By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone.
In the dream there are three of them: a woman and two small children, a boy and a girl. They are carrying shopping bags, even the smallest child who has twisted the plastic over her shoulder like a sack. She makes exaggerated gestures of exhaustion. When the woman looks back at her, over her shoulder, and asks if she needs help, the little girl says she can manage.
I can’t actually hear what they say, I just know, their voices seeming to speak directly to my mind. They certainly couldn’t be lifted on the wind. There is no wind. The hairs on their heads remain flat to their skulls, sweat creating an inner ring of dampness. It isn’t surprising. They have climbed to the top of a large cliff.
Behind them all I can see is blueness; not the sea–I am too far away from the edge to see the sea–but the sky. There are a few fluffy clouds stretched and distant, pitted like the blots of spray paint thinly applied. Where the cliff edge meets the sky, there is a fringe of yellow-green grass–dry and stubborn.
At this part of the dream, they are walking on the path, which is mostly a mud track, the odd piece of white chalk poking through soil. The path is littered with potholes, so the children’s legs lift high at the knees. It is not an easy walk. Luckily it has been dry–there are no puddles or pools of hardening mud, just dusty topsoil.
When they reach the top of the steepest incline, the woman pauses. The two children lag behind. She puts down her shopping and waits for them.
“Come on, you two,” she says.
The little boy gets there first. He puts down his bags and squats in the grass.
“Mum, I’m thirsty,” he says.
The woman doesn’t reply. She is looking out over the cliff. They are closer to the edge than me. I think she must be able to see the sea from where she stands. The boy turns around to watch for his sister.
“Come on, slow coach,” he calls.
The little girl sighs dramatically. “I’m only little,” she says. “You’ll have to wait.”
This makes me smile. She seems to be a clever little girl.
“Don’t argue, you two,” the woman says, turning her eyes from the sea.
Both mother and son now watch the little girl. She is dressed mostly in pink and has tiny, plastic sunglasses pushed up into her hair. Something about the way she walks makes me realise that there are no insects or birds, no kites, no aeroplane smoke trails. There are just the three of them, and me, somewhere, where they can’t see.
The little boy lies down, chewing on a plucked piece of grass.
“She’s always so slow,” he says to himself, but loud enough so that his mother could hear if she chose to.
There are no ants or crickets running around beneath his fingers.
Finally the little girl catches up with them. She drops the bag to the ground, shoulders rounded, and then falls backwards neatly onto the grass beside the path.
They are silent for a while. The woman staring back out to sea, the little boy looking up at the sky, the little girl watching her mother. After a few minutes, the woman turns and sits beside the little girl. She opens one of the bags and pulls out two cartons of juice. She hands one to each child, waving the little boy’s over his face until he notices and sits up. Both kids rip at the clear plastic around the straw. The little boy does it with his teeth, but the little girl can’t quite tear it. She hands it back to her mother, who easily slips out the straw and pushes it through the foil-covered hole to the juice beneath. She hands it back to the girl. Both children suck, their cheeks hollowing and swelling in rhythmic waves. When they start to make sharp slurping noises, the woman stands back up.
“Ready?” she says.
The children nod, hold their empty juice cartons out to her, arms out-stretched. She takes them, drops them back in the bag and then they all three retrieve their shopping bags. The woman waits for the little girl to throw her bag over her shoulder, and then sets off in front, not on the path now but on the grass, leading them closer to the edge of the cliff.
At this point, I always want to warn the woman. I want to tell her not to walk so close to the edge, but she does not listen, or cannot hear me. She keeps walking, the two children now close to her, one on either side. When she gets to the fringe of grass, she does not stop, and neither do the children, they just walk straight out over the cliff and into the blue. There are no cries or screams, no sounds at all. Nothing changes. The horizon remains the same–just a brief flash of falling bodies, their shopping still tight in their hands, and then blueness once again. I haven’t even had time to shout, or to try to run. They just walked straight off.
I never know what to do. I feel helplessly rooted to the ground. I can’t even walk to the edge to look over the cliff, to see where they have gone, to see what remains. I just stay where I am. Still there is no breeze, no sound, just blue skies.
After many minutes just staring, I catch a glimpse of someone walking into my vision, their head bobbing from side to side. At first I do not believe it, then step by step, I watch as the same woman walks towards me. She has the shopping bags still. The children follow her too. They are also the same. They follow the same routine, the pausing, the waiting, the sitting, the drinking, the “Ready?” and then off the cliff. Only this time it is much worse. I know what is coming. I know what they are going to do.
The dream just keeps going round and round like this, nothing changing but the cycle of events–the day clear and perfect. Even when I am awake, I see them chatting, moving under the heavy burden of their bags, sharing the load of a family shop. I watch them walking again and again off the cliff. They seem so calm. Nothing about their appearance suggests why they would continue to jump. They don’t seem to know that such a fall could kill them. They do not move as if walking to their deaths. They just go up and down, on and on and I can do nothing but watch them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone is a prize-winning short story writer who was recently awarded an Arts Council Grant to help her complete her novel, Home, due to be published by Social Disease in 2008. She co-founded Tales of the DeCongested, a short story reading event held monthly at Foyles Bookshop, is a partner in Apis Books, an independent publishing company specifically for shorter fiction, and teaches creative writing at City University. Rebekah lives, writes and edits in Bethnal Green.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, October 21st, 2007.