For Nermina Krneta
It smelled like rabbit poop.
It was bedtime, and I was tucking Tasha into bed at her Grandma’s house before heading out on my date night with her father. Her little arms popped out from under the blanket, and she pinned them to her sides, tightening the blanket around herself..
“What did, sweetie?”
“The hole in the wall.” She pointed, and I looked. The wallpaper still looked the same, tiny wildflowers scattered across the surface of the wall, one of many girlish touches this room still had from when I was young, and I had lived here.
“There’s no hole, sweetie.”
“No, the rabbit hole. I got up close to it. It smelled like rabbit poop and dirt and sunshine.”
My blood ran cold. Her words triggered something I hadn’t thought about in decades. I remembered a dream I had up until I was about twelve, a recurring dream, with Mr. Whiskers the Rabbit. He’d visit my room by burrowing into the wall right exactly there. It was too great a coincidence. Were dreams genetic? Could you inherit a dream?
“Well, I hope he comes back tonight. I liked talking to the rabbit man.”
I felt ridiculous, but I remembered one thing about those dreams. One thing came up now, flooding back to me. Mr. Whiskers, the mischievous rabbit, had tried every night before he left to get me to come through the burrow with him. And I had always refused. I had had a baby brother to watch over. And I couldn’t leave him alone. But that was decades ago, and Tasha had no little brother to keep her here.
“Sure, honey, talk to your dream friend. But, do one thing for me.”
“What is it, momma?”
“Just… “ I felt silly. I was pandering. There was no Mr. Whiskers inside the wall. But I needed to say it anyway. If I didn’t, and she went missing, I’d feel terrible if I hadn’t said this first. “Just, no matter what Mr. Whiskers says to you, you stay right here in your room, okay? On this side of the wall. Okay?”
“Okay, momma.” She gave me one last peck on the hand, and then rolled over on her side. I hummed her favorite lullaby while I rubbed her back. That was our thing. She was soon fast asleep. I stayed in the room a little longer than maybe I ought to have. Jack was a touch impatient, but holding her and rubbing her back had calmed me down, gotten the chill out of my blood.
We said our goodbyes to my mother, who promised to check in on Tasha at least once an hour and told me not to worry. My mother held me, pushed my hair away from my face, and said, “Moms have a hard time with the first sleepover. Tasha will be fine.”
As we pulled away from the curb for our date, Jack looked at me, “What’s wrong honey?”
“Tasha said something that scared me a little, about her dreams.”
“If you’re worried she’ll have bad dreams, that’s why your mom will be there, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I’m just worried. I’ll shake it off.”
“Tasha is a big girl now, and brave. She’ll be fine.” Brave. Brave enough to walk into a wall maybe, where I hadn’t been brave enough. I’d been scared, under the need to care for my brother. I sighed deeply.
My mother’s beautiful Victorian painted lady grew smaller and smaller in the rear view, and I wondered whether I was making the biggest mistake of my life, leaving Tasha in the bedroom I grew up in.