I keep dreaming of Belle, of my mom, of Imena, of John... It's all so crazy. My gramma knows a woman who used to be a shrink, so I went to see her the other day, hoping she could tell me why I was dreaming of these things.
"Hi there, Dahlia, your gramma told me that you needed someone to talk to... for a second opinion. I'm Bea, would you like some coffee?" She's a short woman, with red hair and a friendly old face. She's probably about the same age my mom would be. She brings me into her little apartment and sits me down on a big, squishy, old leather couch. It's black. To the right is a big red armchair with only a few tears in the arms. There's a black ottoman between us, and a window looking out over the old main street. On the walls are photographs in frames, of a much younger version of Bea, more like my age, with a baby boy and a man about John's current age. In one, they're at the beach, in another there's snow everywhere, the boy is a bit older there, and they're all in big puffy jackets and hats. There are paintings as well, most of them in warm colors, red, orange, purple. A little yellow flecks here and there about the room, but the overall feel is calm and warm.
As I'm taking everything in, I hear her preparing the coffee in the next room over. "Sugar, hon?" She calls. Her voice is kind of soft and light, very kind and calm.
"Yes, ma'am, but just a little." I watch as she glides back in the room, slippers, loose slacks and billowy blouse. She reminds me of a friend of my mothers' from way back when, "Yogi" she was called.
She gingerly places the tray of mugs down on the ottoman between us, kicks off her slippers, and curls up with her mug, little tendrils of steam hugging her face. I lift up my cup and take a sip. It's bitter, a little gritty, but very warm. The smell of coffee, as always, makes me feel relaxed and open.
After a moment or two, Bea smiles at me, and places her mug back on the tray. She tucks her knees over to her left, and begins speaking in a way that is at once comforting and in control.
"Well, like I said, my name's Bea. Before PTA, I was a therapist, and now I help in the gardens with things like watering and gathering and that sort of thing. I live here alone, and I've lived here for very, very long. I love to talk to people, and in my spare time, I counsel people who still need it. I very much enjoy meeting new people, and even more, I enjoy helping the people I meet. Most people who come to me in this capacity, though, are going through difficult times in their lives. I can give advice, or I can just listen, whichever the speaker needs. So, Dahlia, tell me about yourself?"
Throughout the speech, I watched her eyes and listened to her voice. She had this way about her, this love that emanated out of her, I felt at ease.
"Bea, I've been having dreams about my... family. I don't know if you can give me advice about it, but I need an objective opinion. I really want to trust you, but some things about my story... I can't tell you without risking a lot--on both our parts. So, I guess I'll just tell you what I dreamed about about."
Bea wasn't smiling anymore; she had a concerned, but encouraging frown along her brow, and nodded for me to continue. It seemed like she was listening intently, so I went on to tell her what I had dreamed about that night.
"Well, the first thing I remember, I was in this prison. I knew everyone there, but at the same time, I didn't. I felt like I couldn't trust them, but I wanted them to trust me. I remember, though, that Belle was there. You don't know who Belle is. Belle was this girl... I lived with her for a long time. We were like sisters, I guess. She was a lot younger than me. She could have been my daughter, biologically. But anyways, she was there. And her girlfriend, Imena, she was there. See, before we moved here, Belle and Imena were very close, and you hardly ever saw them apart. They were lovely. Imena was there, and in the dream, she and Belle were together, and they were bunked together. Well, something bad happened, so we had to run away from the prison. I can't really remember, but we ran away in the night, me and Belle and Imena. And we ran a very long way through a forest, and then we came to this little town, where my mother was still alive.
In reality, my mother died a few weeks before PTA officially broke, and in this dream, she was living in this little po-dunk town. She was a waitress. We found her, and we stole her away in the night to run with us. We went all over, the four of us, until we got to this city, and we stayed in a hotel. I don't think PTA was a thing in this dream, because while we were staying there, there were no checkups to get in, there was no viral security, and we weren't even worried about breathing unprocessed air without worms or pills.
Well, so we check into this hotel, and John, who in reality is my ex, is there. And the hotel has three separate rooms, one for Belle and Imena, one for mom, and one for me and John. Well, I was visiting with my mom, just shooting the breeze, when she hands me this pregnancy test. You know, like the old fashioned kind that you peed on and it would tell you if you were pregnant? I've never used one, but my brother had had a girlfriend when I was a kid, and Mom had bought them a few, 'just in case', and I had seen them. Anyway, she hands me one and says, 'you need to check.' So I go in the bathroom and do it, and it says I'm pregnant.
"So I go back in the room, and I give it to John, and he just looks at me, and says 'get out.' and I ask him why, and he just gets angry and starts throwing things, so I grabbed Belle and yanked her away from Imena, and my mother runs after us.
"As we're running out of the lobby, there are these three dogs made of stone, and they're all lined up against a wall facing the wall. Belle starts to freak out, and Mom just yanks us down the hallway. The dogs are following us, every time we look away. We're all afraid, and we're running, but the lobby is turning into this crazy labyrinth, and we just can't figure out how to get away. So Mom just picks Belle up like a baby, and throws her to the dogs. I scream and try to run after her, but Mom won't let me, she just drags me away, and we're suddenly on the steps, and Belle is being ripped to pieces, and Mom just stands there, with her arms wrapped around me so tight I can barely breathe, and makes me watch. And then I woke up."

Bea took a moment to gather her thoughts, before asking, "How did your mother die?"
"She... She killed herself," I didn't want to say it, but what else was there to say?
"Are you afraid of turning into your mother? Do you ever think about it, like wondering if you're similar to her in different ways?"
"All the time. Just about every decision I've ever made has been influenced by her in one way or another. I try to stay busy so I don't have to think about it, but here... without Belle... There's just no way to avoid it."
"Where did you live with Belle before?"
"On a military sanctuary in Pennsylvania."
"And you decided to come here... because someone was chasing you?"
"Yeah, John. I... crossed him. Belle and I decided that it would be best to just get out."
"But why here? Why to this town? Was it to see your grandmother?"
"I guess. I wanted to know if she was still alive. I wanted to know what she was like now. What mom might have been like."
"Dahlia, what happened to Belle?"
"She... died...."
"How, Dahlia?"
"I... It was my fault, really... I should have known to be more careful... I should have checked.... I don't know, it happened so fast... She got... shot. By a rifle. It was an accident. A misfire...." I started sobbing uncontrollably, and the coffee mug that I had been clenching so tightly rolled to the shaggy gray carpet, spilling rich black liquid along the fibers, which quickly sucked up the moisture into a big, dark stain.
"Dahlia," Bea pleaded as she moved to the couch beside me and pulled me into her arms. She was such a tiny thing, but she rocked me and cradled me as if I were the small one. "Dahlia, it's all right. What's done is done, and can't be taken back. But you're still here. You're still alive. Belle and your mother are gone, but you have to keep continuing on. You've got to figure out why you're still here? You've got to come up with a reason, even if it's temporarily constructed, for being here? What's your purpose? You seem to be afraid of motherhood, but you took Belle in, did you not? You're capable of good, just like your mother was. Just because she made a poor decision, doesn't make her evil. Everyone makes mistakes. Some of our mistakes are a little more... consequential. It's unfortunate that you've had to survive so much death, but then, everyone who is alive today lives alongside death, battles it, constantly. You've got to find a way to make it mean something, Dahlia. You've learned from your mother's mistakes, and from your own, yes?" I nod, feeling an epiphany coming on. "Yes, you have. And I know you can find a way to make your time here count. And in the meantime, I'm here if you need to talk. I swear on my life that I won't share any of your secrets, and I won't judge you for any of it. The way I make my survival count, Dahlia, is by helping other people, and when that means that I must be silent, I am silent. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah, it does." I answer, gaining composure.
"So, Dahlia, how do you think you'll make your time count? Have you ever given any thought to that?"
"I used to know what I was meant for, I was born to research and help find a cure for PTA. But they don't need me there, anymore. Bea, this is a part of what you can never breath a word about okay? Please, swear you won't ever talk about this, you won't ever think about this, after I say it? But I have to say it out loud. I can't keep it in anymore. Please swear, on something that matters."
"I swear on my husband's soul, I will not tell anyone what you tell me in confidence."
"They've found the cure for PTA. I can't tell you what it is, but they know how to do it. And my purpose, since you asked, is to find a way to keep them from using it."
"But why, Dahlia, why would you want to stop something so important, so amazing, like the end of all this suffering?"
"Because, Bea, whoever has this technology, and the willingness to use it, could and will rule the world, by use of threats, and torture, and favoritism, and death. And I would rather see our world continue to work together to find the right cure than fall apart using the immediate one."

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