A Forest

John Riley

Her awake dreams were chains of gold and diamonds, thick cypresses and roses that showered down on her. Her sleep dreams were full of the kind of passion the fox feels for the hen. They buzzed like millions of flies. Inside her sleep dreams she was a pilgrim who had lost direction. Everything mattered and nothing was childish. She rode through sleepless nights like an egg on a soft spoon and at first light rolled out of bed convinced life was worth living.

She wore lime fingernail polish, blue on her toes, and her father was dying of liver disease in a room with dust on the windows. The arrangements for his care had been haphazard. He was a proud man, and sly, and thought strongly he should die in his house. A nurse checked in but he was often alone. When the pain rolled across his face she tried to hold tight but always ended up turning away. Shakespearean bile clumped in her throat.

She could tell him about her night dreams but when she tried to tell him about her awake dreams the words twisted into lies. Telling him the truth was out of her reach. She stacked up the images in her mind and tried to play them straight but they tilted like a gambler's luck. She wanted him to know about her awake dreams. If that door was opened his death wouldn't leave her fragmented.

In the final days his skin was the color of bananas. His body had shriveled. The sheets on the bed were yellowish too and she thought he was fading away. She could hold his hand and thought that was encouraging even if she could feel the blood pump in her wrist.

On his last night she made one last effort to tell him the joy that she got from not closing her eyes. She hadn't been sleeping and her mind was full of fresh air and swung like a bee over clover. She held his hand in one of hers and with the other rubbed his cold ear. That's where the passage way is she thought and aimed her words there directly. But with a blast the lies rushed to the front. Her whispers came out as buzzes. Scampered into his ear like bugs. Truth was too far in the rear she realized, and instead of telling him about roses and rides and soft, dark trees her words rolled and writhed and everything she said twisted into “I love you, Daddy.”