On the last day of the retreat, I dropped into what had become my favorite position in the discussion circle, back to the windows, facing the door. “Carl Hiassen? John Grisham?” I mulled over possibilities with the young girl in the seat next to me.
“Maybe Barbara Kingsolver!” she said. “It’s bound to be someone we talked about this week.”
I folded my new handouts into the collection already in my purse, and shoved the bag under my chair while a hotel staffer thanked us and reviewed departure plans. When I rose again, Hillary Clinton had replaced the young girl beside me. Hillary Clinton! And no one else seemed to notice.
Unashamed, I regressed to teenybopper mentality, choked, grabbed her hand, and blathered like a fool. “I can’t believe it! I’m a huge fan. I have your books and your tee shirt.” In case she had amnesia, I threw in, “You’re Hillary Clinton!”
She pulled the tight, closed-lip smile and greeted me with a wink as our moderator took the floor. A revelation and carotid thumping slammed me at the same time. Bill Clinton was the mystery guest speaker who would end this writing retreat. His book was out. Hillary would be waiting in the wings if she were the speaker.
“I have to call my daughter,” I announced and stuck my head between my legs to find the purse. “My granddaughter is in love with your husband,” I went on once I had the bag on my lap. “She has to bring her here. My daughter, I mean. She has to bring my granddaughter.”
Hillary nodded. I think she leaned away from me but I didn’t have the composure to be embarrassed. I was too busy fighting the zipper on my purse. Finally, phone in hand but speed-dial number on vacation, I punched in my daughter's home number, managing to hit all the numbers on the second try.
A kid answered. Even in my star-struck state, I knew it wasn’t one of my daughter’s kids. I asked for Jessica, using my hand to hide the phone and my voice from the frowning moderator.
“She’s not here. This is Brian.”
I kept my eyes on the floor and whispered. “Get Brent.”
“He’s not here. Just me.”
There was no way my daughter and son-in-law had left an eight-year-old nephew alone in their house. No way on earth, and I didn’t have time to play games with this kid. I disconnected and hit redial, hoping an adult would answer this time.
Hillary clamped my shoulder in a vice grip. “Don’t move.” She twanged, in a nasal monotone. Without turning my head, I rolled my eyes up to confirm the nightmare. Hillary had turned into Laura Freaking Bush.
The cell phone slid to the floor as the doors across from me opened and secret service agents, one for each of us, flooded the room. They circled the group and stood behind our chairs. That could only mean one thing, and it was the last thing I could bear.
“He’s never written a book,” I cried. “Probably never read one.”
“Don’t move,” Laura repeated. “And don’t speak.”
The air stopped. My life ended. That was the only logical explanation; I died and there was a hell.
Smirky swaggered through the door, blinking and clearing his throat. He started on the left, shook a hand, and made an ignorant statement that had nothing to do with writing. I wanted my money back, but I probably couldn’t use it in hell. He moved to the second guest, hand outstretched and on topic this time. “Gosh durn, I like books. The American people like books. I tell the American people all the time how much I like books.”
My stomach rolled into my throat. My sweaty hands shook. I leaned over to pick up the phone but it slid from my hand. He moved to the third chair, getting closer. Laura reprimanded me again. Dizziness set it.
I pulled my sleeves over my hands and realized that wasn’t enough. He would still be in my face, breathing the same air. He would have me arrested when he saw the look in my eyes, but they’d probably shoot me if I tried to run.
I woke in a sweat, just after I slid my face below the neckline of my blouse.
I’m still afraid of writing retreats, and I don’t try to interpret this dream.
Originally published 2005