I teetered on the edge of a precipice so elevated that winds buffeted my hair and almost ripped my clothes off. I wore soft cotton pajamas, the kind with the detachable behind. My collar, loosely buttoned, snapped and whipped off my body. Were my clothes trying to escape the height? Jesters with rainbow hats grinned and played on my shirt. They didn’t seem to suffer from any acrophobia. Sweat dribbled from my chin and caught into the wind. It was the cold sweat of fear, not from the elevation, but from the confusion.
‘Where am I ‘
The wind knocked me over, off of the cliff, and I fell. I fell, and I fell, and I fell. A great maw, as if of leviathan, engulfed me.
I awoke in my bed, soaked in fear. Through the lattice and panes behind, the first tendrils of dawn greeted me upon waking like the fingers of a great beast. Twisting my waist, I propped myself on two shaky arms to peer out the window behind me. It was cracked a hand’s width, and I wondered if the ferns outside had had nightmares also, for their dewy gloss mirrored my terrified forehead and its sweaty sheen.
A potted daisy rested on my sill, cream-colored petals and a burst of saffron, like the morning sun. It is believed the daisy’s name is a corruption of day’s eye, so called because the head closes at night. I wondered how alike little boys and flowers named daisy are. They both slept, but did they both dream
Whatever the differences between daisies and boys, I was sure that if flowers dreamed, it was of rivulets, soil, and other buds, which seemed preferable to tornados and falling from great heights. That childish flower that slept by me never had terrorizing nightmares. Each night I found myself in some unknown locale, atop a cliff overlooking nothing. Fear beaded off me in salty drops. Then I fell, dying only to be born again through a crucible of patience and perspiration.
I contemplated the meaning of the dream, even in that age of cartwheels and swing sets. I worried about being in places that weren’t familiar and so I always kept close to my mother when walking through department stores. I never ventured farther than a block from my home, playing in my backyard when I craved air and activity. Worse still, I milled the idea of my death as only wizened old men are expected to, as if I might count the hours until the Reaper, whose scythe would glisten like my watery eyes. Some nights, I’d lay still, eyes twisted open their red veins invading from the corners, staring at the great maw of oblivion as its jowls howled open. My eyes fed streamlets that cascaded down my face, falling, falling.
Death wasn’t some fantasy of Stygian fiends or Elysian delights; it was that great void that loomed like an obsidian starless sky. The end wasn’t the credits after a movie whose story you knew must go on; it was the finale of a life that was doomed to end before it began. Death was a dreamless sleep. It was the absence of gods and the zealots who so devoutly worshipped them. The afterlife was a coffin, bones, and dust. The tears that fell were like lives, each falling to their demise, into the emptiness. For them, there would be no phoenix fire, no Ragnarok, no kingdom come. People told tales of an ineffable beyond where I’d find peace, but I would’ve taken anything, peace, pleasure, or pain. The belief that there was anything after would’ve eased my grief.
The cliff, barren and still and leading to lilies, was my world again. Still, the same gusts whipped newly-grown hair.
‘Where am I ‘ the question came again almost immediately, as it had an unknown number of nights passed.
Confusion twisted my innards, wringing fear in droplets from my glands. The same clothes, rainbow pajamas with laughing clowns, adorned my thin body. This time I realized where I was, in an illusion. I was knocked off my heels and over into the void, knowing no harm would come to me. Suddenly, my brilliance flared, ‘I won’t die here!’ I became a halo of endless light, and wings burst from my scapulas in a flurry of feathers and petals. I sped vertiginously, tripping the light fantastic through a heavenly ballroom. I sailed over land and sea, and saw the world as only gods did-omnisciently.
The sun nudged me softly, rousing me that morning. Proud rays slid through my Venetian blinds and rested on me in bars. One of those shining strips tickled my eyelids, cascading warmth throughout my young frame. Suddenly, the world burst to sight and I pushed myself up to arch my back, stretching out any tenseness that rest had neglected. Then I laid straight again, and smiled.
‘That was some dream,’ I said to myself.
I grinned at the scene playing in memory. Usually, waking sundered the images. The pictures were torn and tossed like confetti, and I would grasp at the drifting pieces. When once I had managed only a few handfuls, now I retained the whole.
This time, the dream had been different. I had made it different by accepting the illusion. Once you accept illusion, you can shape it to your will. Although the acceptance had little effect on my conception of death, it galvanized a lethargic spirit that had lost its purpose. While the ultimate result of life still haunted me spectrally, the dream had reinforced my ability to cope. Above all certainty of pain, there was the ability to cope, being that pain and the nightmare were both cerebral creations.