If Only In My Dreams

New Work

By Thomas Trofimuk

His daughter loves the concept of vinyl records. She loves playing them.  She will play an old, scratchy Christmas album – one that survived the journey through his youth, and young adulthood, and adulthood and now, out of a box from his father’s garage and into middle age. It sticks in his memory as a Christmas Eve ritual. It was played on a puny record player that sat on the floor in a corner of the living room. One song in particular, reverberates through time – it breathes longing and melancholy.


A young Robert Janes slips out of bed and sneaks down the hallway, carefully avoiding the spots that creak. It’s Christmas Eve and his mother has been playing the same side of a Christmas album over and over. “I’ll be Home For Christmas” is playing as he peeks around the corner and looks into the kitchen. He knows this song. It’s a promise to come home for Christmas and then it turns out that it’s only a dream. It’s actually pretty sad. Robert Janes’ mother is sitting alone at the kitchen table. His dad must be in bed already, or downstairs in his office. There’s a mug of something on the table. His mother is crying. Sobbing. Her whole body jerking. Robert Janes thinks she looks like a lost child – the huge and complex and frightening world swirling around her, and she looks so sad and small. It scares him a bit to see his mother like this. He wants to stand up and go to her and comfort her, but this feels too private. This is beyond him.

He tries to add up the song and his mother’s tears. Who in her life wanted to be home for Christmas but couldn’t be? Was there a home where she wanted to be – a beautiful, soft memory? Is she remembering being a kid? Is she thinking about her parents? His mother was a young woman during the war. Was that it? Was there someone who didn’t come back? He decides this must be it. There was a boyfriend who went to fight and he didn’t come home and this is why his mother is sad.

Back in bed, he does not think about the morning and all the presents he’ll open. Nor does he think about the presents he wrapped, even though he is very excited about the gift he got his mother. He does not think about Santa Claus, or reindeer, or the cookies sitting on the coffee table next to a glass of milk. He thinks about the mystery of his mother, and he listens as the side ends – he listens to the sound of the needle lifting. He holds his breath and waits, and then he hears the crackling sound of the empty space at the start of the record, as his mother plays it again.


It is three days before Christmas and Robert Janes looks across the room at his daughter. She has no idea about the memory she is awakening. She just loves this Christmas album. She will play it even in July. She places the needle down in the pre-grooves and he smiles.

“Again?” he says.

“Yes,” the daughter says. “Again. Always again.”

As if it is her job to remind Robert Janes to remember his mother. As if his daughter is somehow connected to that memory. As if time compresses to a whisper. As if just seconds ago, Robert Janes was lying on the hallway floor, peeking around the corner at his mother, crying at the kitchen table.

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Thomas Trofimuk

Thomas Trofimuk’s last novel, Waiting For Columbus, has been published in numerous countries and was nominated for the 2011 IMPAC Dublin literary award. He lives in Edmonton.