THE DREAM MACHINE • by S.A. Leavesley

Oscar is watching clothes in the washing machine’s round window. The rumble is a daily background white noise. He’s almost as transfixed by its turning as Tilly is by cartoons on the telly. Sometimes, I stare with him. Mostly, I just keep an eye out to make sure he doesn’t try to open it and climb in. His watching keeps him quiet, while I get on with the chores.

Today, in a snatch of time between my shift and picking up Tilly from school, I pause to watch with him: flashes of colour, the odd bubble, water sliding across his reflected face. I wonder what he’s thinking. He doesn’t say, as reluctant as his dad to share his inner world.

Do children dream in the same way adults do? All the fabric of Oscar’s future is already there, turning and churning, confirming environment and genetics, or twisting against them. I shrug my thoughts away from this. Once I start to worry, guilt sloshes round and round in an endless cycle. Oscar’s crawling, walking, talking have come slower than his sister’s. His speech remains hesitant, everything slightly behind on the health visitor’s checklist. But Luke and I are trying our best; what else can we do?

I shift my gaze from Oscar’s reflection to look at the whole of him: small, stubborn and unbelievably cute with his dark unruly cherub curls. The wideness of his blue eyes washes everything clean, even my tiredness, the monotonies, frustrations and doubts. For a moment, I drift with this and the machine’s rhythmic motion, imagine a life without wet laundry and pegs, with sun on my skin rewaking energy in my bones…

I need to get on with the housework though, and Oscar’s washing-machine watching allows me to do it. I persuade myself it’s not poor parenting or cheap childcare, but a toddler version of brainstorming, stimulating his imagination, encouraging him to think out of the box, an unusual sort of mother-son character-building. I lift Oscar and hug him, smothering his cheeks and belly with blown raspberry kisses until he wriggles free.

Then I pull everything out of the machine. I shut Oscar in the lounge and lug our damp clothes outside to hang on the line to dry. Looking at the grey sky, I know this won’t be quick, but I’ve more waiting inside. I bundle the next load into the machine and turn it on.

“Look, Mommy, a purple dolphin!” Oscar points.

His sentence is short but the words are bright. I set the empty basket down, smile at him and watch his dreamworld spinning.

S.A. Leavesley is a fiction writer, poet, journalist and photographer, with flash published by journals including Spelk, Jellyfish Review, Litro, Ellipsis and Fictive Dream. Her short novellas Always Another Twist and Kaleidoscope are published by Mantle Lane Press.

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