My wife tells me that she very often has dreams in which she is forced to diffuse bombs. My wife, of course, has no experience diffusing bombs and in her dreams this is no different. What she knows about bombs all comes from the movies — there are wires of various colors and they must be clipped in a careful and exact order to render the bomb inert.
On mornings after having this dream, my wife is understandably tense. She is also often irritated with me. Not sharing my wife’s specific dreams, I myself am never present at the bomb diffusion sites. I am evidently present during these dreams but of little help. In fact, I stand near my wife and constantly tell her to stop doing whatever she’s doing and wait for the authorities.
She told me that in this latest incarnation of the dream, I was wearing a basketball jersey, holding a basketball, and carrying tickets to an important game.
“Just give it up, Becky,” she tells me I said. “You can’t do this. You’re not trained and you’ll get us all killed.”
So Becky, the morning after the dream, complains to me for nagging her, especially in such a tense situation.
I apologize for my behavior in her dream, but I insist that my dream-self and my regular-self are not the same, in an attempt to distance myself from him.
“He doesn’t make sense anyway,” I say. “Why would I have an actual basketball if I’m only going to a game? Am I expecting to provide an extra ball if all of the official balls run out?”
“I don’t know,” Becky says. “You’re just not supportive.”
Despite his obnoxious persistence, I tell her that he makes some valid points.
“What do you mean by that?” she asks me.
“Well,” I say, “do you know anything about diffusing bombs?”
“In my dream, no. I have so many of these dreams, I feel like I’m learning more. In the dream last night, I was pretty confident I could’ve done it, if you would have just given me space. But regardless of all that, I do know stuff from movies and TV shows.”
I assure her that the way they diffuse bombs on TV and movies is not the way they do it in real life, though I realize I have no idea as to whether or not this is actually true.
She echoes the sentiment I am thinking but have not yet said. “What if the scenes on TV are totally accurate? Maybe they are the most accurate representations of things on TV and movies,” she suggests.
I can’t deny this logic, but I’m not sure what point it proves. Still, I worry about her. She has this dream all the time.
I ask her how often she’s had it lately.
She tells me it was probably the fifth time this year. We aren’t exactly deep into the year yet.
“Do you think there’s something wrong with me?” she asks earnestly.
I pause. This isn’t the most effective response.
She crosses her arms and refuses to look away from me.
I recover. “Maybe you should talk to somebody about the dream,” I say. “To see what it represents, all that.”
She arches her eyebrows. My response has not deflected her gaze like I hoped it would. “Like a therapist?” she asks, clearly agitated.
“No, I didn’t mean that,” I say, although that is exactly what I meant. “I was thinking more about your mom. Or Stacy.” I am fairly certain she has a friend named Stacy she has labeled a “good listener.”
She doesn’t believe me. “I don’t really think I’m ever going to encounter a bomb and need to diffuse it,” she says, as if my concern about her dream isn’t over the fact she’s had the same disturbing dream several times over the last few years, but that it might be prophetic.
“All right,” I say. I twist open the blinds in our room and the day slides inside, slicing the room with light.
This is a Saturday and neither Becky nor I have to work. She specializes in small loans at a bank, and I work as an assistant manager of a shoe store. We don’t get a lot of Saturdays together off, so we decide to take this day to go shopping for a new dining set at a large Scandinavian furniture store.
She spots a desk that she claims to truly and absolutely love. Her level of adoration for this desk seems a bit excessive to me, but she seems sincere and she damn near straddles the piece of furniture to prove her affection.
I am okay with the desk. I think it is pretty nice. I tell her this and she acts like I have ripped her very heart out of her body.
“I love this desk,” she says as families and children walk through the section we are standing in. “And you don’t give a fuck about the things I love.”
A woman quickly cups her child’s ears and they run into a different section of the store. I am wide-eyed and silent. I try to say something but am too mortified and embarrassed to actually speak. My efforts at speech become incoherent noise, sounding less like words and more like the sound a cat makes when it is picked up when it doesn’t want to be. Only my sound is deeper and more human-like and perhaps even a bit more desperate.
“I love this desk,” she says. “And you might not be able to say anything about it, but you never support me, whether it’s in my career, in starting a family, or diffusing a bomb. You never do anything to support me!”
I am taken aback, not just by the amount of accusations, but by how completely untrue they are. I find my voice. “I like the desk!” I start. “I think it’s very nice. Very nice! But we don’t need another desk. I guess I wasn’t as passionate about it as you were because I realize we don’t need one. I guess the fact I didn’t mount the desk in the middle of the store and start humping it tells you I didn’t like it. That isn’t true. I think it’s very nice!” My voice cracks and screeches out the last sentence more than I either expect or anticipate, and it ends up sounding less intimidating than I originally intend.
Two guys working at the store walk over to us and ask if everything is okay. I smile and say, “Yes. We just like this desk.” I put my hand on it, a gesture I intend to use in order to show my affection for the desk, but it ultimately only looks like I’m squashing a bug.
“Fine,” one of the guys says. “Just keep your voices down and watch the language.”
We agree and walk hastily into another part of the store. The store itself is separated into different fake rooms, each room showing off the styles and furniture available in the store. It almost looks like an actual person’s actual house if an actual person left all the price tags on the things he or she bought. We duck into a fake child’s bedroom and step into the fake closet.
“And I do support your career,” I say in an angry whisper. “And I want a family, more than anything.” I pause and look around the fake child’s room and get lost in the painting of a clown playing baseball and the headboard filled with children’s books. I see a copy of Roald Dahl’s BFG and assume it’s in Swedish. I look back at her. “Don’t you think I want a family? Don’t act like I’m the bad guy here. I want it as much as you do and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make you happy.”
She is tired all of a sudden and much quieter. “What about the bomb squad thing?” she asks.
And I push her against the walls of the small closet and I kiss her hard and directly on the mouth, moving my hands toward her waist and inside her shirt. I shut the real doors to the fake closet and I pull off her shirt and she unbuttons mine and we make love at the Scandinavian furniture store. We know embarrassment and ejection from the store wait on the other side of the cheap balsa wood doors. We don’t care about anything except the heat and anger of each others’ bodies.
We emerge from our closet, frazzled from the sex and the spontaneity of it. We sneak out carefully, cautious to not be spotted in our post-coital bliss, but are immediately struck by something in the store.
It is completely empty.
We race through ideas — were we in there for hours, until the store had closed? The lights are still on; it’s just empty of customers. And, as we look more closely, it is also empty of employees.
But I grab Becky’s wrist and twist it quickly to look at her watch. It is still the middle of the afternoon. We consider other ideas. We watch too many zombie movies, so that is presented as an option much earlier than it rightly should have been. We walk slowly, unsure of our surroundings, afraid of being stopped. We logically disregard the zombie idea, but there is something apocalyptic about the scene and if not apocalyptic (and considering the store remains in pristine condition perhaps that is indeed the wrong word), maybe we can say that it is merely post-rapture. Perhaps all the Christians have ascended into Heaven and the rest of us — those of us having sex in the fake closets of Scandinavian furniture stores after conducting expletive-filled public fights over desks in front of young children — are left behind to oversee what remains.
So we sneak. We hide. We turn corners carefully and look for signs of life.
Finally, I find one. I peek over the escalator and downstairs where I see three police officers, each in body armor huddling around something. Obviously, this does little to relieve me.
“Look,” I whisper, and my wife peeks over the escalator and steals a glance. She turns back to me. I am terrified and I feel completely justified in that. But when I look at her, she is excited and vindicated and full of life and energy. “What’s wrong with you?” I say.
“It’s the bomb squad!” she says eagerly.
“We have to get out of here,” I say.
“NO!” she says in a quiet whisper. “This is my destiny. I am destined!”
“You are crazy!” I tell her.
She stands up and, instead of going back downstairs and telling the bomb squad we need to leave because we were accidentally left in the store, she runs in the opposite direction. She dives behind a couch, and I see her hand over the couch waving me over.
I follow and duck behind the couch. “Why are we behind this couch, dear?” I ask.
“We are in a safe vantage point looking for other potential devices,” she says directly.
Just as directly, I tell her she is out of her mind. She closes her eyes, and when I ask her what she’s doing, she tells me she’s recreating the steps of her dream.
While she failed to mention this detail before, apparently her bomb diffusing dreams have all taken place in stores of various types. She tells me she remembers one of the dreams was in a furniture store.
“Becky,” I say. “There are police here. Real bomb squad.”
She ignores me and turns down a fake kitchen into a fake den. She finds a bookcase and begins rifling through the books and empty picture frames in search of whatever it is she’s looking for.
And then she finds it. It might be a bomb, I admit, though my knowledge of bombs is limited to Speed and similar bomb-driven movies. It has a clock, red numbers, and is connected to several small wires. It’s black, square, and the seconds are counting. But I’m too nervous to study it. We both back away from it and jump onto a couch facing the opposite direction of the shelf. We sit backwards on the couch and stare at the bomb on the bookshelf.
She studies it carefully, like her life and purpose have been leading to this very moment. I nudge her and tell her to leave it and explain what she has found to the authorities. “They’re right downstairs,” I remind her.
“Be supportive!” she tells me.
“I will not be supportive!” I say and I begin to yell for help when she cups her hand over my mouth and tackles me off the couch and onto the ground.
“Shut up!” she says, and she sits on top of me with her hand over my mouth. “There were only three of those guys and they already have something down there. If we leave this alone, there might not be time to stop it. My dreams have been happening for a reason. I’ve been preparing for this moment. I have to do this!”
I wiggle my face away from her hand and tell her she doesn’t. I tell her that people who are more qualified than she is are in the building at this moment and all we have to do is tell them where it is and we can get out of here safely. I remind her that the bomb squad guys in the store are protected with bomb suits and equipment in addition to their training. I tell her that she is simply trying to get us — and those bomb squad guys downstairs and anyone else who happened to have sex in the store and hide — killed.
She looks at me as if I have kept her from fulfilling the one thing she hoped to pursue in her life. “It’s just like my dream,” she says. “You might as well be holding a basketball and tickets for some game. You’re always trying to repress me, but not today, not now.” She looks back at the bomb and then at me. “This is the day that I diffused a bomb,” she says.
I look into her eyes and see the kind of crazy that might have attracted me to her in the first place but can’t be negotiated with. She is convinced that she can diffuse this bomb, and I can’t say or do anything about it. I ask her what she wants me to do while she deals with the bomb. She tells me to get out of the store.
I remind her that this is a terrible idea and she shoots me a look as potent as any explosive device. She walks over to the bomb and looks it over. She again tells me to go. This woman at this moment suddenly has more in common with Bruce Willis than the person I married.
I tell her I love her and I run down the escalator. The bomb squad guys downstairs see me and two of them immediately point their guns at me.
“This store has been evacuated!” one of them shouts. “Why are you still in the store?” He yells every word and each word has the same tone and rhythm. I tell them I didn’t know the store had been evacuated. Honesty feels like the best policy. I tell them I was upstairs having sex while the store was being evacuated.
“Who were you with, sir?” another bomb squad guy shouts. His accent seems Texan, though I might be making that up just to differentiate the three.
I am embarrassed and know I can’t rat out Becky. I tell them I was alone. “Fine,” the Texan tells me, snickering. “You need to leave the store.”
One of the guards — wearing a fancy watch — begins to escort me out, but we both stop and turn around when the lead officer, the one messing with the bomb-like device, shouts an expletive.
“What?” the fancy-watched officer escorting me shouts.
“This isn’t a bomb,” the leader says. “It’s a trigger. Trying to diffuse this false bomb has triggered another bomb somewhere else in the area.” The bomb squad guy messing with the bomb seems like the leader of this group and since this entire affair has me thinking of Speed, I will call him Keanu.
“Son of a bitch,” Tex says.
“This guy’s a sick bastard,” the guy with the fancy watch says.
“We need to get out now!” Keanu screams. “That countdown is equipped to go off in 90 seconds. MOVE!”
And Tex and I begin to run with the other two behind us, all of us charging toward the front door and I know exactly where that bomb is but I can’t say a word. All I can do is hope and pray that Becky knows what she’s talking about and finds a way to diffuse it. I’m still running. The guys on the bomb squad, even with their layers of protective gear are much faster than me.
We are in the parking lot, far enough away to hopefully be safe in the event of a bomb detonation.
The crowd is pushed back, but the bomb squad guys are too preoccupied with the potential explosion to bother forcing me to join the larger crowd. Keanu is looking at his watch. He starts counting backwards — he says 30, 29, 28…
I keep looking toward the front of the store waiting for Becky to escape. I imagine her heroically running from the store while it explodes dramatically behind her. I also imagine her walking out of the store with the diffused bomb in her hand. She would toss the diffused bomb to one of the bomb squad guys and say something tough like, “problem solved” or “you guys might have missed this.” The main thing in common with these scenarios is that Becky escapes the store and she doesn’t blow up.
So I’m waiting for her. The countdown is 19, 18, 17…
One of the cops says, “We’re going to get that son of a bitch,” and I assume that these guys and this mad bomber have a history, though that probably just comes from watching too many movies.
The countdown is 9, 8, 7…
My eyes remain on the store and what little prayer I have in my heart prays for Becky. She may have lost her mind a little in the store, but that did not mean she needed to lose her life too.
6, 5, 4…
This is your cue, I think. Run out…NOW.
3, 2, 1…
Except, with my eyes on the store, I don’t see a boom, I just hear one. It’s behind me.
A car in the parking lot has exploded. It’s off in the distance a bit, but it’s causing a couple of other cars to explode too. The crowd runs in a panic. Keanu woodenly shouts an expletive. He winces and says, “He’s mine. This bastard is mine,” but I’m not worried about his personal vendetta.
I’m still waiting for Becky to emerge. The fire trucks that were already on the scene douse the car fire. The crowd is screaming and scattering, but I block it out, all of it out.
I’m still staring at the front doors, waiting for Becky.
The bomb squad has ignored me. They’re charging toward the explosion and checking other cars for bombs. So I walk toward the front doors.
The bomb squad guy with the fancy watch finally sees me. He tells me I can’t go in there. I explain to him that my wife might be in the store.
I like this bomb squad guy because he doesn’t yell at me and ask me why I lied earlier. He just asks me where I think she is and then tells me to wait. He tells his bomb squad partners and Tex joins him, just in case the store is not as quiet as it seems. Keanu is on the phone. Based on my knowledge of mad bombers, he’s likely on the phone telling Keanu the site of the next bomb. Seconds later, Keanu jumps onto a motorcycle, leans forwards, and starts it up. It is mind-numbingly loud, and he speeds off somewhere in the distance.
I remain standing by the store, still fearing an explosion that rips the roof right off the place. But it hasn’t happened and it likely won’t happen. Because by God, Becky did it. She diffused that bomb, the car bomb was just a distraction, but Becky was able to diffuse the bomb. I promise to never doubt her again.
Several minutes pass. Finally, after staring at the door, Becky emerges with the bomb squad guys and I hug her and I tell her she did it and I tell her she’s a hero and she whispers into my ear and tells me she wants to go home.
“Okay,” I say. “But you did it.”
“It was a clock radio,” she says. “They told me there wasn’t a bomb in the store and what I had was a clock radio. It was weird and Scandinavian.”
“Sure,” I tell her. “But if it wasn’t a clock radio, you could have diffused that bomb.”
“That’s right,” she says.
And we get into the car, which doesn’t explode, and I take her home.
Jason Olsen currently teaches writing and literature at Utah State University-College of Eastern Utah in Price, Utah. His work has appeared in Indiana Review, Mid American Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review.