That night, the dream intensified. I was following one of the rats, only this time we weren’t in a sewer at all. We were in an alley somewhere in Chicago. The alley was full of big green dumpsters and there were only three little floodlights hanging between the tall buildings, casting most of the alley in dark, forbidding shadows.
The rat scurried from dumpster to dumpster, sniffing at a little chunk of a sandwich that was laying on the ground. But the rat didn’t seem to want it, and so it kept moving father down the alley, disappearing from time to time in the darkness. I swear to you, I could smell that alley. It smelled like a urinal and an overflowing garbage filled with rotten milk. A good smell for rats, I suppose.
At the end, we turned and traipsed our way up the sidewalk, hugging the buildings closely. The street was mostly empty except for a few cars passing. It looked like a nice neighborhood: every other business we passed was either a café or some kind of store with big windows. I couldn’t see everything. I was following behind the rat, and as a result I could only get a worm’s-eye-view of the scene.
If I could just see a street name …
Suddenly, the rat stopped, pressing its body against the nearest concrete building for a moment. There was a sound of footsteps. A pat-pattering of heels on the sidewalk, growing louder and louder. Before whoever it was passed us, the rat began moving again with more urgency, turning right at the next intersection (what was the name of the street? Patterson? Pattel? I couldn’t see it well enough to be sure) and heading directly toward a smattering of patio tables farther down the block.
It was a café. A café with black outdoor furniture and a handful of young and middle-aged people sitting outside with glasses of beer, enjoying the nice evening. I could feel the warm air. A breeze picked up and then I could smell all of the late-night food sitting on the tables: pepperoni pizza, spicy buffalo wings, and hush puppies.
The rat hid underneath an empty chair at the edge of the outdoor seating area. There were a lot of conversations, and I tried to pick them out one by one to see if I could figure out where we were. But no one was talking about the neighborhood or the café. Lots of gossip, though. Someone complaining about his mother. Another person bragging about her new high score in her Castle Cats phone game.
The sound of footsteps returned. “Turn around, rat!” I commanded, but the rat either didn’t hear me or didn’t care. It stayed where it was, and the tap-tap-tap of the heels on concrete grew louder.
Finally, the rat turned, and I could see two beautiful clear slippers move by. The feet inside those slippers were pale and smooth, and the slippers looked as if they were made of glass.
The rat followed the slippers, ducking from empty chair to empty chair. We were getting closer to the other end of the outdoor seating area, where a single middle-aged man was sitting alone at a table. He had an e-reader in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, and was wearing a dressy button-down collar shirt and dark tie. He had a strong, square jaw and short, combed hair. He looked handsome, I thought. Handsome enough for someone on the verge of being labeled “old.”
The rat stopped underneath the adjacent empty table. It made a little squeaking noise and the man looked up from his e-reader. I could see Cindy’s slippers—she’d stopped right in front of his table and when he noticed her, he looked up and his face immediately lit up.
“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked.
The man smiled. “No. But maybe I should be.”
“May I sit with you?”
“I would love it,” the man said.
The chair next to him slid back, its metal legs squeaking on the concrete patio. Cindy sat down, smoothing out her long dress as she did so. Now I could see her face clearly under the soft light coming from the streetlights: she was beautiful, but aged; her hair had just a hint of gray, the lines on her face hidden away with makeup that had begun to cake. But I still recognized her.
This was the woman from my previous dream, the one who’d watched the rats eat her boyfriend like an entrée. And something told me this new guy friend of hers didn’t have too much time.