A while after my mother died, I had this dream. It was unlike all of the other dreams I had about my mother, with the exception of one I had before she died. Before she even knew she was sick and dying. Before the *doctors* knew, rather. I’ve told you about that dream before.
Anyway, this other dream. It was several months after Mum died. I dreamt in real time, which is odd. We were all together, possibly at Christmas or thereabouts, and who should be waiting for us as we all arrived but Mum. Imagine our surprise. Particularly because I was with her when she “deceased” (my Da insists on verbing the noun, which weirds language*, **). I snipped some hair from her cold, waxy body as she lay in the cheap purple coffin at the funeral home (it’s pretty stupid to pay five thousand dollars for a coffin that’s only going to get torched, and apparently, they don’t *do* coffin rentals. I asked.)
But there she was, sitting in her chair at her house, smoking a cigarette and doing a crossword. Her legs were tucked up under her at an angle, the way she always sat. I approached her slowly. I thought I was perhaps seeing…well…experiencing a Visitation.
“Mum?” I asked. I watched smoke curl up from her cigarette and around her head. She scratched something down on her puzzle.
“Hi, kidlet,” she said, not glancing up.
She looked at me this time, took a drag and blew smoke toward the side of the room.
“Uh. I …um… are you aware… I mean… did you know that… well…uh…you’re supposed to be dead.”
She started to laugh. “Oh, that. Well, I got better.”
“Right. I’ve seen that Monty Python scene.”
Dad walked in through the back door. I could see him, and I could see Mum, but they couldn’t see each other. “Who are you talking to?” he asked.
“Mum,” I replied simply.
He looked quizzically at me, then grunted and closed the door behind him.
“No, really, Dad. Turns out she got better.”
“That’s not funny.”
“I’m not trying to be funny.”
“Your Dad’s here?” Mum asked.
Dad turned white. He stared at me. I nodded. Mum rose from her chair. She walked toward me. I stood where I was. I could hear her footsteps on the wood floor. “What the hell is the matter with you two?” she asked.
Dad turned wobbly.
“Mum?” I asked, my voice shaky, my eyes blurred with tears. She closed the distance between us. I reached out for her. She smiled and hugged me. I could smell the smoke in her hair, and the kind of shampoo she used. I felt her rub a circle on my back.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“But you DID. I SAW YOU,” I sobbed.
“They just thought that. Goddamned doctors. By the way, thanks for the haircut. It was TERRIBLE.” She laughed. I heard her laugh. I felt her laughing in my arms.
My father stood there, his jaw hanging open, tears running down his face. I heard my aunt in the guest room. “Mum’s home!” I hollered.
The door to the guest room opened. My aunt shuffled out, looking like a non-morning person waking up in the morning. She stopped abruptly in the hall.
“Jesus Christ!” she whispered.
“No,” I smiled. “That’s Easter. This is just Mum.”
Eventually, the story came out – sometime between the time she ‘died’ in the hospital and the time Dad cremated her, she’d been whisked away by some Brilliant Doctor, who managed to cure her, somehow. It involved massive surgery and some rather unorthodox treatment. The ‘body’ in the coffin had actually been a wax dummy; the doctor didn’t want the family to have false hope, so he’d arranged it all. Mum was back. We asked her if maybe this wouldn’t be a good time to quit smoking, since she’d got a second chance at living.
She glowered at us, and mumbled something about how she’d already thought of that.
I woke from that dream Very Confused. Extremely Confused. In fact, I called my mother that day. She …wasn’t home.
Now and then, I have these kinds of dreams about Mum. They are different from the dreams where she is with me, but clearly history has not been rewritten. They are different from the dreams where I get to talk to my Nama and my Gramps again. Strangely, my other grandfather hasn’t come to see me yet. I suspect he just doesn’t have much more to say…In these kinds of dreams, she holds my children and they know her and laugh with her; she visits me and tells me what a terrible housekeeper I am. We fight.
Anyway, last night, I had that kind of dream. But it was subtly different – Mum was there, and alive, but at a distance. She didn’t come in to the same room we were in. She didn’t talk to us. She didn’t laugh. But she was watching. Intently.
I didn’t much like that.
*With thanks to Calvin.
** I mean, really. It would be much more accurate to say “my wife *ceased* two years ago”, or “ever since my wife ceased”, or, simply, “my wife ceased.”