The Women in Dreams

(A short story in Vietnamese by Nguyễn Văn Thiện, translation into English by Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm)

The abstract image of a woman's head and shoulders encircled and covered by red flames
Image Source: Snappa

There was a time when he took too many sleeping pills, he would have these vivid dreams. As soon as he fell asleep, he turned into a woman. Talking about it makes little sense, confusing, and often rather crude, but it was exactly what happened. To say, “He turned into a woman”, is not exactly correct, more accurately “a woman actually possesses him in his dreams” – she takes over his body. His body was an appropriation of legal ownership each time he fell asleep. The alien woman had full control of his body, and this included his dreams…

Barely dark and he was drowsy, in the middle of watching some live broadcast of some commemoration. At the time, there were lots of celebrations, commemorating what was already to us were forgotten memories. As soon as the drugs take effect, he sleeps, even when there are twenty broadcasts of memorials on at once or not! The woman immediately takes over, directing every movement. It was a woman with a yoke on her shoulder carrying a child in each basket, she was walking. She wore a blue top, at the front of her top was a white piece of paper in black ink. The words depicted some kind of injustice he thought; he was not a hundred percent sure. What he does know was that she was crying as she walked with the load of her children in the baskets on her shoulders, then she was there in front of a big white building, and she was screaming. The two snotty nose children in the baskets at each end he wasn’t sure whether they’re crying or singing, but their lips were quivering, bent out of shape…

The laughter or possibly crying woke him. The TV was still on, some commentary about a grave decline of history, the need of rectification. His shoulders ached; he did carry a heavy load down a very long walkway. His head was spinning; he couldn’t make out what the time was or whether he was still holding his breath. It seems the woman with the heavy load was still huffing and puffing away. He reassured himself that he was still alive with the TV still on, as though the heart-breaking incident had never happened! He curled up, placed his head between his knees, like a worm digging into a pile of rotten leaves. He wanted to sleep, but he was afraid.

He cried: “Who are you, what do you want?”. There was no answer. He took a deep breath, tried to calm down. Like an autistic child he rocked, repeating over and over again the same game, he wanted to change the game. He curled up like a six-month-old foetus or like a cooked prawn in a hot pot, his knees almost touched his chin, slept like a child, he wanted to return to his childhood, more carefree days. His thighs were warm and soothing on his stomach, reassuring him of his control over his body. But at that very moment, his thighs became soft, subtle, smooth! Not his thighs, a stranger was there instead of him, a bright, quick wit, youthful companion!

The feminine thighs, void of a single drop of sweat, had never experienced heat, taking a stroll mid-winter, or was she just quietly sitting in a corner cafe during a quiet time of the day. Then suddenly he felt warm hands on his thighs. A hand was digging deeper, it was terrifying, he was being exploited. The young woman screamed. The seven-month foetus tried to fight it, but gave up in the end allowing the pain to permeate his entire body, then came the aching, painful screams. He woke up then, the young woman still shaking, refusing to leave his body. His mind was numb. He tried to collect his thoughts, work out where in the house he was, which room, which part of the bed, slowly, gradually grabbed onto the side of the bed, and sat up. The sounds of screams continued to echo through the house from room to room through the odd thick patches of darkness in the night…

Some nights, before closing his eyes, he safely tucks a knife under his pillow. According to his mother, it’s one way to ward off harmful spirits. But he thought differently: if you’re already a ghost how could a knife cut you? It’s merely for reassurance for the long, lonely nights. Calmly, he fell asleep then, like the woodcutter at the foot of a tree, arms and legs splattered wide open, relaxed, he fell asleep. A woman again came and took over his body. Today, a woman with blonde hair, not sure what she’s saying, but she was laughing, revealing her cute, crooked canines. But strangely, whenever a woman possessed him, a man was there. She’s sunbaking on a beach; the sunlight poured over her like honey, the unevaporated water droplets shimmered gloriously on her soft skin. The men came and went, the kisses came and went, as were the goodbyes, the footprints in passing. The woman was in the end alone on the beach, in the middle of the glaring summer day. He woke up with a bitter taste in his mouth, the bitterness of someone abandoned on some horizon, a sea foreign to him in the end. He searched for the knife beneath his pillow; it’s still exactly where he’s put it.

Recalling a complicated dream in bits and pieces is always a difficult task. Only people who have been through it would ever understand what it’s like to be invaded and to lose one’s mental and physical liberty in such a way. How did these women from all over the world manage to take over his body so easily, as soon as he fell asleep? What had been happening was hard to explain, he didn’t know how to stop these women from taking over his body as soon as he fell asleep.

Tonight, before he fell asleep, he carefully placed a sharp blade on his neck. Not sure what will happen next! But the slightest movement he makes the sharp blade would cut his throat! The thought of it put a smile of satisfaction on his face as he closed his eyes.

-Nguyễn Văn Thiện (Writer)

-Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm (Translator)

Nguyễn Văn Thiện, the writer, born 1975 in Anh Sơn-Nghệ An, Vietnam. Master in Comparative Literature and Critical Theories. Currently a high school teacher, a prolific writer and editor of Chư Yang Sin (Đắk Lắk) Art and Literary Journal.

Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm, the translator, born 1971 in Phu Nhuan, Saigon, Vietnam. The pharmacist currently lives and works in Western Sydney, Australia.

To view Vietnamese art and literature, and read more of her translated work, please visit Songngutaitram.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    Nguyễn Văn Thiện’s haunting short story is brought to life in English by Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm with suspense and terror. To be possessed and tortured in one’s dreams can only play havoc with the mind, and the real and unreal begin to merge into one. Ghosts from the past or concoctions of a troubled mind? The ending leaves one wide-eyed and horrified. The perfect reaction to horror.
    Congratulations to both!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Terveen 🥰🥰🥰 I will pass it on to the author.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jonicaggiano says:

    Nicely done, and great translation. A very interesting story, you left us hanging in the end! One can only imagine what living like that would be like, not pretty. It is a scary feeling when we dream and it feels so real we have to take a moment and shake our head to realize it was just a dream. Great story, congratulations on this publication and blessings to you both. Big Hugs, Joni

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maria Khan says:

    You shared a very interesting story!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. parikhit says:

    This is a very interesting story! I wonder if the author wished to portray how a woman feels, how each woman feels in the world where men write the rules, where men dictate everything. I wonder if it was some form of signal from Providence to see what goes inside the heart of a woman. Beautifully written and I so wish that it did not end on a cliffhanger.

    Liked by 1 person

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