I dreamed that I was walking through a graveyard with my girlfriend.

(I don’t have a girlfriend.)

But there we were, walking along. And then we came to this gravestone.

Only it wasn’t a gravestone; it was some kind of big stone sign.

You see, there was this poodle there, buried in the ground.

It was underground, in some kind of tank, I guess, right underneath the big marker. It would bark every now and then, you could hear it. And when it did, this little red light on the gravestone would light up, and then go off when it stopped.

My girlfriend and I stood there and listened to the poodle barking and watched the red light going on and off for a while.

It was a big grey poodle, we could tell. I’m not sure how we could tell, but we could.

There was a small engraved representation of the poodle on the gravestone, but the poodle was just stone-colored like the rest of it. It was not grey; more like granite-greenish.

Do you think he’s okay down there? I said to my girlfriend.

I don’t remember what she said. She was pretty fuzzy throughout the dream.

I wonder if he has enough to drink? I said.

And just then I saw the sign. I don’t remember the exact wording, but basically it said that the dog was given a ration of wine once a day and it was perfectly okay with that.

Wine? I kept saying. They give that poodle wine?

It did not seem like the proper way to take care of a poodle.

Then suddenly I was in the town where I grew up, and I was walking over the baseball field behind the high school. It was all bare and uncut, little patches of scraggly grass amidst all the dirt. No bases, of course; hardly any pitcher’s mound.

There were some kids playing catch with what looked like a skeeball.

I was walking in through the infield toward home plate. Only when I got there, home plate wasn’t a home plate, but rather one of those metal things they have on the sidewalks in New York outside the businesses that open up so loud men can bring things in and out, and when they’re closed you walk over them and worry about falling through into hell or the basement and breaking your leg.

So home plate was one of those.

But underneath it, I knew, there was a tank full of cool, clear water, that the kids would drink when they were hot and tired from playing baseball.

It seemed like a really good idea.

I remember the word “cistern” came to mind, though I don’t really know what a cistern is. I think maybe it collects rainwater.

Then suddenly all the kids I grew up with were there. I would name them all, but you don’t know them, so it wouldn’t matter. Chris Worthy, he was this really tall gangly black kid who always smiled shyly and never said anything, and Rogel Garcia, who talked with a lisp and was really short, and Erik Leverington, who looked (in my dream) as if he’d fallen asleep in a tanning booth with a pair of sunglasses on. Like some kind of reverse raccoon.

And everyone was playing catch and running around just like we were in fourth grade again.

And then, in my dream, I woke up, and I was crying, because all of those people are gone, and those days are gone. And I got out of bed and went into the hallway and I wanted to tell someone. I don’t know whose house that was, because I’ve never been in it in my life, but there I was in the hall. And there was my dad, going into the kitchen. So I followed him in and I sat at the kitchen table and cried while he made himself breakfast and poured himself a big glass of milk, and I told him about Chris Worthy and Erik Leverington and how everything was gone.

And then my dad handed me this magazine and there was an article in it about the poodle in the graveyard. And it turned out that it was a joke. And that there wasn’t really a poodle underground at all, that it was just a recording and a little red light that flashed on and off on a stone.

And I remember thinking, There was no poodle? There was no poodle?

And I was so relieved.

Until I came to the part of the article where it turned out that the other thing the gravestone-with-no-poodle did was record the conversations of all the people who came and stood before it.

And right there on the page was a transcription of the conversation my girlfriend and I had had while we stood there.

Do you think he’s okay down there? I was saying. Is he in some kind of tank? How can he live down there? Have his eyes gone blind like those cave fish? Does he just stand there? Are his nails okay? Do they scrape against the metal? Is he okay? Is the poodle okay? Is the poodle okay?

And my girlfriend was just shaking her head. Just shaking her head on the page.

My girlfriend didn’t seem to know a lot in this dream.

But nobody seemed to know very much.

Except maybe, a case could be made, those kids in fourth grade with the skeeball.

The thing about skeeball is, the balls always come back. Even if you fuck up, they come back. And yeah, there’s a timer, but that just adds to the fun, and in the end you get prizes and go home.

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BEN LOORY's fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, on This American Life, at Word Theatre, and on Selected Shorts. His book Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin, 2011) was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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