Once upon a time there was a lonely island, shrouded in mist, and a very young girl lived there all alone. She did not know how she came to be there. She did not know why she was alone. She did not even know that she should wonder about these things. She only knew that palm fronds made the most comfortable bed, that the tide pools were the easiest place to catch fish, and that the fruit from the treetops was delicious but would make you sick if you ate too much at once. She called the water “shisha” because that was the noise it made; she called the cave where she went when it rained “emmma” because that was how she felt when she sat there; and she called herself Claire, but if there was a reason for that name she did not know what it was.
Claire was not sad or afraid all alone on the island, but every evening as the sun was sinking into the mist, she would walk along the shore and feel the waves lapping at her toes and the mist softly touching her face and the heaviness in her heart that she did not understand. It was at just this time of day that she found the first dream. Floating up out of the mist, it bumped to a stop on the sand at her feet. It was about the size of her two hands put together, half filled with water, hard like a rock, but she could see right through it. Something about the curvy shape and the perfect circle at the top fascinated her. When the last rays of the sun caught it and made it sparkle, she could not look away. She had never seen anything like it before, but she knew it was a dream because it felt just like the things she saw when she was asleep.
After that first time, Claire found many more dreams. Some were large, like the heavy box that she could not lift, and some were very small, like the tiny pink circle she found buried in the sand. (That one was no bigger than her baby finger and had two tiny holes in the center.) Some were colorful, like the flat picture of the setting sun, and some were dull, like the floppy gray tube. Some were useful, like the long strands knotted together to form a perfect web for catching fish, and some had no use that she could see, like the soft brown hollow hand. (What use was a hand without an arm to move it?) But all of the dreams were fascinating and wonderful. Claire gathered them all in the cave she called emmma and each had its own special place. Even if she took one out to use it for carrying water or catching fish, she would always lovingly return it each evening. Claire spent many happy hours sitting in her cave and looking with wonder at all her dreams. Her favorite was one of the smallest. It was a circle about the size of her hand. One side was a dull green color, but the other side…the other side was magic. It showed a tiny reflection of her face, just like her face in the creek but perfectly clear and still. Claire never got tired of holding that dream in her hand and studying the girl who looked out of it.
From the day that Claire found that very first sparkling dream, the pattern of her days was changed. She still walked the misty shores each evening and watched the sun slowly dissolve into darkness, but now instead of a heaviness in her chest, she felt a faint thrill, never knowing when a new dream might come floating up to meet her. And each night she spread her palm fronds in the shelter of the cave and fell asleep surrounded by a world of treasures.
And then one day the ship came.
Claire did not see it, anchored among the waves and shrouded in clouds, but for the first time ever, she heard the voices of men on the shore. Drawn by a curiosity that knew no reason for fear, she left her breakfast and went to investigate the sound. On the beach, she saw a small boat and two men securing it on the sand. By this time, Claire was so used to magical gifts appearing through the mist that she did not even feel the shock you would imagine.
The men, on the other hand, were quite surprised. Their ship had been damaged in a storm and they had wandered some time in the mist and clouds before hearing the waves breaking on this island. These two had come to shore only to find fresh water for the crew and some trees for repairs to the ship. The last thing they expected to find was a girl, all alone and apparently unable to speak.
They were good men, the Captain and his first mate, but they did not know what to do. At first they offered her some of the bread from their food bag, but she just smiled and did not eat. The Captain tried to ask her who she was and how she got there, but she just smiled and said nothing. Then the first mate took out a coil of rope, and the girl’s face lit up. Pointing first to the rope and then toward the cliffs behind her, she danced around, laughing. The Captain and his first mate couldn’t help but smile to see her. But she clearly wanted something more than just to dance. When nothing else worked, she grabbed the Captain’s hand and tugged him toward the cliffs. Finally understanding, the men followed her.
When the Captain and the first mate saw Claire’s cave of treasures, they did not know what to say. Bits of cast off trash sat everywhere. An empty bottle held small pieces of broken glass. A child’s button rested in the palm of a worn leather glove. A ragged fishing net was draped over some rocks. Each piece was nothing more than rubbish, but somehow the whole was something beautiful. And most beautiful of all was the face of the girl who had created it, glowing with pride to show her collection of dreams to her new friends.
Using her hands to show her meaning, Claire asked the men if they had come from the same magical land as her dreams. They showed her their boat and said that they had come from the other side of the water. Claire’s face showed the Captain plainly that she imagined the world outside her walls of mist as a place of beautiful enchantment. That night, he sat up all through the darkest hours and thought about what he should do. He had intended, of course, to take her back to the civilized world. But that was before he had seen her dream cave. He thought of her in a place where the beauty of dreams was lost in a dull reality, where wonderful things were thrown away as worthless.
And so it was that when Claire woke up the next morning and left her cave, she found the beach empty and the boat gone. No traces were left of her friends from the day before except for a coil of rope lying on the beach. Claire picked up the rope and smiled as she felt it slide through her fingers. She did not feel disappointed that her friends were gone. She accepted that some things come and go with the tides. If the magic on the other side of the mist had sent her friends once, it might do so again. And if not, there would be other dreams. Claire carried the rope back to her cave and added it to her collection.
And it may have been, though this story does not tell, that some time later in the fall of the year a small boat parted the clouds and a young captain landed alone on the island alone with nothing but a chest full of dreams to start a new life.