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The Nightmare Catcher

Mummy returned from the psychiatrists convention, this year held in faraway Albuquerque, with her suitcase full of sweaty, old-lady suits and stretched out pantyhose. I watched as she folded her dry cleaning – kinda stupid since the wrinkles were the untamable kind. She unzipped a front pocket of her suitcase and brought out a beaten paper bag. “Here,” she said as she handed me the package, “I brought you and Daddy souvenirs.”

The bag was a solid ball and I couldn’t imagine what was in it. A leftover airport sandwich? I liked turkey and cheese, but an old hot dog – yuck. I picked at the creases until the bag shape returned. Inside the brown bag was another paper ball, this one made of crushed pink tissue paper. There was something hard inside. A rock, maybe? It was possible. Mummy does not buy normal things.

“Oh, dear! That one is for Daddy. Let me have it, please.” I returned the weathered blob. She tore at layers of paper. “Isn’t this simply marvelous?” she asked. Daddy’s ‘surprise’ was a small, dirt-colored pot. I missed the marvelousness of the little pot so I frowned. Mummy noticed my expression and dug into the paper sack. “Here’s your present, Love,” and handed me a flat piece of newspaper the size of my palm. The Sunday comics were taped around my surprise.

I opened the package carefully but I didn’t need to. My lovely favor was a round ornament strung with brown string, with feathers and an arrowhead stuck in the middle of it. I held it up by a suede string and shrugged my shoulders.

Mummy caught my confusion. “It’s a dream catcher, Love. The native Americans make these. You hang it over your bed and the bad dreams are supposed to be caught right here, right where this circle is next to the arrowhead. See?” She pointed at the special spot. “The bad dreams are trapped in there instead of in your head.”

“Aren’t dreams supposed to be good?”

“There can be bad ones, too.”

“Aren’t bad dreams called nightmares?”

“The very bad ones are. Now be a good love and hang it up. Go on. Right over your bed.”

I hated the dream catcher but did what she asked.

Later, Daddy played with the hanging nightmare catcher as he watched me crawl into bed. “What a lovely, thoughtful present,” he said as he fluffed up my pillow.

I scrunched up my face and looked up at him. “Better than an earth pot?”

“In a different way.”

“I guess, if you like nightmare catchers.”

“You don’t?”

“I don’t have nightmares.”

“Hmm…” He sat back and pulled on his chin hairs. “That’s true. But only because we have the real dream catcher, don’t we?” He winked at me and looked up to a spot over my head, to a framed photo next to Mummy’s dream catcher. It was a picture Daddy took the summer we spent at the beach. Daddy and I were in the water from morning until dusk while Mummy sat indoors with her laptop and her big pile of books and drank cold green tea. The photograph was of me holding a starfish by one of its spiny, fishy legs.

“When I feel sad or scared…” I started.

“You close your eyes…” Daddy continued.

“And dream of the heat of the sun…”

“And the salty ocean spray…”

“And shells in the sand…”

“And the sand in your toes…”

“And the sand in my swimsuit!” I giggled.

“And you won’t be sad any longer.”

“Or have bad dreams!”

“Agreed!” Daddy turned the light to low and gave me a wet kiss on my forehead. “I hope you remembered to thank your mother for her fabulous gift.”

I sighed. “Yes, Daddy.” He got up to leave. “Daddy?”

He paused. “Yes, dear?”

“Why does Mummy…”

Daddy put his finger to his lips and gave the dream catcher another twirl. “Let’s just let this silly thing catch nightmares. You already know how to catch a dream.”

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