A Texture Beyond Dreams
by Swapna Kishore
Dawn, and stained shimmers stream over the dew-fresh grass, but for once Lavender does not join her sisters.
Gossip envelops her: a sister with a hint of citreous talks of the arthritic craving a mountain-climbing dream; another sister, green, spice-sharp, trills at such folly. Night-weary shimmers mingle, separate, and swoosh around. Smudges puff upwards, coalesce into dark clouds, and drift out of the meadow. For an eternity, Lavender had been too glad for the cleansing to wonder where these residues of mortal morbidity went. Today, she imagines them bursting over unsuspecting men and women, flooding misery back on body-weary, death-dreading mortals.
“Lavender, are you not joining the romp today?” asks a pearly dilation, blue-veined from last night, the jasmine smell faint with fatigue.
“Later,” says Lavender, hoping she does not have to explain what she does not understand. Dreamsisters cleanse themselves so that they are light and joyous enough to weave good dreams; humans like Anomie need her. Yet today, tossing off these residues of mortal contact seems dismissive of the mortals they are bound to help.
Ridges and scars hashed the slumbering girl’s face. Her fingers were gripping the pillow. “Give her a dream of color and happiness,” Anomie’s father said, blinking hard.
Shield strengthened, Lavender searched the child’s memories. Yes, here, an abundant vein–the aroma of oven-fresh bread, tinkling wind-chimes, a ladle tapped to a racy beat on a brass pot. Enough to texture a dream.
Color and happiness. Deeper, past smells and sounds, must lie rainbows, or flowers tossing in the breeze, or a butterfly to fashion a fairy from. Strange. All she saw were shadows and tangled gray threads. Then, dazzling through smoky shapes, a scene: a flash of light, a deafening crash, screams, an agonizing crunch of bones, sticky crimson pools, and …black. Only black.
Dead eyes opened. The child sniffed. “Dreamsister? I smell lavender.”
“Yes, child?” Lavender tendrilled.
“My fingers trace scars on my face,” Anomie said. “But I feel beauty in my bones. Show me the reality.”
Eldest had instructed Lavender to weave a dream for this child, using the dream-turn of the child’s father. The child demanded the truth, but her father wanted to cheer his daughter.
So Lavender whispered, “Hush, child, sleep on,” and laced bubbling waters with fresh spring smells and scarlets and golds of courage and purity.
Memories of Anomie are obsidian shards in Lavender’s softness. Dreamsisters spend their eternal lives granting mortals their three dream-turns; is that not compassion enough? Why does Lavender feel she has failed?
Restless, she curls herself tight, drifts to the meadow’s edge. She eases out into the village. Daytime visits to the village are forbidden, but no one has noticed her leave. Humans cannot see her, and she will stay safely distant so that they don’t whiff her lavender.
The daytime mortal world glares bright despite her filters, a sharp contrast to the meadow’s mellow light. Men are plowing fields, threshing grain, arguing, laughing. Their heartiness pulses fierce; she tightens her shield.
Suddenly Lavender stops short and dodges behind a tree; Eldest, who should not be out in the village either, is hovering near a cottage.
Why is Eldest here?
The cottage belongs to Sarah. She sits darning on a wooden bench, an overflowing workbasket at her feet. She winces at each pull of the needle. Stiff, swollen fingers. A wrinkle-swamped face. She appeared in the village one night, naked, spouting gibberish, tearing her flesh. A kindly couple nursed her till her hysteria subsided. Now she earns coin as a seamstress.
Eldest lingers near Sarah, splotches of dark-heart color marring her gold aura. Lavender, curious, watches from behind a tree.
Noon. Sarah cracks her fingers, groans, and stands up. She rubs her back. She sniffs and jabs her finger at Eldest, who must be invisible to her. “Marge, stop spying. Go. “
Marge. Marigold. Eldest. How did Sarah know?
Eldest turns dark-heart all over, like a million horrible memories. She lumbers away.
Eldest lingers often near Sarah’s cottage, but Sarah always senses Eldest and yells at her to leave, and Eldest stops coming after some days.
Lavender continues her visits, though. It seems to her that if she can understand just one mortal, she will understand the restlessness caused by Anomie.
Sarah’s sighs and creaks make Lavender pity the futility of mortal life and feel grateful for her ethereal insubstantiality. Yet, a brush of a sunray can smooth away the cares folded in Sarah’s face.
Once, pruning a flowerless shrub, Sarah pricks herself. A red dot grows on the fingertip. Neck tilted, she smiles wistfully at the gathering ruby, bulbous, bright against pale skin.
Too curious to stay safely away, Lavender comes closer.
Sarah sniffs and frowns. “A lavender sister? Why have you come? Do you want to experience a body?”
“No no, we sense a body during dreamweaving.”
“Only through your veil.” Sarah snorts. “Remove it and see what life is. Or are you scared?”
Shedding the veil makes Lavender feel vulnerable, exposed, but a mere mortal has challenged her.
She discards her protection and dilates into Sarah.
Oh the shock. Jags of color blind her. Smells, full and heavy, choke her. And the weight. Dense flesh, thick with pain. Loud thuds, vibrations.
She hurtles out.
“Gave up?” asks Sarah.
“I’m coming again.” Braced for coarseness, Lavender re-enters. Sensations submerge her; she expands through the body, accepting the bounds and protection of skin. She can retract whenever she wants.
Warm sun on a face, so very gentle. Often during dreamweaving, Lavender has touched memories of basking in the sun, but such contentment? She could linger forever…
“Out,” barks Sarah.
Lavender has woven infinite dreams, for adults and children, for those able-bodied, for the sick, for the blind. She has waded through ecstatic memories and horrific ones. Anomie was not different, yet she was. Perhaps, despite all cleaning and shields, stray lint of mortal contact clung on, thoughts clustered, and feelings. And Anomie’s reed-thin voice, spanning a chasm of sightlessness, gummed all into a lump too solid to crumble.
Sometimes Lavender flits past Anomie’s cottage. She does not enter.
She does not remember when or how she began, if the eternal ever ‘begins.’ She has never questioned anything.
Even so, what is her question?
In one of her flesh-dips into Sarah, Lavender shares memory of a dream Sarah dreamed. It boils with more intensity than she has ever woven into a dream.
Perhaps all humans intensify obtuse dreams. Or perhaps Sarah is unique.
What did Anomie experience the night Lavender wove her the dream?
Lavender broods too often. Sometimes thoughts collapse into insights that open vistas of joy. Ecstasy. Sorrow. Devastation. Living.
She would have discarded her shield during dream weaving, but laws require maintaining equilibrium between the formed and formless. She brushes off her guilt about her violations when she tries on Sarah’s body; heightened perception, awe, and horror have become an addiction.
Those glimpses of real life throb with power.
“I was a sister before I grossed,” Sarah says.
This clumsy old woman?
“Which rule did you break?” Lavender asks.
“I chose to gross.” Sarah rubs her fingers, gazes at a spot where Lavender is not. “I wove dreams for a youth and fell in love with him. He said he loved me. I took over a visibility cloak for him. I turned out…like this and…”
Lavender imagines tentative fingers tracing lines on flesh. She quivers in foolish anticipation, she, who only knows flesh by borrowing.
Mortals often praise Lavender now, so Eldest assigns her the toughest jobs–the poorest, the most dejected, the angriest. Every night, Lavender exhausts herself to uncover the best inside them for dreams. Come daylight, she skips daily romps and rushes to Sarah–friend, sister, provider.
And on the days Lavender is refused entry, her tormentor.
“I ran barefoot here as a child.” Sunlight dapples the cripple’s face as he lies under a canopy of trees, smiling. “Hear the leaves rustle. See those reds and golds. Smell the autumn dust…”
He was thrown off by a horse–he shall never walk again.
“What dream do you want?” Lavender asks him.
“Weave my best memories,” he says. “Make the dream so vivid and dramatic that I recall every detail. It will help me recover.”
Energy surges through each of his memory shreds. Whirling emotions suck her in–blackness interwoven with gold, desolation braided with hope. She topples out of his mind, overwhelmed. Fascinated by his lack of resentment, she had forgotten to strengthen her shield.
Gasping under the ferocity of life in this helpless man, she thinks:
Before humans die, they live.
Lavender craves for more.
She tells Sarah, “Let me share your body for a few days. You don’t–“
“I shouldn’t have let you in. Go, and do not return. You cannot straddle two worlds.”
“No.” Anguish sears Lavender. Will she never again feel grass as sharp spikes? Will her world revert to too-smooth, bland senses?
“Return to your meadow,” Sarah says. “Or accept my visibility cloak and release me.” Her eyes sparkle with a swift hope, perhaps of agelessness and freedom from flesh.
Can she surrender her gossamer life for perpetual heaviness, Lavender wonders. Instead of carefree morning gossips, fashioning of dreams, there will be aches, and confinement. She will age like Sarah, labor to earn bread. All this merely for real grass under real feet?
“Will the cloak make me like you?” she asks.
Sarah shrugs. “Old or young, ugly or beautiful, healthy or crippled, who can say?”
A cripple, Eternity! Yet the man staring at russet leaves radiated energy. If she grosses, she will feel things.
Not forever. Age will slow her, death reduce her to scattered ash. Ceased existence.
Even ashes are more real than perpetual vapidity.
“Give me your cloak. I release you,” Lavender whispers after a long while.
Sarah touches her forehead, mutters something, and says, “Melt into me.”
Coarseness suffocates Lavender when she lowers herself into Sarah. An excruciating pain ends and begins her, crushing her into limbs, torso and head. Moments stretch to infinity before imploding into a now that remains.
A tornado of aches and tingles. A smothering by smells and sounds. Energy crackles through Lavender. She molds into her new form and directs her senses to her skin and outward. Her first breath chokes–the thick air clogs her chest before releasing its substance through her.
She is alive. She is human.
Who is she?
She rubs her eyes open with new, heavy hands. She is alone.
A voice hammers in her head, but she cannot make out the words.
“Who…what…?” An inert tongue. Blood roars inside her and batters her eardrums.
The thought tendrils become a word. “Lavender?”
A faint smell she cannot recognize. Images return. Eldest. Sarah. Visibility cloak.
The skin itches; she wants to claw it off.
“Don’t,” says a soft voice. “It took me two days to adjust when Marge handed over.”
Marge. Marigold. Eldest.
Her head hurts from thinking. A robe lies near her. With clumsy hands, she forces it over her head. She gropes the wall and places foot before clumsy foot. A weird symphony engulfs–footsteps, an insect’s chirp, a peddler’s call. The yellows dazzle brighter, the browns are dreary, the blacks a hollow nothingness. Raw skin chaffs against cloth. Bare feet bruise against the coarse floor.
Outside, a profusion of wine-red flowers covers hitherto flowerless, thorny bushes. A heady fragrance, familiar.
“Rose?” She whispers, something clicking inside her. “Rose? Sarah?”
Near the rose bushes, a stem pokes through the soil. She bends down on painful knees and caresses the plant. “Lavender?” she whispers to herself.More stories like this by topic: Desi authors, Indian authors, South Asian speculative fiction, Women authors