Cathryn Perazzo |
In this short piece of fiction, “Dream Baby”, I wanted to consider the membrane between the dreaming and “undreaming” state and the interaction with our actual selves, past and future. What is carried with us from dream to undream, and the reverse? What if the relief of emerging from a disturbing dream is tempered by the awake state’s own shades of unease?
In her dream she lay in a queen size bed. The bed was against one wall, in the same orientation as the one shared with her husband at home. Someone had handed her a baby to hold, to take care of. When she tried to remember what she knew about the baby, she couldn’t think of a single thing. She began breastfeeding it, noting the rhythmic movement of the dark hair.
Then the room morphed in the manner of dreams into the greater dimensions of a hall, yet retaining the trace of its bedroom self without the bed. A couple approached them where she lay with the baby on the floor. The woman wore a red dress, and the man a pair of shiny black shoes. One frowned, the other smiled. They asked her what she was looking for. This was a surprise, because until then she hadn’t known she was looking for anything. Then she realised, as though watching herself in an out-of-body experience, she was searching for something actually. She heard herself telling the couple she couldn’t find her handbag.
The couple wondered if she had left her valuables unattended while feeding the baby, were worried they might have been stolen, and she saw there were many other people in the hall with them. The baby tightened its pudding knees around her waist.
The couple said it looked like she was doing it tough. She surveyed her alcove, trying to see it through the couple’s eyes, and in the process spied her handbag after all, beside her Anaconda backpack. All around her she saw knotted-up plastic bags and stacked clothes and understood she must look like a vagrant. A temporary situation only. Soon wouldn’t she be leaving here with her husband?
She noticed then that the baby had disappeared. She’d guessed it to be six or nine months old, already mobile obviously. She went looking for it and examined the only unattended child she saw, presuming it to be that one. Then she noticed the blue eyes, that couldn’t be right, until they reverted to brown. Yes. The baby seemed happy enough, propped there, so she picked him up and tried to feed him again. This time he wouldn’t attach.
Her husband appeared, and she told him her concerns about the baby. She couldn’t remember the feeding patterns; she recalled breastfeeding him since she had received him, but maybe only once each day, in the morning? Do not babies feed every four hours? Pinching the skin on his belly, she saw he might be getting dehydrated. When she lifted him head height and put her ear against his small chest, his heartbeat seemed slow. People say, don’t they, that a small creature’s pulse should beat faster than that of a larger one like her? Her husband told her not to worry so much.
Truly, she didn’t know this child – unlike her own boy as a newborn, whom she would have torn someone’s heart out with her teeth to protect. Of course she hadn’t carried this one herself, felt him in her body, longed for him and thought him. She hadn’t suckled him straight after birth; she hadn’t bonded with him. She worried she wouldn’t do the right thing by him, no matter if she wanted to be responsible. She lacked the usual radar for when he was not with her, for his needs. She feared she wouldn’t notice if he crawled out of the hall and into the street.
Her palms grew sweaty, just thinking about this disconnection. Laws exist against allowing children to die, and regardless of the legalities, there is the moral law. She decided she must re-educate herself on children, since it appeared this baby belonged to her now. She would read up again if she could get her hands on any baby books, ask her husband or these good strangers for help. She wondered how the boy had lived until now with her indifference.
In her dream sleep, she dreamed another dream. This time she was caring for a friend’s baby and it stopped breathing. She knew it was dead because it shrank and hardened until it looked like an old-fashioned china doll, with a flattened pale face, button mouth, rosy cheeks, black eyes and long lashes. Just like her first doll, Sadiva.
She wakes. She is still in a hall, so that much is real. Her husband is not with her she remembers. She no longer has a baby either, any baby, not a dream baby, nor her own real baby boy, and she realises that time with her baby will never come again.
She remembers being outside yesterday in that foreign place.
She thinks she might have walked past a dead man. He seemed dead because of the way his upper body and head were wrapped in a roll of dirty carpet. Only his legs and browned feet protruded. The flies buzzed all around him. Nobody else seemed to notice even. She also did nothing to help him, without doubt, but he could have just been asleep. What right did she have to wake a sleeping man with no better place to go?
An hour or two outside was too much for her lungs and her sensibilities, with the smell of urine, of smog from the burning and the diesel, the heat, and the sight of shit – dog or human she wasn’t sure. Alongside the broken bitumen and dust, were rubbish mounds – one crowned with a shoe. Unmentionable black-grey ooze collected in puddles alongside pieces of plastic, and a splatter of drying liquid of who-knew-what origin. Something grey had been ground into all the surrounding surfaces of concrete: of what remained of paths, of benches, of walls.
Outside, nothing was familiar. She couldn’t read that landscape, not the lean-tos, not the food she saw others eat. She didn’t know whom to trust. While she appreciated their ability to get on: none wearing masks (their lungs of tougher fibre than her own), carrying, fetching, mending, some even sweeping their tiny square of dirt with brooms of twigs, she couldn’t imagine being inside their heads. They didn’t speak the same language.
She felt oppressed by the outside: pressing, pressing on the top of her head and shoulders, bearing down on her until her gait slowed, until her head ached, her shoulders…. The very tree branches hung lower, weighted down with dust. Only by the lamplight in the approaching dusk – for she must be inside before nightfall – could she pretend that the whole in fact dripped in fairy lights.
She knew if she talked about her feelings of outside to the wrong type, they would think her a princess, oh so precious. Or worse.
At least in this hall, she is known. She is with others with whom she can relate, who want to help her. She is with people like her. Still, more than ever, she wants to go home.
Cathryn Perazzo is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. Aside from the novel she is working on as part of her research, Cathryn’s other writing interests include poetry, short story and life writing.
Image ©Cathryn Perazzo 2015