On subsequent nights in dreams I would find myself alone in the earth of Earth, panning for gold, picking out aurous fragments, flakes, seeds from gritty, water-trickled alluvium. Then suddenly – gloriously – a fragment became a whole sheet of gold foil, on which I tugged to free it from the disrupted reddishness of the river bed. Now I was aware that all around me there were many, many other tabs of gold on which to tug. So I pulled at them too, until the sheets were piling up beside me, stacked like material in a draper’s. Then came the feeling of people as yet unseen ominously starting to gather around me; hard people with pioneer faces who would do me harm and take what was mine. So I tried to pull my gold faster, but now it would only come more slowly, and my mind was not on the beauty of the gold and the excitement of freeing it from the earth but on how long I could leave it before I would have to run to escape with my stack of precious cloth, and my life. And when the moment came and I ran – ran like the wind – the sheets blew from my grasp, and I was left with just one. I stopped and from a distance watched the hard people tear the other sheets and themselves apart. I calmly folded my gold into smaller and smaller squares until it resembled a handkerchief. I pressed it to my cheek, then placed in my pocket, and walked away.
On other nights still I dreamed of Dancing Ledge where I had once twirled alone, the only creature alive under the sun, or so it seemed that fine May evening. But now in this dream I was standing on the edge of a pool carved not out of the ledge itself, but the quarry behind, a nightmare blowhole of muddy quicksand, a plugless sink into which I would be sucked if I fell into it. I teetered on the brink in the strong westerly, and waited for the wild slim alien to fly in and rescue me. And waited and waited and fell and woke. Beside me he slept on, his dreams sweet now while mine had turned sour, disturbed, filled with foreboding.
I was beginning to see that I might need more support than he could give if I was to get through this pregnancy and the birth without involving the matriarchal hand of the health service. There were ways in which he could calm me, but in a crisis he could not be relied upon to remain calm himself. In a place somewhere near where the baby would kick me for the first time, I knew our paradisiacal state would not last. Perhaps life had rendered me a pessimist, a fatalist who expected pain and loss and death. I needed someone who would break my fall, when the time came, however it came. Because whatever happened I was sure I would need to continue to place one foot in front of another, continue to draw breath, for one being’s sake or another’s.
The choice was obvious. Her name was Rupa and she was steady, faithful, the only friend from the city where I had lived who kept offering me her ear and her shoulder when everything I touched was curdling, and I was habituating myself to death and loss and pain; all my other friends were driven away. She had black hair that flew away from her face in unruly curling bunches – luxuriant and ludicrous all at once so that I sometimes had to restrain myself from plunging my hands into its midst for the pure joy of feeling its texture and weight. Her nose was sharp and larger than proportion demanded but that was all; she was closer to beauty than plainness, and she never seemed to age. Her skin had remained as healthy as her hair and her smile was an optimist’s, seemingly untainted by any measure of pain she may herself have had to swallow in her own life. And – crucially – she was a doula. I invited her to stay. She accepted. That was how I explained our need of her to the wild slim alien – that she knew about labour, and birth, and my needs. If we were going to do this ourselves, we needed a third person we could trust.
We had already decided to avoid the usual scans. I would not be sorry to miss the first official staging post, given what that scan had revealed in the past. So weeks thirteen and twenty came and went without the authorities being informed that a new life – and possibly a new life form – was as yet unaccounted for.
The alien hovered by the door waiting to be introduced when Rupa arrived. I hugged her, and felt that mess of hair against my cheek, and promptly burst into tears. The baby kicked and the alien hopped from foot to foot as Rupa calmed me, rendering him surplus, and (I could tell) a little agitated by the wait before the formal introduction was finally made. At that moment and ever after, neither betrayed anything about what they made of the other. So now I had two people living in my house whose respective thoughts I would always be hard-pressed to guess. But I needed them both.