I’ll Sell You a Dream

Inside a bold V shape, an inverted reflection appears in a rippling puddle with fresh green grass sprouting along one edge. Outside the V, the image is in black and white, the water still, the grass dry.

Mama always called me a lost little bird. Said my first month of life I held my mouth agape in colic, chirping for more but never getting enough. As a child, I lived with all my belongings sprawled out on the floor, preferring my drawers and closet empty, opening and shutting them endlessly, looking for something.

And so I moved through life with my breadcrumbs trailing to nowhere. I watched other people’s lives. I could tell you what petiteSami19 wore last week in every outfit video, or the story of live_luv_heal chronicling her cancer diagnosis and the exact moment she started losing her hair, or every step professorcrafter took to transform an old pair of jeans into a mini-skirt, but could I do it myself? Nope. 

What did I want in life? Perhaps if I scrolled a little more, I’d find an answer. That’s how I ended up in this drippy black-lit basement of a forgotten, boarded up house near campus.

“So what’ll it be?” Dr3amM4ker said, voice soft, almost imperceptible. A friendly painted face smiled, fluorescent in the black light. A midnight blue starburst surrounded one eye, bright pink the other.

“I’m sorry?” I said. 

“What dream do you want?” The pink eye looked at me.

“Isn’t that why I’m here? Isn’t that why I’m paying you?” My finger poked the foam through a crack in the vinyl chair.

They sighed. “When you were a kid, what did you wanna be when you grew up?”

I’ll never forget Mama’s red-hot face at career day in fifth grade. I stood before the room full of parents, lacking a costume, and proclaimed my desire to remain a child the rest of my life. I felt the heat radiating off of Mama’s face on the drive home. Her silence burned deep. 

I ripped out a piece of foam and rolled it between my fingers. “Nothing.” I said.

“Hmm.” Dr3amM4ker’s neon nails drummed the cooler top they used as a desk. The blue eye surveyed me. “That’ll cost you more. A dream from scratch. I can’t remember the last time…” 

“I’ve given you all the money I have.”

Maybe I should have listened to Mama. She told me to study pharmacy. Her feeds touted job security, decent pay, the good it will do for the aging population. She told me this while scrolling on her phone. 

She said, “You might as well do something that lets you enjoy life a bit.” 

What life? I thought. My whole life was out there already, hundreds of childhood photos Mama posted. Me at my first soccer game, huddled with the team, her caption Future Mia Hamm! But I only remembered plucking dandelions on the field, leaving with pockets full of dirt, the scent of earth lingering on my fingers. After one game, a worm escaped my pocket and crawled across the car console and onto Mama’s arm. She yelped and reached for it, but I beat her to it. I shoved the worm in my mouth. She told me to spit it out. I swallowed. 

My major remained undeclared.

The vinyl moaned beneath me as I shifted to extract my wallet. “I have meal tickets. I’ll give you my card.” 

“No. I can’t do that. What will you do with yourself then, without food?” Dr3amM4ker said.

“What will I do with myself, living a life I don’t know how to live?”

The drumming nails stopped. 

The pink eye engulfed me. 

“You dream.” 

I never told Mama I failed two classes last semester. What was the point of attending if the work only fed the entangled path of breadcrumbs that lead to nowhere? I couldn’t bear to see Mama’s red-hot face again. For her to see that I was nothing but a mockingbird, faking my way through. That I wasn’t bold and strong like the goddess Diana, as she called me, saying my moon blood would make me move tides, be fertile, bear children, change the world. 

A burden had pressed so heavily on my chest all I could do was empty my closet and crawl in. A burden that perhaps a dream, any dream would lift. 

“Occasionally, I allow an exchange of dreams but…” Dr3amM4ker drummed their nails again. 

We agreed the meal tickets would suffice. 

“Lie back now and close your eyes.”

“Will it hurt?” I asked.

“Maybe a little tingle. Although, not all dreams are painless.” They affixed tubes to my nose. The pink and blue starburst eyes shimmered in the dark.

A switch clicked. 

A machine hummed.

A warmth coursed through my body and beads of sweat dotted my skin.

“Tell me, what do you see?” They asked.

I inhaled. Let the air fill my lungs. Let it seep into my mouth and cool my tongue. The scent left me breathless. “Earthworms emerge from their winter sleep. And the rain is warm, the first of spring.”

“Good. Keep going.”

But my throat caught. Words wouldn’t form. All I could do was chirrup. Pink and blue swirled around me. I was in the air, then on the ground. I smacked my lips. I kissed the soil. An earthy taste squished in my mouth. 

I awoke to darkness. To an ache in my head that ran down my spine. I groaned and rolled over. My fingers held the scent of the earth. The moon cast pale light across my bedroom floor and to my closet. The door ajar. Standing up, I cradled my aching head in my hand and stepped carefully over my belongings scattered across the floor. I reached the door. I slid it open. What I found released from me a barking laughter, sent my belly aflutter. A single dandelion laid on the closet floor, glowing in the moonbeam like a miniature sun.

Abigail Kemske

Abigail Kemske (she/her) is a writer from the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She finds endless inspiration for her stories wandering around the forests surrounding her home. When she isn’t writing, she can be found hiking, biking, or spending time with her spouse, two children, and their cat.

Header photograph by Linds Sanders
Header artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

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