A Tale From the End of
F Lewis and Gordon Lewis
The Optimum Pose
The Night Wind Wailing
Sixpence More The Richer
The Forest of Dark Wine
By Nicola Caines
For six months after the
baby died, Alana woke in fear. No, not quite. She woke into
an uneasy amnesia, superseded seconds later by the gasping
squeeze of dread in her stomach, as memory returned.
She was gone. Laura was gone. Forever, irrevocably. Reality
– Alana’s reality - had changed. Everything
Was it change that she feared? Was it the unfamiliarity
of her new world, without the child who had instinctively
trusted her, turning to her for warmth and nourishment?
Without the eyes that had learnt to recognise her; the round
face, downy as the buttocks of a peach, splitting with a
smile when she drew near; the exact feel of that shape and
weight in her arms. She had tried holding cushions or soft
toys, to fool her brain somehow for a second or two, to
give her arms, her achingly bereft arms, their purpose back
again; to mitigate the entirety of the emptiness for an
But nothing really worked. And it was meaningless, all meaningless.
Fate had lured her into this bitterest of traps: first the
happiness, then the agony of losing the thing that had given
- and promised - so much. The signs of dawning intelligence
were already clear; the sweetness of temper that would,
in time, have developed and modified her character. Life,
barely begun on its journey, suggested by its very presence
what it might one day become.
Sleep was the only blessing now, because it provided oblivion.
Alana had expected nightmares. Instead she seemed to blank
out completely, a pall of forgetfulness covering her till
morning, and bestowing its legacy: that fumbling mistiness
between sleep and waking when she was, in sense, the person
she had been before, a person who was living the same familiar,
comforting routines, her world unchanged, safe in the life
that had once been.
The rush of remembrance swept that world away, substituting
another, which resembled a faulty clockwork mechanism, its
alignments knocked out, its wheels spinning helplessly.
It was monstrous, unnatural, and wrong. She must find a
way to undo the mistake, to put things back on course. So
her thoughts rattled on, along random,whirring tramlines.
And no rest anywhere.
Then the dreams began, and that was worse. She was surprised
that she did not embrace them, because in them she saw her
dead child as she had seen her in life. Yet there was something
not right about the dream-child; she had the flavour of
a haunting about her. Not in her white, cobwebby, spreading
hair, nor the pooling shadows of her eyes - these things
were irrelevant: Laura might look different and still be
Laura. But always, behind the seeming vision, there lurked
One night the dream-child said a strange thing to her; and
that was strange in itself, for Laura had not been able
to talk beyond a few words. In this dream, though, her child
was older than she had known her, perhaps seven or eight.
She walked towards Alana out of a dark forest, wearing only
a pale shift or nightdress. Her feet were tiny, bare, and
white as mushrooms. Her hair was silver.
‘Mother,’ she said, oddly archaic, ‘you
should dream more. You do not dream enough. How can I be,
if you will not dream for me?’
These words would not leave Alana. She did not want to dream:
her dreams were all of the child that was not a child, of
emptiness and foreboding. Yet that child, however strange,
was still her own, and how could she refuse whatever small
service remained in her power?
She would dream; whenever and wherever she could. She would
make it happen. Logically, this was not feasible: she knew
she could not force herself to dream, yet she found that
all she needed to do was to open herself to the possibility,
and she could dream anywhere, at any time, no matter how
briefly. Whenever she had a few moments to herself she slept,
and whenever she slept, she dreamed.
She slept standing up, sitting down, leaning against a wall.
She slept in slack periods at work; she slept in the supermarket
queue or waiting for traffic lights to change. It was amazing
how many opportunities there were in a day for catnapping.
She could always, it appeared, wake herself up at exactly
the right moment, and carry on exactly where she had left
off. She could even sleep during a conversation, wake up,
and continue talking so that her companion never realised.
Eventually, she found she could dream without sleeping,
her eyes wide open. And these waking dreams were the most
vivid of all.
Laura was in most of them, and that fact was more sure of
itself, no longer disturbing. Often, she was physically
changed from what she had been: older, displaying a diversity
of characteristics and abilities, but still, indubitably,
herself. Sometimes she had brothers and sisters. Sometimes
Alana had a partner or husband. Sometimes they lived in
unfamiliar towns, or in the country. In a few of the dreams
Laura had not been born at all; there would be another child,
The dreams were like the moments of forgetfulness when she
awoke, the reassurance of slipping back to another world
where something, some awful thing, had never happened. She
didn¹t want to analyse them too closely in case she
aborted the process. They were glimpses, no more, but they
were wholly absorbing and convincing, accepted unquestioningly
by her dreaming and, increasingly, by her non-dreaming mind.
She saw the danger: the dreams were becoming more real than
So stop it, she told herself, stop it right now. You started
it. You can stop it. Just as she had set out consciously
to dream, now she throttled back the daylight dreaming,
strangled it out of existence.
I will not dream, she said, or at least I will not daydream.
But the dreams would not be forbidden. She found that she
was doing the extra dreaming inside the dreams that she
had at night. She would be aware of falling asleep during
a dream, waking from her dream into another dream, and dreaming,
to wake again. Badness began to creep into the dreams, discomposure;
she dreamt of death, and woke to find it true, time after
Alana wakes. She wakes out
of a nightmare of death and loss never ending, to that moment
of forgetfulness, that moment of infinite possibilities.
But this time she does not think: Laura is dead.
Nothing is known; everything is in abeyance. She cannot
speculate. She simply waits. She waits for the terror to
fade, for her hands to cease trembling, and as she waits,
thoughtless, her eyes rest for a moment on the indentation
in the pillow next to hers. She merely sees it; she does
not interpret it.
The bedroom door drags open across the carpet: a familiar
sound. A small face peeps round it, silvery blonde hair.
‘Mummy? Daddy said bring you a cup of tea.’
Alana smiles vaguely. The child comes and sits on the bed,
carefully proffering the hot mug. She is seven or eight
years old. Alana feels the mug burning her hand. Memory
returns, a flood of relief.
She sets her mug down jerkily on the little table with the
glass top. She embraces the child as though she will never
let her go.
‘Oh, Laura, Laura,’ she says over and over,
stroking the bright hair.
‘Alana?’ Her husband is at the bedside with
a plate of warm, crumbly, very real toast.
‘Oh, Laurence,’ she says, pushing her hair out
of her wet eyes, ‘I had a terrible dream. I…’
She breaks off, her mind suddenly invaded with images of
all her vanished worlds, all her lives, real and complete.
She knows that, somewhere, Laura is dead. Laura is dead
and she is alive. The dreams have brought her to this moment.
They have allowed her to pass invisible boundaries, and
come to rest at last in a world where the sunlight beckons
from the crack in the curtains. This is where she belongs.
But what if they return to carry her off forever on a careering,
nightmare ride that spans all possible lives? What if it
isn't over? She dare not contemplate that. The impetus to
dream came from the child, she reminds herself, and Laura,
whatever her form, cannot deceive. This is the true reality
- she MUST believe in it. Alana holds her daughter close.
Today is enough.
© 2000 Nicola Caines