a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

Dream log: Children of Wax

My long-estranged mother passed away. I traveled across the country to the dilapidated estate where she lived out her last days to collect her things.

My mother's partner was once a famous second-wave feminist artist who made lively dioramas in which cartoonish life-size fabric dolls of women from different careers and life paths were placed guerilla-style in public places like parks and cafés. The dolls looked like characters from Home Movies. She became famous and wealthy from the publicity.

After they became partners, my mother's contribution was creepy lifelike wax sculptures of children. They were dressed in clothes donated by grieving parents of children who had died in accidents or from freak illnesses. They fell square in the uncanny valley, and the unsettling yellowish color of the ageing wax made them look particularly corpse-like. The placement of the children next to the colorful fabric dolls was meant to represent the looming specter of children and family on the modern emancipated American woman. However, the public hated the addition of the creepy figures into the playful dioramas and abruptly turned on them, leaving my mother and her partner to live out their days in quiet obscurity.

After the city ordered them to remove the dolls and figures from wherever they were exhibited, they were placed in a number of old giant Cadillacs from the 50s parked haphazardly on their giant overgrown lawn. The cars had the engine and most of the internal components removed to make them easier to move. Their seats were rearranged so the dolls could be posed to look like they're having a conversation. The windshields were all covered and the side windows were tinted dark to protect the dolls from UV light and prevent the colors from fading. The fabric dolls still looked vibrant, but it couldn't stop the children from yellowing.

I got a chilly reception from my step-family because they blamed my mother for their mother's downfall, and I can see where they're coming from, but their mother insisted that the addition of the children was a vital component of her work. She didn't blame my mother, and in her view, the public only turned on them because the American people could't accept the new message, couldn't face the reality of how badly mothers are treated in the US. Which sounded right to me, but I didn't express an opinion.

They served me what they described as mint tea, which from the color and taste I suspected was just lipton's iced tea with mouthwash in it; and my suspicion was confirmed when I saw one of my male step-relatives (there were dozens of people living in the manor and I didn't know exactly how any of them were related to my mother's partner) walking around drinking from a bottle of mouthwash.

My visit turned into an impromptu family reunion when other members of my extended family started showing up, which ratcheted up the anxiety, so I started exploring the manor looking for video games to play. I found a room with a Playstation 2 connected to a large 90s CRT television, and started playing the game that was in the disc drive, an obscure action RPG with a surreal, grotesque, over-the-top mid-2000s anime style. It was like Ar Tonelico crossed with Ina crossed with Where They Cremate the Roadkill. I was fascinated by it, but as the night wore on, other extended family and step-family members who were tired of socializing came in to sit away from the crowd and watch me play, which made me intensely uncomfortable. My attempt to hide from embarrassment had backfired miserably.