Derek to stay with Jake tonight. Then she called Marsha.
Only inside the ambulance, when a nurse started unbuttoning her mackintosh, she remembered that she was naked beneath it. “No!” she screamed, clutching at her still buttoned middle, both her hands holding the closed front of the mackintosh in a dead grip. “Don’t take it off. No. No.” With shaking fingers, she redid the top buttons.
The nurse tried to insist, but Chloe wouldn’t budge. She screamed, she wept, she battered away the nurse’s hands, but she wouldn’t let anyone unbutton her mackintosh. Not even when Marsha came to the hospital. Not even in the X-ray lab. She wouldn’t let her teenage nightmare come true and haunt her forever. Eventually, half the night later, still dressed in her irremovable mackintosh, Marsha drove Chloe home.
“I’ll help you undress,” Marsha said. “Come on.” Her fingers approached the buttons. “I’m supposed to keep you awake for a while because of your concussion, but we should make you comfortable first. It will be okay, Chloe.” She talked in a pacifying tone, as if Chloe was a sick child.
“Marsha,” Chloe said weakly. She hurt everywhere. She would probably have bruises all over her body in the morning, and her head ached spitefully. Luckily, she didn’t break any bones, but her car was totaled. And amid all that, the only disaster she could think about was her lack of clothing underneath the mackintosh.
“Remember those nightmares of mine, about me naked?” Chloe slowly unbuttoned her single garment. “Don’t laugh.” She opened the mackintosh.
Marsha’s eyes grew big. Then she started laughing. “Sorry,” she wheezed. “Where is your mermaid? I want to see it.”
“No. I’m not wearing it. No way!” Chloe wailed. “Never.”