I was always more afraid of the disjointed, nonsensical dreams than of true nightmares. You can almost always tell when a dream is a nightmare. Not so with these recent unsettling meandering journeys through the halfway familiar city my mind takes me to at night. It’s been two months, and each night the city becomes clearer to me, and I know I will soon find May. I don’t want to find May. That is why I’m awake at 3 a.m., scrolling through endless social media feeds.
Is it odd that a guy like me doesn’t want to see his only sister again, even in his dreams? Or is it a normal part of the grieving process? Dad hasn’t been much use to anyone since May left us, or else I’d ask him. Though I have a feeling he’s embarrassed by me anyway. He doesn’t want to deal with the fact that one of his little twin girls, a matched set, is not a girl at all. He reluctantly buys me clothes from the boys’ section, but he’s still got a ways to go. He can’t get my pronouns or my name right.
A thud in the hallway startles me, and I turn to squint through my open doorway. The lights are all off except the screen I’d been staring at. All I can see is dark static for a moment, then my eyes start to adjust and I can see shadows.
After a moment, one shadow detaches itself from the rest and saunters into my room. Tail held high, Witchy approaches me and sniffs the hand I extend to her.
I can hear her purring. How strange. She’s a nice kitty, but she only purrs for one person, and that’s Dad. She opens her mouth and makes the strangest chirping noises. Something is wrong.
I pick Witchy up. I’d better get Dad to look at her, provided I can rouse him from his pill haze.
In the hallway, Witchy squirms, and I adjust my grip. Her cat tree is lying on its side, one of the beige carpeted platforms splintered off.
“Did you knock that over, naughty girl?” I set Witchy down and lift the cat tree upright again. I’ll have to sand away the splinters tomorrow morning.
Out of nowhere, Witchy hisses, arching her back and fluffing out her grey fur as much as possible. A growl takes residence deep in her throat. What the hell? She must be sick. I’ve never seen her act like this, not even around big dogs. She bolts into my bedroom, no doubt to hide under the farthest corner of my bed.
I have to tell Dad. I go into the living room, and he’s there on the couch in his boxers and T-shirt, snoring. Light from the TV plays over his face. He wasn’t like this before. Now that May is gone, he has anxiety so bad they prescribed him what feels like an unlimited supply of Xanax. There’s no way I’ll be able to wake him from this stupor until he’s slept it off.
I take his glasses off his nose and put them on the coffee table within easy reach. Like me, he can’t be without them for long. Astigmatism. Not May, though. Her eyes were perfect. I’m still wearing the pink plastic framed glasses May had helped me pick out a few months ago. Dad’s health insurance from work covers vision, but only one new pair of glasses a year. I have nine months to wait before I can get something more masculine.
I go back into my room, leaving the door open a crack. My computer screen has gone to sleep, so I reach over and flip the switch for the overhead light.
The light doesn’t come on.
“What the hell.” I flip the switch a few more times, but it’s no good. Dad will have to look at it in the morning. Cursing, I feel my way across the floor, which is scattered with half-finished books and abandoned craft projects and dirty clothes. I wiggle the computer mouse, and the screen lights up enough for me to find a pillar candle and a lighter in my desk drawer. Once the candle is lit, I turn to put it up on top of the dresser.
May sits on my bed, watching me.
My heart hammers in my throat and temples. My throat constricts. I don’t understand.
Without breaking eye contact, she pats the bed beside her. I’ve seen her make that gesture a million times, beckoning me to join her so she can whisper secrets in my ear. So we can gossip and laugh.
“May?” I take a step closer. “You can’t…” I let my sentence trail. Are grief-induced hallucinations a thing? How could a figment of my mind look so solid—so close?
I do the only thing that makes sense: I sit down beside her.
She raises both her hands and wraps them around mine where I clutch the candle. Some hot wax slops over the top and drips onto our skin. It cools and hardens within seconds, gluing our fingers together. May’s eyes, same as they ever were, look into me.
An onslaught of images and words pours in, experiences long past, hopes for what’s to come. She never speaks, but she tells me everything. She tells me things I know but don’t know. She tells me about myself, and how I must learn to exist as a single being and not part of a matched set. She tells me of the dream city within me where she dwells.
It’s disjointed, confusing—just like the dreams I try so hard to avoid, the ones where I’m searching, screaming for May until I wake up, and I remember, and I wilt in front of the mirror.
It’s too much. I pull away, spilling candle wax on the thick blue carpet. I stand and turn toward the door, force down tears, try to breathe deep.
I look again at the bed. May is gone. Witchy is poking her nose out from under the bed skirt, checking to see if the coast is clear. I put the candle on top of the dresser and kneel down.
“C’mere, Witchy,” I say, examining the wax spot on the rug. There’s no way I’ll be able to clean it up properly. Dad’s going to be so pissed.
Witchy creeps up to me and rubs her face against my arm. I scratch her behind the ears.
“Were you a scaredy puss?” I stand up and grab some treats, dropping a few on the floor for her. I glance at the clock as it turns from 3:59 to 4:00. I’m not even yawning.
I stand in front of the full-length mirror on the back of my door. My twin stares back at me. May would never have cut her hair so short, and she wouldn’t be caught dead in boxers, but our faces are the same. I wonder what I’ll look like next year, once I’m 18 and I can start testosterone therapy. Once that happens, I’ll never see May’s face in the mirror again. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Sleepiness takes me over all at once. I shut down my computer and fall into bed. Witchy, who is making herself comfy, meows indignantly. Once I’m still, she cuddles up by my left hip. She’s purring again, but she’s not afraid anymore. She’s content, relaxed, safe.
I let myself drift away into my dream city with its alluring enclaves and breathtaking architecture. May’s face, and her touch, are fresh in my mind. I’ll hear her voice tonight. I can feel it.