Life is But a Dream (short story)

Life is But a Dream by Oriana Varas

“Since she was little, she’s always had weird recurring dreams.” Jill took a small sip of her coffee. “She even said they could sometimes be connected. I had no idea they would turn into such a mess.” Now that her coffee was cool enough to drink, Jill took another sip, but this time she scrunched her face as the taste of hospital cafeteria coffee stuck unforgivingly to her tongue and left an unpleasant burnt flavour inside her mouth. She was used to Starbucks’ lattes, not black mud-water. She grabbed the sugar jar and poured at least four teaspoon’s worth into her cup to cover up the flavour of what was supposed to be coffee.

Sandra handed her a clean teaspoon. “Have they said anything about her progress?”
“She used to go to bed so early sometimes,” Jill said as she took the spoon and stirred her beverage. “As early as eight o’clock. And other times she would stay up late and even stay awake for several days. I never understood why, but it’s starting to make sense now.” Jill looked up at her friend. “I’m just trying to put the pieces together, Sandra.”
“Nadine is a strong, smart girl. Nobody could have anticipated this. I’m sure she’ll snap out of it soon enough. The doctors here are the best in the country.” Sandra placed her hand on Jill’s.
“What if she doesn’t snap out of it, though? Dayana was her best friend, but no one could have anticipated this sort of reaction. The bullet was already there, I think. Dayana must have been the trigger. What if I’ve lost her forever? What if I’ve lost my daughter?”
“You have to think positive.” Sandra squeezed Jill’s hand.
“I’m scared, Sandra. I’m really scared.” Jill’s eyes began tearing up.
“Have you talked to David about her or how you’re feeling?”
“David is away. He’s in Toronto for work again. It’s been a while since we talked.”
“Has he come to see her yet?”
“He’s been busy.”

***

I opened my eyes and was nearly blinded by the sunlight that shone in through my bedroom window and onto the light blue-coloured walls. I covered my face and allowed my eyes to slowly adjust to the brightness. It felt like the light was penetrating my skull, pulsing hard into my brain as I pushed myself off the bed. I had a headache and the room was spinning. I threw my feet over to one side and planted them firmly onto the floor. I groaned as I put my head in my hands. I rubbed my eyes and could feel they were not ready to be open just yet. I sighed and stood up, dreading the school day that awaited me. My feet tingled as they dragged along the beige carpet and led me out to the kitchen.

“Good morning, honey,” my mom said. She was dressed in a navy blue suit and held a cup of coffee in her hand – she used the cup I bought her when I was nine. It was red with large white print that read, “I love you, Mom.” The O in “love” was heart-shaped; it was her favourite coffee cup. “Did you sleep okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I lied. “You?”
“I slept all right. Jerry snored a bit but it was fine. Hit him with the pillow a couple of times and he stopped.”
I forced a smile.
“Speak of the devil,” she said as Jerry stepped into the kitchen.
“Hi baby,” he said and bent down to give her a kiss. I quickly looked away and headed for a box of Cheerios, a chill running down my spine.
“Is this my coffee, Jill?” he asked, referring to a full coffee cup on the counter. My mom said it was.
“Good morning, Nadine,” Jerry said.
“Hey,” I replied without looking back at him. I poured some Cheerios and then some milk into a bowl. Next, I took a tablespoon and dunked it into the sugar jar.
“That’s a lot of sugar, isn’t it?” Jerry said as I sprinkled it over my cereal.
I raised my eyebrow. “Yeah? So?” I stared at him.

My mom sensed the tension and walked between us. She probably gave him a look but still proceeded to tell me that I might consider using less sugar in the future. I had a weird feeling pulse through my body – it burned and tickled at same time. The thought of him winning our mini argument, or any argument, pissed me off more than anything. I couldn’t believe she picked his side over mine. I was her daughter.

Sorry, Jerry, but I got here first.

I ate my breakfast, made my lunch, shoved my stuff in my schoolbag and began my walk to school, without another word to that man. The crisp morning air filled my lungs and I knew to take in as much of it as I could before I got to school. With no room for fresh new ideas, the whole building was filled with old, stale ideas and an old, stale smell to match. The air circulation was minimal, and it was far too warm inside, which always made me sleepy.

***

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” asked Sandra.
“I’m sure. Thank you, though. I’ll let you know how things go,” said Jill.
Sandra nodded and left the hospital. Jill walked to the receptionist’s desk and asked for Dr. Anderson. She was told to wait, but soon enough a tall, thin, blond man wearing a traditional white doctor’s uniform appeared and asked Jill to follow him to the psychiatric ward. They went up several floors and zigzagged through many different halls, all of which looked the same. Jill’s heels clanked softly against the linoleum floor as Dr. Anderson led her through the maze. Every emergency exit, every door, every window looked the same to her as they walked by. She thought she would need a map if she wanted to get out of there.

“We’ve set her up in a meeting room so you can both be comfortable for the visit,” said Dr. Anderson. Jill said nothing and they continued walking. He placed one hand on her shoulder as he led her down one final turn before they came to Nadine’s room. The doctor removed a card from his pocket and swiped it along the digital door lock, but before he pushed the door open, he paused.

He said, “I want to remind you that your daughter has been going through a lot here. We are doing what we can but at this point we don’t know what procedures to follow yet. We have some tests that we still need to run…”
“Can I be with her?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Can I be with Nadine when she’s getting the tests done?”
“I think we can arrange for that for some tests, but the majority… it would be best for both of you if you weren’t there.”
“I’d like to be with her as much as I can.”
“We’ll see what we can do.” He pushed the door open for Jill.

For the first time in what seemed like months, Jill saw her beautiful Nadine. However, she looked so worn-out that she might not have recognized her if she had passed Nadine on the street. Jill rushed to her frail-looking daughter.
“Mom!” Nadine exclaimed as Jill wrapped her in her arms. Jill kissed Nadine’s head which was covered in stringy dark hair. She kissed her daughter’s face; it was coated lightly in a layer of sweat and streaks of dried tears.

“I’ve missed you so much,” said Jill.
“When can I come home? Where’s dad?” Nadine searched behind her mom but found no one there.
“He wanted to be here. He’s in Toronto right now, though, honey.” Jill sat down across from her daughter. Nadine nodded slowly.
“Honey, you know he wanted to come. He misses you too,” Jill said.
“His work is important. It’s fine. I’m fine. When can I come home?” Nadine wiped away the fresh tears that had rolled down her face, her hospital bracelet scratching her cheek as she did so.
“They still need to run some tests.”
“I don’t like it here. Dr. Anderson is…” Nadine leaned in and whispered, “Dr. Anderson is not a good man. I don’t like him.”
“He’s the best doctor for this kind of stuff. I’m sure he’s a fine man. Just give it some more time. Maybe you’ll like him.”
“Please take me home. I don’t even understand why I’m in here. I’m fine. Mom, you know I’m fine. I just need a shower.” Nadine smiled.
“I don’t know, honey. Just a few more days, I promise. It’s just to make sure. I’ll be here as much as I can.”
Nadine frowned.

***

“Nadine! Nadine!”

I lifted my head off my desk to see Dayana trying to wake me up.

“Write down what Mr. Campbell is writing on the board, man,” she said. “Have you been taking those pills?”

Milligrams, milligrams, milligrams, milligrams, I thought to myself. What a funny word.

I grabbed my pen and began copying the scribbles from the board to my notebook almost automatically. I wasn’t absorbing anything he was trying to teach us. I copied the words and shapes but I had no idea what I was writing down. It could have been a plan to assassinate the queen and I wouldn’t have noticed. Hopefully it would make sense when I got home. I looked around the classroom and everyone had their noses in their books or their eyes on Ashley’s G-string. Her red panty straps pressed into the exposed flesh of her barely-there hips. She sat one row ahead and one aisle over from me. She was comfortable enough to walk around with stringy panties but not comfortable enough to refrain from fidgeting and pulling her tight blouse down to cover them in class, it seemed. The boys must have been drooling all over their classwork wondering if it was a thong. It probably was. I’d rather have someone drool over my brain than over my body. Does this mean I need to find myself a nice zombie fellow? Crap.

I returned to the copying of scribbles. However, the teacher’s scribbles were soon taken over by my own much more interesting doodles. They often started at the bottom hole from the three-hole punches in the paper and then expanded from there. I doodled and I doodled, and before I knew it, the black ink from my pen created the figure of a person on the page. She was sitting down on the floor, her knees bent up to her shoulders and dark stringy hair falling along her face. She looked familiar. I wondered what she was wearing. A dress? A nightgown? She wore a bracelet as well, but not a fancy diamond bracelet.

Dayana peered over my shoulder. “What’s that?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I was…”
“…Supposed to be copying that!” Dayana pointed at the board in the front of the class. “But it is cool. Is that you?” She returned her attention to my drawing.
“I don’t know. Is it?”

The bell rang and the entire class began shuffling around, standing up, gathering their school-things, and heading out the door for lunch. Mr. Campbell tried to shout something over the noisy teens but he was unsuccessful in reaching most of our ears. It was probably some nonsense about a test. Dayana and I got up and left together. We had the privilege of walking behind Ashley, who wore ultra-low rise jeans - as if she needed yet another thing to draw attention to the swaying of her hips. Dayana and I looked at each other and we rolled our eyes.

“I didn’t feel like paying for lunch so I brought my own. I’ll go grab us some seats,” I said to Dayana as we entered the bustling cafeteria. She nodded and I went to find a couple of spots in our usual corner. I took out my notebook and flipped it open to the drawing I made earlier. I stared at it for a long time, analysing the curves of the girl’s face, the thin shapes of her legs and arms; the faceless drawing reminded me of something but I couldn’t say what it was. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Dayana coming back with a tray full of food but I did not look up at her when she asked me why I drew the girl. I continued to stare at the drawing.

“Nadine?” Dayana asked me. “Nadine!” she said once again, putting her hand on my shoulder.

***

“Nadine!” Jill exclaimed as she saw her daughter regain consciousness. The hospital personnel lifted her from the floor and set her back onto the chair. Dr. Anderson finally let Jill get close to her daughter after making sure she would not get in the way of what he described as a harmless minor electric shock that the doctors had just used on Nadine.

“I’m sorry you had to see that, Mrs. Purdue,” Dr. Anderson said. “She has passed out like this several times since she has been here and we found that this is the most effective way of bringing back her consciousness. We need to continue her psychological evaluation. This may take quite some time. Her problems seem to lie deeper than we expected.”

Jill held her daughter close and, rocking Nadine back and forth, she told her that everything would be okay.

“Where’s Dayana?” asked Nadine.
“Dayana? Why are you asking about her?” said Jill.
“She was… I was… Never mind,” Nadine said.
“No, tell us,” said Dr. Anderson. “Who is Dayana?”
“Dayana… was Nadine’s friend.” Jill took her time saying this.
“Never mind. Right. Dayana... It must have been a dream. I’m sorry I passed out, mom.”
“Don’t be sorry, honey. It’s not your fault. We’re going to make things better for you now, okay?” Jill held Nadine’s head against her chest.
“It would probably be best if we called it a day. I’m sure this has been quite stressful for both of you,” Dr. Anderson said.
“No, I think…” said Nadine, but she was interrupted.
“Why don’t you come back for another visit tomorrow, Mrs. Purdue? We’ll run some more tests on Nadine and we’ll let you know if we find anything over the next 24 hours.”
“Mom, I want to come back home,” Nadine said.
“I know, honey, but I promise you that this is for your own good. It’ll get sorted soon enough,” Jill said. “I’d like to stay a little longer, if that’s okay. I think we can both handle a few more minutes.”
Dr. Anderson nodded and left them alone once again.
“Have you been getting much sleep?” asked Jill.
“Yes and no. I try to stay awake but then I pass out without warning. It’s been getting worse. And my dreams… they’re so real.”
“What do you dream about?”
“You’re in them usually. You’re with another man in my dream, not dad. I don’t remember what he looks like now, but I don’t like him. He gives me the creeps. And Dayana sits next to me in one of my classes. I miss her so much. Even Ashley is there. She looks so different in my dreams. You work. I don’t know what you do but you work.”
“You should write down your dreams like you used to. That might help the doctors…”
“The doctors don’t care. Plus, they won’t let me use pens because they’re afraid I might hurt myself.”
“You wouldn’t…”
“No, but some of the other patients do. Like how Ashley hurt herself last week.”
“But you’re not like that. I’ll speak to Dr. Anderson to see if they can allow you to have some time with a pen. Try to remember your dreams. They might give us some clues on how to help you.”
“Do you really think I need help still? Mom, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here. They can’t help me. The dreams don’t hurt me anymore. They’re just weird.”
“We don’t know that for sure. I think these blackouts and dreams are more serious than you think, Nadine.”
“Dreams are dreams. I can tell reality from a dream. Everyone can. I probably just need to try that Lunesta stuff again, the sleeping pills.” Using her arms as a cushion, Nadine put her head down onto the table in front of her. “I don’t think the tests will find anything.”
“You have to be positive, Nadine.” Jill put her hand gently on Nadine’s head as she recalled Sandra’s advice to her. “The doctors are just trying to help. They have to scratch a lot of things off their list before they can make a conclusion about your condition. You’re not like the other patients here. You don’t act crazy or violent or anything. They probably see that and you’ll be discharged before you know it. We’ll go out for a nice dinner once you are. Maybe even dad will come. What do you think, Nadine? Nadine?” Jill nudged her daughter to see if she was conscious. “Nadine!” she exclaimed again. The same doctors and nurses rushed in again to help Nadine. Jill stood back and covered her eyes.
“Oh, my Nadine. Where do you keep going, honey?” she asked.

***

“Honey? There you are. Welcome back, Nadine,” my mom said.
“Can you ask dad to come?” I asked her. Then I looked around and found the school nurse, Dayana, my mom and Jerry standing around me. I sat up. What’s Jerry here for? I wondered.
“Your dad?” said my mom.
“Dayana!” I shouted. She looked at me, surprised, and I pulled her close so I could hug her. “You’re okay!”
“Of course I’m okay. Are you?” said Dayana.
“You passed out, Nadine,” the school nurse said. Does she have a nametag? Good - she does. Betty.
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry.” I let go of Dayana.
“It’s okay, honey. But you’ll go home now. I have to go back to work but Jerry will be home if you need anything,” my mom said.
“You scared the crap out of me, Nadine. Next time, give me a bit of warning, will you?” said Dayana. “You okay, though?”
“I’m fine. Just dizzy. I can stay here. I’ll be fine,” I told them. I didn’t want to go home if it meant being alone with Jerry.
“No, you should go home and rest. This is probably related to stress and fatigue,” said Betty. Right. Stress and fatigue. You have no idea, lady.
“Betty’s right, Nadine,” said my mom. “Go home. You’ll feel better.”

Wanna bet?

Dayana gave me a hug and told me to get some sleep. My mom and Jerry thanked Betty, who led us out to the hallway.

If there was anything I had learned from my latest dreams, it’s to not tell people you’re having any dreams. They’d really only just started to affect my everyday life - much more than before, anyway. So, stress and fatigue were the culprits, as far as anyone else was concerned, and that was fine by me. Besides, my mom wasn’t as well off as Jill from my dreams was, it seemed, and she probably would not be able to afford my hospitalization if I went loopy.

My mom hugged and kissed me goodbye, and then departed for her car. Jerry and I got to his green pick-up truck and I climbed in with no assistance from Jerry. I shut the door.

“Hey, easy there! You gonna buy me a new door if you break this one?” he said. I ignored him and looked out the window. Some awful country song came on the radio and I immediately grabbed the dial to change it to a better station.
“What do you think you’re doing? This is my car. We play my music in my car. If you had your own car I wouldn’t touch your music stations,” he said.

If I had my own car, you would never set foot in it, I thought as I turned the dial back to the horrendous wailing of some man who was whining about his woman and his best friend. Not a word was said for the longest time in that truck; I could almost hear the awkward silence behind the countryman’s crowing. I kept my eyes on the road, but with my peripheral vision I was able to catch Jerry glancing at me every so often. I couldn’t tell where he was looking exactly, but I suspected it was at my boobs. I regretted my choice in clothing. I was wearing a simple grey t-shirt, but it had a wide round neck and a couple centimetres of my cleavage could be seen. It didn’t help that he was tall. I hated that they moved with every bump in the road, every turn Jerry would make, and thinking about it made them rise and fall more vigorously with every breath which just caused my paranoia to escalate even more. He had touched me once. I thought it had been an accident. Our kitchen was pretty small, but I’d seen him looking at me weirdly before. The car ride was like another one of those times, only a hundred times more uncomfortable. It was like he thought my being alone with him in his car was an invitation to stare. The “his car, his rules” thing extended solely to his music, whether he liked it or not.

We came up to an intersection; the light was red. Once the car was stopped, Jerry turned to me. His eyes looked down at my body and quickly back up to my eyes. He probably didn’t think I’d notice.

“How’s school?” he asked.
“Fine,” I replied.
He nodded, looking straight ahead. His grip tightened on the steering wheel, making his knuckles turn white. Wet marks from his palms smeared onto the black leather beneath his disgusting old hands.
“I know you and I don’t get along too well,” he said. “But I love your mom and I know you do too. Maybe we could try harder to get along… for her sake.”
“Yeah?” I said.
“We should spend some time together. The truth is, Nadine. I’d like to marry…”
“Light’s green,” I said. He pressed the gas pedal and drove straight for two blocks. We hung a right onto the street I lived on. I couldn’t wait to be home. Stop talking, Jerry. Don’t even think about opening that horrid mouth of yours again.
“Nadine, I’m going to ask your mom to marry me.” Jerry drove up to my house and parked in the driveway.
“Mhmm.” I felt a knot in my stomach. I jumped out of his truck without looking at him and ran straight to my room. The bedroom door slammed shut behind me. I fell on my bed, squeezed my pillow and started crying.

***

They zapped her one last time before she regained consciousness. Tears rolled down her face. She opened her eyes and looked at Jill. Jill broke free from Dr. Anderson’s grasp and rushed over to her daughter and hugged her.

“Don’t marry Jerry, mom, please!” She held her mother in a loose embrace.
“Jerry? Who’s Jerry, honey?”
“Mrs. Purdue, we need to take Nadine back to her room and give her some medication,” said Dr. Anderson. “This is getting out of hand.” Nadine looked up at Dr. Anderson’s face and gasped. She stood up and pushed him away.
“Don’t touch my mom. Go away! I know what you’re trying to do. Go away! You can’t have her! Not after what you did. I’m going to tell her!” Nadine said. The nurses pulled her back away from Dr. Anderson. Jill looked at her daughter with her hand covering her lips. Am I really losing her? Jill wondered.
“Come, Mrs. Purdue. Betty will lead you back to the elevator.” Dr. Anderson gestured towards a young female nurse. “We’ll take Nadine back to her room now.”
“No! Mom, I’m not crazy. I don’t belong here. Take me home, mom!” Nadine struggled against the hands that held her back. “Mom, please! They’re trying to trick you. That’s Jerry! Don’t marry him, mom. Don’t. Betty, bring her back!”

Jill couldn’t bear to look at her daughter in this state any longer and Dr. Anderson rushed her out of the meeting room. Betty rubbed Jill’s shoulder and led her down the hall.

“Jerry,” Jill heard another doctor say. “We have to sedate her. She’s getting hysterical.”
“Give her 200 milligrams of…” Dr. Anderson said. The elevator doors swung open and the click of the door closing at the end of the hall echoed back down to Jill. She sensed something wasn’t right. Maybe there is more to what Nadine was saying. But can I trust her? Jill contemplated her options aloud.

“I don’t know what to do, Betty. If I trust my daughter, I’ll find out if she really belongs here or not. What if she does? Then I’ll look like a fool and see her at her worst. But if she isn’t, I may never know. I could regret it either way. What if she’s on to something? What kind of mother would I be to ignore my own daughter’s cries for help?”

Betty nodded but did not look at Jill. She kept on rubbing Jill’s back in a circular motion.

***

I woke up and my head was spinning. I felt like I was going to throw up. I hope Jill listens to her daughter, I thought to myself before I sat up on my bed. Milligrams of what? Then I realized Jerry was there. In my room.
“What the fuck are you doing in my room?” I said.
“Don’t talk to me like that, little girl.”
“Don’t call me ‘little girl.’ What is wrong with you? Get out.”
“You’re right. You’re not a little girl any more. You’re becoming more and more of a woman every day, young lady.”
“Bite me.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
I grabbed my cellphone from the nightstand and flipped it open. I was going to call…someone. The cops, my mom, Dayana - but he rushed towards me and yanked the device from my hand. He threw it behind him and grabbed onto my wrists, pushing me back and pinning me down. He held my legs between his before I could kick. His breath reeked of fresh hard liquor. I screamed. He laughed. He leaned in and smelled my neck from my collarbone up to my cheek. I looked away and closed my eyes, my wrists burning under the pressure of his grip. He pressed his crotch against me.
“I’m going to tell my mom about this,” I said.
“You won’t be telling your mother anything. She’s not going to believe you even if you do. You’re overtired and you don’t like me. What wouldn’t a girl like you do to get rid of a guy like me?”
I spat in his face. Finally, I was able to squeeze a leg out and I shot it up into his groin. He let go and backed off, laughing.
“Go cry to your momma, little bitch.”

I grabbed my baseball bat from underneath my bed, but once Jerry figured out what I was doing, he fled. I got up to chase him but by the time I made it to the front door, he was in his truck, turning on the ignition. I ran to his truck anyway but he started driving away, his tires screeching along the pavement. I threw the baseball bat at the truck. It hit and broke the right taillight but Jerry didn’t stop; he, swerved, sped up and drove away. Coward.

I felt sick, so I went to the bathroom. I didn’t have to throw up yet but I figured just in case I did, that would be a good place to do it. I grasped the sides of the white porcelain sink as I looked at the mirror and into my green eyes. There were no marks on my body but I felt like I’d been poisoned and I half-expected to see the trail of black poison Jerry left along my skin, especially since I could feel it. I slid my hand from my cheek to my collarbone, thinking about Jerry sniffing me like an animal. I turned on the tap and let the cold water cleanse my hands. I leaned over the sink and poured some water on my neck. It almost burned and Goosebumps spread along my arms. I pumped out a dab of lavender-scented hand soap and rubbed it on my neck. Soon, it was covered in white soapy bubbles and the scent filled my nostrils and the room. I could still feel him on me. I grabbed a nail brush from the corner of the sink and scrubbed my neck until it was red. I rinsed my neck with the cold water and let it drip down my chest, marking my t-shirt.

I have to tell Mom. I began dialling her number on the phone in the kitchen.

No answer. Straight to voicemail. Call again. Click!

“Hello?”
“Mom! I have to tell you something.”
“Honey, I’m busy right now. Can I call you back?”
“Jerry just… Jerry just did something.”
“Did what?”
“He did something really weird, mom. He pinned me down on my bed and… sniffed me.”
“Are you kidding me? Are you trying to…? Nadine, I can’t believe you’d resort to that to get rid of him. I know you don’t like him, but I love…”
“Mom, I’m not kidding. You have to believe me. I woke up and he was there in my room, staring. Please believe me.”
“I find it hard to, Nadine. You haven’t made it easy. Did he really? No, I don’t think he’d do that.”
“He did. Mommy, he climbed on top of me. You have to get rid of him. You have to believe me.” I lost my balance and stumbled backwards.
“Are you okay?” my mom asked.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I lost my balance. That’s all.”
“Did you get any rest?”

I fell to the floor, my spine knocking against a bottom-cabinet handle and my foot hitting one of the kitchen table’s legs, causing the table to shake and the jar of sugar to fall open from it, spilling sugar all over the floor. “Mom…” I winced in pain.
“Nadine? Are you okay? Stay on the line. I’m coming home right now. Don’t hang up.”
“Mom, I think I’m…” I tried to stay upright. I tried to keep my eyes open. Something was pulling me down, though. It was like something heavy was chained around my neck and forcing my head down.
“Stay with me, honey,” she said.

I couldn’t take it any longer and I squeezed my eyes shut, but I promptly opened them again. There were doctors and nurses around me where my kitchen table had just been. Jerry… or Dr. Anderson, I wasn’t sure which, stood above me. I heard voices around me, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I clenched the phone in my hands and pressed it hard against my ear.

“Mom, Dr. Anderson is here. Don’t trust him, okay?”
“Who’s Dr. Anderson, baby? Just hold on,” Jill said.
“He’s going to give me milligrams again, mom. I don’t like milligrams. He’s going to hurt me. Take me home.” I heard Jill tell Sandra to call 9-1-1 because I needed help. My kitchen started to disappear before my eyes: the cabinets and walls were replaced with grey-white sheets and the windows were swallowed up by them too. I struggled to keep my eyes open, but they began flickering uncontrollably. Jill looked at me with tear-filled eyes, her figure becoming smaller and more distant in my view. Jerry was wearing a doctor’s coat.

“Milligrams,” he said. I shook my head furiously and backed away from him. I bent my knees and hid my face between them.

“Nadine,” he said and I looked up at him. He handed me a light-blue ceramic jar. I took it from him and opened it. It was full of small white granules. He licked his finger and dunked it inside; the tiny particles stuck to it as he brought it up to me. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, Nadine. Have some,” he said.

I shook my head.

“Have some, Nadine. You won’t get better without it.” He sounded angry.
“No milligrams.” I played with my paper bracelet.
He grabbed my face and shoved his sausage finger inside my mouth. His strength was far greater than mine, I discovered, as my much thinner arms desperately tried to push him away. I bit his finger but he did not remove it. The sugar dissolved in my mouth once it mixed with my saliva. The sweet flavour was combined with something horrible; it was still sweet, yet unforgivingly so, and I couldn’t stand it.

“There!” He yanked his finger out and wiped it on his coat.
“My mom will never forgive you, Jerry,” I said. My eyelids were growing too heavy. My last memory was wondering where I’d be when I woke up – in my kitchen or in the grey room - and contemplating what I’d do to Jerry when I did. A hand grasped the back of my neck and dragged me down to the floor. I gasped.

Jerry got on his knees, moved closer and glared at me with a sinister smile. He spoke to me, but his lips did not match the sounds I perceived.

“Milligrams, milligrams, milligrams, milligrams… life is but a dream,” was the last thing I heard.