My most recent nightmare involved amputees and cannibalism. I was the amputee, and the cannibals were three dirty backwoods men and my mother. They were eating the parts they amputated from me. The excision of my body parts wasn’t painful, but as I lay there on a filthy mattress following each physical reduction, my mind was consumed with panicked thoughts of all the things I would never be able to do again.
I woke up alone, shaky and profoundly distressed. Usually I like to sleep by myself, but at that moment I wished very much that someone were there to offer me comfort. With limited options available, I laid one of my pillows next to me, and assigned it a face.
“I had a terrible dream,” I told the pillow.
“It’s alright now, baby,” the pillow said. “I’m here and I won’t let anything happen to you.” I hugged the pillow close and, vastly reassured, soon fell into a peaceful sleep. In the morning, as I made the bed, I straightened that pillow into place with particular affection.
“Thank you for last night,” I said, “I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there.” I gave the pillow a little kiss, and then smoothed it away. The pillow remained silent but looked at me as if to say its whole purpose in life was to make my sleeping hours more comfortable, I shouldn’t even mention it. That night I went to sleep with the pillow by my side, a preemptive strike against nightmares. I had no bad dreams, and woke to the pillow gently caressing my cheek.
“Sorry,” it whispered, “Did I wake you?”
“It’s OK,” I murmured, “I have to be up in a minute anyway.”
“Don’t get up,” the pillow said. “Stay here with me today. Order Chinese food and finish the novel you’ve been reading at bedtime, and never leave the apartment or your pajamas.” I wasn’t going to listen; I even made it onto my feet. But the look the pillow was giving me when I stood was too enticing, and I found myself right back in bed again. The pillow and I had a lovely day together.
Then it was the weekend. I had forgotten about my plans with Derek on Saturday night, and when I remembered I wasn’t as excited as usual. He took me to a romantic bistro, followed by a screening at an independent film festival. When he put his arm around me in the theater it felt unnatural, but I tried to behave as though nothing was wrong. The film had an original script and breathtaking cinematography, but my mind kept wandering back to bed. All I wanted was to lie down and press my face into the pillow.
Derek walked me home, and the more he tried to converse pleasantly about the festival’s program, the more he tested my nerves. We stopped at my doorstep, and instead of inviting him in, or giving him a goodnight kiss and an acceptable excuse, I told him that I thought we should take a step back. He accepted it more gracefully than I expected, and that was a great relief. I just couldn’t carry on with him, having stumbled across something real. I could barely wait to get to bed, didn’t even bother to wash off all my makeup and brush my teeth.
“You’ve been with someone else, haven’t you?” the pillow said.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.
“Don’t lie,” the pillow said. “I can smell him on you.”
“All right,” I said, “I was. I swear though, I thought about being here the whole time. You’re the one I want.”
The pillow was cold and silent, and I knew I had ruined yet another good thing.