Wake up and shine.
Wake up feeling fine.
Wake up without your mind.
I tapped Danny’s forehead lightly with my finger three times and waited for him to open his eyes. I relished our little game of most mornings, knock-knock-knocking into each other’s psyche, making sure that the first picture of the day would be a couple of loving eyes. Because not all of the eyes in this world have good intentions. Some of them have never seen the light of day.
Danny’s head suddenly jerked on the pillow, his eyes trembling in his sockets, as if he had seen a fluorescent phantom in shackles. He reached for my arm under the covers, his grip tightening, becoming less a man’s hand and more like the claw of a feral beast. He had scared me enough, all right, and I had to do something. Instinct granted me enough impulse to stretch my aching arm toward Danny’s body and place my palm on his left cheek. His response was almost immediate: I could feel the claw clenching my forearm reverting to my husband’s callous hand.
“What was that, Danny?” My tone a distant ripple in the vastness of our apartment room. “Say something, you’re scaring me real bad.”
“I’m all right,” he said, unsteady exhalations seemed to clog his throat.
“You are far from all right, you hear me? You hurt my arm.”
“I’m so sorry Liz,” he sat by the edge of the bed. “I had a dreadful nightmare, something with the tunnels and, you won’t believe this, but three layers of snow covering the city. And a dark figure pulling me from my arms into the dark.”
A much more experienced person than me in this area would have said something comforting right away. But in my defense, this was the first time Daniel Fernandez, the man I love, had a nightmare. We had been married for five years and together for over eight. I met him back when we lived in the States and studied in Michigan University. Since then I realized that Danny had a special trait I lacked: he never had nightmares. I admit never is a strong word, but it’s the truth. I even tested my own theories about Danny by watching horror movies with him. I got a good set of jumps out of him from that and during Poltergeist he almost shrieked like my five year old cousin, Becky. And yet, he slept in the most taciturn manner, while I lay awake with nightmare mascara around my eyes. I knew him better than his parents, to tell you the truth, but that’s a story I rather not touch.
I leaned over to his side of the bed and cradled his clunky rib cage in between my arms. I planted a kiss on his brazen back, and gathered a lovely smell of birch wood and a hint of lavender. Danny is the only archaeologist that smells like a scented candle, I thought.
“Do you still feel like going? We don’t have to go, we could stay here and have some fun.”
I felt as he smiled and then he scratched the top of his head. “That sounds perfect right now, Liz, but—”
“I know what you’re going to say,” I rolled over to his side, jumped from the bed and strolled carefully toward the bathroom. “You want to get there earlier than Martinez, don’t you? It’s not a competition, you know, think of it as a gift for humankind.”
“With Martinez it’s always a competition! He wants to be first at everything. Besides, I work better when he is not around prodding me with his elbow every time he tells me a joke. He’s told me this one three times already about a clown with color farts or some nonsense like that.”
“Let’s get ready then, we have a long day ahead of us. Can you treat me to some cheese empanadas from Ito’s?” Ito Morales, a humble store owner in Cuzco’s Centro Historico, cooks the best empanadas in all of Peru.
I closed the bathroom door behind me to fix myself here and there, and I only heard Danny’s muffled response. I pushed the door open and the hinges wailed like a mermaid in a pitch-black pond. The light from the bathroom showered the floorboards of the bedroom until enough had lit Danny’s solemn face.
“What did you say?”
“Three cheese empanadas for you. I owe you one after what I did to your arm.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “It doesn't hurt.” I lied. This time I had to. He was obviously troubled by something else, and whatever it was I would find out later whenever he decided to stop withholding it from me and even from himself.
For the first time in our years of marriage, I feared for my husband. And I absolutely hated the idea of descending with him into the underground tunnels of the city of Cuzco.
The mere thought of Danny’s nightmare turned my stomach into a dark, cold void. “Honey, let’s save the empanadas for later, I lost my appetite.”