Acclaimed novelist and short-story writer Rebecca F John provides the next instalment of Flash Fiction Month with Dreamland.
There is glass between us: thick, sterile glass. In it, the colours, the noise of all that is behind me are caught and morph into reflections. The relentless whizz of the Shoot-the-Chutes, the chug-chug of the train through miniature Swiss mountains, the squeals and yelps of the teasing Lilliputians, the gentle thwop of the gondola oars as they propel their riders through imaginary Venice, the fuzzy burr of a million lightbulbs, the laughter – all are silenced, for you.
Through the glass, I can see you. Usually. They move you around from time to time – to keep the attraction fresh, I suppose. I do not complain. To complain, I would have to admit to losing you; I would have to admit to finding you.
The glass, when I press my nose to it, fogs over. My breath is such as easy thing compared to yours. I wonder at it now – the ease of that incessant in and out. I pick out the tiny flutter of your heartbeat and match my respirations to the delicate up and down, up and down, just visible beneath your skin. The machine is helping you in a way I could not.
The glass shines brighter than the dime I paid to stand at it. I grieve over leaving you at night, but my money does not buy the moonlight hours. You are a daylight attraction. Later, the illuminations will flick off, and the visitor doors will be locked, and in the fleeting quiet I hope you dream. Outside, beyond the glass, the sea swells and salts and breaks. I let myself believe, once, that I would show you how to swim in it when you grew bigger. But they wouldn’t let me. Not alone, they said. Not alone. Not at my age.
The glass is dirtied by the pushing tip of my nose so I shuffle along to find a new spot. I leave a polka dot window behind me when I go. I leave little imprints of myself, for you.
When I walk away, I am careful not to look at the sign arched over the ticketed entrance to your home, though I know what it says. All the World Loves a Baby. All the world loves a baby – except when it is yours, only yours, and it has come too early and it is shrivelled and red and screaming and it can almost be cupped into a palm. Then, what all the world loves is to point at a baby, to laugh at a baby, to gawp at a baby. Because all the world does not know the weight of that glass; all the world does not ache to smash their way into Dreamland and claim back what is theirs. All the world looks and looks and looks, and they are as close to you as I am, and always, always, there is glass between us.
Dreamland by Rebecca F John is part of a Wales Arts Review series publishing original flash fiction pieces by some of Wales’ top authors in a celebration of the unique literary genre and National Flash Fiction Day.