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Perchance to Dream
Dreams are tricky things.
You can never remember the whole dream, only bits and pieces which stick to the roof of your mouth, leaving you waking up with that bitter aftertaste of remembrance.
They’re ghosts, flitting here and there, visible but impossible to physically grab. They whisper words to you, lingering by the crook of your ear, but when you turn your head to locate the sound, they disappear. Dreams are transient, floating away when you try to grab onto that insubstantial image. The tighter your grip, the faster it fades, until the memory recedes into the dark nooks of those infinite caverns in your mind.
Like that rose in her dream. She couldn’t remember what that rose meant. She knew it was something vitally important, the taste of significance which pervaded her dream still lingering and coating her tongue with its bittersweet tang.
It was gone.
And yet, the image of the rose, with its claret petals, was still present, clutching at her consciousness like a well-placed thorn. Perhaps it was because it reminded her of the very same rose which presided on her windowsill (and would remain there for many years, covered with a thick layer of dust, long after she had left and the house had fallen to ruin).
The rose was a rose only by name, for it now, the empty shell looked almost like a skeleton, its fragile, gray bones riddled with disease.
That rose meant something back then, she remembered, reminded of her dream. Yet, the ghosts disappeared, and the thought left as quickly as it came, the swift waves receding only to replace it with another thought: Blake.
His name was Blake. Blake Collins. He had light skin and yellow hair, and he was quite beautiful. She had often called him her angel, with his eyes that emulated the pristine shades of heaven.
She couldn’t quite remember the way he spoke his words. Or the way that he smiled. Or the sound of his laughter, a laugh full of exposed teeth and crinkled eyes. But she couldn’t be bothered, it was late (well, she didn’t know what time it was, but it was dark) and she was tired.
The ghosts were coming back, whispering their hushed enigmas once again. She didn’t want to listen, but she felt so tired, so tired.
She woke up slowly, pushing away the last dredges of unconsciousness still clutching onto her body, and kept her eyes closed and body still.
There was a certain beauty to waking up. It was like escaping death, in a way. The reason, right now, escaped her, but for some reason, she held such statement as inherently true. For some reason.
She remembered Juliet. Silly Juliet, taking the draught for fake death, and Romeo – sweet Romeo—mistaking Juliet’s innocent slumber for death, that irreversible sleep. It ended badly, she thought she remembered.
She was reminded of the rose. Hadn’t Juliet said something about a rose being sweet? Her own rose was displayed in a glass vase. It had lost a few petals, but it still maintained its red color.
“I know you’re awake, sweetheart. Wake up now, the dream is over”
“I’m awake,” she answered, keeping her eyes closed but lifting her body, slowly, as to not lose balance, so that she stood now, close to him, clad in only her white nightgown.
“Are you?” He whispered, a smile playing on his lips, “or are you still dreaming?”
She almost didn’t hear his words, spoken so faintly, as if he was in the next room or the room over instead of right there.
“I can’t remember the color of your eyes anymore,” she mumbled, each word coming out like a drop of water tumbling over a waterfall. She longed to open her eyes, but kept them shut. “I used to have that memorized, down to the exact shade. They’d all have picturesque names like azure and ceil and angel blue and alice blue,” she paused, contemplative, with an almost desperate undertone, “why can’t I remember? I used to—used to...”
She reached out to touch him, wrapping her arms around his torso. He smelled cold, like the day her father died. She remembered. It was September and the rain had fallen.
Like the angels crying, she had whispered, half to herself after they had told her.
“Are you Natalie Lily Collins?”
“Yes, I am”
“I regret to inform you that your father had passed away at midnight last night…”
The man had said this with apathy, as if reading his condolences off a memorized script. He kept his eyes fixed on the ground, memorizing the waves of the wood grain. Natalie had stared at the man, out of place in his strict suit and polished shoes. She would remember that day and the way that the man had simply stood there, leaning from foot to foot, as if impatient to leave. And the color of his tie. It was a deep carmine, like the roses that Blake had given her the night before. The roses that would gradually wither on her windowsill.
She had brought a bouquet of fresh white lilies to his funeral, laying them gently on his tombstone. She traced the engraved words with her fingers, making herself realize that this was real, this wasn’t a dream.
Snow had fallen early that year.
And so, when she had woken up that day and hugged him with her eyes closed, she was reminded of that smell. The smell of sharp clarity. The smell of death.
Voices. Soft murmurings. Tears.
Someone was whispering condolences to her, but she couldn’t hear. Not over the absolute blankness in her mind.
A hand ghosted on her shoulder. Footsteps echoed.
She could swear that the stars were singing that night. The frosted air entangling her hair and burning their throats.
They were walking down a sidewalk, the rough cement reflecting the pale yellow light of the lamps which hung from twisted metal poles. Their shadows walked ahead of them, eager to return to the warmth of their house.
“Sometimes I wonder what happens, you know, after.”
Natalie twisted the rose that he had brought her that day, an impromptu present. “After what?”
“You know,” he paused, “the Great Unknown? What happens when Death arrives, knocking on your door? Do you let him in? Or does he force himself in?”
“I would think Death would be a better gentleman than that, to force himself into one’s life. He must come, dressed in his best suit, gently coaxing your soul from its battered body to a state of peace … to a place where there’s no more pain.”
She would learn later that Death was not a gentleman. Death always came suddenly, unannounced, and would break open windows, shattering the frail glass, and would burn down the framework. But for now, she believed in her naïve fantasy of a kind Death, of a reasonable Death.
“When I die, I think I’d like a simple funeral. Not too many people crying.” He had looked ahead, not meeting her eyes.
She had wondered where such words came from and nervously twisted the ring on her fourth finger. It was a habit of hers, twisting her ring when she was nervous. She had impulsively grabbed his arm and laid her head on his shoulder.
“You know, we’re like hurricanes and droughts. Like lightening. Like falling stars and meteors. Together we’re a beautiful disaster.”
He had looked at her then, smiling at her poetic statement.
They had walked home that night. Talking about other things, simple things. But Natalie would remember that conversation about the gentleman Death later, when she laid in bed, unable to sleep because of the whispering ghosts.
There was glass on the floor, encased with a puddle of still water.
She had noticed the glass after she had woken up, and intending to get a sip of water, had headed towards the door, her bare feet sighing against the floor.
Her foot had been injured for days, wrapped in a gauze duvet.
The rose was mourning, drooping with grief. Even beginning to lose its color. The glass on the ground had been the vase that had stood on the windowsill. Now the flower was without its vase.
“Such a tragedy,” she had whispered to the ghosts.
He had promised to see her again on Wednesday.
He had promised.
The room was dark.
The kind of dark that sticks to your legs and crawls into your throat, its raw claws ripping your breath from your lungs. The dark that blinds you, stealing your sight without remorse, without pity.
She didn’t bother opening the lights anymore. She knew the room by heart. Within reach of the bed, was a table with a lamp. Two steps away was the windowsill, and laying there, the dead rose. Nearly ten steps away in the opposite direction was a door that lead to her closet, now half empty. Four steps to the right of the closet door, there was a dresser with a mirror right now. The mirror was broken, the flat, clear surface reduced to individual shards reflecting every angle.
She had broken that mirror.
The ghosts were whispering again.
They allowed her to drift asleep, and took down each brick of her defenses. They told her soft stories of how she had broken the mirror. How she couldn’t stand to see her red-stained eyes or that miserable woman staring back at her. How she had broken the mirror with the vase, shattering both, and how the red flower had fallen to the floor.
The ghosts spoke of a September night, when a man had stood in her doorway and told her with his eyes staring at the floor. He had worn a suit with a carmine tie. Where he had delivered his script with indifference.
“I regret to inform you that your husband had passed away at midnight last night.”
The ghosts, delighted with their revelations, then told her of the way she had traced the name on the tombstone. BLAKE C. COLLINS. Beloved husband and son.
Simple. The way he had wanted it.
They told her that the house had been deserted for months now. That she couldn’t remember those dreams because she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to relive those painful memories of the past.
Those ghosts haunted her, saying that he—Blake, sweet Blake— had been dead for a long time now. Like the rose on the windowsill. Just like the rose.
That although Blake had promised to come back on Wednesday, he never would.
Wednesday would never come for her.
And the cruel truth was flung before her eyes, stuffed into her throat, and jammed into her heart.
She swore the rose was crying. But how do the dead cry?
The ghosts taunted her, their cruel dead eyes spiting the truth at her. The truth that she had fled from and covered with lies.
She was already so broken. Broken like the rose. Broken like the mirror.
She just broke, her soul ripping from her lungs, freed with the last breath of air. And Death, the gentleman, came. He didn’t shatter the windows or push down the door, as she had expected. He had helped her twist the rope around her neck, his hands guiding her trembling fingers, and gently let her swing.
He couldn’t break anything. Because she had already broken it all.