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Dreams in Damask

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The dream is not a nightmare, exactly.

Maddie has it every year or so. In the dream, she and Julie are walking among the damask roses in the garden in Ormaie. Julie is not a ghost, nor yet has she been saved from the prisoner transport; instead, Maddie always has the sense that the garden is simply somewhere that they like to walk, that they meet and walk there often, and the roses are always in bloom.

They walk side by side, not touching, and Maddie pours out all her news, although when she wakes she can never remember what she said. And then it occurs to her that Julie is not talking, and then Maddie says, “How are you?”

And Julie turns to her - and smiles - and then Maddie wakes.

It doesn’t frighten her, this dream. But it makes her so sad that the feeling seems to sit on her chest like a weight.

But one night, the dream is different. The roses are the same, the garden, the two of them walking side by side, and the sunlight shining on Julie’s hair. But this time, when Julie turns and smiles at her, the face is not that of Maddie’s friend Julie Beaufort-Stuart - but Maddie’s daughter, Julie’s namesake, whom they call Jules.

The only reason Maddie doesn’t scream when she wakes is because she can’t catch her breath. She slips out of bed, out of the bedroom, down the stairs to the phone, and it is only when she has put the call through and the phone is ringing that it occurs to her that perhaps she shouldn’t call Jules at 12:32 am.

But someone picks up on the second ring. “‘Allo?” a cheery girl’s voice says, and Maddie can hear clinking glasses and laughter and the Beatles on the record player.

“I must have called the wrong number,” Maddie says. “I meant to reach Julie Beaufort-Stuart…”

“Oi! Jules!” the cheery girl calls; and then there’s a rattle as the phone is handed over, and the squeak of a hinge - Maddie has visited Jules’ flat, and knows that she’s shutting herself in the coat closet - and then things are much quieter.

“Is everything all right, Mum?” Jules asks.

“Oh, yes. I called because… This is going to sound mad. I had a dream and… well, I felt I had to call you.”

“Probably my ghastly boredom reached all the way to Scotland,” Jules jokes. “They’re all Mona’s friends out there.” Mona is Jules’ flatmate. “Very clever and so forth. You’d think clever people wouldn’t be boring, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes,” Maddie agrees, although honestly she’s having trouble following the conversation. She’s just so very glad to hear Jules’ voice, cheerful and high-spirited - and it strikes her for the first time that Jules is older, now, than Julie was when she died.

And Jules still seems so young to her. Julie was so very, very young.

“Really, Mum, is everything all right?” Jules says, and Maddie realizes that Jules has been talking on and Maddie has said nothing. Jules has always been like this: their sunshine girl, who chatters to cheer everyone up.

“I’m sorry,” Maddie says again. “The dream just shook me up. Julie was in it - your aunt.”

“Ooooh.” Jules has always enjoyed Julie stories. “Perhaps she’s contacting you from beyond the grave?”

She makes her voice shivery at the end, as if she’s telling a ghost story. She likes to playact: it’s one of the few qualities she shares with the first Julie. But today Maddie can’t play along. “It was just a dream,” Maddie says, perhaps a little sharply, because Jules lapses into silence. “She was younger than you are when she died,” Maddie says, more gently.

“Was she really?” Jules sounds astonished. There’s a long pause, and then Jules says, “This is going to sound terribly silly, but I never really thought of her as a real person before. I mean I knew she was,” she adds hastily. “But she felt like a character in a story. Even in the stories that were true.”

Somehow over the years Julie had turned into a bedtime story, and her real childhood adventures in Scotland were supplemented with expeditions across Antarctica and a stint on a pirate galleon. Maddie sometimes felt uncomfortable about this, but Jamie said Julie would have loved it, and of course he was right.

“So brave and dashing and grown up,” Jules muses. “And now I’m as old as she was.” Her voice grows more serious than usual, and then she says, “Mum, am I old enough to hear how she died? We always wondered, growing up, because you and Dad always got so quiet whenever that came up...”

The air leaves Maddie’s lungs. She manages to mumble something about the Official Secrets Act.

“All right, all right,” Jules says hastily: always so quick to smooth over any upset. “I’m sure you prefer to think of her alive, anyway. And she does seem awfully alive,” she adds, “like the characters in the best stories.”

Maddie nods, as if her daughter can see her over the phone, because she’s too choked up to speak. She knows Jules is trying to be kind, and in one way it’s a very sweet thing to say - but it’s not the same thing as really being alive, as being real.

“Would you like to go to France?” Maddie asks.

“To France!” Jules sounds aghast. She speaks beautiful French, but when she has to speak it to a French person she goes stiff and shy.

“With your father,” Maddie adds. Jamie can do the talking so Jules doesn’t have to. “Next summer. I just thought,” she says, and she hesitates, “perhaps it’s time for you to see Aunt Julie’s grave.”

“Oh, that sounds jolly. Well, not jolly, but…”

“We’ll try not to embarrass you by blubbing the whole time,” Maddie says.

“Oh, I’m too old to be embarrassed by my parents,” Jules says. “Blub all you need. If I get tired of it I shall wander off and buy myself eclairs.”

They chat just a little while longer. Then someone throws open Jules’ coat closet, and Maddie can hear the strains of “Yellow Submarine” through the phone line. “Go have a nice time,” she tells Jules.

“Bye, Mum!”

Maddie returns the phone to the cradle only after Jules hangs up. She gazes at the dark window as if she can see outside in the night.

In her mind’s eye, she sees the garden with the damask roses. Perhaps if she goes back, one more time, she can finally lay Julie to rest. Perhaps that will be the end of the dream.