The Dream Catcher
Kaylia Mai | Art by Elizabeth Cheng
Spin. Thrust. A midnight-blue ribbon flares out above the pond. Jump. Extend the arms. Land with bent legs, and remember not to lose balance. Fly with the ribbons. Whirl them fast so the sun will reflect off the water to throw dancing lights across them.
Watch out for the parent! The parent is the noose. The parent is watching, scowling. The mother’s voice cuts the dance.
“Say it again. x squared — plus y squared —”
Respond. Reject. Quickly.
“I don’t remember.”
“Oh, put those strips of bedsheet down, Lua. How are you learning when your waving your arms like a lunatic —”
With a huff, Lua drops the cloth on the sand, walks to the mother by the porch, and stumbles over the wrong formula. She stands beneath her judgement, and her mother’s disappointed gaze is distinctly familiar from long tutoring sessions with an open textbook and an empty sheet of paper. Lua knows the truth. Disappointment is just the travelling cloak for grief.
Another painful hour passes. Her mind works no quicker, and it ends the same way every lesson does.
“We should stop for today. Maybe try again tomorrow.”
The sky is dark. The sun has passed its last messages over the sky, and the stars have risen to carry the light. Water splashes and retreats against the sand, eternally repeating. The free sky plants whimsy in Lua’s heart.
“Could you read me a story?”
Lua picks up one of the books from the stack on the porch, and hands it to the mother.
“I’ve read you this before — you won’t learn from it.”
Lua insists knowing the mother is too exhausted to argue further, so the mother takes the book, and settles onto the porch.
Here is the legend of the sorcerer Solis:
The monarch was furious upon discovering the walls of his kingdom splattered with an array of black, yellow, and blue, for it made the kingdom less intimidating to foreigners. He sent troops to search the kingdom, and found the paint-splattered culprit in the town square.
“You have been found with the paint of the crime! I decree you guilty, and sentence you to a lifetime in the dungeons.” the monarch cried gleefully.
Solis disagreed, for the painting was incomplete. Yet they knew that the monarch was prideful and loved subservience, so they cried, “Oh great Lord, please! I have been so foolish! Kill me if you must, but first allow me to scrub the paint from the walls.”
The monarch was pleased, and sent Solis to the wall with cleaning supplies and a few armed guards.
Solis whispered a few words in an incomprehensible tongue, reached into themselves and scooped out a piece of their mind. They then folded it tightly into the paint, hidden from the world. The guards saw Solis’ inexplicable actions, restrained him, and threw him into the dungeons.
That would have been the end of the story, if not for the beauty of the painting. The townspeople saw the painting, with paint that the monarch cannot erase no matter how hard anyone scrubbed, and in the secret, illegal portion of their hearts they loved it. They whispered their own desires to it in the dark of night, and imagined their lives as yellow candles encompassed by beautiful strokes of blue and purple.
The mind in the painting listened. It listened and imagined, until the people and painting became one.
The monarch saw this and was outraged, for the people’s wild thinking had become difficult to control. He sent for Solis, and demanded that they undo the spell that makes the paint permanent.
“I will show you.” Solis declared.
They go to the wall, and Solis ripped the paint off. Then they casted it into the sky, and the yellow globes and blue rivers cover the world with stories.
Solis laughed, “Now you see you cannot win, -”
“-for the dreams are immortal, and that can never be washed away. I am only the catcher that builds dreams.” Lua says.
“Don’t be foolish.” mother says, “I’ve read you your story, now go to bed. You’ll learn math again early tomorrow.”
Lua nods, heads into the house, and settles into bed while her mother turns off the lights and leaves. Abruptly, she realizes her ribbons are missing, and, looking out the window, spots them lying by the pond. She quietly scuttles out of bed, out the window, and scurries to the pond to pick them up.
The water shivers, circles expanding from where the ribbon had lain, growing larger the further it travels from the shore. The stars reflected in the water dance as each ripple passes over it, and Lua watches, mesmerized. A song of colors engulf her heart, and her dress flows in the wind like a kite pulling against its string. Lua walks in the water, and Solis walks in the air above her. They are lighter than air, lighter than the magic of an old tale, and Earth is larger than either can see. It stretches before them and around them, in the smooth ripples of the water and the empty night, spilling out its tendrils of fate, but they stand in the eye of the storm. Untouchable.
In a burst of sudden elation, Lua cries to the night, “I don’t want to do math. I want to be a dancer, the best dancer ever.”
The night listens. The stars whisper a never-ending song of pain and exhilaration, and all the past and future is still. The stars shine directly into the eye of the storm and through it rebounds the echoing call of a once-legacy, knowing that Solis is listening and knowing.
But the sharp call of the mother is louder.
Lua drops her ribbons and walks away from the pond. The night is silent again. The current carries the ribbons into the depths of the lake, where Solis’s reflection is waiting, waiting for a dreamer to find them again.