The Wine Trap Family
Some nights I still awaken in the dark, feeling numb, damp sheets clutched in my sweaty hands, no say in what warbling vibrations escape my throat. No control over my tongue. I scream without wanting to, and I whimper without knowing.
The nightmare is familiar too: in it, I watch my family die, one by one, as I fail to stop it from happening.
It was worse growing up. More real, more traumatic than any waking moment. I remember running into my parents’ room, diving into bed between my mom and dad, jarring them out of a dead sleep to tell them they just died in mine. To tell them I saw them die, and how.
As a child I couldn’t differentiate between the realities I saw with my eyes open and mind awake, ears catching vibrations from all around me — and the eyes closed realities, worlds inside my head that felt and seemed so real, so detailed and intricate that they still strike me as unlikely to be random hallucinations of a brain doused with a cocktail of chemicals.
“It didn’t happen, Paul. There was no well. We didn’t die.”
I’d describe to them the flower shop, the creek with the big rocks, and the well. I’d describe how they died, while hyperventilating, while sweating, unable to believe what I saw was just some conjuration of my sleeping brain.
Over the next years I had the dream every few weeks. While I knew it wasn’t real, I still fled to my parents’ bed.
By thirteen, I’d stopped having the dream. For thirty years I lived free of the horror. I forgot the details of it, forgot how it ruled me, how I stayed up reading to stave off the nightmare, how when I slept it was with lights on and door open. I grew up, moved out, got a job pushing lines of code, and made enough to live in my own house, alone.
On Halloween, the night before my forty-fourth birthday, the dream came back.
Something else came back, too.
Appearing only on work calls, and with groceries ordered in, I let my hair grow long. My physique tumbled out of shape. I worked too much and my brain was numb and I focused on paying rent, feeding my cat, and getting sleep at night. I felt like a zombie—heck, I looked like one. So, when October rolled around and people started asking what I’d do for my birthday, or if they could invite me to a party as an honored guest, I couldn't help but feel warm. These people want me around, I’d catch myself thinking. They think I'm worth hanging out with outside of work.
Being noticed and celebrated snaps me out of it, wakes me up. I look around and see how I’ve been living. It’s not pretty.
Through poor habits and a lax attitude about trash, I’ve created an ecosystem in which several dozen fruit flies thrive. A coworker suggests I set up a wine trap. A wine trap is a bottle of wine with saran wrap rubber banded over the opening, holes poked. The fruit fly, attracted to the wine, lands on the cellophane and crawls through the holes seeking the source of the smell. It needs to get out, but it can't. It slips, falls, and eventually dies, drowning in intoxicating death.
I’m on a deadline, so I set up a wine trap and forget about it.
In scrambling to get ready for my birthday parties, I start looking at myself in the mirror the way I imagine other people look at me. I decide to change certain things. I go for a haircut and it's been so long I don't know what to ask for. I’m less productive at work preparing for these parties, but for some reason I don’t care, and I don’t care who knows I don’t care. I'm also depressed and sad and dead set on not admitting it to myself or anyone else.
So it's Halloween. I've procrastinated with a focus on an event the night following Halloween that I have done nothing to prepare for trick-or-treaters. I'm embarrassed over and over again as trick-or-treaters ring my bell and bang my knocker and I open the door with nothing. Finally, hoping to escape the shame, I put up a sign and turn out the lights.
I see the shape of a wine bottle in the dark of the living room, the one with the saran wrap tied around the top with a rubber band. The wine trap.
It’s been weeks since I set it up, or thought about it.
I pull the saran wrap off the bottle and look inside, seeing a froth of tiny bodies collected on the surface of the liquid. So it had worked, as promised: the fruit flies crawled in and got drunk, and trapped, and died. I poured the wine down the sink, thinking of the flies, following each other one by one into the opening, and now being flushed down the drain together, lifeless. I killed them so easily, I hadn’t even noticed I did it.
I lay on the couch and dream the dream I haven't had since I was a child. Here’s how it goes: I’m with my family and my extended family at a small town flower shop with a well out front. We pile out of our vans and approach the front of the store. I'm smaller than everyone else, everyone else is an adult and I'm probably three years old. As we come to the door someone, I think my father, turns, kneels and tells me “stay out here,” and though I want to disobey, follow them into the flower shop, I don't. I stop where I'm at.
I wait, alone.
After a while someone comes out of the flower shop. Nobody from my family or my extended family, just a teen girl who’s purchased a bag of items. A teen girl who walks to the well and looks over the cobbled edge into the supported column of nothing. She looks at me.
"Oh, hello, little boy!," she says. "They left you out here by yourself, huh? Hey, did you see? The bucket in this well is broken!”
She leans over and reaches into it, I guess for the broken bucket, then her legs are in the sky and she disappears down the well. I freeze where I stand. My hand dangles in the horizon of my vision, my finger extended as I point.
Adults, some from my family, some I didn’t know, stream from the flower shop. I'm yelling but I can’t hear myself. An adult climbs the wall of the well, to reach into it for the girl—
—and disappears down the well himself.
More panicked adults sprint to the well and, grabbing for each other, disappear into it. My uncle, my dad. My aunt, my mom tries to save her and falls in. Other people in the shop, the shopkeeper, the employees. Gone, just like that. Screaming, they each disappear, and I’m alone. With nobody left to hear my cries or dry my tears, I toddle to the well. I climb up the side, and peer into the inky black.
As a kid, I’d wake up about now, shivering in sweated-through pajamas. This time, it’s not over. I see a long drop and a splash of glinting lights spiraling and pinwheeling in the distance.
Is my family down here? What is that sweet smell?
Leaning forward, I lose my grip, and drop to my death.
I awake in an almost fourty-four-year-old body to another round of trick-or-treaters, who’ve ignored the sign and the doused lights and are gathered on my porch waiting for candy. I have none.
I open the door, and a family of fruit flies stands out there. Ten of them. Fifteen.
“Sorry, no candy this year, I…”
They come through the door, I can’t stop them. Behind them, a small fly, maybe three days old, stands and points at me, mouth open, buzzing.