The Rest Is Dreaming
That night I dreamed.
Ben saw his sister, with the ring in her nose, telling him off for getting involved in her stuff. He saw his twelve-year-old self crying, and slinking away. But then she got softer, and bit by bit she changed. She got warmer. She grew out her hair. It was like he was living the past three years over, but they were nice this time. Sarah practically floated alongside him as he walked Dorik down the road. She dressed like a girl-- and because dreams are weird-- she even carried a basket of flowers.
Dreams that were like my life, but better.
He'd almost forgotten that when she grew it out, her hair was the same colour as their Dad's. He'd seen it so many colours growing up, he'd forgotten what was under all that. He'd forgotten that his sister used to have a pretty smile. They picked up their feet, and ran so fast Dorik had to scramble to keep up with them.
More like what I'd wished things could be. My sister wasn't angry all the time anymore.
He saw his brother, fussing with that stupid tie. Ever since the first time his brother had put a tie around his neck, he was busy all the time. There was always a class, or a study group, or an interview, or an internship, and then once he got a job it was meetings all the time, working late. Ben tried to be supportive, he really did. He'd even tried to bring his brother food when he was working late, once. Chummy's wings and a milkshake, just what they used to get after basketball practice back when James used to play. His brother hadn't been happy about it. He'd yelled at Ben, and called him an idiot. Ben felt stupid, because, sure, honey barbecue wasn't the best thing to offer somebody who was already dressed up nice to go out. But he hadn't been thinking about that. He'd just been trying to help.
My brother had time for me. It didn't bother him to have me around again.
His brother stopped yelling. He took a breath, and tossed the stupid tie aside. He put a hand on Ben's shoulder, and apologized. Ben stole his shake, and told him, you snooze, you lose. They shared the wings, and talked about old times. There'd been a time he'd been able to talk to James, wasn't there? There'd been a time they had something to talk about. It wasn't all bad. Ben decided. He wanted to believe it wasn't all bad, even if maybe it was.
I knew it was a dream. I guess it's weird that I still felt grateful.
And then he was in his bedroom, and the yelling was coming through the wall. When he was little, he used to listen, his ear pressed to the wall, because he was so afraid of not knowing what was happening in the next room. But the older he got, the more of the arguments he understood. And so many times, the fights were about him. How she kept spitting out babies, how he didn't care what he'd done to her life and her dreams. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough consideration for what they wanted out of life. And who was the only kid left in the house, the only one without a job, the only one who still needed money, rides, and time. So after a while Ben started covering his ears, though it was still hard to make himself go away from that wall. He'd ridden out so many long nights with his back against that same crack in the plaster. He'd sat right here, and in the end, everything had been fine. He was afraid if he didn't, everything would collapse again. The last time he waited out a fight anywhere but here...
For those moments it was like all the awful memories shrank away.
There was a painting on the other side of the room. When Ben's mother first put it up, Ben hated it. He thought it was messy. There were people dressed up all weird, and there was a monkey in the middle of a park, which made no sense to Ben at all. But then one day he got up real close to it, and he realized the whole thing was just made up of little dots. He tried it out on a piece of paper, he wrote his name just using little dots. There was something magical to Ben about how the dots came together, and made something that looked kinda solid in between, but not really, and made your eyes move around to find it. It was like molecules, how everything was all empty space inside but added up to something more.
And in their place, a life where we were happy. The kind of happy that can only happen in dreams.
As Ben looked at the painting, it got larger and larger. It got closer and closer, too. And then it swallowed up Ben's whole house, and everything was made up of those little dots. All the tiny happy things, and the rest was just backdrop. He and James were fishing, and his Mom and Dad had a picnic set up. Ben always envied the people in the park who were having a picnic. His mother was way too fussy about eating to ever put up with eating outdoors. But today she wore a pretty dress, and she had a sun-hat on, and she was eating out in the mid-day sun. And his Dad was there, dressed up funny, sort of like the painting but also kind of like the guys in the old movies, too. The ones where there were happy families who said, "Golly!" and always pulled together in the end. And Sarah was painting, putting all of it together in tiny little dots. Everything, the air, the water, the riverbank, the grass, the trees. Everything but the picnic, and his family. It was all little dots stacked together into something better than it had ever been apart.
The kind of happy that belongs in paintings and stories.
But it was only a painting. Eventually Ben had to step out of it. And then he was alone in the dark again. But then pale arms came out of the shadows, and wrapped around him, and he wasn't even scared.
And I dreamed of a mother, too. A real mother.
Because she didn't yell at him, and she didn't tell him to kiss her on the cheek and go watch TV. She held him, and whispered to him that everything would be OK. And he really believed it, too. She had bright red lips and soft blue eyes, and hair even redder than his. She had a sad face, but it was kind, and it seemed to be sad for him. Not because of him. And Ben felt a little guilty, because he liked that about her, too.
"Don't give up, Ben," she whispered. She pulled him close, and hugged him to her pale blue dress. She smelled like fresh linen, and fancy perfume.
The kind of mother who would make me feel like I belonged in the world.
She was short, like his mother, too, only a little bit taller than his Mom was. She didn't make him feel small. She bent to tuck her cheek next to his, and she whispered, "I'll be there soon."
The kind of mother that would hold me when the nightmares came.
Because they always came. Eventually no matter what dream Ben had, the nightmares would always follow. And when that happened, he was always alone.
A sea of blood stretched out, flowing from Ben's feet, or maybe from the ground. Sometimes he thought, he must've wounded the ground. The blood was everywhere. And then he'd see Nathan, but it wasn't Nathan at all. It was a blonde angel with Nathan's wings, and hollow, empty eyes. The angel would reach out to Ben, but Ben could never reach back. Then these horrible bones would spring out of the blood, three sets of them that wrapped themselves around the angel. They dug into his wings, drawing ragged lines through the feathers. Blood fell into the pool, and made little ripples.
These nightmares are what pass for life, now.
In the reflection, it wasn't the angel being clutched by those horrid bones. It was Nathan, strung upside-down from its feet. His arms were pinned, spread out helpless, and he looked like he was in so much pain. Ben would take a step towards him, and the ripples would spread from his feet, too. Only the ripples seemed to hurt Nathan, seemed to twist him in the reflection.
"Run from this, Ben..." the angel whispered.
"please!" the reflection of Nathan begged.
And Ben wished he could wake up.