by request from @HjeuphosAcre
The sun was hot but his labor was short, now that his firstborn could do most of a man’s work, and they came in from the field bronzed and glistening, and the coolness of the farmhouse overwhelmed the heat of midday. Their eyes adjusted to the sacred dark to reveal the little ones crowded around their knees, eager for their father but willing to settle for their brother. He felt no stiffness, no fatigue as he distributed hugs and pats, the ritual of lifts and twirls that never grew tiresome, and sent them one by one to roughhouse on the rug with the firstborn.
She was in the kitchen, haloed in the window, and he felt more than saw her smile – a shift in the sunlight? Some change in her stance? But she was attending to her own ritual, trimming and watering the dazzling array of herbs and flowers placed potted suspended twined around the kitchen window, a double spiral of life focused on the sun and on the silhouette. The web of life bent and followed her, then faded in comparison to her face – freckled and wise, innocent and mature, crows’ feet tracing a sainted smiling lifetime, and she fit perfectly in his arms because she was made for him – she made herself for him – he had for her – he was for her.
She spoke, words of great import and sincerity about a little one’s adventure with the chickens. He delivered the news of the firstborn’s care and endurance. How did I earn this? he thought, then the obscenity escaped his realm of awareness, became utterly meaningless.
They sang as they wove. Man and wife opposite the loom, alternating pushes on the treadle, careful fingers tending warp and weft and sunbeam, dust motes acting out their chaos to the contemplation of the firstborn, shepherding the older of the little ones at the spinning wheel while the smallest played on the floor.
The flax ran out early, and the children ran outside to feel the last summer sunlight, and the matrix of life went from the door to the children to her but it was the same, it had not the newness it promised, and he realized to his shame that he still was not sore, and he could not recall the feeling of thread on his fingers.
He took her hand – knew that it was warm and soft and he was feeling it – but he did not feel it, and he mourned and doubted. “Come along with me,” he said, or something like that became that which had been said, and he led her out the door where the half-sun was red and balanced on a purple horizon, and their children were playing but he could not tell himself what game. He reached out and took the hand of the littlest. She reached out and took the hand of the firstborn. He took his family in holy chain and led them straight forward, and he wanted a hill so there was a hill and his heart sank.
They climbed it swiftly, even the littlest, whose first steps he could not recall – but could he recall any? Had he earned any of the, never mind the culmination of beneficial fate that gently humbles men at the flourishing of their flocks and herds, but even the accruing of memories, shared asymmetrically between the golden regard of an awe-seeking child and the wearying sensibility of the heaven-seeking parent. He had skipped a step.
His family held hands in a circle around the crest of the hill. Above them were infinite stars. Below no longer mattered. He looked around at his gathered children and could not tell how many there were. He cried, “Archetypes! Archetypes! You’re all only archetypes!” but they had no answer, of course, because he had not given them one. His heart shook with longing, and he wondered if he knew them in waking life, but he knew that he did not. He turned his head to look at his wife, but there was no angle that would bring her face into focus, and he wondered if he knew her in waking life but there was no answering realization.
“Will you follow me out of the dream?” he asked. She answered but did not speak – my love, I would follow you past the stars’ end, if only I could.
“Do you know what kind of person I really am?” She didn’t care.
He searched his thoughts for waking memories but they were across the thick dark boundary of wakefulness and he recoiled, held it back, willed it away from his starry hill, and he lifted up their voices and they sang – it was beautiful, spectacular, rousing, sweet, star-shaking, but there was no sound, no matter how loud they sang. The barrier drew closer, invisible and stifling all around them, and grew inexorable.
He willed his family to cross it with him, wrenched them with him toward the cloud of the not-a-dream, the unredeemable, the resolved, but as firmly as the dream had accepted his desires it resisted this.
There was clarity. He was curious. He wanted to know what the true owner of the dream was like. He wasted to know the man’s cares and concerns, what made him happy, if the children did not.
Bleary eyes and heavy muscles crashed toward him from all corners of creation, and then he knew.
He awoke with the sound of a children’s choir running in his head. A woman’s voice led them. His own voice sang along. He remembered nothing else.