There are seventeen dreams in the sky.
You count the ones within your field of vision, for there is only a limited swath of that cerulean fabric available to your naked eye at a single glance.
Seventeen of them; or at least, seventeen of which have discernible shapes.
Some of your favorites:
The head of a whale, breaching the swell of a cresting wave.
A pair of ballet slippers, the wispy breath of satin ribbons trailing behind them.
A small hand, curled into the shape of a fist.
A gummy bear, a deliciously large piece of cumulus candy.
Your mother tells you that this is where dreams go at night.
They escape from the inner crevices of your mind while you’re entrenched in deep slumber, exiting like tendrils of smoke through your nose, mouth, and ears. They slip out the cracked window like runaway ghosts and float up towards the moon, hanging themselves like laundry on a clothesline until dawn comes to illuminate their ethereal silhouettes.
“How do you know?” you ask her.
“My mother told me when I was younger, just like I’m now telling you.”
“Where is she now?” you ask, because you have never met Grandmother save for in stories, and you’re not yet of the age where you understand how people can disappear and not come back.
Your mother tilts her head back, and the sun shines down upon the contours of her face. She shines back.
“I’m looking at her,” she says.
You are seventeen years old, and your mother disappears and doesn’t come back. You’re old enough to understand now, but people still tell you that she’s in a better place, up in the sky. They tell you this as they put her in the ground.
If she’s in the sky, you think, then she must have become a cloud.
You’ve held onto these silly notions, even now that you’re too old to entertain them. These are the things you refuse to grow out of: like childhood clothing that became cropped at the wrists and ankles after the growth spurt in seventh grade, a sweatshirt embroidered with nostalgia that you refuse to get rid of.
It is easier to believe that someone has become a dream, than to accept that they are simply gone.
These silly notions are what keep you sane.
Those clouds up above are what keep you tethered to the ground.
You do not know this yet, but you will meet the love of your life in three years. You will be twenty years old, and the sky will be that beloved night dress you’ve outgrown but refuse to get rid of.
You’ll slip it over your head and it will no longer come down to your knees. Hanging just below your hips, it’s more of a shirt now than anything else. But your mother gave it to you, so you will keep reaching for it until the fabric is worn and soft and stray threads gather at the hem like lashes.
This is what the dreams have become for you: an old memory that cannot be relinquished, an idea that has outlived its purpose and no longer fits quite the same.
You’ll squint up at the sky, force yourself to think.
It’s true. The shapes are harder to see these days, the outlines requiring a larger stretch of the imagination to define. It happens; you are larger than you were ten years ago, and the sky is proportionally smaller.
There! A simple one, but it’ll do the trick.
Two hands reaching for each other with forefingers outstretched, a heavenly incarnation of The Creation of Adam.You’ll smile, delighting in your success.
When your eyes fall back down to Earth, you will see him.
Ah, no. It is not love at first sight. It is not two fated lovers meeting eyes across a grassy field, no electric current that sweeps throughout your bodies at the first contact. Yours is not a love story for the ages, for the fairytales, for the history books.
Your love story belongs to you and him alone, and when you look at him and see that he is looking not at you, but up at the sky, his hand lifted and his finger outstretched in a subconscious mirroring of the very same image you have just been admiring, your breath stalls, and for the first time you believe that maybe it really is true that two souls can be made for one another.
Some years will pass, and the dreams start to fade from the skies as quickly as they do in your waking hours.
But no matter how hazy these paintings become, there is always one figure that takes centerstage, that draws your eye. It came from your own mind, your own subconscious— a familiar profile. The slope of a nose, the hill of a cheekbone, the curve of a mouth that used to weave together the stories that you still wrap yourself in to this day.
You will forget, and you will lose your sight; but she will be there.
One day, you will circle your fingers around the small circumference of your daughter’s wrist. You will guide her arm up, up, up, and you will pass onto her the art of dreaming while awake.
Maybe one day, she will find herself gazing up and will see nothing more than clouds. On that day, whether she can see you or not, there will be a profile of a mother painted in cirrus strokes, looking down.
Your mouth will be holding a secret smile, because you now know the truth of it all: that when one dreams, the dream drifts into the sky and becomes a cloud. But dreams don’t only exist in the sky, but on the ground as well.
They exist in the soil, where things are laid to rest; they exist in the people who stand upon that soil with hearts that long to gaze, to see something beyond their world.
Things that can’t be touched or held, things that disappear and don’t come back.
Things that only children can learn, and only mothers can teach.
The things that exist nowhere else other than the realm of the dreamers.
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This is awesome. Congratulations on being shortlisted for your first story.
Oh, Gem. That is the most breathtakingly, achingly beautiful piece of writing. It strikes such accord with me. My eyes are full of tears as I think of all those who are precious to me who no longer walk this earth and are now only to be found in my dreams and in the clouds. Thank you for writing and submitting such an amazing piece of writing and…how did you not win? Everything about it is just so right.
Wow a poignant and thoughtful read. Sentimental but in a great way. A perfect read for Mother’s Day here in SA. I enjoyed your style and the storyline. Thank you for sharing x
Hi Gem I found your story mesmerising. The way you refer to things that will happen but haven’t yet gives the narrative a dream-like shifting quality, like clouds.
Yes, this is beautiful! The way it develops from a dreamy story to a literally grounded one is brilliant. I look forward to reading more of your work.
Your writing is beautiful - congrats on the well-deserved shortlist!