Tina curled up on a wide windowsill in Natalie’s kitchen and wrapped her fingers around a warm cup of mint tea. “You know me, my dreams were always movie material, but lately they’ve become crazier,” she said.
“Have you been taking those pills?” Natalie asked while loading the dishwasher.
“Not for the last two weeks. So it’s definitely not them.”
“I didn’t mean that. Are you doing okay without them?” She clicked the dishwasher door shut, stretched her back, and turned to look at Tina with concern.
“I guess …” Tina shrugged. “Anyway, I didn’t like taking them. They made me feel funny—you know, like, modified. Felt like they were messing with my brain. Or maybe it’s just my imagination.”
“Honey, that’s exactly what they were meant for—to mess with your brain.” Natalie smiled.
Tina forced a sarcastic laugh. “You know what I mean. I didn’t enjoy feeling like my emotions were almost numb. Like you’re bleeding, you know it, and you can see the wound, but you can’t feel the pain. It’s wrong.”
Tina turned away, looking out of the window. She tightened her grip on her cup, dreading the thought of going back home.
The windowsill was Tina’s favorite place in her friend’s house. It was more like a bench, or even a sofa, attached to the window with a bunch of soft and comfortable cushions of different shapes and sizes. Tina liked to think Natalie kept them there for her.
“It surely is.” Natalie gazed at her best friend with compassion. She paused, adjusting her messy bun of dark blonde hair, then offered, “Hey, wanna get some fresh air? Let’s go sit on the patio while you tell me all about your weird dreams.”
“Guess I should stretch my legs a bit. I love your kitchen, but I bet you can’t stand it anymore.” Tina laughed.
“Yeah, today I’ve definitely had enough of it.” Natalie chuckled. “You know what, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine. Too bad you can’t join,” she teased.
Tina frowned, but it didn’t look convincing. They both giggled.
“Next time. I promise I won’t be driving.” Tina jumped off the windowsill and stretched her arms. “I’ll even stay over, maybe.”
“Mommy, Mr. Rabbit wants to ask you something.” Natalie’s daughter, Mallory, appeared in the doorway, holding a plush rabbit in front of her.
“What is it, honey?” Natalie turned to look at her.
“Do we really need to take a bath? Because Mr. Rabbit doesn’t want to. He’s not feeling well.” Mallory pretended to cough.
Natalie and Tina looked at each other, trying hard not to giggle.
“Is that so? Well, I guess Mr. Rabbit doesn’t have to. He can wait for you in your room while you’re having a bath.” Natalie attempted to sound as serious as possible.
“Nothing …” Mallory sighed. She turned and sighed again, louder this time.
“Love you, honey,” Natalie said as Mallory trudged up the stairs.
“Love you too, Mommy.”
Natalie smiled and grabbed her glass. “Let’s go, T! Tod will handle the bath. I can have some rest now.”
“Oh, yes, baby. And well-deserved too.”
The patio hosted two rattan armchairs, a two-seater sofa with thick wide cushions on it, and a small glass table next to them with a vase with fresh-cut roses. The sunset painted the furniture, the flowers, and everything around with hues of gold. A light breeze played with the wind chimes, and birds in the trees nearby sang along to the tune.
“Such a beautiful evening.” Natalie let out a sigh of admiration.
Tina and Natalie made themselves comfortable on the sofa. For a few minutes, they sat there in silence, enjoying the fresh air and taking in the surroundings.
Natalie shifted, twisting her body to face Tina.
“So, the dream …?”
“Oh, yeah.” Tina needed a moment to return from wherever her mind was wandering.
“Greg and I were at this swimming pool. I was about to step into the water, but the pool was full of fish. Beautiful, bright, different colors and sizes, and there were so many of them that you could barely see the bottom. It was really cool, but also kind of scary. I stood there watching them, when they suddenly started jumping out of the water. As they were in the air, they transformed into little birds—hummingbird size—and then dropped dead on the floor with the sound of breaking crystal glass.”
Tina paused and took a sip of her tea, before continuing.
“Soon, the floor around the pool was covered with sparkling little bodies of birds. I leaned forward to take a closer look, but my vision was blurred, and I realized I was crying. When I picked up one of the dead birds, it was actually a brooch made of gemstones. It was beautiful, but I was terrified to hold it. However, I couldn’t let go either. I turned to look at Greg, but he was gone. When I turned back, all the birds had disappeared too. Except for the one I was holding. For some reason, I felt I should keep it, and I wanted to pin it on my clothes even though I was wearing a swimming suit. While struggling with the pin and the flimsy material, I pricked my finger and dropped the bird. The brooch smashed on the floor, breaking into a million sparkling pieces that all disappeared in a second. All that was left was a pool of blood. Everywhere. I realized it was my blood, and it made me feel sick and faint. I was about to pass out, when I heard Greg’s voice …”
“What did he say?”
Tina looked up from her mug, her green eyes surrounded by dark circles.
“‘Wake up.’ He said, ‘Wake up, Tina! Now!’”
“Wow. That’s a crazy dream indeed. I don’t even know what to say … It was good that he woke you up. Looks like it was turning into a nightmare.” Natalie shook her head.
“Oh, wait. The weirdest thing happened later in the morning. I’ve been dreaming of Greg almost every day since he … died …” She paused, a lump forming in her throat. Six months had passed since her husband, Greg, died in a car accident, and Tina still had trouble pronouncing the word out loud. “But for the first time, I felt his presence. It was so real.”
“Oh, dear.” Natalie sighed, her eyes watering.
“Here comes the ‘wow’ part. But you need to promise me something first,” Tina continued.
“What is it?”
“Promise you won’t laugh. No, I know you won’t laugh. Shit, I don’t know how to say it.”
Tina ran a hand through her hair, brushing a dark brown lock off her face.
“Okay, promise me you won’t think—or say, or imply—I’m crazy, or I need to start taking the damn pills again, or go see a shrink, or anything of that sort,” Tina blurted.
“Are you serious? Come on. Why would you even say that?” Natalie’s full lips turned into a frown.
“Nat, I love you. You’re my bestest friend—like a sister to me. You’re all I’ve got now. I didn’t mean to offend you, but this whole thing is crazy and weird. Hear me out, please.” Tina gazed at the sky, holding her breath and fighting back the tears.
Natalie gave her friend a hug and held her for a minute. “I’m not offended. It’s all cool. I’m dying to hear about this weird shit of yours.”
Tina let out a nervous giggle and shook her head. “When I woke up, there was blood on the blanket where I’d been clenching it with my right hand. And the thumb I pricked in the dream with the brooch was really bleeding. A tiny bit, but enough to scare the hell out of me!”
The phone vibrated, dangerously close to the edge of the nightstand. The annoying sound echoed throughout the room as Tina lay there in the dark with her eyes closed, pretending to sleep. Not that there was much sense in pretending, considering she was alone. Still, she lay there motionless, controlling her breathing, as if someone who was not supposed to know she was awake was watching her closely.
The mysterious “someone” was the whole world, Tina thought. The world Tina had been trying to hide from for the last several days.
She should have switched the phone to airplane mode, instead of muting the volume. That way, she wouldn’t have been disturbed, but could’ve still used it if need be. To check the time, for example. Or take pictures.
I guess I am going crazy after all, Tina thought. My thoughts are a mess. A messy mess. What pictures? Pictures of what? Of whom?
She pulled the blanket over her head with a moan.
It would be cool if I could take pictures of my dreams. Then they wouldn’t slip away from me, as they always do. Somebody needs to invent a camera like that. Something like those Polaroid ones that were around when I was a kid but for dreams.
The phone vibrated again, the buzzing interrupting Tina’s thoughts as the phone shimmied closer to the edge.
“Why can’t everyone leave me alone?” Tina opened her eyes.
The phone buzzed once more before it fell on the floor.
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Tina jumped up. The sudden movement coursed through her head, drowning her in a wave of pain. She leaned forward, burying her face in her hands.
“Enough is enough, Tina. Stop moaning, get yourself together, pick up the damn phone, and see who the hell needs you so much,” she whispered into her palms.
She reached for her phone and picked it up. Carefully, she straightened her back, trying to keep all movements as slow and smooth as possible to avoid causing herself any further unnecessary pain.
She looked at the screen. Twenty missed calls from Natalie. Sixteen missed calls from Mike, her boss and close friend. WhatsApp was bursting with messages, and the icon of the mail app had a scary “97” attached to its top right corner. Sure, most of it was spam, but Tina’s first thought was still to throw the phone across the room. She resisted the urge, gripping the phone tightly.
I’ll call Natalie first, she thought. Or should I take a painkiller first? But for that, I need to eat something, and I can’t even move without my head trying to explode, so it means painkiller first. But even in that case I’ll still need to walk to the kitchen, to get the pills and the water. It’s fucking complicated, all of this.
For another minute, Tina closed her eyes, trying to get herself together.
The phone buzzed in her hand. She jumped, startled, and reflexively swiped across the screen, answering the call.
“Shit!” Tina screamed, at the same time, frowning in pain.
“That’s exactly what I fucking thought, trying to reach you for the hundredth time,” said Mike on the other end of the line. “Wanna know what else I thought? No, wait, actually, first, I wanna know what the hell you were thinking, disappearing like this?”
“Hey, Mike,” Tina murmured into the phone, holding it away from her ear. “Please don’t shout. I have a terrible headache.”
“Don’t shout? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s all you can say?”
“You’re not letting me say anything, actually.” Tina squeezed out the words.
“Have you called Natalie? Does she know you’re okay?”
“I was about to when you called.” Tina rubbed her forehead. “So no, she doesn’t. Besides … am I okay?”
“I don’t know. You tell me. Are you okay? Do you know we were about to start calling the morgues and hospitals?” Mike still sounded furious, but kept his voice down this time.
“Look, I’m sorry. I really am. I know I let you down with those articles—”
“It’s not about work. We’ll talk about that later. We were worried about you. Don’t you understand? It’s irresponsible.”
“Hey, I’m starting to feel like I’m a teenager and you’re my dad.”
“Oh, thank God I’m not your dad. But you’re definitely acting like a teenager. Wanna be alone? Fine. Wanna get drunk and suffer from a hangover? Your problem. Except that’s what friends are for, don’t you think?” Mike was getting wound up again. “Okay, whatever, you’ve got your reasons. Don’t wanna work? Fine, your problem. Actually, in this case, that’s my problem too. But that’s not the point now.”
“Don’t interrupt,” said Mike. He seemed to be getting into the ‘angry father’ role a little too much. “In all those cases, and in a bunch of other ones, you still could have called or texted or at least picked up when we called and just said ‘I’m okay, guys. I don’t wanna see you for some weird reason, but I’m okay. Safe and sound, just poisoning my body with liters of alcohol, all on my own.’”
“Didn’t poison my body with liters of alcohol. I didn’t drink at all.”
“Okay, now I do have a feeling you’re about to call me Daddy. Please, don’t.”
Tina could hear the smile in Mike’s voice.
“Look, Mike, I’m really, really sorry …”
“Wait. Are you at home?”
“Yes.” She closed her eyes and tried to stretch her neck muscles by moving her head from left to right.
“I’ll be there in an hour, max. I’ll pick up Nat and we’ll drop by a shop. Need anything?” Mike wasn’t asking for permission; he was informing her.
“Something to eat, I guess. And a painkiller. I should have them somewhere, but I can’t go look for them now. And, Mike …?”
“Just … thank you.”
“Yeah, yeah, apology accepted.” Mike laughed. “See ya soon. And be sure to open the door when we come, will you?”
Tina’s head was about to explode. She trudged to the bathroom and flicked the light switch. The light arrived, accompanied by a new wave of pain.
“That was a bad idea,” she said.
She bent over the sink and ran the tap. The water resembled a roaring waterfall. Tina took a deep breath, preparing herself, then exhaled and splashed ice-cold water on her face.
“Shit.” She shivered. However, she repeated the self-torture three more times. Cold water ran down her arms, dripping from her elbows onto the floor, making her shiver, yet also making her feel alive.
Tina lifted her head and gazed into the mirror. The girl looking back at her had big green eyes full of fear, like she was lost, while her long, wavy brown hair was messy and tangled.
Tina reached out and touched the mirror with her palm. The sad-looking girl repeated her gesture.
I wish she smiled.
She looked her reflection in the eyes.
“Maybe you will smile again, one day. You know, really smile. Genuinely. What do you think, huh?”
The girl in the mirror didn’t respond. She kept holding her palm to Tina’s with a despondent look.
“Okay, enough. I will end up in a psychiatric ward.” Tina pulled away from the mirror.
As she was walking out of the bathroom, the intercom rang. She headed for the door, every step resonating in her head.
It’s good we have a small apartment.
The thought made her stumble and stop.
The word pulsated in her mind. It flashed like a red neon sign.
There is no ‘we’ anymore, a voice in her head told her.
“Shut up. Stop it.” Tina clenched her fists.
She paced to the door and pressed the intercom button, ready to welcome her saviors.
“Finally,” said Mike on the intercom.
“Hey, sorry. Come on up, guys.” Tina let go of the button and opened the door, waiting for her friends.
Mike and Natalie emerged from the elevator, carrying brown paper bags stuffed with groceries.
“Well, hey there, princess, we’ve come to save you from your enchanted castle.” Natalie tried to hug Tina and not drop the bags at the same time.
Mike gave Tina a reproachful look and headed to the kitchen.
“Did you decide to be a mole?” He switched on the light. “Are you aware it’s the middle of the day?”
He set the bags on the counter top and pulled the heavy black-out curtains to the side. It didn’t change much, since the curtains revealed closed blinds underneath them.
Mike opened the blinds, and Tina moaned as the rays of sunshine hit her eyes.
“Oh, come on, T. Cut it out. Come back to the world already, would you?” Mike grumbled.
Natalie walked over to Tina and gave her a proper hug, her hands now free of the heavy bags.
“It’s okay. Everything is okay. God, you scared us,” she murmured against Tina’s shoulder.
Tina hugged her back. “My head hurts so much. I can hardly move.”
“Let’s take care of that. When was the last time you ate? Or drank?” Natalie pulled back, still keeping her hands on Tina’s shoulders.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what the date is.”
“We brought your favorite lemon chicken.” Mike took the boxes with Chinese food out of the bag and put them on the counter top. “We also got you milk, eggs, bread, cereal, and orange juice.”
“Any chance you brought me a coffee?”
“Not that you deserve it, but yes, we did. A tall cappuccino, your all-time favorite.” He handed her a paper cup with a Starbucks logo. “Here you go. And we got a bottle of red wine for us. Much needed. I would have even gone for something stronger, but Nat didn’t let me.”
“I don’t want to end up carrying you home.” Natalie laughed. “Besides, I have kids to go home to, remember?”
“How’re my M&Ms?” Tina took a sip of her coffee.