A Quetzalcoatl Dream
It was too quiet to sleep. Tima lay on her back in the dark, listening to the deep guttural rumble coming from the mountain of covers next to her. Jon slept well no matter where he was. She turned and looked at the moon shine on his thinning hair, watched the slow rise and fall of his heavy chest. Tima pushed the sheets aside. She wondered if she’d ever get used to living in the country, in Splendid Isolation, as her mother liked to say.
The lonely digits on the alarm clock glowed beside her husband’s head. 3:02 a.m. It seemed as if she’d been awake forever. There was a dull ache in her stomach, the kind that might be due to indigestion. She ran through her diet of the day: tea, oranges, toast, a little Indian food for breakfast; more tea, oranges and leftover Indian food for lunch; an unknown quantity of M&M’s and organic pretzels with the boys after school; and for dinner she made stir-fry and later scraped the dented aluminum takeout tin of Indian food with a slice of pita bread. No, that wasn’t it. Wait a sec. A sudden thought bolted through her head. When was her period due? She sat straight up in bed and scrambled for the days and months. Her pulse raced. Vivid images blew by like wind through April trees, fast, dusty memories of how it felt before—the nausea, the bloating, the seesaw of euphoria and dread. She pictured another newborn staring into her eyes, that soundless stare, unblinking, intense, steady. One by one scenes of pregnancy and birth tumbled out of her mind into her veins. She could feel them circulating in her arms, her breasts, her womb.
Eyes wide open, Tima started for the bedroom door, her stomach now a separate being, a living, breathing entity that preceded her. She floated downstairs in her faded blue terry robe, its pockets ripped from the kids’ constant tugging. Crickets greeted her as she flung open the back door to the porch. She breathed in the warm summer night air, the simmering grass, the honeysuckle. At forty-four, she had only missed her period twice in her life, both times resulting in a son. She remembered a cousin calling it my friend—a friend when you get it and an enemy if you don’t. That was true at sixteen; today time was her only enemy. She had always wanted a girl. Her boys were older now, eight and eleven, steeped in science projects and playground politics. Putting a lock on the cable box, monitoring their websites did little to shelter them from the encroaching media. Their innocence was slowly slipping away, replaced by shiny gadgets, games and gizmos.
On the porch under a plastic milk crate was a bag of bread Tima saved for the birds. She had made several bird friends since moving upstate last summer. Jon’s commute got him home from work in time to say goodnight to the boys and eat dinner before answering e-mails for the rest of the evening. Two years had passed since she closed her bookstore in Brooklyn, yet she still missed her regular customers, even the simple conversations with the UPS guy and Con Ed meter readers. She knew it wouldn’t be long before chain stores took over the neighborhood, before the Wall Street whiz kids and dotcom millionaires moved in next door. When it happened she allowed herself a brief depression, sold her brownstone and moved upstate, hoping for something better. What that something was she still had no idea.
Tima grabbed a fistful of bread and crumbled it up. She was about to throw it over the railing when the flutter of wings startled her. A white bird had perched on the deck post. “Hey! What are you doing here?” she said. With weary eyes she stared at the motionless bird. Maybe it’s sick too, ate some bleached flour bread. She grinned at the thought and took a step closer. The bird remained still. Tima held out her hand, gently offering the bird her squeezed crumbs. Just then the bird took off as quickly as it had appeared. Tima tried to follow its flight but darkness quickly swallowed up its wings. The silent bird was gone. She stared into the guileless night sky, as dark and thick as molasses. Stars too, seemed to appear then disappear, spinning on a black carousel of time. In the stillness small creatures sang their midnight songs. They all watched as Tima threw the crumbs up in the air. They had been waiting for her—the crickets and crows, the ladybugs and frogs, the trees and grass and even the tiny ground violets. Since the beginning of time, they have watched her come and go, grow up and grow old, beheld her joys and sorrows. The living earth witnessed every moment, reaching out with silent messages wrapped in colors and smells and vibrations. They will wait for her to sense their presence, to hear their music. The earth will sing their secrets until Tima remembers what she has always known. Every moment they will call out to her until she finds her way home.
Tima sat down on the lounge chair and yawned. She rubbed her hand over her navel, still feeling a thickness in her stomach. Deep in thought, life-size fantasies played in her mind like some strange foreign movie. She saw a new love in her life. A little girl calling out to her in the night. Another soft pair of lips on her cheek; small tender hands holding tight around her neck. Another chance to have a childhood. Tima had missed growing up the first time. With four siblings to look after while both parents worked, she couldn’t remember a time playing with dolls and mud pies. Anyway, it didn’t matter. Sleep crept in to erase the past. She curled up on the worn cushion. Crumbs lined the creases of her hand. She decided to rest there for a little while. The pain in her belly softened. Finally her eyes closed on the old lounge chair stained with juice spills, barbecue sauce fingers, and life.
A stark white light burned above her. She wanted to look but kept her eyes on the ground. She followed the shadows of her feet on the dirt road before her, dotted with jewel-like rocks and pebbles. How could this be? She was draped in patterned robes with rich textures, yet she wasn’t the least bit hot. Tima lifted her head. She saw a figure on the road, an old woman dressed in a long ragged black gown. The woman hunched over, and like a mule she carried a huge cloth bundle on her back. She took short hobbling steps, stopping often to balance her load. I won’t pass her. Otherwise she’ll ask me for money or food or engage me in gossip, the silly old fool. Tima stalled behind but the woman was so slow. I must get past her. I’ll walk quickly and stare straight ahead. I won’t look at her or else she’ll surely speak to me. But Tima’s feet became heavy blocks; she labored to put one foot in front of the other. At last she reached the old woman. Tima walked tall and strutted by. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the woman holding something in both hands. She was intrigued. The woman’s head is bowed—I can take a quick look without her knowing. Tima glanced back and saw the woman holding a white bird. The woman caught her eye, flashed a smile, and then threw the bird at her. Frightened, Tima cowered as the bird swerved and soared high against the hot sky. With every flap of its wings white feathers began drifting, spinning, twirling, down. Tima tried to catch the beautiful snowy tufts but the desert wind blew them from her fingertips. She looked up at the bird now entirely without feathers. Like a prehistoric creature it stretched open its pale iridescent limbs, its alabaster beak, its wild sparkling eyes. With huge red-clawed feet it perched on the tail of the wind and glared at her. The naked bird loomed over Tima, taking up every inch of her vision when she heard the laughter. It started low, and then got louder. The old woman! Outraged, Tima spun around. The woman’s hands covered her mouth while she laughed. When their eyes met the laughter stopped. She took her hands away. Tima saw the old woman was a little girl, about six or seven, with sharp brown eyes and high round cheeks. The girl undid the bundle on her back and dropped it on the dirt road. “Ma’heono,” she called out, and disappeared.
There is a small silent space between wake and sleep; one breath steals the dreamer from the dream. In an instant truth is lost, peace is lost, willfully given up for the known world. Tima exhaled. She felt slippery warmth inside her thighs. She knew before she touched it. Her fantasy dissolved.
She stood up to save the lounge chair from a blood stain and herself from a sore reminder. In the bathroom she wiped herself clean. Wiped away the idea, now a silly idea, of another child. She would not admit her disappointment or the strong emotions that came with it. I don’t get any sleep now. How could I live with one more child—a cranky, impatient, prissy little girl? Then she remembered her dream, the old woman who was a little girl. She turned the faucet off and shook the water from her hands. Droplets splayed like the falling feathers, like the pale wings of the great bird. The girl said something to me. What did she say?
Copyright © 2015 by Annette Vendryes Leach