published by The Nabu Review, Issue 2
Amelia leaned her burning cigarette in the ashtray beside the armchair. Tendrils of smoke rose from its red ember and danced in the air. They spiraled in the glow of the television, clouding the dim room. Amelia’s eyes glazed over, staring unfocused at the images flickering across the screen. She thought about that night, as she had nearly every moment since. Amelia shook her head.
She picked up her cigarette again and flicked ash off its end. Amelia took a long drag and closed her eyes, leaning her head back as she breathed smoke through her nostrils. She shouldn’t be smoking, but she enjoyed the nicotine’s euphoric buzz. Maybe she should pick up a couple bad habits while she was at it. Amelia heard smoking weed messed with your memory but maybe it would help with the nightmares. But more bad habits would suck her into a black hole she couldn’t risk.
Maybe she should talk to someone. The thought crossed her mind at least twice a day. Sometimes at random, when she was in the shower or letting her mind drift while driving the regular commute. Other times, it was more intense; her inner critic scowled upon her, tearing down each small solace she used as temporary bandage.
The final strands of smoke faded as Amelia stubbed out her cigarette. She relaxed into the large cushions behind her. The armchair was always too big for her; it suited James better. Amelia promised to call someone in the morning as she let her mind drift off into nicotine-glazed nightmares.
Amelia appraised the woman sitting across the room. Dr. Julianna Barnes was plump, mid-50s, peering behind black-rimmed spectacles. Crow’s feet perched at the corners of her eyes as she smiled warmly.
“How are you, Ms. Lark?"
“Please, call me Amelia.”
“Amelia.” Dr. Barnes smiled. “What’s troubling you?”
Was it obvious? Amelia cleared her throat. “I’ve been having trouble sleeping.”
“What sort of trouble?”
“I keep having these nightmares that feel like memories.”
“Memories,” Dr. Barnes mused.
Amelia stared down, twirling her thumbs. She wet her lips then gnawed on the lower one. Her voice was soft when she spoke but grew louder like a magnificent shadow in the room. “Everything is so dark. Vivid. I feel the night air around me. Rushing. Speeding. I’m driving too fast. I don’t have time to stop…”
Amelia couldn’t bring herself to continue. The nightmare loomed in her mind’s eye, sending chills through her. She traced the scar on her wrist where it curved toward her thumb. Touching the slightly raised, pale slice of skin reminded her too well.
Everything had been heightened that night.
Dr. Barnes gestured around, encompassing the faded yellow walls, two armchairs squared off on opposite sides, a fake fern in one corner, and cheerful pictures of serene wilderness. “This is a safe room.”
Without thinking about it, Amelia reached up to brush a finger across the twin scar on her forehead. Her skin tingled as she ran a finger over the spots she had lost so much blood. She remembered waking up disoriented, her mind full of foggy images and strange voices. “James?” she asked aloud. Her voice had fallen flat in the stillness of an empty hospital room.
Later, she was told James sat with her for hours. She pictured him hunched by her bedside, hair hiding his face as he held her hand and wished for her to wake up. She wondered if he put up a fight when they came to arrest him, or if he held out his hands complacently. “At least let me say goodbye to her,” she imagined him pleading.
“So these dreams, they seem real to you?” Dr. Barnes’ voice broke through Amelia’s thoughts.
She nodded, speechless.
“How does the dream end?” the therapist pressed.
Amelia’s voice quivered in her chest. “There’s something in the road,” she said. “I can’t slow down; my foot can’t find the brake. Then I hear a thud. That sound, the feeling of the car, running over it…it’s a jogger. A woman.”
Amelia took a deep breath, and rushed on. “The car is out of control. My husband, he’s the passenger. He grabs the wheel, tries to steer us to safety but we’re going too fast. Then there’s a tree in my vision…and that’s all I remember. I wake up.”
“How does that make you feel?”
Amelia sucked in her breath. “Scared…and guilty.”
“What do you think your husband’s role is in your dream?”
She thought for a moment. “He’s trying to save me, protect me.”
“Do you think these dreams reflect some of your fears in real life?”
Amelia stiffened. “They could.”
“Is there something your husband is protecting you from?”
Amelia cocked her head, chin up. “What if I don’t want his protection?”
“Why do you think that is?” Dr. Barnes looked at her.
“I want to take responsibility for my own actions, whatever the consequences.”