Falling

Her heart was pounding the beat of a song she couldn’t hear, and so she couldn’t fall asleep. She lay awake instead and listened to it thump against her chest, the soft sure sound that kept her awake. Across the room, her computer blinked at her with a slow glowing and dimming, the light strengthening and dying again. It didn’t match her heartbeat and the dissonance bothered her, in a vague distant way. She couldn’t hear anything but her heartbeat echoing through her body. The rest was silence.

There was a very large rabbit and she was outside. Oh, she thought, I’m dreaming now. Maybe I should climb on the rabbit. When she approached it, trying to touch its fur, it gave a startled whinny and hopped away, bounding toward the sky before it fell again to the earth with a deafening crash. She shook with the force of its fall, and then it was off again. She ran after it, feeble, wishing her legs could carry her farther and push her off the ground like that. When the rabbit landed again, it turned to her and blared.

She woke to the sound of the car horns, pulled from her half-sleeping by the sudden noise. The horn whined through the air and then stopped. The silence grew again, except for her heart. Now it was thundering in her ribs, beating a frightened tattoo. Her bones were jangling, like the bundle of knives she dropped trying to empty the dishwasher. Her skeleton jittered in the same way and the vibrations buzzed against her bones for a long time before the shivers faded again into sleep.

In Character

Ian was waiting for the next show to start. It was a rerun, so it wasn’t likely that he would have to do much, and of course it had already happened. Even so, when he was in it he couldn’t remember the future. The screen flashed on and he was there again, doing the same thing again, hopelessly in love and screwing everything up again. While he waited backstage, off to the sides of the big rectangle that comprised his world, he fidgeted. He could see Emily across the screen, waiting to come on just like he was. She didn’t look so nervous, but then she always looked calm and collected. Her skin was always smooth, her hair always curling neatly, her smile always intact. His face went crooked and twitched before he could get a grin together, and he always tried to madly pull his features into obedience while she waited with such gentle pity it broke his heart.

It was nearly time to go on now. She had the first scene, in the kitchen for a while before he burst in with, what was it this time? Something about a test he failed, maybe. He’d remember once it had happened. Once he had to go tell her it happened, anyway. As soon as he was onscreen the story settled into place and took him over. Emily was stepping on already, moving so certainly into place. The lights flared and settled on her, shaping the shadows under her chin and between her lips. She froze in place and the screen lit up. There she was. He watched her smile and turn, furrow her brow in concentration, move her hands with quick easy movements.

Even offscreen he was in love with her. Offscreen she smiled at him with the same soft look, that understanding smile that meant she thought he was a nice friend, maybe a brother, but definitely nobody beautiful. He wasn’t lovely to her the way she was to him. He had a suspicion, though, that sometime around season six she would warm to him. If she loved him back onscreen then she would at least like him offscreen, he thought. She’d lean against his shoulder, maybe, while they were waiting together before the lights went on. There was a blurred memory of that, so maybe it was going to happen. Damn, he had to go on now. He flailed into the kitchen, wincing a little at the clatter of his entrance. She was calm, just bent to pick everything up as though she expected it. Perhaps she did by now.

“Emily!” he said, catching his breath. “Emily, I have to tell you something.”

She turned to him and placed her hands on her hips. “Yes, Ian, what is it now?”

He looked at her face, turned to him with such expectation. The words almost stopped in his mouth, almost changed before he let them spill out. Her eyes were so intent on his that for a moment he felt he could say anything. He couldn’t, of course. Even if he really wanted to, there was no other way than to follow the script, keep to the story, stick to the show. At least he never forgot his lines.

Lost Dreaming

When Amanda saw him, even though she was dreaming, she lost her breath. She wavered and probably said, faintly, that she might need to sit. He was so close and so real, three-dimensional, his face before hers and she could reach out and touch it. As soon as she did – as soon as her fingers lit on skin – she woke up. Of course.

When she gasped in the darkness, gathering the sheets around her shoulders, she felt Mark stir. At once she tried to be still, to keep her hands from grasping and her voice from breaking out. She wanted to wail, but she shivered instead. Mark woke up anyway.

“What’s going on?” His words rustled and rasped in the black bedroom.

She shifted closer to him and tucked her head down. “Nothing, I’m sorry for waking you. I had another dream.”

“You saw him?” Mark pulled her closer. “Honey, come here.” Amanda nestled against his chest, fitting her cheek into the hollow of his shoulder and stretching out against his body, trying to let her arms relax. The tension of waking up still ran like electricity through her bones. It took her a long time to fall back asleep, but at least she had no more dreams.

When she woke up, Mark was already out of bed. He couldn’t have been up for long because his heat was still fading from the sheets. The muted clatter of pans sounded from down the hall. With a shudder, Amanda climbed out of bed and began to dress in the numb air. Mark must have heard her footsteps, because he called down the hall, “Want eggs?”

She paused and thought about it, then called back, “Okay. Thank you, sweetheart.” It took much of her concentration to pick out clothes. The red sweater – no, she’d been wearing that, there was a picture, that time they went to the park together and pushed the swing for an hour. Not those jeans, there was still a marker stain on the knee. That shirt had been her favorite to wear on weekends, when Mark had made pancakes for all of them on Saturdays. Eventually she found clothing that was unburdened by memory and she ducked out of the door, down the hall, turning her head from the closed door. They acted as thought that door wasn’t there. She hoped that eventually it would be easier to ignore, just like part of the wall, and they wouldn’t ever have to go back inside. They could pretend that it didn’t exist.

When she got into the kitchen, Mark snagged an arm around her waist and kissed her. Her smile back was wan at best. They sat with eggs, toast, and orange juice, across the table from one another in silence. When the sound of their chewing stopped, Mark sighed. “I hate when you dream about him. You’re upset all day.”

Amanda’s heart thumped in her chest. She said, “I don’t hate dreaming about him.”

Mark lifted an eyebrow. He was trying to be brave, she thought. He always tried to comfort her, as if it weren’t his loss too, as if it didn’t hurt him as much. It made it all worse.

She struggled to find the words to explain. “It’s not like that’s bad. I mean, they’re not nightmares. He’s there, you know? Still there, still fine, nothing’s wrong. It’s, I don’t know, do you know what I mean though? I just get to see him, while I’m asleep.”

Mark’s mouth twisted. His eyes were beginning to sprout crinkles when he smiled or scowled. She had just begun to notice them. He swallowed, and said, “Right, that makes sense. Okay, so why is dreaming about him so bad if you get to see him?”

She looked at him as if he were crazy. Surely he didn’t really need to ask. “I always wake up.”

 

Taking Care

“I don’t know, what do you think?” Lisa turned, her eyes trained on the mirror and her hands clasping the shoulders of the dress against her chest. The hem of the dress bounced and swirled on her ankles and her feet side-stepped and spun. Annie rolled her eyes, but not so Lisa could see.

“I like it,” Annie said. “I think it looks great on you. You have to know what you think, though.”

Lisa looked over her shoulder, batted her eyelashes at Annie probably without meaning to. “You don’t think it’s too much?”

“No,” said Annie. “It suits you, really it does.”

“Then maybe Katie will like it, right?”

“Maybe.”

“Why are you always so indifferent? Don’t you ever just want to be encouraging?”

Annie sighed. “Sure, honey, maybe Katie will like it. I bet she will.” Lisa’s face cleared and she turned back to the mirror. Annie stifled another sigh, watching her friend’s gaze fixed in the mirror, apart from her. Lisa was always looking to Annie for something, and then ignoring it. Even in high school it was that way, even when Annie was too young to be taking care of anyone.

“Is it too long?” Lisa’s head dropped and she studied her feet.

“No, it’s perfect. It almost brushes the floor like that. Stop fussing.”

Lisa turned now to face Annie. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? Are you okay? Did I say something?”

“No, of course not.” Annie offered a smile. “It’s not you, I’m just tired. Really.”

“Are you sure?”

Annie nodded.

“Want a hug?” Lisa tossed the dress on a chair and held out her arms.

“Sure.” Annie stepped forward into the embrace and let herself sag against Lisa’s body for a moment. It felt familiar, but wistful. The strangeness of it caught in her throat. She couldn’t remember the last time Lisa had looked at her to see that she’d needed a hug. Finally they disentangled from one another and Lisa busied herself folding the dress. She tucked it into a bag, slung it over her shoulder, and rested her fingers on Annie’s shoulder for a brief touch of time before she turned to leave. As she stepped into the outside hallway, she waved to Annie, and then the door bounced shut behind her.

Annie sat and watched the flashes of her friend until the door settled closed. She called out too late, her voice wavering a little, “Goodbye?”

Asterion’s Voice

I thought you were coming for me but now it’s all unraveling and I’m not sure how to follow it and I’m afraid of what’s at the end, you know I heard your voice once but it got lost on the way and it caught in the corners and it wandered down the wrong path and now it’s far and I can’t find it, Ariadne your voice is gone and you haven’t come back and all you’ve sent is a man with a sword playing with yarn like a scared kitten and it’s lonely here, trapped between the winding passageways and waiting to be made a monster again but I don’t want to be and I haven’t got a choice and I wonder if anyone ever realizes what that’s like and I’m sitting here waiting because there isn’t anything else to do and nothing else I can do and not a thing I would change but only because I don’t know how and I can pretend that I’m talking to you but I’m not, just to myself and I begin and I get lost in this maze of words and then I can’t ever find my way out and I’m just trapped in the story always a monster because there’s no way to change and nothing to do and it’s unraveling, you know, it’s unraveling toward me one turn and one twist at a time.