art by Seth Alan Bareiss
The Sandman's Dreams
by Jess Hyslop
When the Sandman returns, Susan knows it. On Tuesday night, after she puts Liam to bed and slips under the duvet beside Neil (already snoring, bless him), she dreams of a swan. The bird's feathers are silver-bright, and it glides down a current of crystal-clear water, and in the distance a boat is waiting.
She wakes in the morning with an ache in her heart, and dust in the corners of her eyes.
At breakfast she takes her eye off the porridge and it erupts all over the microwave.
"Woops," says Neil, handing her a wad of kitchen roll.
Susan mops up the mess, thinking of a boat on the horizon.
On Wednesday night, Susan dreams of a tower built of smooth, pearlescent marble. The tower is so high that it pierces the clouds, the stratosphere, the ozone layer, reaches far, far above the Earth so that Susan can look out of the topmost window and see the arms of the Milky Way curling and swirling around her in a monumental, cosmic embrace. The beauty is immeasurable.
Upon waking she finds her pillow damp, her lashes dewed with tears. She wipes them away before Neil can see.
At work later, Kathy comes up and touches Susan on the shoulder.
"You all right?" she asks. "You look miles away."
Susan blinks. "Miles away," she repeats. Then she smiles. "Yes. Sorry, I was miles away."
On Thursday night, Susan's dreams take her to a moonlit desert. The sand is black as the heavens, but here and there a diamond glitters, so that the landscape mirrors the sky above. Despite the night, the sand is warm--and soft too, like velvet under her feet. Susan wriggles her toes, planting herself deep, deep in the desert, and is filled with contentment.
She knows that if she turns around, he will be there. She yearns to turn, but she does not.
Before he leaves for school, Liam tells them how he dreamed he was flying above a castle, clinging to the back of a ferocious winged bear. The bear snarled as they flew, and his teeth were as big as Liam's head.
"It was the best dream ever!" Liam cries, flinging his arms wide and zooming around the kitchen.
Neil looks at Susan, and she knows he is waiting for her to tell their son how dreams are made--how the Sandman comes up the stairs with his sack of dreamdust, with a rainbow coat on his back and socks on his feet, and how he blows the dust into the eyes of sleeping children, rewarding their good behavior with visions of magic and adventure.
Susan only says, "Don't run, Liam. You'll slip."
Neil gives her a puzzled look. Then he crouches in front of Liam and tells him about the Sandman himself. But Neil can't describe it as vividly as Susan does; his tale lacks the wonder and passion of his wife's version.
Susan cannot listen. She leaves the room and busies herself with finding Liam's hat and gloves.
On Friday night, the dream is the sweetest yet. Susan floats in something pure and light, the bosom of a silken cloud. Fantastic birds soar around her, their plumage gold and emerald and azure. The tips of their feathers brush against her skin like the caresses of a lover. Harmonies sigh past on the winds.
It takes all the willpower Susan possesses to wake herself, but she does.
Neil is a warm presence at her side; she can feel his snores rumbling through the mattress.
There is another man sitting at the foot of the bed.