by Joan M. Baril
(3rd place winner in the NOWW Summer Flash Fiction Contest)
After the first few years, I never told my husband about the dream. I had seen him wince when I described the garden house. I realized he considered my dream an unconscious reproach against him for our crazy nomadic marriage. Neil is a mining engineer and we travelled the world together. But buying a house was impossible, not in the jungles of Ecuador or the mountains of Tasmania or the deserts of Arizona. So, for twenty-five years, I never mentioned the dream again even though its occurrence, every few weeks or so, gave me a happy-morning feeling.
The dream starts with an ordinary Canadian street and a front garden of foxglove, daisies, and roses. I love flowers. I always attempted a garden wherever we lived. At our mountain house in Kashmir, I grew blue poppies in painted ceramic tubs but abandoned them when we fled the insurrection. The nasturtiums beside our stone cottage in Scotland cheered a drizzly landscape. In eastern Turkey, I defended my plants from wandering goats. In truth, I loved the challenges of life with my handsome, adventurous husband.
As I breathe the scent deep of the flowers into my lungs, I admire the tall, stately house of cream stucco and green shutters. I drift towards it along the garden path. I mount the wide steps, and gently open the front door. All is silent. Sunlight dapples the hardwood floors leading to a comfortable living room with blue Oriental rugs, deep bookcases and pale leather furniture.
Here the dream ends. Happiness flows through me when I wake, ready to embrace the challenges of a new day.
But now, in Ottawa, I’m up early to drive Neil to the airport, his last northern trip. In a month, our wanderings end. Our condo in Vancouver, bought for our retirement years, awaits us.
Halfway back to our apartment, I brake hard. Is it possible? The house is identical. Lacy dawn shadows cross cream stucco, green shutters, and wide welcoming steps. Dazed, I get out and walk toward the garden. The honeyed smell of flowers enchants me. I float up the path.
An elderly woman in a long blue nightdress appears in the doorway, her face contorted, her hand over her mouth.
The spell shatters.
“I know you,” she says, pointing her finger. “You live in my dreams. Year after year, you walk through my garden straight into my house.”
We stare at each other. “Why not come in,” she says with a half-smile, holding open the door. “You’ve been here before. Maybe now you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
I step forward. I’m shaking. My dream has become a mystery, a strange step into another dimension. My Buddhist friends would call it a rare glimpse into “the reality beyond reality”. The early sun brightens, outlining the woman on the steps as fixed and immobile as a figure in a tapestry.
Her hand beckons.
I turn and run for the car.
Joan M. Baril is a Thunder Bay native whose stories have been widely published in Canada, mainly in literary magazines. Recently, she placed her sixty-first piece. Her prize-winning stories appeared in the compilations Twenty Miles on Snow Shoes and Canadian Shorts. This year she received the Kouhi Award for “outstanding contribution to the literature of Northwestern Ontario.” She believes Thunder Bay hides many ghost stories still to be discovered. She herself has lived with a ghost, discovered a ghost next door, and found a ghost in her dreams.
Joan’s blog, “Literary Thunder Bay”, follows the Thunder Bay literary scene.