“She’s only a dream,” I whispered.
I couldn’t remember why I was saying those words and I didn’t know why they sounded so important in my ears.
The room was silent. I took in the new surroundings, unsure of where I was and was immediately overcome by the smell of plastic. It was all around me, heavy on my skin like a sheet, sinking into my lungs as I breathed. Beyond the smell of plastic were white walls, a high white ceiling above. The floor I was kneeling on was white as well, sheen and hollow. In front of me was a dining area. Behind me was a wall. A kitchen was far off to the right, beside which was a fireplace and furniture. Also plastic. Everything was a recreation of what would be real, every detail and edge within the home made of plastic and colored white, like a dollhouse not yet painted.
I held my arms out before me to look at my own skin, concerned they’d be plastic too. My flesh was as it had always been. I was glad to see I was not made of plastic. From what I could see, I was the only color in the home. It made me feel like a pop up in a pop-up book.
I then called out into the thick plastic air for my mother, hoping she was there. I wanted to see her and wanted someone to talk to, to shake the feeling that I didn’t belong. Because of the color of my skin and my clothes. But when I opened my mouth, the plastic air absorbed my words almost as soon as they left my mouth, like they’d been trapped in a bubble that sank to the floor. I didn’t like the sound of my own voice or the way it seemed to die at the walls, so I didn’t call to her again, but I still wanted to find her. Standing from my knees, I decided to explore the home and try to find my mother that way, keeping my voice to myself.
In the dining area ahead of me was a plastic table, like the sort of table rich people would have. It was very long. There were intricate engravings along the outer edges. Chairs were lined up along each side, with two chairs at opposite ends where the host and hostess might sit. A chandelier was above the table, with limbs that curled upward and ended in plastic embroidered stems. A faint glow hovered around the chandelier. Beyond the table was a mirror. My cloudy replica gazed back at me. She was a plastic version of myself. Her skin and clothes were completely white. Her hair too. She had plastic eyes. I lifted my hands to inspect them again, and the girl in the mirror did the same. I was still the color I had been. I looked back, and when my plastic reflection blinked, there was disappointment or jealously in her eyes. I couldn’t tell if I had blinked or not, so I turned away.
I became intent upon finding the front door, thinking I would wait for my mother outside just in case she was on her way home from work. But when I turned towards the front wall, there was no door to be seen. I went to the great white wall and began inspecting it in hopes of discovering a hidden door. I traced my fingers along the wall, walking the length of it. But I found nothing. No groove, no edge. Yet, I found words scribbled in red about midway down that read: There was a hole here. I refused to touch the colored writing because there was something about it I didn’t like. I continued past, bringing my fingers with me.
I came to the plastic furniture stationed at the far end of the room, and near the furniture, off to the side, was a small solitary window, far smaller than what I would have expected in a home so grand in size. The window showed nothing. Only blackness. As though nothing was there. Something familiar about the window made me more uneasy. I turned from the window, just as I had the mirror.
The strangeness of the home was unsettling me further, no matter how much I tried not to be bothered, no matter how much I straightened my spine as I walked. I didn’t want to explore any further. I opened my mouth again to yell for my mother as loud as I could, but my lungs felt tight, as though they were filled with things. I decided not to say anything at all.
I walked back the way I had come, making my way through center of the vast open room, past the chandelier and mirror, and discovered a spiral staircase far at the other end. The shadows were thick, being so far from the chandelier light. At the top of the staircase I saw nothing but darkness. But a light switch was at the top. I climbed the stairs, circling as I rose. Darkness stopped me when I reached the highest step. There was a hallway. The darkness was thick in that hallway, and it seemed to be swirling. I flicked at the light switch, expecting it not to work. Light fixtures resonated, pouring light from the ceiling. The light felt good to have.
I walked towards the first door. Inside the room were stacked boxes, as though someone had recently moved in. Some boxes had been opened. Some were still closed. SARAH was written in red on the largest box. I realized then that my mother and I had in fact moved into this home. My mother’s way of taking us from our troubles. My troubles. A part of me was thankful that she finally believed me.
I returned to the hallway to search the other rooms, hoping to find my mother’s bedroom and expecting her to be there unloading her own boxes, maybe putting her clothes away. I continued along the hall, checking doors on both sides. Each was locked, leading me further down. In the middle of the hall, I came upon a music box. It was a curious place for a music box, set in the middle of the floor, and it was the first thing in the home that was not made of plastic or colored white. It was made of real wood. Beneath the lid were brass pins and gears. A tune struck up, tinkering along. The antique melody continued, and I suddenly heard my own voice. My voice began to sing: She’s only a dream, she’s only a dream.
I whispered, “She’s only a dream.” I began to remember.
The music box stopped. And then, with a click, it struck up again. The same song began. But when it was time to hear me sing, the music box played my screams. My screams rose from the music box, shrill and unbearable. I covered my ears, then kicked the music box away. It tumbled down the hall.
Everything became quiet. I shuffled backwards, watching the doors and listening intently in case any of them began to open, feeling as though I was being watched. In the silence, I heard something like the sound of a button dropping. Someone was downstairs. I took a step towards the room with the boxes, padding along as quietly as I could. The person began tiptoeing faster, closing in on the spiral staircase. I fled. A shadow neared the top of the stairs and slunk low to hide from me. The sound of long fingernails could be heard going tatatatatatat up the remaining steps. I scurried into the bedroom, then into the bedroom closet where I balled myself up in the corner, shutting the door with my foot. I didn’t know what to do. My heart beat wildly.
I could hear the woman enter the room. She slinking along on her fingernails, tatatatatatat. She began sniffing for me, searching through the room. Her shadow darkened the bottom of the closet door. Strands of her hair skimmed along the floor. A fingernail traced a path beneath the door like an antenna that might sense me. I whimpered, and her shadow jumped. The door opened.
I wrapped my head in my arms and closed my eyes to hide, huddled in the corner and refusing to meet her eyes. Tatatatatatat the woman scurried feverishly to me and began touching me all over, as though too eager to know where to start. I tucked myself away at each touch. Annoyed by my efforts to shield myself, the woman ripped my plastic arms and plastic legs from my body and tossed them behind her. My limbless body slid flat to the floor and the woman climbed on top of me. She interlaced her fingers behind my plastic head, and I closed my eyes, unable to watch, unable to look at her. She began to lick my face hungrily, pausing only to mock me with a single whisper, “She’s only a dream.”
I could do nothing but scream. They were the same screams the music box had played for me, and I screamed and screamed.
Sarah! Wake up!
Sarah! Wake up!
“Sarah! Wake up!”
I woke to my mother shaking me. But in the blackness of my room, my mother’s dark hair was all I could see. I clawed at her face in a violent frenzy, screaming at her to get away.
My mother snatched my wrists in both hands to stop me and she yelled, “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!” startling me back to my senses.
I froze. I was gasping, trying to swallow air. My body drenched in sweat. My sheets thrown around. In crazed hysterics, I was barely able to make words. “The music box screaming and it was me my voice screaming I tried to find you needed you the house was plastic and I thought we had moved there she came through the window right after I shut the music box I was hoping it was you even though I knew it wasn’t but you were all I could think of but I saw her shadow on the stairs crawling like a spider or something horrible not human and I tried to hide and tried to say the words she’s only a dream she’s only a dream but she ripped my arms away she was licking me licking me all I could do was scream.” I began to sob. “I promise Mom she’s real I promise please please please. She was there. It was real. You have to believe me, Mom. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this. I can’t pretend it’s not happening. I can’t. You have to believe me.”
“I know. I know,” she said, consoling me.
I was startled. “You? You believe me?” I leaned away to see if it was true. That’s when I saw what I had done. Her face was bleeding. Red claw marks down her skin. She didn’t answer. I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean.” I started crying again, ashamed for what I had done.
“I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”
“I’m so sorry,” I apologized over and over. With the terror gone, my voice became overwhelmed and tired, as though I might fall asleep right there in her arms. It was all I wanted. Safety and rest. “I’m so sorry, Mom.”
My mother whispered, “I know you are.” Brushing my face with her fingers to calm me even more, my mother asked, “The woman is real?”
“Yes, Mom. She’s real.”
“I want you to go ahead and pack up a few of your things, okay?”
I didn’t ask why. I simply got up and obeyed. In my bathroom, I washed my face. Then I packed a small bag. When we got into the car at three in the morning, I didn’t ask where we were going.
We drove into the night. My mother eventually parked in a lot that was mostly destitute. We passed a sign that announced where we were. It was a crisis center. A crisis center was a place for people who were a threat to their own safety or to the safety of others. A place for people like me.