Mary Mulholland. The Making of Dreams


Before you’re six weeks you’ve left the west country, with its thunder drones, 
the triple choker birth gave you, your tears exercising the lungs.

Propped up in your pram, watching waves wheeze over the east coast shingle: 
be good. One day we’ll join daddy in another land

Soon he’s forgotten, and his bristle moustache. Wait. Third girls must be trouble-free. Eyes smart from the wind, cheeks burnish like coxes. 

The others, back from school, play in the snow. Birdsong lulls you. Petals fly. 
A teaspoon of brandy in hot milk will help you sleep

Then O the excitement, O the laughter, your sisters sing, we’re off to see daddy again! 
Different sand, different sea, dusty smells catch your throat. 

Too hot for sleep; the ayah keeps opium under her nails
Outside noises: wild cats, frogs. Curtains shiver. What’s under the bed? 

Gaps round the doorframe let in light and downstairs murmurs. Light reveals 
fingers over the wardrobe, fingers playing shadow games. Shh, be quiet,

you’ll make the pillow wet. Stroke your hair, its softness will soothe you. The fingers 
grow bulbous, they’re laughing. The sheet’s central seam is scratchy, shh,

a shadow under the door. Stay still. It opens. Your heart’s a drum. Eyes shut, 
hold your breath. It’s always him. She’s too tired, with the others, the heat. 

Your wrist throbs as he holds it, his ear by your nose, he bends to push teddy 
into your arms, tucks you tight. Leaves. Breathe. Toss teddy back to the floor. 

It won’t be loved till it’s old, lost its fur, no longer growls, is renamed Velvet Paws 
by the next generation. Kick the sheets loose. Sob yourself to sleep. 

But if you’re ill, then she’ll come. She’ll sit by your side, sew clothes for Elizabeth, 
varnish her lips and nails red; dab lipstick measles all over her body,

pour her perfume on your Jack and Jill hanky. Now worn as a cravat by Velvet Paws. In time you’ll recall how she taught you to daydream. Long after they and Elizabeth are gone, 

you’ll lift the hanky with its still, faint scent, breathe in the past and gaze at the moon that’s hardly aged since you were young.

About the contributor

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