READ Curator’s note: This post is the second and final instalment of a 2-part short story. The first instalment can be found on the SAVAGE website, under the READ section! Do check it out if you haven’t already!
A short story by DANIEL LEE.
A gentle tap on my wrist. I look up, and it is the lady from my dream. Every feature in focus, like the crisp edges of leaves burned by the sun.
My voice is a croak. “Jen?”
Her cheeks turn a shade red. She smiles again. “Close, Pa. It’s okay. People used to say how much I looked like Ma.”
I blink. I look at her for a long time. Maybe the more I look at her, the more I will remember her in my dreams. How she has grown. Those were the days when she was a pudgy baby with pigtails, running around naked and screaming. I chase her with her diapers in hand, my feet pattering on the tiles of our home, my back bent, my arms outstretched. Jen laughing on the sofa, glad that she was not the parent-on-duty. These are the days where I fill my present with the past, like a glass with milk. It overflows into the room, the giggles of a little girl, my own frustrated barks. And still my daughter sits in front of me, fully grown, a smiling paradox daubed with images of yesteryear.
“You’ve grown,” I mutter. I look down at my plate. A piece of toast there. I poke it with a finger; it seems soft already. “Do you want some toast?” I ask.
She shakes her head.
“Why… What are you doing here?” I blink.
“I’m here to see you,” she laughs. “What else would I be doing here?”
I shrug. “Maybe you’re here to see the receptionist.” I nod towards the front desk.
“I’m married, Pa,” she blushes again.
“Sorry,” I mutter.
“It’s okay. Well…” She checks her watch. “We’ve been talking a while, Pa. It’s been three hours. I need to go back.”
“Ah,” I nod. “Go ahead.” I rap the table with my knuckles. “Will you be here tomorrow?”
She lowers her eyes. When she looks at me again, there is a different quality to her smile. It is more brittle, less glowing.
“I told you just now, remember? The funeral.”
“Ah.” I try to smile. “Silly me.”
“The last thing she asked, when we were with her, was where you were.”
Night is when they come to us in our beds, dressed in pale blue, asking us if we feel pain anywhere. Then they draw our blankets over us, and then they draw the darkness over as well. I leave my palm open, my arm outstretched by my side, so that I will feel the gift of sunlight when the day returns.
She comes to me in my dream again, the familiar silhouette. We are standing in our home, while our daughter saddles a toy car and skids across the tiles. I take her hand and investigate her face. No longer phantoms of mist, her features are drawn with crisp lines. I reach out and touch her, where her cheek arcs downwards to her chin. It is wet to the touch, and when I check my fingers, they are stained a dark blue.
She is smiling, and her face is smudged where I touched her. I open my arms, and she steps forward to embrace me. She is wet and she smells musty, like a stack of manuscripts. But when we step away from each other, her figure is as though seen through a window in the rain.
I want to know her again: the way her hair rests behind her ears, the ring of her laughter, the velvet of her voice. I want to know the times she leaned on my shoulder, the moments when she raised her voice against me. I want to know the days we held each other’s hands and walked in a park. I want to know the meals we cooked for each other and the gifts we bought each other.
I want to know how much I loved her, and how much she loved me.
But the more I touch her, the more she smudges, like a drawing on a whiteboard. I look at my hands; they are stained with patches of ink. I rub them together, but the ink remains. It is indelible. Until my hands are all blue, and she is once again a blur. This is how my dream ends: with the knowledge that I once knew her.
My eyelids flutter open. I glance at my outstretched arm, where the day is touching my wrist. I curl my hand into a fist, holding the warmth from the window lest it slips away from me again.
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