April 18, 2005

The Dream Giver (for amba)

I lie awake, aching to go back to sleep but afraid of the dreamless blankness. How long has it been since I dreamed? The hard gray predawn light chills me with its rudimentary realities: lamp, clock, bed. It turns up the pain a photon at a time, a droplet at a time in an ancient torture.

I put on my nightgown and get a glass of water. I read three pages of a book. I pee. I return to bed.

Then the little impertinences of my body. My legs fidget and twitch, I can’t lie still. My hands and feet are cold, my skin itches, my throat swallows, my heart jumps. Saliva, mucus, a tickling cough.

I try to suppress it all, so as not to wake him. I try not to elbow or kick him accidentally. He needs his sleep. He’s so old, so frail inside that huge body.

Now I’ve done it, he’s stirring: was it my toenail against his shin? Caught in mid–dream, he gives a startled cry, and I hush him. All these years, in the back of my mind, there’s been some disbelief: how could I, little me, calm someone this big? And the knowledge that I have done so calms me in turn.

“What?” he moans out, from somewhere back in Europe long ago. That crazy gargly accent. The tough sergeant’s voice fractured by age. His face, in half–light, a cliff I have seen weathered through epochs.

“I can’t sleep.” I press close to him. “I can’t dream, I have no dreams in me anymore.”

Stiffly he lowers his heavy arm onto me. “Take mine.”

And we lie together through the dawn, temple to temple, his dreams pouring into me like daylight.