The dreams came and went the year the summer never arrived and the clouds hung so heavy and low that everyone thought the sky was falling, as if gravity itself had faltered. The dreams were full of mothers: mothers talking, mothers reading, mothers clearing things away, mothers feeding her, mothers looking out of windows, mothers walking too fast, mothers slicing tomatoes, mothers listening out for the sound of an owl, mothers watching for a flicker of light in the dark.
Charlotte awoke clammy and nauseous, for it was not her own mother living inside these dreams, but her husband’s, as well as the mothers of friends and ex-lovers. Their faces reminding her of the past, of things said and half said, and things that cannot now be undone.
The mothers would begin by saying how dark it was inside her dreams. They would turn lights on and pull back the curtains. They were all very respectful of each other, each waiting their turn to speak. Some took her for walks, some sat with her, some made sandwiches and made her sit on the floor to eat them.
‘They’re anxiety dreams, that’s all, love,’ her husband told her.
‘But I’ve always been anxious,’ Charlotte replied.
Her friends blamed the weather. ‘Oh Charlotte,’ they said, ‘you just need a bit of sun and to dip your toes in the ocean, can’t Andrew take you away this year?’
Her mother thought the dreams were Charlotte’s body’s way of telling her it was ready for a baby.
Charlotte’s mother did not feature in the dreams, not until one night in July when she appeared and led Charlotte out to watch a storm. In the dream, they sat and watched as lightning hit parched ground, as wind angered the dirt and made it spiral into beautiful funnels before spitting it back out.
Charlotte woke from the dream in the early hours of the morning and was unable to fall back to sleep. The dream was different because there had been no talking, only the slight smile on her mother’s face, only the swell of her mother’s breathing and the deep sounds of the storm above them. She has been unable to uncover the significance of this.
The dreams abruptly stopped during the last week of December. The final dream was full of clumsy mothers, forgetful mothers, mothers who didn’t know who Charlotte was. She remembers that they were all talking at the same time, all with voices too low for her to hear, the slight wetness of their whispers filling her ears.
Charlotte doesn’t remember many of the dreams now. But sometimes when her mother calls her from the middle of nowhere, and the signal is so bad that her mother’s voice fades in and out, Charlotte swears she can hear the lost words of those dreams echoing through the receiver; the words the mothers didn’t want her to hear, words that will take her a lifetime to retrieve.