She once told you a lie. This was before you understood that lies could also be an expression of longing, a way of seeking out connections.
She told you a lie because she sensed, long before you did, that you held within you a need to believe such things were possible.
You told her: “I had the strangest dream. There was this turquoise circle of light, that’s all it was.”
You told her: “I was floating, and the light was behind my eyes, all crystalline and blue. All peaceful.”
You didn’t tell her how it shimmered and flickered. You didn’t tell her that it left you feeling dazed and buoyed, as if you had been touched by grace. You didn’t think she would understand that.
But she had surprised you. She had nodded and said: “Oh, I know, I know,” and then left you to believe you shared this vision with her. And you were happy to believe it. But that was before you discovered the many ways it would linger. As memory, as premonition, as foreboding. No, it was anything but a dream.
And if it was a memory, was it this?
Years earlier, in some park somewhere, you are playing hide and seek. You tell her to count to ten while you run and hide, but she is small still, four or thereabouts, and so she messes up the order, goes from three to ten in one jump, then cries, “coming ready or not!”
You’re not ready, and so you jump to the nearest sanctuary, some shrub or bush. And down, down you go, into the dark and dank and gunk of a drain. Popping close to the surface a moment later. Above, the light, frayed at the edges. You call and hear your own voice echo and bounce. Then a face there, above, looking down and saying something. Then, laughter. You can’t remember who pulled you back to the surface. But someone must have. All you remember is the look in her eye. Curiosity mixed with fear and a gleam of something else.
It’s not a shared experience, this one. Not yet. She has yet to go under. You have yet to watch her sink. For now, there is only that gleam. And the lifelong shiver the memory will contain.
The premonition is darker, no light this time. It starts in the old house. In a room with a flimsy curtain that floats in the breeze. It lets the light in but shrouds the scene outside in a gauzy haze which makes you think it’s always raining outside. You can’t help but look at it and wonder what purpose it serves. Better to leave the window bare, have the sun—when it’s there—pour into the room. It’s cleansing, so they say, a fact you find rather pleasing as you lie there not wanting the day to begin. Because now something has been illuminated. You can feel it.
That curtain wafting in the breeze, like the remnant of something long forgotten. You remember seeing it before and knowing straight away where you were in a dream. The dream of the old house, the one you never want to go back to. Just the idea of it, had filled you with despair. And it was despair. It wasn’t melancholy or nostalgia.
“Please, not there,” is what you had thought.
And how does it make you feel, to be back here again, back in the room, back in the house and watching the curtain waft? To know that dream was more of a vision, a casting of the die. It brought you here once more. Left you longing to slip back into sleep, into dreams. To get away. Far, far, away from here.
And the curtain flutters and lets the light in. Just long enough to illuminate something: “You don’t know what you’re doing, where you’re going. There is no away.” And the truth of it makes you turn to face the wall.
But it doesn’t help.
It’s the one thing they never tell you.
Memories will come unbidden, and always when you are least expecting it. You are galloping on a horse. You feel the pull in the muscles and lean forward, you and the horse, fused sinew to sinew. And then there it is, you remember her and understand the effort it will take to forget. How you will need to pull away from her again and again and again.
And you squeeze your heel into the belly and kick, but know the pull you feel, the rush as you try to push it all away, is but a momentary relief.
But still, you do it. You listen until all you hear is the thud of hooves on the soft ground, beating the rhythm of your retreat. Away, away, away.
Before the turquoise light, before that shared dream, she tells you of a different dream she had once. No lie this time.
“I’m a block of ice and I’m melting,” she says.
And you think about that. You never stop thinking about it. It will always be the first thing you think of, when you think of her. That she called it a dream. Not a nightmare. That was the moment you knew something was wrong.
Though you never dared ask her, “Who wants to melt away like that?”
She did, apparently. And you need to find a place for it, for the impossible certainty you have, that if you’d said something back then, things would be different. You would be different, because you had asked her why she dreamed such things.
Instead all you have is her laughter. “It’s just a dream. Just a stupid dream.”
You could have told her, “No, it’s not. It’s more than that.”
But instead, you turned your face to the wall again. Away, away. Gallop far away.
A day trip to a waterfall. You hear the rumble of it long before you get there and though neither of you say a word, you hold hands in the back of the car as your father drives closer. All you can think about is the edge, the place where it becomes inevitable, the tipping point where falling cannot be halted. Over and over and over you go.
Memory, premonition, foreboding.
You close your eyes and try not to think of it, squeeze her hand a little harder than you mean to, so she pulls it away and squeals, “Ouch! That hurt!”
And when you open your eyes she’s looking at you and she sees you are afraid. She sees the way the rumble of the water contains the depths of your fears. You have revealed yourself without meaning to. There exists an understanding between you now, that when her time comes, when she falls, you will not be there for her.
Oh, and if you’d known it existed, this emerald valley, dotted with black grazing horses. If you’d known it existed for real, and not as some figment of the imagination, some dream, you’d have prepared for it better. Walked more slowly up on to the ridge and lifted your eyes with more reverence, more presence of mind.
As it is, all you manage is a sigh. A wordless appreciation. Just a lifting and falling of your rib cage. It feels like you’re wafting, fluttering. Which reminds you of something, though you can’t quite remember what it is. The past? The future? Her? Or is this simply the way time shifts? It is always meant to catch you unawares.
You stand on the ridge and look down and understand that it is this you should have dreamed for her. This valley, this safe-haven where the horses run to. Far from the rumbling water.
The dark-eyed pick pockets were children really, but old enough for you to shout at them and slap at the hand you felt as it reached inside the bag on your shoulder. It was a stupid thing to do. Your own fault. They are trained to spot the opportunity and there you were, imagining you’re Audrey Hepburn and dreaming of Rome. You’re the seventh dreaming girl they’ve seen that morning.
It doesn’t quite spoil the day. But it leaves you alert. Leaves you admitting you’re not a carefree wanderer. Something you only fully understand as you stand by the Trevi fountain and grow dizzy as you listen to the water gurgle. That sound again. You came here hoping to drown it out with incense and incantations. Light a candle and illuminate things. Force out the darkness with light and prayer. But there it is again. The sound which will always follow you. No saints can diminish it. No horses can carry you away from it.
When the day comes, it is déjà vu. Your parents are not the watchful types. They let you roam. Never know where you are. When she slips, they are on the riverbank, oblivious. Sitting with a small picnic and a plaid blanket, they hear a commotion. People on the bridge shouting, “someone’s fallen in,” but they think nothing of it.
But down by the water, you stand and stare and wonder if this is the moment you are supposed to go in after her.
But you do not move. You simply stand and watch. You watch as she goes under. You watch as she sinks down, down, down. You watch her, and you know she is looking up at the circle of light on the surface, that she can see the bright blue beyond, but cannot reach it. And you smile because you share this now, both of you knowing how it feels to be pulled under, how it feels, to disappear from view. How it feels to look up at the light and despair as you hear the laughter.
And you tell her this as you stand on the riverbank and watch her go. You call out to her, “I know, I know.”
And you dream again. Or is it more a reimagining, a hope? A way to forgive yourself? On this imagined day, you stand at the water’s edge and see her resurface, see her pull herself ashore and walk along the path towards you. You smile and take her hand and lead her back to your parents who stare in disbelief as you tell them.
“It was her. She’s the one who fell in.”
And you never let go of her hand. You keep it folded tight in your palm forever. You don’t let her slip. You don’t let her go. You hold on tight and say, “I know, I know,” as she tells you it was a lie. She never did have that dream. She never knew that presence, that sacred light which seemed to hover above you.
The one you always thought would keep you both safe from harm, but which protected only you.
Jennifer Harvey is a Scottish writer now living in The Netherlands. Her writing has appeared in various journals and anthologies including: Folio, Carve, The Lonely Crowd, and Bare Fiction. She is a resident reader for Carve Magazine and a member of the editorial board for Ellipsis Magazine. You can find her online here.