The fire is so nice and the pillows so soft…. I must be tired from doing nothing all day. My eyes droop and I feel the soft fog of sleep float around my head. I like to drift off like this into a half-asleep dream where things around me get integrated into the images my subconscious plays for me. I remember other dreams growing up when the alarm got twisted into a telephone’s shrill ring or the weight of the family cat jumping onto the bed shoved me off a cliff and I jumped awake trying to catch myself from the fall. What I hated most was when Mom came to wake me with her “Rise and Shine” and sing-songy cheer. In my half-asleep/half-awake state I always reacted violently to her round smiling face. What always saved me from actually doing something inexcusable to my mother was the lethargy that held me tight until my mind cleared and my dream faded back into mere fragments of nonsense.
Tonight, the fire and my husband’s closeness should have combined into something comfortable, something warm and welcoming. Instead, I see my mother’s face, cross and accusing. “What’s wrong with you?” she screams. I jolt back into reality, trying to catch my breath.
Dylan moves to sit beside me, pulls me into his arms and covers us with a light blanket lying near. I whisper, “Thank you,” so softly I’m not sure he hears.
v v v v v v
“What’s wrong with the forest?”
“Nothing. It’s just your imagination.”
“Did something happen there?”
“Why is it so dark?”
“You’re being silly, Mika. There’s plenty of light down there.”
“Did something happen by the creek?”
“Did something happen to me?”
“You’re fine, Mika. You just need to wake up.”
v v v v v v
The doors on porch do not have knobs, just handles in the right places. I stop at one of them. The latch is nothing more than a hook on the frame that slides into an eye screwed into the door. When I touch it, something less than static slithers into my fingertips, through my hand, my wrist, my arm, my shoulder and neck and sticks in the space behind my eyes…a realization, a thought, a glimmer of something…. I can’t touch it, it slips away too quickly.
The latch is shiny and new. The screen lacks holes or loose places. Every single pane of glass is clear and bright, smudgeless. The ridges where glass meets wood are free of dust. The shine is less from obsessive cleaning and more of newly built.
The porch is alive with the sparkle of crystal rainbows. As I watch, their colors become brighter. They become almost tangible objects I could touch like butterflies in a garden.
I return to the cushioned wicker chair. I trace the pattern of creeping vines intersected by a crystal-thrown rainbow until it hurts my eyes and I close them.
Screams pierce my head. Someone is trying to tell me something I cannot understand or is reaching out to me for something I cannot give. It isn’t the screams that hurt. It is the fact that I cannot identify, reach out and comfort the screamer. I cannot tell her that everything will be OK or that I can fix the trouble. I am helpless, useless and so very tired of feeling that way.
Dylan stands beside me and rests his hand on my shoulder as if he can feel everything I am feeling. I open my eyes, thankful for him.
He kneels beside me, takes my hand in his and gazes into my eyes as if searching for something he has almost lost hope of finding. Disappointment colors his face.
“Are you ready to leave?” he asks.
“No.” I don’t think about it. I am missing something. If I don’t find it here, I am afraid I might not find it at all. Maybe I am just hiding.
He smiles a little as if he expected my answer, but there is still pain in his eyes. He stands, but lingers long enough to bend, brush my forehead with his lips and tuck a stray piece of hair behind my ear. Then he goes back into the house.
I turn to the notebook always near me.
In the daylight, parts of the house feel like extensions of outside. Light floods the rooms. The green grass is radiant and the blue sky seems too large. At night, the glass becomes a barrier between the firelight and the darkness. I know this. I’ve written of daytime. Now it is night and I sit beside the fireplace on a cushion that molds to the contours of my body. Once, I wrote that firelight softens the world, makes of it a dreamy haze, and erases imperfections. Tonight it must be too bright. The blue ink from my pen stands out too much. I close my eyes to rest them.
I shiver hard as if someone’s walked over my grave. I drop the pen. Dylan sits across from me. His blonde hair is tinted red by the fire. He picks up the pen without looking and hands it to me. The book he reads is large, bound in dark leather. Without a dust jacket, I don’t know the title. His large strong hands hide the golden embossing. His eyes flicker to me. He smiles. I see his lips move. I feel mine move in response, but I don’t know what we’re talking about. My hand still moves to write, but my mind does not process more than this.
I feel so lost.
I look out perfectly clear windows surrounded by rainbows. The surreal green of the grass is almost hard to look at. I know I shouldn’t, but I leave the porch’s safety and walk into the yard barefoot.
The grass is soft like silk and moss. The dirt beneath it is cool and damp as if it has rained recently. I don’t remember rain. I close my eyes and inhale the richness of the air. Listening for birdsong, waiting for that first whiff of flowers that comes in the spring, I step farther and farther from the house.
There is no birdsong. There are no flowers. I don’t even hear the trickle from the creek that should be at the bottom of the gorge. Have I ever really been there? Or is even that a figment of my imagination?
I stop moving and open my eyes. Just at the edge of the forest, just where the shadow begins when the sun is on the other side of the trees, stands a man I do not recognize.
He is tall and slender with black hair grazing his shoulders. His eyes are the exact surreal green of the grass at my feet. He wears a long white coat. He raises one hand as if to beckon me. I can’t read any expression on his face.
I do not know if he is there to warn me or harm me.
I do not know if he is really there.
The man is gone.
I turn and run back to the house.
Dylan is there at the nasty yellow table. He tosses the newspaper down in a rustling heap on the table. Standing, he wraps his arms around me and the newspaper slips to the floor. “I’m here,” he says. “Everything will be OK.”
I am not even crying, just shaking.
He leads me into the living room and sets me down on the cushion beside the cold fireplace.
“Tell me,” he says. “Talk to me.”
I shake my head. I can’t tell him that I’m beginning to think that I’m crazy. I can’t tell him that I might be losing my mind and dragging him with me. It is all so insane. Maybe we should leave.
He looks at me with only concern in his eyes, pleading.
“What’s wrong with the forest?” I ask.
Dylan’s eyebrows scrunch together and the smallest lines appear on his forehead. “Nothing is wrong.”
“Did something happen there?”
“Why is it so dark?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”