For the hundredth time I glanced over my shoulder on my way to work. The business quarter was full of men in suits carrying briefcases, women in tailored skirts and sensible shoes. It was the same crowd I moved among Monday through Friday, but this particular morning I sensed danger lurking at every turn. The night before I’d had a horrible dream, and I couldn’t seem to shrug it off.
It wasn’t like me to be so fearful. I was in my 20s, doing administrative work in downtown New Orleans. The city had been experiencing a rise in violent crime, but I used my common sense and didn’t take risks. The building where I worked was secure. At least that’s what I told myself as I walked inside. A man held the door for me and flashed a smile. I looked at his eyes. No, those weren’t the eyes from my dream.
Before I’d seen anything in the dream, I’d heard my father’s voice: “Zsa-Ree!” He always shortened my French name, Jeanne Marie. No one had called me that since he died.
“Daddy?” I said in my dream. “Is that you?” But instead I came face-to-face with a pair of dark, menacing eyes. Criminal eyes, I thought to myself. Cold and deadly. I froze in fear.
“Watch out for these eyes, Zsa-Ree,” Daddy warned. I wanted to run. But I stared at those eyes so I’d remember them like Daddy said. I jerked awake and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. How would I make it through the day?
I stepped into the elevator and pressed three. That was just like Daddy, telling me to use my head, to think before I acted. He used the same advice on the petty criminals and troubled youth he met on his beat. Daddy was a police detective in New Orleans—not an easy job. Daddy got knocked out in a Mardi Gras riot, shot point blank in the chest, and once caught a bank robber making a getaway. Daddy knew all about keeping people safe. Me, most of all. He tucked me into bed before going out on patrol. He always made the sign of the cross over me. “Dream about pretty things,” he’d said before turning out the light. “God’s angels will protect you while I’m gone.” I lay back on my pillows. Of course I was protected. Daddy would never go out without leaving angels behind.
I missed Daddy terribly when he died, missed his jokes and his songs. I missed hunting for frogs and acorns together. But I still felt safe, as if Daddy had left his protection behind. Just like those nights when he made the cross over me before he went out on duty.
I walked off the elevator, still puzzling over why I’d heard Daddy’s voice in such a frightening dream. “Use your head, Zsa-Ree,” he’d said, just like when I was little. But use my head about what? Was I in danger? My heels clicked on the linoleum floor. I took a deep breath and opened our office door. I waved good-morning on the way to my desk. “It was just a dream,” I muttered as I dropped my purse in a drawer. “Concentrate on your work.”
That wasn’t easy. The feeling of unease hung over me. At my desk, at the coffee station, even down the long hallway the led to the ladies’ room. It was almost noon and I’d got almost nothing done. My eyes were puffy from not sleeping the night before. “I need to splash some cold water on my face,” I told the woman at the next desk.
I pushed it open. I was alone. I splashed some water on my face and held my fingers over my tired eyes. The door opened behind me, and I let my hands fall from my face. In the mirror was a man. He came up behind me—right behind me. So close I could feel warm breath on my neck. I turned around. The man towered over me. Tall as a basketball player and wide as a fullback. I looked up into his face, praying there was some reasonable explanation for this intrusion. Holy God, what does this man want with me?
I know those eyes. Cold, dark and criminal, just like in my dream. This was the danger I was warned about. Daddy’s words came back to me. “Use your head, Zsa-Ree.”
The man and I looked at each other. I would not panic. Time seemed to slow. The man leaned over me. His chest pushed out aggressively. His head thrust forward. His hands hung in loose fists at his side. Use your head, I told myself.
Attackers feed on their victims’ fear. I would not show fear.
I forced a smile. “You made a mistake,” I said confidently. “This isn’t the men’s room.”
The man hesitated. Not much, but I saw it. His shoulders drooped. His chest sunk just a bit. He was surprised. I pushed past him, talking all the while. “I’ll show you where the men’s room is. Come on.” I kept my voice bright, like a schoolteacher talking to a lost child. “Right through here.”
I threw open the bathroom door and bolted. Without looking back I ran straight to my desk. Other employees spun around in surprise. “There’s a man in the ladies’ room!” I shouted. A group ran to check the hallway. I dialed building security. “There’s an intruder on the third floor. Please hurry!”
Minutes later I was giving a description of the man to a policeman. “We know who he is. You were very lucky,” the officer said. “We’ll catch him.”
Yes, I’d been lucky. I’d also been forewarned. My dream had put me on my guard.
I left work early and went home for some much-needed rest. I crawled into bed and remembered how Daddy used to make the sign of the cross over me, trusting God to protect me when he couldn’t. God had protected me. He’d also reminded me I could help protect myself if I used my head, just like Daddy always said.
I turned off the light and settled down to sleep. To sleep and to dream pretty dreams.