She wished she didn’t have such an avid need to look up what her dreams meant. Indeed, wished she couldn’t remember them at all. It would spare her so much emotional strife. And yet, it seemed to be her blessing and her curse (along with asexuality). For if she had not frantically written the words “broken fountain” down on the piece of paper always at the ready next to her bed, she would not have bothered to be more mindful of her health in the coming weeks, for as the internet warned her, “A broken fountain means problems related to your health. Take good care of what you eat and drink. It is a sign that you may suffer from an illness or some deficiency in the coming weeks.” The more Olivia thought about, the more she had to admit that she was ignoring the effects that came with her onset of depression. Having just quit Welbutrin for the second time–not understanding why she would believe that she could possibly be capable of laying off the sauce while on it–Olivia felt the comedown more palpably than the first time. Or maybe the first time was just like this, but because it was no longer fresh in her mind, it didn’t seem as bad as what she was experiencing now. Memory can be a tricky little bitch that way. And could also conflate with dreams if one wasn’t careful.
She awoke especially late one morning–after dreaming of five empty rolls of toilet paper, a highly specific image that evidently meant “you are not ready to handle the consequences of blowing up your negative emotions. Think twice before you let others know about your dirty secrets, the consequences may be very hard to clean up.” In fact, it was so late that the mail had already come. She was expecting a package from her mother, specifically a stuffed animal from her childhood that she had a puerile craving for in her state of recent insecurity. She checked her doorstep to find a box had been left by the delivery person. Returning to the safety of her domicile’s carapace, she carefully opened the box, which felt much too heavy to contain anything like a medium-sized teddy bear. Upon opening it, she saw that it was a small fountain, crafted out of stones. Perhaps it had been mishandled during the delivery, for she immediately noticed that it was cracked down the middle.
Instantly creeped out by the fact that this was the very fountain that she had seen in her dream, Olivia couldn’t help but think that some sort of reckoning was coming. There was no return address on the box, but there was a card inside, tucked underneath the fountain, with cursive handwriting just barely legible enough to make out the words, “Olivia, that which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain.” She of course knew the Longfellow quote, had written an entire dissertation centered around his notion of wasted affection never truly being wasted. But who else could have known? She kept her head buried in her books for the majority of college, her only acquaintance being the librarian at the small school she attended just twenty-five miles south of Los Angeles. Apart from her professor, Dr. Milgram, no one else could have known about her Longfellow expertise. Could it have been her aging ex-mentor that would send her something so cryptic? And why now, almost ten years later?
Nothing was making sense anymore to Olivia. While she had achieved essentially everything she had set out to be by the time she was thirty–owning her own home, having a job that would allow her to work from said home and getting a pet (even if a creature as low-maintenance as a turtle)–she felt as though something was still missing. And no, it wasn’t human companionship, for that was a phenomenon one could only partake of if they were willing to trade sexual favors for it, and as Olivia already found out about herself long ago, sex was the most repugnant thing to her on this earth apart from patriarchy. She had no desire to engage in it, and if that meant she would have to settle for a life of solitude, so be it. It was still preferable to putting out for gross people, an adjective that applied to all by sheer virtue of them inhabiting their flesh bag shells.
And, speaking of shells, Wadsworth (her turtle, accordingly named after Longfellow) had not come out of his in a while, and she was starting to grow concerned, fearful that he might actually go into starvation mode. It had already been about a week since he pecked languidly at even a small lettuce leaf, and now, he wasn’t emerging out of his shell at all. She knew the time was coming for her to take him to the vet, despite knowing full well it was going to cost her a mound. If he refused to emerge in the next twenty-four hours, she would make her way to Dr. Devoto’s, just a ten minute drive away. It was then that Olivia remembered she hadn’t actually been out of the house in about two weeks. Her minimal eating and constant stocking up on dry goods stemmed from a phobia instilled within her by her father, around the time of the Y2K panic. He conditioned her to believe that a cataclysmic event might always be just around the corner, and that she ought to preserve and consume accordingly. If she was a gambling woman, she’d bet her father was somewhere in a bunker now, though her mother constantly reminded her that he had abandoned them Gaugin-style to move to Tahiti. It sounded too far-fetched to believe, but then so was the concept of existence itself.
Hours later, Olivia had set up the fountain in her office, getting it to work despite its brokenness. For it was cracked in a manner that didn’t affect the streamflow. Having placed its detached piece next to it, something about it smacked of bad modern art. Maybe she was wrong to display the fountain, seeming to be such an ill omen as it was, manifested almost out of thin air from her dream. Unless, again, Dr. Milgram was the culprit. She began researching his name, trying to figure out if he was still active in the release of his constant barrage of criticism. The man put out roughly two books a year when she had known him, and she was aware that his various students ghostwrote the majority in exchange for an “easier” grading system. Olivia had been among the few to refuse to participate in his scheme–his grand bid for “greatness” by way of being prolific. This, she knew, forever branded her in his mind as some kind of self-righteous cunt. Still, they both knew her paper on Evangeline was nothing short of a masterpiece, and that for him to say otherwise would prompt her to take it up with someone above him. He didn’t want that. But he also never forgave her for being so good, nor for refusing to contribute to his oeuvre. Still…why would he send her a fountain, and why now? In her research, she discovered that he had died of heart failure the previous year. Ironic, she mused, then pushed that word aside lest some hidden god detect her schadenfreude.
She decided she would put Dr. Milgram out of her head. He had nothing to do with this. She would simply accept the fountain as a miraculous gift and go about her business. She started to do some work she had gotten behind on when she heard an ominous crack sound that came from the kitchen. She rose cautiously from her chair, grabbing a letter opener off the desk as a weapon. Approaching the kitchen slowly, Olivia turned the corner to catch sight of Wadsworth lying limply on his back. He had crawled out of his tank, now overturned, on the counter and…jumped, for lack of a better word. She rushed toward him hearing a slight wheezing sound emerge from him. She was frozen in shock for a moment before she ran to the bathroom, grabbed a towel and scooped him up in it. As she did so, pieces of his shell fell off his back like shards. It was all she could do to keep from sobbing. She had failed him, and that was made all the worse by the fact that he was not a difficult animal to take care of, and she couldn’t even manage that. It was then she apprehended the broken fountain dream had not been about her health but his. She should have taken him to the vet today. This very morning, had she woken up early enough.
Instead, she indulged in her own sadness, her pathetic depression, sleeping the hours away while Wadsworth suffered in silence through his pain. Maybe his jump was a cry for help, maybe he genuinely wanted to kill himself to get the hell away from her. As she looked over at him in the front seat of her car, broken and perhaps irrevocably damaged, she recalled the first moment she picked him out at the pet store, enamored of the unique white slash, of sorts, on the top right part of his shell. Now that it was in pieces, that defining characteristic about him was gone. She had stamped it out with her carelessness, the way she seemed to with her own will to live. As she drove up to Dr. Devoto’s she could hear the sound of her alarm going off. Awakening to find that it was 8:30 a.m., she ran to the kitchen to check on the state of Wadsworth.
Safely in his tank, he had emerged from his shell to eat a plum Olivia had placed out for him the night before. She then ran to her office, where any sign of a broken fountain was nil. Goddammit, she thought, now I’m going to have to find out what dreaming about a broken turtle shell is supposed to signify.
Had she looked it up sooner instead of getting sidetracked by a work email, she might have seen that it foretold imminent conflict. Of the kind that was brewing as Dr. Milgram approached her house with a gun in hand. For that part of her dream had been made up as well–he was still very much alive, and very much harboring even more intensified resentment toward her after the university press informed him they wanted to publish her Evangeline dissertation instead of yet another of his books this year, with one of the readers having come across it in the archives despite Milgram’s attempts to bury it. Just as he would attempt to bury Olivia herself right now.