Friday 4 February 2011

The dream and the drawing: a short story

Another attempt at a single-paragraph story, again inspired by the style of Lydia Davis.

My daughter saw an animated film about a girl and a witch, and she was frightened. Every night after that she saw the face of the witch, cruel and terrible, in her dreams. She wept from horror, because the witch had turned her nights into a prison, her soft white bed into a dungeon. I told her I would cure her of the nightmares. I found a picture of the witch’s angry face, and at the kitchen table we sat down with pencils, with paper, and with the picture of the witch. She drew the face, and drew it again until she had learned to draw it from memory. Then she understood her terror, that it came only from techniques of line and shadow, from the shape of the eyes, the direction of the eyebrows, the proportion of the mouth, the subtle curling at the corner of the lips, the length of the fingers, the way the long black cloak enfolds the body and conceals it like a secret. Then the nightmares stopped; then the witch’s face no longer leered out from the darkness of her dreams; then her bedroom walls no longer echoed with cruel laughter when the lights went out. But some time later she came into our bedroom as before, creeping up between us in the middle of the night, burying her face in my neck because she was afraid, because her fears had folded over like a cloak, because in her bed she had dreamt the hand of a witch clutching a crooked pencil, scratching white lines on a black page, patiently bringing to life a face, her face, the small frightened face of a frightened child.


polihronu said...

Right up there with Yourcenar's "Wang Fo". Awesome little gem.

Mike Gantt said...

Your story reminds me of Jesus calling the children to come to Him, and that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Indeed, being a child can be scary whether that is a physical child or a spiritual child. In either case, we need Jesus whose blinding light sends all darkness fleeing.

Pamela said...

A loving, wise and gentle father Ben. Your children have that. Mine too.

Justin Ireland said...

Thanks (I think)... now I'll also be having dreams of witches tonight!

See you soon.

Anonymous said...

I have a vivid memory of a witch nightmare, which I can date to about age 26 months. It came and went in various forms over the next decade. You have beautifully captured the helplessness and terror of invaded sleep. Rachel

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