I set the book on the nightstand. Cheyenne’s eyelids flutter in dreams already, her breath measured, deep. We’ve each taken a turn reading. I’m tempted to read on in silence, but I love the sound of the words out loud, especially Cheyenne’s voice, mellow and sweet. We’ll pick up the story tomorrow night.
I scoot down in the bed, tuck the pillow under my neck just so, bring the cotton comforter up around my ears, and spoon against Chey. She settles into the S of my body and I, already, I too dream.
It is spring. I know this because the apple orchard is pink with blossoms. The sky is clear, spring, cerulean blue, the blue before the earth begins to release its summer filters of gas and farm dust.
I–not me, Rose, but I nevertheless–tread the spongy orchard soil, twigs and leaf mold giving way to shoots of green and yellow grass. My long dress, sprinkled with apple blossoms so lively I imagine I could pluck them, flares in the breeze. From my fingers dangles a blue sash from which hangs a broad-brimmed, straw saucer hat.
Mother will chastise me later for the hint of sunburn on my skin, but I turn my face to the glow anyway, soaking in the brilliance.
There, the biggest, oldest, gnarliest apple tree of them all, the one already here when Father and Mother settled this land, before there was a house, before there were barns, before the orchard.
Stood that tree.
I embrace the tree, the bark and knobby trunk against my face, against my bare arms where the sleeves of the dress fall away. The tree breathes with me. I feel its long, slow heart beat, sap running up, sap running down.
Still dreaming, knowing it’s a dream, I waken, sitting now, back against the tree, legs outstretched, hat in my lap. Before I quite open my eyes, the scent: cat. Musky. Big. Wild. She purrs–loud. Cougar purr.
I am afraid to open my eyes. I have had this dream before. If I open my eyes, she’ll be gone.
I lift one eyelid, heavily, hesitantly. Through the lashes, I see her. Willing my breath long and slow, I watch, surprised to see that she, inches away, watches me. Breath catches. The tiniest sound escapes. She knows I’ve seen her and stands, languidly, looking slightly away.
Tawny, muscular, heavy, she stretches her strong body long, longer, front legs far in front, almost touching my toes. She widens her paws and flexes her claws, each one big as an eagle’s beak. She licks my toes, and I giggle, wondering, where are my shoes? Glancing beside me, hunting them, I forget her, and in that moment, she is gone.
I do not wake from this dream right away, curling against Cheyenne again, hugging her gently and close. In the air, almost conscious, I catch the scent of cat. Cougar air. Murgatroid growls. My toes feel wet, and warm.