Sheelagh Russell-Brown: Her Dreams Are All of Houses, and of Wings

Her dreams are all of houses lost.  She walks along familiar streets, stopping before a half-remembered home.  Enters upon silence, flies up the stairs, pulls out a box beneath a bed.  The wide blue eyes of an untouched walking doll stare back.  Golden curls, a yellow lacy dress all dusty.  Jointed legs with pins, a key to make her walk. It crumbles at her touch. She feels the nubs of wings shrink back beneath her skin.

Another dream, the house the same. An expanse of bookshelves below the windows, her father’s precious books of art.  A Degas ballerina, her eyes downcast, stretches a slender jointed leg over a bar.  Her yellow lacy dress is tattered.  The image fades.

She dreams the toy box, a circus train striped red and white.  She climbs inside.  Two mice, carrying a tiny ham, scurry through a corner hole.  She leans against a tiny sideboard, its shelves all piled with books, not crockery.  Gazes at her clothespin legs.  They cannot bend.  She cannot run. Someone is coming for her.  A mouse in a blue muslin dress, white apron, pulls her through the hole. Her legs fold.  On shoulders she feels the nubs of wings.

The sideboard stands upon an earthen floor, where ancient, twisted roots like praying hands reach upward to a distant ceiling, lines of drying clothes strung between them.  She takes a book, sits on the bed tucked into a corner of the den, growing out of the ground like the roots that guard her.  Pookie, the white furry rabbit, has soft, white wings, but cannot fly.

She dreams the house again.  White drop cloths, brown packing cases.  A pair of rough hands lifts her from the stairs.  They rub against the nubs of wings grown sharper.

The world is white, the world is cold, with spots of colour.  White the house that fronts the yard.  White the playhouse her father’d carved from waist-high snow.  White the staircase railing.  White squares that meet with blue upon the quilt.  In bed, she raises mountains with her knees, traces the paths of roads and rivers across the white and blue expanse.  But she’s no “giant great and still, no armies marching up and down the mountains.

White fluff she plants in cans in the garage to give her mother.  The dandelions do not grow.  Kept from the light, they crumble.

Another house, another city, the priest’s large house beside the hospital.  Dark staircases that lead to strange, unfriendly rooms.  The only white the tablecloth, the hated cream upon the porridge marking each morning’s breakfast.  White the nurses’ uniforms, the sheets, the bed on which her father lies, white hands never still, still striving to create of snow a world for play, breathing the oxygen that fogs the tent with white.  His lungs have crumbled like seeds of hidden plantings.

The books are with her still.  Where cats and mice and bunnies all dress in tiny human clothes.  Where homes are built in trees, in walls, in houses shrunk to kitten size.  Where kitty nurses with red crossed caps carefully bandage kitty paws, gently pop thermometers into willing kitty mouths, and kitty mothers push carriages full of babies.  And no one lies in cold white beds.  And no one dies. She sits for hours before her own small doll house, its walls entwined with painted vines and roses, arranging furniture in empty rooms, no human presence except her own and so no human loss.

Her mother follows him soon after.  And all is white no more.  Except in dreams and in the white of wings.

The hands reach up into her tree.  He cannot see her up among the leaves, nor can he climb so far.  She sleeps and dreams, the leaves make gentle sighs.  The wings grow stronger.

She dreams a house inside a tree.  A crescent moon sits in the sky.  An open door, inside a light, a table, chair, and bed.  The wind blows clouds across the moon.  The house is lost.

New house, new playthings there, but no familiar shelves of books, no boxed, forgotten doll beneath the bed.  No tales of winged or soft-furred creatures who make a home in walls and trees.  Only rough hands that touch, tearing her dreams of pinion feathers growing unseen.

She dreams the books, the picture pages.  The hands outside–inside is home.  She counts the jars upon the shelves, the flowers on Lucinda’s dress, the veins that course through pixie and through rabbit wings.  But still the hands are there.

She dreams the wind.  Upon a hill she reaches up, the trees bend low.  Within her hands is all her life, wrapped in yellow lace.  Yellow, crumbling pages.  The wind blows over, washing off the touch of hands, nudging at the nubs of wings.

She dreams a ship, hangs sheets as curtains around her bed, her berth and shelter from the world, piles books around, in boxes beneath the bed.  She dreams the gentle rocking of the waves, the wind that fills the sails with journey.

She walks on forest paths, inspects the holes and dens in fallen logs and ancient trees, dreams light, welcome, aloneness all inside.  She catches the glimmer of faintly moving wings.  She feels their wind grow stronger.

She dreams the hands now, parting the curtains round her berth, tearing at her. No wings to lift her up.  Now only hands to pin her down.  She makes a quilted mountain with her knees.  She dreams a tree, an open door, a chair, a table, and a bed.  Upon the bed, a pair of wings.

Beneath the bed, a box.  She climbs inside.  Inside’s a world with roots and wings.

She dreams a house.  She does not wake.  Its walls are earth and tangled roots.  Outside, the wind—inside is silence, only the ticking of the clock on the carved wood dresser, the beating of her heart.

She dreams a book.  She cannot wake.  Inside is home, outside the wind.



After having taught in the Czech Republic for seven years, Sheelagh Russell-Brown has been a lecturer in English literature and a writing tutor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her research interests are in nineteenth and twentieth century British and European literature, the portrayal of the Roma and the foregrounding of marginalized female roles in neo-Victorian fiction.  She has previously had poetry published by The Fem, has won second prize in the first Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Contest, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition.

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