By Tiffany Shull Peterson
She extended her arm, spread her fingers, and examined the flesh there. Her translucent skin glowed with an eerie bluish hue. Purple veins spread like the branches of an ancient tree from the back of her hand up into her arm. She turned her palm up and watched as the muscles contracted with the motion. She was in awe.
“Mama!” A shrill voice shattered the ethereal world in which she had been standing. Violet lurched from her bed, the action familiar as the mother of a toddler who rarely slept. After a bottle, hug, sweet reassurances, and twenty minutes in the rocking chair, Violet returned to her now chilled sheets. Exhaustion had become as familiar as breathing, and she had no trouble drifting off.
Fire rained from the sky like the hail that precedes a violent twister. Everywhere she turned, the air was laden with specs of ash and cinder. It stuck to her skin and clothes like confetti from an unwanted parade. Her legs propelled her over the burning ground. She had no destination, only the overwhelming sensation that she must get away. The smoke stung her lungs and leeched tears from her eyes as she ran. Get away. Get away.
A strained cry from down the hall mercifully tore Violet from the scalding landscape. Moments later, her daughter was curled up next to her in the queen sized bed, her round face streaked with sweat and tears. She wrapped her arm tighter around the child and together, they returned to sleep.
Morning found them too soon, as it always did. Violet slipped from the bed after gently tugging her numb arm from beneath the snoozing toddler. As she showered, the memories of the night’s dreaming washed away like the soap bubbles down the drain. They always seemed to slip just out of her mental grasp at the start of the day. Tiny chubby hands pressed against the exterior of the shower’s glass door. She smiled. “Good morning Rose.”
They sat together in the cramped eat-in kitchen, Rose strapped into a booster with scrambled eggs and Violet slumped over coffee.
“Eggs,” the child said, proudly pointing to her plate.
“That’s right baby.”
“Mama tired?” Rose inquired, her head tilted with concern.
Violet nodded. “That’s right, mama had bad sleep.”
“Rose bad sleep.” She nodded in return. “Hot hot fire.”
Sitting a bit straighter, Violet leaned over the table. “Rose was in hot fire in her sleep?” She kept her tone neutral.
Rose rubbed both hands in the eggs.
“Baby, did you see hot fire when you were sleeping?” Violet asked, resting her hand on Rose’s arm to catch her attention.
Rose’s grey eyes met Violet’s, a trace of egg in the lashes. “Yeah mama, hot fire.” She held up her hands. “Eggs!”
Violet leaned back, lost in thought until bits of Rose’s breakfast started flying.
“Ok, ok, that’s enough.” She popped the girl from her seat and took her to wash up.
As Violet navigated the familiar streets of their neighborhood, she smiled in the rearview at Rose. Her voice undulated from squawking highs to bellowing lows as the toddler demonstrated her catalog of memorized songs. The coincidence of their shared dream the night before had plagued Violet’s mind throughout the day. In this moment, however, she found herself wholly present and enjoying her daughter’s mood. The jovial atmosphere remained throughout dinner, bath, and three books before bedtime kisses.
Pressure built as an invisible current dragged her deeper into the dark water. Her lungs screamed for air but she didn’t dare open her mouth. Every muscle ached and burned with the effort of fighting to get to the surface. Her hands clawed uselessly toward the diminishing light of the world above. Painfully, her ears popped as her eyes bulged against the weight of the water. The pitch black cold enveloped her and her spent limbs fell limp. She felt her mind slipping as the need for air overwhelmed her and she gasped.
Violet clutched her chest as she greedily gulped the humid air. Shaking, she turned on the oscillating fan at the foot of her bed to stave off the damp southern summer night. The wood floor was sticky under her bare feet as she padded the few steps to Rose’s room. The toddler was twisted up in her blankets and red with exertion as though she’d been flailing. Violet carefully and expertly unwrapped her, removed her footed pajamas, and swept her hair from her face. Rose sighed and her body relaxed under her mother’s gaze.
“Pancakes!” Rose clapped her hands when Violet presented her breakfast plate.
“That’s right baby – pancakes for Rose and coffee for mommy.” Violet sat next to her. Rose did not immediately start on her breakfast but instead was looking at her mother apprehensively. “What is it baby?”
Rose rested a soft, tiny hand on Violet’s arm. “It’s OK mama.” She patted her gently.
“Hmm?” Violet asked, her heart melting at the gesture.
“The water mama, it’s OK.” Rose, seemingly satisfied, removed her hand and began to dissect and devour the pancakes.
Violet sat unmoving, as her coffee grew cold, and Rose’s pancakes completed their journey to the floor. Vivid dreaming, she concluded, must be genetic.