In the Dream
by Deirdre Day-MacLeod
We're outside the house. There is a gargoyle on top of a plinth made of bricks. My sister is beside me. I can't see her, but I feel her presence. In those days she was always beside me, her small fat hand I held it in my own hand. Her short hair, my long hair. We were together and there are two columns. Two gargoyles and a boy is there. A blond boy, Tim, the neighbor boy. He has comic books inside the house and he has a blue bicycle.
I stand right next to the lion-headed creature perched precariously above me. I can see the shadows carved in stone. I can see the red bricks, or are they yellow like the wall down the street where I learned to ride a bike? He is there sometimes with a tricycle sometimes with a bike. He is there and has blond hair and freckles. I think there is a pathway to a house between the lions and that it is the boy's house where he lives with his sisters and his brother and his father who is a school teacher and wears glasses. This is the place in the dream where I cannot remember. Anna is older than Katherine is younger than Ruth. She hangs washing out to dry. She's tall enough. Catherine has dark hair and is taller than me. Sometimes the three of us go back behind the bushes and do bad things to our bodies with sticks. When we moved I stood outside their house and gave them the huge doll that my father had called "monstrosity." I can remember the door and that when you ring a doorbell, you have to stand back so as to be polite so the person answering doesn't get shocked by your immediacy.
We are standing on the pavement, that's what it was called in England, not sidewalk like here. I am wearing a yellow checked dress and white socks. My sister has on the rhubarb dress that I used to wear but grew too big for. The dresses flow out around us in starchy circles. I am there and he arrives on his bicycle wearing short pants but it's someone older. It's someone like Keith who is twelve or thirteen and has a bunk bed and makes models of airplanes and tanks with special glue. Down the street is the bombed-out place and we can look between the slats and see deep down to the hole left by the German airplanes. He has short pants. He has long pants. He's short. He's tall. He stands in front of us casting a shadow across the pavement like a bootprint in sand. He lifts his hand towards his middle and unzips so that we see something white and soft and small splashing out of the two dimensional world.
We stand there side by side. I am big. She is small and I am the one to stand between her and I am the one who can understand the way she speaks and I am the one who translates her baby talk for everyone else. But she goes to speech therapy now and on the way we buy orange juice and a children's magazine that is the younger child's version of the magazine that Keith reads up in his bunk bed with the grey green blankets and faded squashed pillow. Lies on top of me. The ceiling so close though to touch the darkness would mean to move and outside we stand alone. Inside the big kids play.
Between two lines and a bus driving past the terraced houses tall windows brick walls a tree with pods that crackle when they burst. I am afraid of fires. I am afraid that it is the crackle of a fire coming to consume us all, but it's just the tree outside. Still I listen at night carefully just because it sometimes is the tree, doesn't mean it will never be the fire that will burn it all to the ground.
When I come home and my mother lifts the yellow dress I am naked beneath it and she tells me that this is the kind of thing bad girls do and she spanks me. I am someone who knows too much. At two when we bathed together I told her that her nipples were like doorbells. And I am precocious they say and I am precious they don't say and I am fragile and bad and shame burns a shadow on the street. Time stands against the great dark eyes of the house blankly staring. In the front room of windows there is a room where a rocking horse stands and piles of newspaper and books and dust and a mantlepiece nothing but mess a couch covered with papers a door to the hall and windows.
Outside the children standing in the shadow of the twinned beasts—stone haunched imprisoned and leaning into darkness get loose at last and pounce and drag a body back to their cave.
Wishing to drown in the shadow make a dent in sheets the head on a pillow. Suck in breathing be quiet and wait for the sun and end of it. A day passed and there are glasses on the pile of newspaper and the blue white shirt and the suspenders and a glass of milk he brought me and it's just a dream of things that might have, but never did happen. The blue white bedroom I share with her and the crucified Christ his big feet, the body foreshortened, the Dali print pushing its desolation upon us. On the landing on the way to the bathroom Jesus reaches into his chest and proffers his perfectly shaped red heart. What do you have to do to get a halo? Whatever it is I know I can't do it. I can't be good as much as I try and cry. When we go to the school where the snakes live in the grass of the field left barren since the war. I don't believe there are snakes but this is what I have been told by the older ones. I am afraid of being naked. Naked in front of my classmates as they troop in from gym and see me trying to hide—a figure on the floor. Naked on High Street near the bookstore with the statue of the boy who had polio though I call it polo and he has a dog at his knees and I put a penny in the box and I am glad that I don't have a disease and I'm naked and crying to be found.
Back outside nothing has happened that hasn't already happened. Curtains drawn. People coming home for tea. It's getting darker earlier now the girl from the street said, but how can that be true? Shadows melt into the darkness.
Copyright©2003 Deirdre Day-MacLeod