Irene Tweeted me about a possible Shelter-verse prompt last week, so this one’s for her! Thanks, Irene.
9/30/16 – In Dreams
Before the wedding, before they were officially moved in together, Alma launched a major home makeover. Family photos stayed, but everything else went: bedding, drapes, paint colors, knickknacks. Writing couldn’t afford her a palace, but she could afford to redo the home she’d made with Sam…turn it into the home she would share with Carlos. It helped, in so many ways. She was ready to look ahead to the future, and the house felt like a reflection of their fresh start.
She was not, she reasoned, trying to tuck Sam away on a shelf somewhere. She was choosing not to dwell. He was gone; he would want her to be happy, to pass through a room without feeling the cool shiver of his ghost. It wasn’t forgetting; it was celebrating a new love, a new marriage.
These were the things she told herself.
But logic had no footing in dreams.
The first time she forgot was three months after the wedding. In a dreamscape of tilted Gothic rooflines and storm-gray skies, she called out to Sam and slid her hand into his. But when she turned, it wasn’t Sam beside her; it was Carlos, and her mind wouldn’t supply a rendering of Sam no matter how desperately she wished for it. She couldn’t remember his face.
She couldn’t remember his face.
She woke with tears drying on her cheeks, shivering deep beneath the duvet.
“Wha…?” Carlos asked, rolling toward her.
“Nothing. Bad dream.”
He slipped his arm around her waist and started to snore against the back of her head.
It continued to happen, off and on, sometimes a soft reminder that her dead husband was slipping out of her mind; at others, visceral nightmares that jolted her awake with the taste of bile on the back of her tongue.
One night, in the deep clutch of a cold spell, Alma woke drenched with sweat beneath the covers, phantom screams still echoing inside her head, scenes of blood and bullets dancing behind her eyelids. She was shaking, sick to her stomach.
Quietly as possible, she slid out of bed and into the bathroom. Changed her sleep shirt for clean pajamas and splashed her face with cold water. She stared at her ashen, hollow-eyed reflection and she couldn’t remember.
The floorboards were cold under her bare feet as she went down the hall into the living room. In the dark, the new couch caught her in the hip and she muffled a curse behind her hand. Her destination was the entertainment center, and the little inset light switch above it. There were old photos of Sam in silver frames there, and she had to see, just had to force herself to remember…
Little Sam’s sudden wail from the nursery almost gave her a heart attack. But she shook off the burst of fear and changed courses, backtracking down the hall to the baby’s room. She flicked on the lights and in the warm glow of lamplight found Sam standing at the rail of his crib, little face screwed up, but dry and clean. She’d caught it early, this crying jag, and he calmed the second he saw her.
“What’s the matter, baby, huh?” She scooped him up with a little grunt of effort; the kid was getting heavy. “What? Did you have a bad dream too?” He was dry, and the second she started to bounce him against her hip, his head tipped forward and he relaxed, boneless in her grasp.
His weight and warmth was a comfort, so she settled into the rocker and shifted him around so he was across her lap, already nodding off again, his long baby lashes fluttering.
It had always struck her as funny. She knew she was supposed to feel the stress and pressure of motherhood – and she did, in all the practical ways – but mostly, Sam calmed her. He was her world. Her little piece of her first Sam.
Shuffling footfalls announced Carlos’s approach before he propped a shoulder in the doorway. He stifled a yawn behind his fist and it swallowed whatever he’d been about to say.
“I’m sorry,” Alma said, wincing. “I tried not to wake you up.”
“You didn’t. I heard him.” He nodded toward Sam, smile curving his mouth. It slipped, though. “You were already awake, though, huh?”
She glanced down at Sam’s peaceful face, shrugging. “Kinda.”
“It’s been happening a lot.” Not an accusation, but an observation, tinged with worry.
“I guess so.” Like an admission.
When she lifted her head, she saw the wry twist of his smile, the way his eyes shone with worry, and hurt, fully-awake now.
“No. Carlos, baby, no, no, no. Not at all.” She could have kicked herself. “It’s just…” She heaved a deep sigh. “Okay, this is gonna sound stupid. And I promise it has nothing to do with you, or us, or whether I’m happy or not. Because I am. So happy.” She was babbling. “But I’ve…I’ve been having trouble remembering…remembering Sam’s face.”
His brows drew together.
“Okay, well…” As best she could, trying not to sound like an idiot, she told him about her dreams, about her inability to recall her dead husband’s face in them. “It happens, I know it does. People…slip. You start forgetting. I just…didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
Carlos glanced down at his bare feet, the tanned toes and little raised tracks of veins across the bony tops of them. Then he came to sit on the floor beside her legs, one hand on her knee. “Do me a favor,” he said, expression soft. “Look at him.”
At Little Sam, his round cherubic face. His…Sam’s face. His father’s face.
“Oh,” she said, softly.
Carlos squeezed her knee. “He looks just like him, baby. You won’t ever forget his face; you’re gonna be looking at it forever.”
Alma put her hand over his, laced their fingers together. “We will, you mean.”