Written by Sarah Hamilton
A vivid illusion of last night’s dream hung in the haze of the morning light, streaming into the frigid bedroom where the dreamer was begrudgingly opening her eyes. Not yet fully awake, she was facing the excruciating decision of either forcibly waking herself up or comfortably drifting back into her dreams. This morning’s to do list barraged her with productive incentives, causing her to groggily roll over and peer out the window. Yet the battle of waking up would not be victorious until she stepped out of bed and started brewing her coffee. Well aware of this, she made it her plan to stand up within the next ten seconds, afraid that should it take any longer she would fall back asleep. As she squinted into the morning sun, a wave of emotion rose up in her. She felt as if she were looking back on a memory, but she couldn’t seem to remember what it was she was remembering. All she could do was feel it. Her brain scattered with nostalgia, trying to grab hold of this feeling she was unable to pinpoint. There was a memory. And there was a dream. And somehow the two had mixed together in the morning’s sunlight, creating a delusion of the past, which was, evidently, affecting the present as the girl realized her eyes were streaming with tears.
She dreamt she had a child. A daughter. Named Alma. Alma felt so real, so vivid, so tangible, yet she couldn’t even remember what had happened in the dream, she just knew that there was Alma. But now, here in bed, with her quilt wadded up under her arm, she was alone. She did not have her daughter. And then, the realization that she...never had a daughter. Yet, she felt as though she had been robbed. As if her child had been ripped apart from her, this being whose existence had only existed to her in a dream, but perhaps had been festering itself inside her for a long time now, growing and eating away at her thick skin, was finally able to make its first appearance in her sleeping subconscious. The girl was not missing what could have been, but what could be. A daughter. She had once been repulsed by the idea, but now, now it felt inherently necessary, innately good; something, someone, she could not live without.
No matter how many cups of coffee she drank, she could not seem to wake up from the dream of Alma. The morning haze was gone, but the memory, the dream, the longing, persisted. And why? Why, she wondered, staring down into her empty mug. And then she remembered Ama. Of course. Ama was her little cousin, a sweet five year old who smiled at her with as much love as a child carries for their mother. She realized that in her dream, Alma had been inspired by Ama.
She could no longer look at Ama without feeling immense joy and pride, but also the slightest twinge of longing. At the park the next day, she watched as Ama hopped across a path of stones, each step she took lead her farther and farther away, until the girl wanted to reach out and pull Ama back. The fear of losing her, missing her smile, was too much to bear.
Sometimes she dreamt of Alma, but the dreams were just glimpses of her daughter. Frequently, the girl would dream she was standing at the grassy edge of a peninsula jutting out into clear water. Gazing out at the horizon, she loses track of what she was looking for. The sun begins to set and she turns around to head back to the land, when she catches a glimpse of wavy blonde hair streak across the lawn. Alma. She knows it instantly. She runs back to the land, but Alma is nowhere to be found, there are no trees, no shrubs or bushes for her to hide behind. It’s as if she has been erased from the landscape. The girl is looking for her, running around fanatically, but there isn’t anywhere to look but the horizon, and then the girl tires herself out and once again loses herself in the haze of the horizon.
She can’t help but wonder, after a fitful night of Alma dreams, had her mother woken up, disillusioned from a dream, missing...her, before she was even born?
A messy pile of books sprawled across the library floor. Hovering above the books, squinting down at their spines, trying to read the call number, was the school librarian. Her elegant figure cast a long shadow over the books, making it even more difficult to decipher the zeroes from the eights. Perhaps, as the head librarian, she should feel more embarrassed about the mess she had created in the classic section, yet she couldn’t help but smile as she reached down to pick up The Old Man and the Sea, running her hands over the canvas cover, letting the book’s old mildew scent linger just a second longer in the air. Although this was, in fact, a librarian’s nightmare of a mess with open books laying face down, straining their poor bindings, and loose pages strewn haphazardly across the pile, it was her mess nonetheless. And not just that, but her last mess, she thought as she placed Hemingway’s hardcover onto its home on the shelf.
A student peered through a stack of books on the shelf, looking skeptically at her. It wasn’t until the student motioned her finger to her lips, that the librarian realized she had been whispering out loud. In a slight attempt of explanation, she ran her hand over her enlarged belly as if to say, see I was just talking to the baby. The student nodded and then disappeared behind the rows of Kurt Vonnegut books. The librarian had not, in fact, been talking to her baby, but rather commenting on each book as she held it up in the light, giving a brief critique or praise for a single character, passage, or perhaps in the case of Boroughs, the author’s life. Her hope, when she picked up this habit, was to talk about books enough to her daughter, that her daughter would be inspired to read as much as she had. Now, she simply enjoyed narrating her thoughts on anything; literature at the library, produce at the farmer’s market, even pedestrians passing by on the street, whether or not her daughter was listening was not up to her.
As she bent down to grab another book, a sudden panic rose up in her body. She had become accustom to the waves of nausea, but these panic attacks still managed to throw her off guard. Was she making the right choice, leaving the library, giving up her sanctuary which had been there waiting patiently for her through these last nine months? Surrendering to the social construct that womanhood and motherhood were synonymous, that one could not happen without the other, that the inherent obligation she had as a mother was above all else in her life. Was she giving into society’s assigned gender roles by becoming a stay-at-home mom, was she giving up her career as a librarian for... her daughter? What am I doing? The shelves began to cave in her, books spun in her vision, she could see herself, falling, a limp body spiralling downward, holding something, clutching someone close to her chest.
Two days later, she lay in her bed, staring mindlessly out the window, listening to the clock tick, vaguely wondering how people are able to sleep in. Without work to drag her out of bed, she let her mind wander as she tried and failed to go back to sleep. Once awake, her mind was a whirlwind of questions. What will my daughter think of me? Will she think I’m cool? Being a librarian isn’t a very cool job. How can I teach her to live her dream, when I gave mine up for her? When she’s a teenager will she complain to her friends about how bossy I am? When she’s in her twenties will she critique my parenting, blaming me for her current disillusions about life? When she’s in her sixties will she want to care for me, drive to the grocery, pick up large print books from the library for me? Will she think I’m a good mom? A good person? Will she love me?
The mother’s questions about her daughter hardly stopped when she was born, they continued to multiply each year. The mother could look through a scrapbook and recall which mystery she was dealing with in each photograph, what insecurities about motherhood she has hiding.
And at the same time, the daughter’s questions about her mother piled up too, waiting for the right moment to ask, but ultimately unsure what moment would be right. It wasn’t that there was a lack of communication between mother-daughter, but that the void of uncertainty about each other had been left unpenetrable for so long out of fear, and fear of what exactly, neither of them knew, that to dive in now would break the moral code they had built between each other. A silent, stoic, respectful code.
Like most parent-child relationships, there was an understandable silence between mother and daughter. There was love but that love could only reach as far as their voices could speak. It wasn’t that love was replaced with silence, but rather, interlaced with deliberate actions taken by both mother and daughter. A smile in the morning, a favorite meal prepared after a long day, flowers gathered from the garden, help with homework on a school night, a warm blanket after one of them fell asleep on the couch.
Motherhood and daughterhood. They were dependent on one another for existence, and maybe it was that deep connection that disabled them from speaking of their dependency. She was becoming a mother just as her daughter was becoming a daughter. Both mother and daughter were becoming themselves through each other. And perhaps it was the messiness of their interconnection, the entanglement of their coexistence, that created this blockade of queries. Because of their innate interdependence, asking more questions felt like an intrusion on each other’s right to have some form of privacy.
Maybe they feared the questions were just reflections of themselves. As if asking each other would be the same as staring into a mirror and watching the words of the questions form from the creases and movements of their lips, only to fog up the mirror, blurring the answer once again.
In the early hours of the daughter's eighteenth birthday, something compelled her to get out of bed and wander through the empty rooms of their house.The daughter peered into the mother’s bedroom, the door was slightly ajar as usual, and she could hear her mom’s soft breathing through the pale glow of the morning sunlight. The daughter quietly made her way across the carpeted floor to the edge of the bed. She paused, letting the sunlight spill onto her mother’s sleeping figure, wondering, as she had so many times before, what it was she was dreaming about that night. She gently pulled the covers back and climbed into the bed. Nestled against her mom’s sleeping body, she began to drift away from reality and joined her mother in their world of dreams.
Contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org