What This Is – A poem by Darcy Lilyanne Jay
There is a lesson to be learned from this,
My story, one long and quite daunting.
I’ve come out of this, mind clearer
Still plagued by a presence that’s haunting.
This is about life, this is about death.
This is about friendship, this is about envy.
This is about war.
This is about love.
This is about everything and more.
This is about life.
My story, again.
It has been about four months since I last heard from Aranea. Even though I had only met her this past summer, I consider her a close friend of mine, despite how aloof and mysterious she was towards me. I haven’t even dreamt about her since then, and because she’s dead and in purgatory I don’t have much in the way of contacting her. I was desperate for a while to see her again, even if it was only for a second. Every attempt I tried to make to push her out of my mind failed, a faint nagging voice in the corner of my brain telling me to worry about her. And helplessly, I did.
Every night I go to bed the same way. Change into pajamas, brush teeth, tie hair into ponytail, write a little bit in my notebook before my sister Audrey tells me to turn off the lamp on my bedside table and go to sleep.
“What does it even matter?” I ask. This is a conversation we’ve had a million times before. “You wear a mask over your eyes anyway, so it’s not like the light is in your eyes!”
“It matters because I know you’re awake and it’s keeping me awake!” She snaps back.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday, who cares? It’s not a school night.”
“I care, ‘cause I wanna get some sleep!”
“Fine, I’ll use my flashlight, then!”
I turn off the lamp, filling the room with darkness before crawling under my sheets. Under my pillow is a small flashlight that I hold in one hand above my writing notebook, where I puzzle over a few fragments of something I’ve been writing. I want to write something for Aranea, but I realize that I know so little about her that it’s hard to do so. I’ve even tried coming up with a decent title, and crossed off several that I haven’t found satisfying.
I grumble, realizing that writing tonight is basically a crapshoot. I stuff the notebook and flashlight back under my pillow and poke my head out of the covers. Ever since the incident at summer camp a few months back, I’ve needed to fall asleep hugging my childhood plushie, a stuffed yellow and green budgie that I had oh-so-creatively named ‘Mr. Budgie’. He helps me calm down if I ever start feeling anxious about nearly dying, and I’ve especially needed this bit of comfort since my mind likes to wander at night and bring up bits of my past I want to suppress. I pat around the sides of my bed, then take the flashlight back out to find him fallen on the floor. I scoop him up, put the flashlight back, and lie down cuddling him in my arms.
‘She has to be okay, right?’ I think. Oh good. The nightly inner monologue is starting. ‘It’s been months, I know I told her I’d wait if she needed me again, but what could be taking so long?’
‘Shut up, brain. I’m trying to sleep.’
‘Then again, four months to her probably feels like nothing. If you’re dead, does time just turn into one standstill blur? That should be something to ask her when you see her next.’
‘I said shut up!’
That seems to work, and my busy mind quiets down just long enough for me to fall asleep. I wait for a dream to come, hoping especially that it features Aranea. But I know this is a tall order.
My dream starts off in Olga’s room, with her, Vira, and I having a sleepover. Nothing is out of the ordinary, we’re sitting on the floor in our pajamas, a big bowl of popcorn is in front of us, a show is playing on her laptop, and her cats are both curled up alongside us purring and waiting for pets. Putting a piece of popcorn in my mouth, I can actually taste the butter and salt. This is one extremely vivid dream.
…But I realize it was exactly that, a dream.
I look down at my hands, then around the room. Usually I can’t move freely in my dreams, but this dream appears so real and so lucid that I know there’s more I can do in this dream world. And just as this thought crosses my mind, I see the leather-bound book that was the bane of my existence last summer.
Can I stand up in this dream? I can, and I walk over to the book, neatly displayed on Olga’s bookshelf. Vira and Olga in this dream haven’t noticed, nor have they said anything to me. I take a deep breath, then flip open the cover to see that the pages are pure white, not yellowed and old as I remember them. A second later, they’re the color of TV static, which slowly engulfs the room around me. I back up, startled, yet not startled enough to wake me.
“Is it happening?” I say, not entirely sure what ‘it’ would be. The TV static fades back into white, and I look at my hands again, seeing that they’re gray and hazy like my dreams in the past. My heart jumps, and I spin around, the silhouette of a girl much taller than me standing a little bit behind me.
“Aranea!” I cry, rushing up to her. I want to hug her, but she holds up a hand to signal me to stop before I can.
I start asking her questions, instead. “Does this mean you’re safe? Are we going to take down your dad together now? What’s the game plan? Am I going to see you for real soon?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait just a little bit longer.” She answers. “But yes, I am safe, I have kept myself hidden from all the castle residents thus far. It was not an easy feat, but I’ve done it.”
“Aw, next I was gonna ask if your dad freaked when he saw you.”
“That’s not something I can risk just yet. I’m not yet ready to be seen by anyone, at least, anyone not alive. I will meet up with you in your dreams more frequently, I apologize for being gone so long.”
“That’s okay. What did you want to talk to me about tonight?”
“To better prepare you for what I want from you in the future, I’ve brought a gift.”
Aranea places her index finger and thumb at the front of her forehead, pinches, and pulls a clear glass ball from her mind. I go to reach for it, but she interrupts me.
“And I know you have a gift for me, too.”
Confused for a moment, I mimic the motion she had just done, pulling a glass ball of slightly larger size from my own mind. We trade, and she inserts the one I gave her back into her forehead using the fleshy part of her palm.
“You’ll realize what this has done later. Now, put my gift into your mind, like I just did.”
I do as she tells me, not expecting it to feel so strange and quick. It was like my forehead had swallowed a very large pill, and I end up jerking myself awake because of it. I flail, kicking the sheets around my feet and twisting them up in a knot I can’t quite untie. Sitting up on my elbows, I reach one hand up to feel my forehead. Nothing is out of the ordinary, I can’t even remember the feeling of what I had just done with the glass ball.
Audrey is already asleep, even though the digital clock on my phone says that only thirty-five minutes have passed. I’m amazed I fell asleep that quickly, too. I roll out of bed, grabbing my flashlight, setting it to its lowest light, and put the handle in my mouth so the light is facing out. This frees up my hands long enough for me to make my bed again and get settled back in. I shove the flashlight back under my pillow and lie back down, snuggling Mr. Budgie once more as I shut my eyes.
My brain doesn’t start talking to me again, I’m too tired to be excited about seeing Aranea. I’ll definitely have to tell Vira and Olga about this, but that can wait until tomorrow morning. Slowly, my breathing falls into a soft, even pattern and I feel my tired body sink slowly into the mattress with each exhale. My grip on Mr. Budgie loosens as I start to dream again.
Wherever I am this time, it’s comforting and serene. I’m outside, kneeling in the bushes by a thick wooded area, similar to the one behind my house. There is a sketchbook and dark pencil in my lap, and my attention shifts occasionally between a spider resting on its web and the sketchbook, while my hand hatches tiny details into the creature’s body.
“What have you found today, my dear?” A man’s voice asks me from behind.
I’m too focused to face him. “Araneus diadematus. Female.”
“Isn’t that what you sketched yesterday?”
“Not exactly, I sketched a male yesterday.”
The man made a ‘hmm’ of approval as I looked over and admired my sketch, deeming it finished.
“Right, well if you’re ready, come inside. Dinner’s almost done cooking, and then we can get to work!”
I close the sketchbook, smoothing the ruffles out of my long skirt and turning around to follow the man. But I wake up again, as if my brain decided to say, ‘that’s all of this dream you get to see tonight.’
Wait. I was sketching with my right hand, but I’m left-handed. Also, I don’t even sketch! What was I even wearing, what were those long, thick ruffles and buttoned-up boots? And that sure as hell wasn’t my voice! That voice…who was the man with me? I didn’t recognize his voice, either.
The digital clock says that it’s 2:17 in the morning. I have to go back to sleep yet again, but I need to catalogue everything I can remember before I do. My poetry notebook that is neatly stashed under my pillow is a sacred object, only poetry is allowed to go inside there. Feeling around underneath my bed, I find an old pink book with a fuzzy cover, the diary I haven’t used since I was in elementary school. Perfect. Hiding under the covers and putting the flashlight in my mouth again, I quickly scribble down everything I can remember.