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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream Tales of Oysterback


Oysterback, Maryland -- There's a spring moon out tonight, as full and yellow as one of Miss Nettie Leery's oyster fritters, and it's hanging in the sky, right above Oysterback.

Beneath the glittering surface of the Devanau River and out among the grasses in Widgeon Marsh, the world is alive and moving. In the light of the full moon, things are out there fighting, eating, killing and mating, dying and being born, and the night is full of their sounds.

Over at the edge of the old burial ground at Oysterback Hardshell Methodist Church, an 18-point buck, the exact same buck that Junie Redmond has been pursuing for years, is grazing on new forsythia shoots, one eye on his harem of does and their fawns, the other peeled for trouble.

Out on the river, a single skate, the size of a kitchen table top, breaks the surface of the cold and sparkling water, plunging back again into the silent depths.

In Oysterback, the humans, and most of the dogs and cats too, are sleeping.

Some have just gone to bed an hour ago, like Desiree Grinch, who has closed up the tavern and fallen asleep in the middle of David Letterman, buried in her yellow satin comforter, dreaming of Elvis being alive and well and in the federal witness-protection program, running a topless bar in Cambridge. In the morning, she will not remember this dream.

Others will be getting up in an hour or so, while the moon is still riding low in the sky and dawn is just a thought on the horizon.

Hudson Swann, soaked with cold sweat, dreams -- again -- that he is back in Quon Tre with his platoon talking to Tavlik, who is walking beside him, when there is a sudden crack, and suddenly, where Tavlik's head was before, there is a spurting, bloody stump. Hudson opens his mouth to scream and awakens, sitting up right in bed, staring into the moonlight, his wife asleep beside him, his daughters asleep down the hall, and he knows he will have this dream for the rest of his life.

In the dark and heavy bed in which he was conceived, and his father before him, Parsons Dreedle smacks his lips, dreaming of Mrs. Ella Sparks' lemon custard pie, high as a featherbed, as sweet and tangy as the first bite of, well, as Miss Ella Sparks' lemon custard pie.

In her dreams, Mrs. Carlotta Hackett is 18 again, and riding on the Oysterback Volunteer Fire Department truck, waving to the crowds as she relives the most glorious moment of her life.

Junie Redmond snores loudly, but in his dreams he is swinging from the rigging of a fine old Spanish galleon, as swashbuckling a pirate as ever sailed the Spanish Main, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Blackbeard. Guess who's winning?

Miss Nettie Leery, hair wrapped carefully in tissue, sleeps alone as she has slept since the death of Alva Leery 15 years ago. But in her dream, Alva is alive again, pulling on his socks and shoes as he sits in the bedroom chair and looks out the window, remarking on the pair of bluebirds who have started to build a nest in the privet hedge down by the shed this year. Even in her sleep, Miss Nettie knows this is a dream, but she hangs on to it as long as she can.

Down at the harbor, rocked by the tide, Professor Shepherd sleeps in his boat, dreaming that he is delivering a lecture on pathetic fallacies in the novels of the Victorians to the Baltimore Orioles.

No one knows what Ferrus T. Bucket dreams of, down at the end of Black Dog Road in his old shanty. But there is a smile on his face, and he dreams in perfect, Parisian French.

Helen Chappell dreamed up Oysterback, the Eastern Shore's very own Brigadoon.

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