What is a dream made of? It can all come down to a question of peanut butter and jelly.
The snow was now four feet high, solid-packed like a roll of compact cotton batting spread out for a miniature Christmas pageant – and still the flakes fluttered down through the light haze of the moon.
I took the large blanket in my arms and threw it high, fluffing it out to catch the air before it settled onto the living room floor for our pretend picnic. One baby came out of his playpen to be set in the middle, with an apple to bat at nearby with his tiny round feet and hands. My other baby didn’t need to be called. If her brother was there she was there, a year and a half older, all of three headstrong years old and ready to shape the universe to her whims.
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She opened the door cautiously when I’d knocked that evening, the woman – one child on my hip, the other hiding behind my leg. She looked a bit ghostly but then she always did, her blond loose hair trailing round a thin face with light-blue eyes, her lips always trying to hide the broken tooth. It was summertime, a full summer evening with the chatter of all life in the air, the earth seeming as if calling all the names of all things to come out and play, stretching out a hand for a soft dance, the world smiling close and gentle in its sapphire dusk.
“I’m sorry,” she said, in almost a whisper. “They can’t come out now. They’re eating dinner.” Behind her was a rectangular wooden table, where her three daughters sat with plates of food before them. Each one was a smaller image of her mother – blonde and wild-rail thin, long arms, knees everywhere and feet in cheap flip-flops, eager skittish girls always ready to run shrieking and laughing while pushing their shared battered bike up or down the side of the mountain on the steep precipitous hill careening downwards to the flat gray lake at its foot – the lake, which promised the town a deprecating and hesitant leisure, along with a generous side of stench of the diesel fuel from the tiny houseproud motorboats.
But the girls at the table – they were frozen in place without moving. Their heads did not turn, their hands did not lift, their waists did not twist around, their feet were as quiet as statues. There was food on their plates, their hands gripped forks and knives. At the head of the table stood a man, with his back to the door. His head turned slowly, smoothly towards his wife and I at the cracked-open door.
“Oh. Sorry!” I dropped the words out, almost whispered out, unintentionally. I hadn’t meant them to be particularly soft, or fearful. But the man’s face was rigid, stiff – his dark eyes challenging. The girls still did not move except to poke at their food with a fork or a knife. Their eyes stayed glued to their plates.
“We’re having dinner here,” the man said slowly and the room seemed to fill with a freezing glassiness that could have been broken into a million jagged pieces. He turned back to the table. “The girls are learning how to behave at the table.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” I murmured towards the wife. Her immovable face framed by the wisps of escaping hair nodded as if she was afraid it might fall entirely off if any larger movement was to be taken. “See you another time.”
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