The baby that never was crawls through the moss and needle floor of a pine forest, inexorable in its pursuit of me. If I panic and run on ahead, jumping dead branches, barely keeping my footing, I will have moments of respite, but only moments, for here it comes again, bearing down on me at a slow steady pace, comic of limb, overcoming all obstacles in its path with a baby’s complete indifference to risk, plunging into the undergrowth or through briar without pain or consequence. Its face uncertain but for a grin which shocks me afresh with its malice each time I see it. I should easily be able to leave it for dead, but my dream-state tricks me into dawdling, stopping to listen to bird song or gaze up at the sunlight slanting through the pines, and when I look back to the forest floor, there it is again, wobbling its too heavy head from side to side in time with its crawling motion. I scream at the lurching malevolence of its dirty smiling face, and wake myself up.
On waking, an unsettling thought occurs to me. Is the wild, slim alien the incarnation of the baby that never was? This is the first time I have had the nightmare while he has been under my roof. But if he were it, it were he, then the dream should come no more, for its haunting or prophetic work would be done, or the curse of it lifted, because cursed is how I feel. How I felt. I decide that there can be no connection between the two, but that unsettling grain of irritation won’t lift. From my bed, I hear the wild, slim alien – Bill – moving about below, the chink of plates being transferred from drip-rack to stack. All it took was one morning watching my choreographed steps about the kitchen, following what might be well-worn tread in the lino if lino could be microscopically examined, and he too could tidy away last night’s washing-up and assemble our breakfast. Why should I find this so surprising? If he is a human being – even a male of the species who might have been mothered well beyond his time – then his pre-surfing accident breakfast routines wouldn’t have varied much from mine or any other person exposed on a lifelong basis to the luxury of cereal adverts.
But if he really were extra-terrestrial (and I promise you at this stage I didn’t believe it for a moment) it would be unnerving that he could mimic me down to the length of time I leave a tea bag brewing on the basis of one morning’s observation.
To shake off the disturbance of the dream, I got out of bed, put on my dressing gown, went downstairs and sat at the kitchen table just as Bill set orange juice down for me on one of my op-art coasters.
Rationally I knew he was as human as my cheating not-husband. Emotionally he left me as agitated and confounded as my nightmares.