The sun was hot in an overly cheerful blue sky, but the streets below were crowded, dusty and noisy, despite the sun's best efforts at making them languid and lazy. One man in particular, his head bent against the noise and heat and his eyes glittering furiously as delay of crowds after delay, was far too busy worrying about his own life and problems to consider what nature wanted. He was so caught up in fact that he didn't notice the small street vendor until he almost tripped over her.
To be fair, it wasn't entirely his fault. The woman was sitting on the low rung of her tiny cart shop with a sun hat bent low around her head to keep the heat off and her clothes had been muted by dirt and grime. Still, when he looked down at her to snap an apology and met her glittering eyes, he felt as though he should feel more abashed and less angry. He was embarrassed enough by his faux pas to take more than a passing look at what hung and glittered on the small cart racks.
Dozens of tiny glass shards of all different colors sparkled and winked at him, each nestled in a web of threading so delicate that they looked as though they would tear. The threading was netted together like a spider web and surrounded by rims of coloured leather-blue, purple, red, green; all of the colors of the universe were captured in the wagon's contents. They were all different sizes, from ones that were smaller than his palm to ones larger than his head.
"What are they?" he asked.
The woman appraised him again from dark glittering eyes and he could see that under her sun hat, she would have peppery black hair and skin darkened by sun, wind, and ancestors.
"You wouldn't be interested," she said after a long moment. "You would never use it."
"What are they?" he asked again, annoyed by such an audacious, and yet truthful comment.
The woman stood up and brushed off her jeans. "They're dreamcatchers," she said, her mouth wrapping around the word as though reluctant to let it go.
"They're like ornaments?"
The woman let out an exasperated puff of air. "My people believe that they capture nightmares and hold them until the morning sun can destroy them. That way, all you have are good dreams." She looked him from head to toe and snorted. "But I doubt you dream much of anything anymore. Or even noticed that you stopped dreaming things that mattered."
"Dreams are a waste of time," he said absently, but his attention was caught by a particularly beautiful dreamcatcher. Its rim was made of midnight blue leather while the glass cluster in the middle shone like the sky. But a thread was broken near the outer edge. "This one is broken," he said. "I'll buy it if you give me a discount."
The woman glared at him, fierce, proud, and angry. "I would not sell you one," she said. "You would only put it away, pat yourself on the back for helping the poor little Native woman and never use it for any good reason."
"I don't think you can afford to refuse a good sale," the man said, angry in his turn. "Look at this place. Look at you."
"I will not sell you one," the woman repeated angrily. "Now take yourself back to your life and leave me to mine."
"Fine," the man snapped and stormed away. Stupid woman. Only a fool would turn down a sale and it was with that thought that he eased the uncomfortable feeling that he had passed some miracle by.
The man woke up in the dark of night to insistent hands at his arm. His daughter, six years old and the only thing more precious to him than his life, was tugging at him, her eyes wide and fearful in the splintered moon.
"You have a nightmare again sweetie?" he asked sleepily, already making room for the girl to climb in with him. "What about this time?"
She clambered in next to him and snuggled up to his chest. "There was a monster in my closet and under the bed and they ate you up."
"No one's eating me up sweetie," he said. "It was just a dream."
"Why do I have bad dreams daddy? Is it because I'm bad?"
Some inner fearful note in the girl's voice made the man wake up a bit more. "Of course not," he said. "Everyone has bad dreams sometime; it's just part of life."
"But I have them all the time," the girl confided. "About monsters, and fighting, and people falling like mommy did."
The man felt a chill go through his body. "It'll pass in time sweetie," he managed to say. "I promise. Now go to sleep."
A few moments later, she was asleep, but the man lay awake in the dark, thinking.
It was surprisingly difficult for the man to find his way back to the small cart where the woman had been selling the dreamcatchers. For a while, the man tried simply retracing his steps, but at the places where avenues turned to streets and streets turned to main roads, he got confused and turned around and had to try again. The sun was hot again and the air thrummed with the sound of vehicles and flies loitering around the garbage cans. The smell of carbon monoxide tinged the air and here and there, the man could see pockets of low lying pollution-cigarette butts still smoking and the needles from drugs. He stopped in a small cafe to reorient himself, but the coffee was slightly stale and the waitresses all wore the hopeless looks of people who are just working to pay the bills and take no joy in anything anymore. He quickly drank down the coffee and left again, feeling oddly depressed.
Normally, the man was able to ignore the rush of people and they largely ignored him. But here and there, as he searched for the tiny cart, he saw people, staring out at him, their eyes wide, lost, and blank. There was no hope there, no peace, no rest, no dreams. He suddenly wondered if he had appeared that way to the dreamcatcher seller; if she could see that the entirety of his life had been crushed down to the singularity of mere survival, not living. Perhaps by dreaming, she had not meant night visions, but rather the loss of all things that had made him strive to do more and be more which had been lost in the crush of trying to work and make just enough to get by for he and his daughter.
I'm here for my daughter; maybe if she believes the dreamcatcher will work, she'll stop having those nightmares.
But how do I get my dreams back again? The thought rose unbidden and as though it had summoned her, he finally found the cart again with the woman hunched over a crossword puzzle, scribbling furiously. The blue dreamcatcher was still hanging there, capturing the summer sky and changing it to rainbows.
"You again," the woman said, looking up at him from beneath her white wide brimmed hat. "But not you. Something is different now."
"My daughter keeps having nightmares," he blurted out. "I want to buy the dreamcatcher for her. Maybe she'll stop having them if it's there."
The woman raised an eyebrow and got to her feet again. "So this is a cause of selflessness now? You're here for her?"
"Yes," he said. "Well, that is, I meant to come for her."
"But you start to understand now," the woman murmured. "You start to understand what you have lost as well."
The man only nodded, unable to say anything. The merchant pursed her lips a bit and then nodded so abruptly that the man was caught off guard by it. "I will give you the dreamcatcher," she said, taking it down and wrapping it before giving it to him.
"Nothing you can pay me now," the woman said. "A dreamcatcher costs a dream. You must have dreams for it to work. There has to be something for the catcher to attract and that is my only cost to you. I think you need it more than I need your money."
Had this been but twenty four hours before, the man would have pressed the issue, fearing some ulterior motive, but now he only thanked the woman and left, vanishing back into the press of humanity and discarded dreams. The woman smiled a little and returned to her crossword puzzle where the words hope, humanity, and dreams all crisscrossed together.
The man returned home that night and hung the dreamcatcher up in his daughter's room where it shone gently in the light from the lamp. His daughter came in and gazed up at the delicately woven thing with wide eyes.
"What is it Daddy?"
"It's a dreamcatcher," the man said. "It will capture all of your nightmares so that you only have good dreams and then when the sun comes up, all of the nightmares are dissolved without ever reaching you."
The girl took a closer look at it. "It's broken daddy."
"Not broken," he corrected, taking down the dreamcatcher and carefully retying the broken threads. "See? It just needed a bit of work and love. Now all you need to do is believe that it will work."
"Ok daddy," the girl said and reached out for a hug goodnight before snuggling down in her bed, her eyes still following the slight movement of the dreamcatcher. He kissed her good night and left her there, wondering if it would really work.
That night, the man dreamed that two massive shadows lurked outside his daughter's window, but when they tried to get in, they were captured by a shining net of moonlight and crystal with the spot that he had mended shining in particular brilliance. The girl sleeping inside had no idea that they were there and continued sleeping with a smile on her face. The man woke up and bolted to her room just in time to see the first of the sun's rays flash through the dreamcatcher so that rainbows danced and all the shadows lurking between the threads vanished. His daughter had slept through the night with a smile on her face and no nightmares. He wonderingly touched the dreamcatcher and it felt warm from the morning sun in his hands.
"It actually worked," he said and for the first time in a long time, his eyes kindled with the very beginnings of something he had not felt in over a year.
Hope, and the start of new dreams to come.
The man never saw the dreamcatcher merchant again; when he went to find her cart, she had disappeared again. But along the way, he tipped the sad waitress in the cafe and complimented her hair. She smiled and he suddenly realized that beneath the sorrow and the loss, she was beautiful. The smile lit his own heart in return and he went back every day to have coffee, tip the waitress and bask in her smile.
They were to be married, but that's another tale for another dreamcatcher to find. This tale's dreamcatcher hung in the daughter's window until she was old enough to move out and she took it with her and gave it to her daughter and so on down it went until the threads were frayed and the leather was cracked and worn. Then it was taken down one last time and carefully put away, its job done and all the dreams it had captured and let through fulfilled. For that is the true purpose of a dreamcatcher; not only to capture the nightmares, but also to let you recapture the dreams you thought were lost long ago.