The shape lying next to me looks so far away, far across a desolate, uninviting desert of blankets. Our bed seems so much bigger than it ever has before. Perhaps it is the dream light of the moon slipping quietly in between the thin slits in the blinds or maybe it is my mind playing tricks on me as it remembers the argument we had. Whatever the cause, it certainly seems that if I reach across that desert of blankets I won’t come close to touching her. Would she hear me if I shouted her name, or would my voice trail off long before it reached her ears? How can she sleep?
She lays in a fetal position with her back to me, using the smallest portion of the bed that she can fit her body into. The blanket covering her slowly rises and falls with the steady rhythm of her breathing. I hold my own breath. The mechanical sameness of every breath she takes is all that disturbs the silence. Is she really asleep, or is she pretending? The pattern of her breath seems much too steady to be faked. She gasps suddenly and her body convulses like one of those actors pretending to die while a gorgeous doctor - with calculatedly messy hair - yells, “Clear!” and then hits the pretend patient with a defibrillator. I jump a bit myself, her mid slumber outburst startling me. She sits up and looks around the room, obviously spooked and disoriented. Is she awake now? Can she see anything? Her head darts around nervously as she scans the room. She looks right at me and squints, her face wrinkling up like she has a mouthful of raw lemons. Slowly she relaxes and curls back into sleep. My questions are answered.
What terror startled her so? Perhaps she had been falling in a dream. The worst dreams end with falling. They say that if you don’t wake up before you hit the ground, you die. I’m not sure who they are, but that is what they say. I wonder if you would remember the fall if it didn’t wake you up. I’m reminded of a reoccurring dream I have that involves falling. I’m standing at the top of an unbelievably tall cliff. The earth below looks like it does when viewed from a jet plane, all small and far away. I feel I’m higher than even jets fly when I’m on this cliff though. Every time I dream of this place, the sun is setting. It’s so far away and it does such wondrous and amazing things to the sky. The colors are shocking and vibrant; blues and pinks, oranges and reds, violets and colors that I don’t even know the names of. I stare at it with mouth agape. Then I feel the wind, wind that isn’t there in the beginning but comes after a time. Prior to my feeling the wind, I’m comfortable and after it begins, I’m freezing. That is no exaggeration. I’m not merely cold. No, I am freezing. The tone of my skin hints of a pale blue, much like the white walls in my room look bathed in darkness and filtered moonlight, ghostly and ethereal. I shiver, slightly at first, then violently, almost to the point of convulsion. My teeth slam together, like chattering but faster and harder. Always it is like that.
Initially I’m not afraid, just cold and confused. The wind seems to blow from every direction, swirling all about me like a tornado. Then I hear a howl behind me, or a screech. It’s hard to determine the right word. It’s high pitched on the surface, like a bird whistling with all its might. However, beneath that squeal is a growl. It’s deep and guttural. Primal. My heart pounds against my chest faster and faster. Whatever is making that noise sounds to be directly behind me. At this point, the cold no longer bothers me, yet my body still violently shakes. I want to run, but the cliff before me offers no route for escape. I inhale deeply and gather myself. My fists clench. Though I’m sure that the size of whatever thing makes a noise like that must be unbelievably immense, instinct or self-preservation takes over. I spin around. Nothing. The howling, moaning, screaming, screeching, whatever that damnable sound is continues. It comes from all directions, above, below and everywhere. My hands clamp over my ears as I crouch to my knees, curling into a tight ball. It just gets louder and louder. It hurts. I’m afraid my eardrums might pop. Then suddenly, it stops.
Everything becomes still, not just calm but completely still, like death. When I lift my head again, I’m surrounded by perfect white light. It must be a zillion times brighter than the sun, yet it doesn’t burn my eyes. The terror flees and the shaking stops. Then I see it, small at first and then bigger and bigger as it approaches. I don’t know what it is but I know that I want it. It’s a sphere of color, not just one color but all colors all at once. As I look at it, I’m filled with excitement like riding a bicycle for the first time without falling. It’s as if the whole range of human emotion is rushing through me all equal and at the same time. Perhaps it’s euphoria or bliss. I don’t know, but if there is a Heaven this must be what it feels like.
I reach out for it as it approaches. I stretch myself over the edge of the cliff. It gets closer and closer to me. I can almost graze it with my fingertips. It moves slowly, methodically. The howling comes again. This time I’m not afraid. I stretch further, reaching for my prize, defiant of that ominous, hellish moaning. It floats just beyond my reach.
Then I see her, that white witch. She’s not a fairy tale witch, green, ugly, and riding a broomstick. In fact, she’s quite beautiful save for the terrible smile she wears. She swoops down at my head, screaming that awful scream. She circles me and swipes at me with her perfect hands. I ignore her rants and continue to reach for my prize. I’m so close now. I almost have it within my grasp. I just know that everything I’ve ever wanted is right there, just beyond my fingertips. I lean out, further still, reaching, stretching, yearning.
Finally, the witch stops her attack. But then, she does the unthinkable. She grabs hold of my prize, my desire and she pulls it away. It’s no easy task for her. My prize seems to want me as much as I want it. We stretch toward each other, but the witch is horrible and strong. I keep reaching and reaching as that damnable, awful witch smiles that wicked smile and screams that grotesque song. I fall.
The icy wind blasting my face and the wild convulsions in my belly - like butterflies on steroids - should have me terrified. I’m not afraid though. No. I’m empty, lost, alone. I have nothing. She has taken it all from me, that witch, that succubus, that hateful spirit.
Sometimes when I wake from that dream, I can still hear that crazy howling. It lingers. It always ends with the same kind of startled convulsion that she just had, that shape laying across the bed from me in the darkness. I wonder if she loses everything in her dreams that end in a start like that.
Her breathing slowly slips back into a steady and mechanical rhythm. Too many thoughts race and dance through my head for me to find the same sleep that she’s enjoying; the argument we had, the words we said, that thick stack of papers she gave me. I thought that we had it all planned out but she was cashing out before we hit the jackpot. I guess it had never been her jackpot anyway. I don’t think that she ever really wanted it. It doesn’t matter now; she’s taken it away and given me my choice. I can leave her and the kids and chase that jackpot on my own or I can forget the whole thing and always be left to wonder what might have been. What kind of choice is that? Neither option is anything that I want. This bed just isn’t big enough. “Stay on your side of the desert,” I whisper, “witch.”