There, not there, once upon a time, was a wife.
One morning, the wife woke up and the husband was gone. He had forgotten to tell her he loved her. Had he ever told her? She couldn’t remember. She had forgotten her own name. Was this her bed? Were these her legs? Was this her hair, which had grown, seemingly overnight, a foot longer and bound itself to her? She couldn’t untangle herself. She remembered that that was her husband’s job: to unwrap her in the morning, then cut the hair that had grown overnight.
Yes, that was it. Every morning the wife woke up and the husband unwrapped her and cut the hair that had grown overnight. The husband would look down at the hair and say, Only four inches this morning, didn’t you sleep well? Then she would look down and he would disappear and she would remember that he had forgotten. The wife didn’t know where the hair would go. She only knew its absence. When the husband kissed the nape of her neck, she imagined her long-lost hair, slowly trailing up her spine, coming back to her, growing teeth.
The wife and the husband were inseparable except for the fact that the husband didn’t believe in dreams and the wife was always dreaming. But she didn’t call it dreaming, she called it predicting. Ever since she was a little girl, she had dreamed of dreams that came true. The night before she met her husband, she’d had a dream of him. He’d reached down and offered her a glass of cool water. She’d drowned in it. She predicted that was a good sign.
The wife was desperate in her attempt to make the husband dream, partly because the idea of him never dreaming felt vampiric in nature, perverse, upside-down. How could she sleep next to a man who never dreamed? What was he doing, just lying there all night? Did he wake up, as she slept, and watch her? Did he crawl out the window and erupt into a thousand bats?
In her research, she found that everyone dreams, even people who claimed they never did. These people, researchers said, just can’t remember. There it was: he didn’t have a dreaming problem; he had a memory problem. She would help him remember.
I’m going to help you remember, she said one morning as he cut off six inches of her hair.
I remember everything, he said and disappeared.
She missed her hair. While the husband was away, she would spend hours in front of the mirror, willing the hair to grow back. Only in the morning, while he was still asleep, would she awaken to find that it had grown, sometimes all the way down to her feet. She found the earlier she slept, the longer it would grow. Soon, she was in bed by 6 o’clock. Sometimes, she would sleep all day and wake up to find herself drowning in hair. The husband never worried. He unwrapped her with his dainty fingers, licking each fingertip along the way.
One morning, the wife awoke earlier than usual, her heart racing like it was up to something. But what? She remembered it then, quite suddenly—the nightmare. She’d had a nightmare, which was strange because she’d never had nightmares, not once, not even as a child.
In the nightmare, it’s her wedding day, and her teeth jingle in her mouth like hard candy. I smell dirt, she thinks. I smell children disappearing. In the mirror, she is a white swan. The stain of womanhood wiped clean. Her neck is long and twists round and round like a staircase. Has she always been a swan? She can’t remember. She opens her mouth to scream but her tongue, red and ripe, folds into itself and disappears. Where did it go? she asks. Where did my scream go? The husband enters, holding her scream in his hands. Newly born, it is bald and ugly and perfect. She swallows it whole.
After remembering the nightmare, the wife remembered something else. Her mother had once told her, nightmares are just dreams, upside down. Was she upside down now? She couldn’t tell. When she looked down, she saw her back, bare and unassuming, lit silver by the moonlight. Where was her hair? What would the husband say? What would he have to untangle now?
She wrapped her hands around her swan neck, up and up and up, felt the round marble of her skull. She was bald, like the dream scream, bald and ugly and perfect. She held herself in her hands. Oh, she thought, smiling, how strange.
She turned to watch her husband sleep his vampire sleep. This reunion of husband and wife would only last a moment. She was not a wife anymore; she was not allowed to be beautiful. But the husband wouldn’t remember. In the morning, the wife would wake up and the husband would be gone. He would forget to tell her he loved her. Had he ever told her?
I’m dreaming, she thought. Which means I’m coming true.
Her swan neck was facing the wrong way and when she lay back to sleep, she felt her nose against the pillow and drifted into unconsciousness. Goodbye hair, she thought. Goodbye husband. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
Adelina Sarkisyan is an Armenian-American writer from Los Angeles. She holds an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a graduate degree in social work. She was a therapist in a former life. She lives in dreams. Follow her everchanging moods on Twitter @sheisadelina and Instagram @adelinasarkisyan.