Once, when I was a child – seven or eight years old (as I always am when I reflect back) – I got very sick. I remember writhing on the itchy couch in the living room. This was before sick children would be parked on soft sofas in front of cheery cartoons all day, forced to drink nutritional smoothies. These were the dark days of “wait it out” and leeching. I’m sure I had a fever because, having had one since, I know that high fevers make me toss and turn and sweat intermittently, soaking my clothing and sending me into violent shivers. They also give me dreams.
In this dream I watched our seventeen year old neighbor hike up the hill to the corral where the horses and chickens were kept. They were tied up in stalls, with a lean-to built over them, the metal roof slanting at an extreme angle. I often fantasized about climbing that structure and sliding down the roof, narrowly missing the bolts holding down the corrugated steel.
The neighbor girl reached the stall and began talking in low tones to the horse. It whinnied back, shaking its head. The moment was intimate and I stood watching from afar. Then suddenly, inexplicably, there was a spark. The usually mild horse reared up. Instantly, flames consumed the straw and the make-shift wooden partitions between stalls. The entire structure was a ball of flame. I heard screams but couldn’t tell if they were mine or my neighbor’s or the horse’s. Great walls of flame blended into the pink sky. I stood and watched, silently crying with no one else around.
It was done. The ground was a black mark, covered by the charred steel roof. Chickens strutted around the circumference of the scar scavenging for bugs. There was no heat, no color – only the intermittent reflection of that once-shiny roof, sitting like a lid on the earth. I began to sweat and was suddenly mobilized. I called out, afraid and shaking.
And then I was on the couch. My mother was there, assuring me. It was all a dream; I hadn’t moved; it wasn’t real.