I always tell my customers to believe in their dreams.
That is part of my routine, in the same way that I tell them to cross my palm with silver. In the same way that, before they leave, I hold their faces for a moment or two between my hands and promise them that all will be well in the end.
It is part of the illusion, part of what breaks through the coating of daily life to feel real - or better than reality, even. It is this breaking through, this sense of being touched, that makes my customers come back. Mostly, I tell them the things they want, but sometimes I can’t resist adding a dash of whatever it is they need.
Leave your wife.
Forgive your father.
Stop working so hard.
Call your sister, tell her you love her.
And I tell them to listen to their dreams. I tell them that their dreams are the stories that tell them what they need to know. Their eyes fill with tears, they nod, they leave.
I have helped, I think.
But, as is so often the case for professionals, I do not take my own advice. Like a lazy doctor or a drunk-driving cop, I wake up and immediately push my dreams away from myself. Not because they disturb me - not exactly. The only disturbance I feel is from the fact that these dreams do not reach into my past, to my happy, uncomplicated childhood in the countryside. They seem to tell me nothing about my origin story, about how I came to be here, about who I am, or where I am going.
In my dreams I recall a childhood that was not my own.
I always see the walls first. Stone walls, stone floors, stone ceilings. Shavings of watery light fall through narrow windows. We run around these patches of light, but never through them. It is an undeclared rule of the game that the light from outside is something to fear, although the reasons for this are never said aloud, and therefore fade into irrelevance.
I am a child again in these dreams, but my exact age changes - sometimes we are scarcely toddling, other times we are old enough to be half-ashamed of our play, but we keep playing anyway. The word bounces off the walls and we throw it from one to the other, like a ball.
In these dreams I am always part of a ‘we’. I do not exist except when I am reflected in the eyes of the girl next to me. We are dressed the same. Barefoot. In dresses of rough cloth the color of a cold dawn. She is small, smaller than me. Golden-haired. Her eyes are blue-cold, and if I saw them in another child I would be frightened, but in the dreams I always accept this icy look as being a part of myself.
I understand, the way that we can only understand things in dreams, that this girl is my sister, though the way she looks into me is less like a sister and more a darker self. I do not even know what it should feel like to have a sister - I am an only child, after all.
In my dreams, I am the elder. I know this too, without needing to be told. Sometimes she trips and falls over, and it is down to me to pick her up, dust her off, tell her not to cry, even though she never cries. I know that our father has told me that I must always protect her, and know just as clearly that I am the one who needs protection.
You see, I am the older, but I am not the stronger.
It is not precisely clear what she will do to me if I do not play the game by her rules, if I let the sunlight touch my skin even for a second. It never needs to be said - the dream-self is used to deferring, the dream-sister never needs to exert her power.
Sometimes I feel her anger prickle me like shards of ice. I do not know why she is angry with me, but feel in some sense that the anger is richly deserved. My dream-sister, my other self, can detect some fraudulence in me.
She pinches me, hisses my name, yanks my hair, tears at my dress, and I know that she wants to rip me into pieces with the rage that only one sister can feel towards another. When this happens, my ability to run evaporates, and I can only remain rooted to the spot while my mind does its best to flee. I scream soundlessly.
But sometimes, in these dreams, we love each other. Quite effortlessly, her coldness and my warmth are happy beside one another, mingling with the harmonic force of opposing currents in a stormy sea.
We skim over the surface of those stony floors and walls like two dragonflies, and our laughter scatters the air like blossom falling from trees. We fly around the patches of light and make friends with the shadows. She says the word. I say it back. We laugh and understand each other, and my hand reaches out for hers and she grasps me tightly, needing me as much as I need her, and all is well.
I wake, and I miss her. The word still echoes.
And then I stretch, I pick up my phone and check for texts and emails, and the pain of missing her diminishes until it blends in with the usual sensations of my body.
I dress. I put on my filmy veils, my thick black kohl, my blood-red lipstick, my tinkling silver jewelry. I arrange my hair so that it partly hides my face - it is not so difficult to make myself appear mysterious. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, when I prepare my medium self for the world, my green eyes flash a chilly blue, just for a second.
It is easy enough to pretend that it didn’t really happen.
I go about my day, and my sister fades away, except when I walk through a patch of sunlight on the pavement, or hear a golden-haired child laugh.