Popular belief has it that the universe is comprised of atoms. In reality, the universe is actually made up of…
I don’t dream.
I mean, I do dream, everybody dreams, or else we’d all go slowly mad.
What I meant to say is that my dreams aren’t dreams, their memories. Events pulled from my subconscious and dressed in modern-day clothes. Usually, they tended to be past situations that mirrored current conflicts in my life, and I thought they were meant to provide a solution in a George Santayana Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, sort of way. Alas and alack, this was not the case because I always made the same mistakes, no matter which fork in the road I took.
And the memory-dreams never brought the comfort of nostalgia with them, as they were never good memories, or they might start off pleasant, but there was always something there to sour the experience. Had I really never experienced true happiness in my life? If I described how my memory dreams played out each night, people might have gotten the impression that I was born in a Dickensian novel. “The Tale of Two Pities,” or some such.
And I was certain there was a level of fiction that mixed with real-life moments, the dream and waking world seemed to derive pleasure from swapping details like so many trading cards, which caused me to doubt the authenticity of my remembrance of things.
Worse were the insignificant moments that I had largely forgotten about, which were somehow amplified in my dreams, only to be transformed into real-life triggers. Triggers noticeable enough that my best friend, Shelly, began asking, “What happened to you?” which I took as, What the hell did you do to yourself that made you turn into such a freak?
Normally, I took a moment to ponder a believable and sympathetic lie to tell, but my latest dream shook me to the core, and I had to tell somebody before my mind exploded.
“Shell, you’re not going to believe me,” I started.
“Only one way to find out, Gingerbread. Tell me and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Shelly offered a reassuring smile. Gingerbread was a nickname I picked up as a little girl because of my skin tone, freckles—yes, brown skin can have freckles as well—and shock of red hair—we can also be redheads. I punched as many faces as it took in primary school to put an end to it, but it remained a term of endearment between Shell and me, and now that I was older, I had to admit, it kind of grew on me.
I brought Shelly up to speed on my dreaming situation, and to my surprise, she was not only interested but also concerned for me. She was a better friend than I realized and I should have done this years ago.
“Last night,” I said. “I dreamt that everything was the same as it is now but instead of going to community college, I took a gap year. It was the summer, and I struggled into my clothes, splashed water on my face, and gulped down a scalding cup of tea. Flinging open the door to the garden, I felt a breeze wash over my face. It had rained overnight and the air was damp with expectation.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Shelly said.
“Then I looked down at my belly…and I was pregnant.”
“Not only that, but the pregnancy had driven me mad, alienated me from my husband…”
“You were married? At 18?”
“Yeah, I know, right?” I said. “And just like in one of those Lifetime movies, my world tilted on its axis threatening to pitch me off. Then I gave birth. And this tiny person, who was partially made of me that would one day grow independent of me, somehow held the universe together.”
“Well, that’s a happy ending, I suppose,” Shelly said.
“But that’s not the weird bit,” I said, taking a deep breath before continuing. “I woke up with that same baby lying in bed beside me.”
“Wait a minute now, you woke up with a baby?”
“Yeah, a newborn, by the looks of it.”
“Whose baby is it?”
“Mine, I suppose. It’s the spitting image of pictures of me as a baby.”
“But you didn’t have a baby before you went to sleep?”
“No, I wasn’t even pregnant.”
“Of course not because you being pregnant is something I definitely would have noticed,” Shelly said, trying to work it out in her head. “But, but, um…so where’s the baby now?”
“At home, with my husband, naturally. What kind of mother do you take me for?” I snapped. My response was so reflexive that I only registered the words after I had spoken them. Off Shelly’s shocked expression, I said, “I’m sorry, Shell, I don’t know where that came from.”
“Seemed like a pretty motherly response to me.”
“It’s like my mind and emotions are running on automatic and I’m suddenly filled with all these instincts I never had before. I know this sounds crazy, but could this be an immaculate conception?”
“Not my field of expertise, sweetie, but I’m pretty sure dream pregnancies and instant husbands aren’t part of that package deal,” Shelly said. “And no offense but you’re hardly a virgin.”
“I know you’re not slut shaming me.”
“Why would I and how could I? I’m certainly not virginal, myself. Hell, do we even know any virgins?”
“Yeah, okay, but who would sleep with that incel weirdo? The internet was invented for simps like him to five knuckle shuffle over VTuber anime waifus,” said Shelly. “But back to the point at hand. Can I ask you a few questions so I can better wrap my head around this mystery of yours?”
“By all means.”
“What’s your baby’s name?”
My mouth opened…and remained that way. I was coming up blank. What sort of mother couldn’t remember their own child’s name?
“Okay, maybe that’s a toughie,” Shelly said. “Let’s try this husband of yours. Who is he? If he’s someone you know, the odds are I know him, too, because we know all the same people.”
My husband’s face was on the tip of my tongue. His name, however, was not. The frustration of not being able to recall even the simplest details about my family triggered a painful electrical storm of anxiety in my brain that oscillated between intense sorrow and frozen panic. There was a hole in the bucket of my sanity that I was unable to plug.
“Shell, I know how this looks but I swear I’m not crazy!” Never a convincing statement when yelled at the top of one’s lungs. Neither was, “You have to believe me!”
My sudden outburst should have triggered apprehension in Shelly but she remained calm and said, “Oh, I believe you, Gingerbread.” Then I realized she was no longer looking at my face. Her eyes were instead fixated on my chest.
“You’re leaking,” she said with a slight point of her chin.
And sure enough, the circumferences of two damp patches were expanding on my blouse.
Not The End.