Phantoms by Susan Holcomb

Last night I dreamed my daughter had been born. Her father and I were in a coffee shop, and I was doing complex origami with a long bolt of silk to secure the baby to my body. “But let us see her,” a phantom person said, and so I unwrapped my baby from the silks and held her up.

She was so tiny. She fit in the palm of my hand. She was exactly the shape of a Furby—you know Furbies, the bird-like automatons every kid went crazy for in the ‘90s. Squat rounded little things: if you were to take a rough outline of a Furby with a pencil, it would look like a tombstone. So this was my daughter, Furby-shaped but smaller, balanced in the palm of my hand. Her skin was so soft. Her eyes were so big. She was wrapped in a yellow swaddle and looked out at the world.

“What do you want to drink?” my daughter’s father asked me. I saw we were now the first in line.

I didn’t know what I wanted. I hadn’t thought about it, and suddenly I seemed so unprepared. I set my daughter on the ground. All at once she was a larger child, four or five. “What do you want to order?” I asked her.

Her hair was blonde, the color of her old swaddle. “Milk and almonds,” she said.

I turned to my daughter’s father. “We should go home,” I said, “we have milk and almonds there. We should go home, where the milk is better.”

My daughter’s father nodded. Together, we turned to leave the coffee shop. All the phantom people—old friends of ours, baristas we’d once known—turned with us. They watched as we approached the threshold.

“You’ll come back, won’t you?” the phantom people said. “You’ll let us see how she grows up?”

I wished that I could snatch my daughter up and wrap her to my body like before. Just moments ago, she had fit in the palm of my hand. “We’ll be back,” I said, though I knew I didn’t mean it. “We’ll be back,” I said, and turned my back on those kind phantoms forever.

We stepped into the sun-filled street. I didn’t know where we were, though my daughter and her father seemed to. I followed them, trusting that they knew where to go. “The almonds…” my daughter murmured, and I wondered if we still had milk at home.

Susan Holcomb holds an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and studied for a PhD in physics at Cornell. Her writing has been or will soon be published in the Southern Indiana Review, The Boston Globe, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles.