ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


DREAMING OF THE CHORES, a story by Grant Segall.


I guess the sky should have been a clue: It was too high and blue for Cleveland.  But our chores beneath it seemed all too real.  The kids were weeding, Phil was plying his laptop at the patio table, and I was painting on top of the ladder.  Dip, wipe, stroke.  My forehead was beading like the paint.

“Mine!”  Cody plucked a thistle near Teena.

“Mine!”  Teena snatched it away, prickers and all.

“Easy,” I called.  “There’s plenty to go around.”

Phil hunched his shoulders and typed away, still trying, a week past deadline, to clinch the strategic case for peace.  I flexed my quad and kept painting, hoping to trade up soon for a place with bigger territories for our own little warlords.  Dip, wipe, stroke.  I should have refused the realtor’s vanilla for teal or coral, leaving a more personal mark on our first home.  Or maybe I should have started a picture for September’s show.  A still life, they wanted.  As if life ever stood still.

“Teenie!”  Cody wagged the weeder.

“Cootie!”  Teena brandished the spade.

Phil sighed and typed onward.  The kids thwacked their weapons so hard, the dream shattered.

*                      *                     *                      *                      *                      *               

Chores.  I blinked in the dark.  Of all the boring things to keep dreaming about.  The routines chewing up our days were nibbling lately at my nights, my free time, my chance to relax and imagine.

12:43 on the luminous clock.  An August breeze was bustling about the bed like the realtor inspecting.  I felt Phil’s side.  Still empty.  He must still be outside, at his backlit keyboard, seeking just the right words to save the world.

"Quiet,” he’d clucked this afternoon, when the kids squabbled over the chores for real.

"Finish up," I'd snapped, "and help already."

He’d chuckled and typed faster, which I could still take two ways.

Now I rolled off my quad, hogged the blanket, and tried to think of material for better dreams.  Bobbing in the waves, which we’d been too busy all summer to do.  Making love, which we’d hadn’t tried in a couple of weeks, given Phil’s long hours and my weary limbs.  Or doing things we could only do in dreams: Dancing on top of those waves.  Streaking them burgundy and coral.  Swamping all conflicts.  Drowning all chores.

*                      *                     *                      *                      *                      *  

In the next dream, we were working harder than ever.  The sun was shimmering.  The paint fumes were thickening.  My ladder was starting to give ground.  Dip, wipe, wobble.  Then Teena ran a wire from my navel to a jackhammer, and Cody blasted the weeds with it.

“There’s an idea.”  Phil ran a second wire from me to the laptop.  The keys began to rattle like a player piano’s.  He kicked back and conducted them.

My navel began to tingle.  “Hey...” I sputtered, but the machines drowned me out.

*                      *                     *                      *                      *                      * 

I woke to the patter of rain.  On the fresh paint.  2:26.  I shivered, stretched, and shut the window.  On the way back, my hand brushed Phil, here at last, hogging the blanket in turn.  I snuggled closer for warmth.  He murmured and nuzzled his pillow.  Mistaking it for me?  His laptop?  Another woman?  A younger woman, no doubt, with suppler quads and bolder dreams.

*                      *                     *                      *                      *                      *                 

Now the sun was pulsing in time with my navel, my quad, and the ladder.  Teena lunged for the jackhammer.  Cody swung it.  She ducked in time but cried “Owww!” anyway.  Still typing with his left hand, Phil stretched his right like a baby gate and set it between them.  They shrieked and dove behind the hydrangeas.

“Look," I said, "I’m trying.”

His left hand swooped up and unplugged me.  “Too hard, really.”  He patted my quad.

“Ooh,” I breathed.  “Rub it, please.”

“Well, it beats the keyboard."  He started near my knee and worked upward.

“Ewww!” the hydrangeas squealed in unison.  He blocked their view and reached the fringe of my shorts.

“Now I know I’m dreaming,” I whispered.  Then he found a knot so deep, I flailed, breaking the dream way too soon.

*                       *                     *                      *                      *                      *                  

“Oof!”  Phil grunted, recoiling.


“Sorry,” I mumbled.  4:07.  The rain was harder now, and probably turning the wall into a pour painting.
“Dreaming?”  He yawned.  “What about?”

“Oh, chores, mostly,” I replied, skipping the intimate part.

“No escape, huh?”  He touched my quad for real.  “That settles it.  I’ll proofread tomorrow and start helping again.”

“On account of a dream?”

“Of the dreamer.  And our two little visions down the hall.”  He patted the quad.  I quivered.  He startled.  We laughed.  Then he began to rub me slowly, steadily, on natural power.  We came together at last, defying the hour, thrashing, hissing, making a raucous peace.

“Mommy?  Daddy?” voices ventured through the door.

“We’re fine,” we managed.

Shuffling away, Teena said, “Must have been a dream.”

Padding along, Cody replied, “The same dream for them both."

*                      *                     *                      *                      *                      *

In my last dream of the night, the sun was spinning, and we were all on the ladder, jostling, swaying, giggling, flapping like paint angels, splashing the house and each other with violet and lime.  Down below, the realtor sighed and tore up her checklist.  The ladder lurched and caught an updraft.  We whooped and pumped, swooping toward the sun, streaking the sky all sorts of challenging colors.


Grant Segall is a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter and columnist. He has won three national journalism prizes and many statewide ones and has published fiction in several college journals and zines, earning honorable mention in Whiskey Island’s yearly contest at Cleveland State. He has also written the well-received John D. Rockefeller: Anointed With Oil (Oxford, 2001), which Booklist called “fascinating” and “first-rate.” Rockefeller has been published in the U.S., Korea, and China.

This is his first appearance in Offcourse.

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