“You are lucky,” he said, unconsciously echoing my foster mother. “I had patients who tried to kill themselves because they could not bear their nightly terrors.”
“I would rather have nightmares than oblivion.”
“Trust me, you wouldn’t. Look, we all dream. We have to. This is how our brains process the information we acquire during the day. But there is no need for us to remember the details of this housecleaning process. You wake up refreshed, ready to face reality. What’s wrong with that?”
I shrugged. I did not know how to explain the sense of urgency that possessed me, as if the darkness of my sleep thinned, bulging up with the shape of a predator ready to surface.
“Do you have any phobias?” he asked suddenly, making me start. The swaying lamp—was it some stupid toy like a nodding Hello Kitty?—flung a handful of shadows at his skinny neck, making it appear as if it sprouted black fuzz.
“Yes,” I said reluctantly. “Ravens.”
“Other birds, too?”
“No, just ravens.”
“Anything in your childhood that accounts for this? Any trauma?”
My childhood was cloven by a trauma, but it never occurred to me to connect my dislike of the oily, predatory birds to what happened to my mother. I still could not see the link.
“Not really,” I said after a proper pause, to make him think I considered his question, while actually I tried to figure out how much of his billable hour had passed. “We lived in San Francisco when I was a child, before it became so expensive that only billionaires and homeless can afford it. We had a small apartment. My mother…she would take me on these long walks. The Golden Gate…There were ravens there. I remember she would bring packages and leave them on the bridge, so they would let us pass.”
“Packages?” Dr. Patel’s invisible eyebrows shot up above his round eyes, and I realized how inane this sounded.
“Food,” I said. “I mean food. She would leave food for the birds.”
“And did she do it throughout your childhood?”
“As far as I remember. Until…”
“Until what?” Dr. Patel leaned forward, and his bony fingers tipped with unfashionably long nails twitched on his desk.
“Until she disappeared.”
Here, I said it. And there was neither relief nor a renewed sorrow, just dull acceptance. After all, this was not some sort of secret—my family knew about it, both Alex and Marina did. We just never talked about it.
“She and I…it was just the two of us. I never met my father. I’m not sure she even knew who he was. Belated summer of love and all that…She worked as a secretary for Intel, made a decent salary. But…she was never late. And that evening…my babysitter, Mrs. Lee, she didn’t know what to do. No cellphones then. She took me home to Chinatown with her. And called the police.”
“Nothing. They declared her missing. She still is, officially. Her name is in the database of MPs. No body, no clues.”
“And what happened to you?”
“My mother was an only child, too. Her parents were dead. I grew up with a foster family, the Millers. They were very good to me.”
I wanted to shield Katie’s memory from any taint of psychiatric suspicion. But Dr. Patel surprised me. Instead of pursuing the unremarkable trajectory of my adolescence, he abruptly changed course:
“You said your mother was an only child, too. What did you mean?”
I blinked, taken aback.
“I guess…like myself.”
“And like your daughter. Marina is an only child, correct?”
“Yes. But what does it have to do with my inability to remember my dreams?”
Dr. Patel leaned forward, and for the first time during our interview, my creeping unease blossomed into something close to actual fear. His movement, abrupt and predatory, did not seem entirely human. And when I looked at his bony fingers again, I could swear they were tipped with talons.
“What was the last dream you remember?”
I looked into his round eyes, glittering with some barely suppressed appetite, and lied:
“I don’t remember any dreams. I never have.”
Elana Gomel teaches at the Department of English and American Studies at Tel-Aviv University. She is the author of six non-fiction books and numerous articles. As a fiction writer, she has published more than 40 fantasy and science fiction stories in The Singularity, New Realms, Mythic and many other magazines; and in several anthologies, including People of the Book and Apex Book of World Science Fiction. Her fantasy novel A Tale of Three Cities came out in 2013 and her novella Dreaming the Dark in 2017. Two more novels are scheduled to be published this year.
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Featured Image Credit (c) Raven Painting by Silja Erg