Riptide
by Marion Smith

Chapter 7 

[p.54]St. George is only about twenty minutes now. I can make it. My back is aching and the windshield is covered with bugs, but I can make it. I grasp the steering wheel tightly with both hands for a moment; my shoulders stop shaking.

St. George is named for Duncan’s great-uncle. We always explained that to the children as we drove past the Mormon temple there on our way to California. How sad, it seems to me now; that many of the temples they build today are so ugly. Built for function to save money, while those early pioneers on the brink of starvation created beautiful shrines. The women brought their china to put in the plaster of the first temples: I will see the temple from I-15. It’s lit and looks like a white light on a hill. A white night light.

When I was five, I thought it was a sin to have a light on at night. My childhood terrors—they were idyllic, saccharine fairy tales compared to Jeanne’s and Jasmine’s fears, but they are the only comparison I have—my only way of approaching theirs. I try to think of the times that frightened me most when I was little.

Being put to bed with my sister to play bed tapping songs on our headboards or to finish dramas we started before dinner was fun as we bridged the two-foot gulf between our beds. But sleeping alone in the double bedroom wasn’t fun.

Of course my parents would have given me a night light, but [p.55]I never asked. Night after night I stood on top of my bed gazing at the crack of light under the hall door. I stood motionless, like a snake charmer who can’t blink or the cobra will strike, tense until at last I dropped exhausted to the inhospitable sheets.

The only fear greater than my dread of the dark was that people would find out, that they would know how stupid I was and, worst of all, how afraid. I never told anyone of my fear, nor about my bad dreams that came with the darkness.

The worst dream was the wolf dream. I was walking with Mother on grass through tall pine trees. I glanced up at her and she was turning into a huge black wolf. I couldn’t move until the metamorphosis was complete and the huge white eyes were fastened on me and I could feel the hot breath. Then I ran and ran with the Mother-wolf a few feet behind me, but we never changed our distance. I woke with a terrible guilt. Even at seven, long before I learned of Freud, I somehow knew I was responsible for what went on in my head.

Sometimes at night the patterns on my window drapes moved and twisted in strange extensions of themselves, but the shapes never quite came off the drapes. Some nights my bed would turn. It happened when I stared very hard at the trim of the striped wallpaper where the ceiling met the wall. I learned to make my bed spin like a ride at the Lagoon funhouse until I was dizzy. It was like what jasmine learned to do when she stared at her ceiling, at the corner where it met the wall and the yellow flowers on the wallpaper. When you are seven, grown-ups can’t know what night brings. Nor do they remember the fear of being lost.

Once in kindergarten I got lost. Daddy didn’t come to pick. me up, so I tried to walk the two miles from school to home by myself. At first, I could turn around and see the school, but then familiar landmarks disappeared. The houses were different from any I had ever seen. A curved roof was coming close. A Chinese [p.56]roof, but brown instead of red. When I looked around, all the houses had become Chinese! I was lost—panting and crying with a sideache from running. How could I have been so stupid as to take the wrong turn and wind up in China? At any moment the doors would open and Chinese faces would stare at me and frown or laugh. …

Sometimes my children were lost. Tina, afraid she’d be lost crossing the street unless Jared would take her. My nightmares of the children on a New York subway whose doors have clanged, shutting me from them. Katherine at four missing in Tijuana. Jasmine at five lost in ZCMI Mall. Lost lambs. No terror like lost. Except falling. Down, down in the darkness.

Lost. Falling. Darkness. A trinity of fear. Universal themes of children’s guilt and terror. Yet bad dreams normally die. Of their own accord, they finally disappear. But not some nightmares. Will Jeanne’s and Jasmine’s ever stop, I wonder? Melinda’s? Autumn’s? Will mine? I don’t think so.

Jasmine tells me sometimes of her dreams. The blender dreams. Shark dreams. Dreams about dead bodies.

She sees herself on the orange shag rug by the wicker swing in the upstairs hall. She runs to us in our bed but can’t speak. Finally, as in a silent film, she pulls me back to the rug where the dead body she ran away from is now gone and the blood is all cleaned up.

What do her sisters dream? Or her nieces and nephews? Autumn was five when she told about Clint. She’s thirteen now. She says she has never had a nightmare. She can change fear within her dreams, she says. She’ll not allow herself the old dreams, she claims. Is that possible? Is she capable of that kind of repression? What did Clint do to her? Can she control her dreams, like the way I made my bed spin? Jasmine used disso-[p.57]ciation; she climbed into a corner of the ceiling to view her own abuse.

Now, in the endless nights, I don’t think of being lost or falling. But I dream. My family is suspended on the ends of strings someone is dipping into a flaming pool. We are pulled out twisted and grotesque with lava crusting on us. Marshmallows burned black. No one dares touch us. Then somehow I become the sky, a sky weeping cooling tears, but they turn to steam on contact with the molten bodies. I need to weep until there are quiet pools of rest no longer scalding. But there is not so much rain in any sky.

What is Duncan dreaming? Of immaculate conception. He doesn’t yet know that every birth is virgin. He dreams of god dying for humankind. He hasn’t yet heard how much I die for womankind. He and other men are dreaming of the Kingdom, or the Power, or the Glory, or perhaps just winning the game.

I dream. Of quiet pools of rest. Of others’ dreams vibrating in the quiet pool of my rest.

What, I long to know, is Jeanne dreaming?

I have to stop. Pull over onto the freeway shoulder where the space is long. Get out. Hope no cars will stop to help me.

Except for oncoming headlights, it’s almost black. Cloudy now, covering the stars. The air is clean and dry. I gulp it, drink it, like water in the parched desert. There’s only silence here. No, there are insects in this high desert. The desert is alive with them! Way off—something. A cry? A howl? A coyote, howling in his desert at the moon! Blessed coyote, howl, please howl. Lift your scraggled throat to the red moon. Howl, for me and all the others. Forever. Howl to eternity.

Hold the edged blade, Medea, to your infants’ throats and wipe their blood on your cheeks, your lips, your hair.

Moan silently, Eve, no record of your cry as you clutch the [p.58]limbs already soured to your dried breast and weep forever long and shrill. “Abel.” Weep, weep forever.

Curse and shrink, you slave child’s mother, shrink so you’ll never “have a name or another child. Shrink to nothing, never existing.

Howl and bleed and weep and shrink, for my child is screaming in the night. Screaming, dreaming, crying in the night.

Coyote, howl.

Silence again. Silence except the rhythms of cars and trucks speeding to California and the insects’ steady hum.

I open the door, slide inside, fasten my seat belt, turn the key, look in the rear view mirror, and drive on to St. George.