The dream collectors’ truck stopped at each house on our street. There was a system: Mondays recycling, Tuesdays dreams, Wednesdays general trash. Lying on the front lawn, I could see the double-wide tires. Dreams clanked as they were thrown into the back. Dream collectors, like trash collectors, travel early.
Grandma and I had shared our small house, and after she died, I couldn’t sleep. Even when she’d been alive our dreambag was thin. Grandma’s dreams were slender as yarn and juniperberry dusky. She disliked tossing them out. She kept them inside old shoeboxes. Juniper blue reminded her of the tree that grew in the garden that was hers before she flew to this empty-lawned nation. She said that she saw this tree when she slept. It grew wide-branched and ample-berried. She’d fill her cheeks with the fruit. But when she awoke, she could never remember the taste.
Dreams are many sizes, but they’re all blue. When I stopped sleeping, the dreams collected under my eyes and stained my skin. After my third night awake, the color spread. My knees were the blue of the veins that grow under tongues. After six days of unsleep, the palms that I held up against the light were deepest Prussian blue.
The two collectors stopped, looking left and right for our household’s dreambag, but no dreamers lived there anymore. One yawned into his fist and turned away, but the other pointed to my dream-dyed body.
“It’s over there.”
One picked me up by the feet and the other by the hands. My hips and shoulder brackets strained. I opened my mouth to protest, but the noise that came out was no louder than paper crumpling.
“One, two, three, heave, ho.”
They threw me into their truck. My knees smacked against my face. My hip hit the steel wall.
The truck was dark. A bag crashed against my ribs and another b ounced off my stomach. The vehicle was rancid with stale dreams. I knocked my pinky against the side, but the men were laughing and their voices creaked like the truck’s steel jaws. The drive was long.
There was a time when people let their dreams drift out the window. They didn’t give a thought to how their dreams would pollute the sea and sky. They didn’t consider the growing population of dreamers. But now we have the dumps, where the suburbs meet the scrubland. Nobody wants to see the nightmares flicking their indigo tails.
When you are sleepless, time passes in strange ways and I don’t know how many bags were dropped on my body. They hummed, buzzed, and rumbled. Near my left ear, something was weeping. There were moments I thought I’d die and moments I thought I was dead.
Then the truck stopped with a great beeping like an almighty alarm clock going off. One by one, the weights were removed. A face bent down towards me, the nose was crooked. Stubble greyed his face. He hefted me over his shoulder.
“Need help with that?”
“I’ve got it.”
“You know if you put out your back, the insurance won’t cover it.”
His phone lumped his pocket and I wondered who he called on it and what they spoke about. Behind the barbed wire fences, dreams were piled into hills. Cranes swung, ultramarine drooling from their rusted jaws. Grandma used to say she hated that the citizens of this country ironed everything flat. She meant that the houses were lined up straight as the teeth of the children who live here.
“Is it just me or are the leavings getting uglier?”
I wondered if I should be insulted. He dropped me on something spongy. I couldn’t see my house from there. I couldn’t see any house at all. My brain was blue. The sky was blue-blue. Everything was blue-blue-blue.
“Hey, at least this one didn’t scratch.”
Their voices crumbled on the wind as they walked away, and finally, bruised by night terrors, wet dreams, dry dreams, night joys, and all the rest, I slept.
When I woke, my hands had faded to the hue of the fluff that builds up in the back of the tumble dryer. My feet were the same. My limbs were light. I wiggled my fingers in front of my face. I stood.
The morning sun cut through the dreambag hills and the dump glowed. It was difficult to make out specific forms. But as I looked up, I saw, on the nearest hill, a tree was growing. I waded out to taste its fruit.