The first time I saw Roanoke was in a dream. I knew little of it beyond its name and the fact it was in Kansas, a place I had never been. My mother only ever mentioned it when she’d had too much wine, her breath turned sweet and her words slow and syrupy like molasses. So my subconscious filled in the rest. In my dream it stood tall and stately, tucked among a forest of spring-green trees. Its red-brick facade was broken up by black shutters, white trim, delicate wrought-iron balconies. A little girl’s fantasy of a princess castle.
When I woke, I started to tell my mother about it. Talking through a mouthful of stale Cheerios drowned in just-this-side-of-sour milk. I got only as far as the name, Roanoke, before she stopped me. “It was nothing like that,” she said, voice flat. She was sitting on the wide windowsill, knees drawn up into her cotton nightgown, smoke from her cigarette gathered around her like a shroud. Her ragged toenails dug into the wooden window frame.
“You didn’t even let me tell you,” I whined.
“Did you wake up screaming?”
A dribble of milk ran down my chin. “Huh?”
She turned and glanced at me then, her skin pale, eyes red-rimmed. The bones of her face looked sharp enough to cut. “Was it a nightmare?”
I shook my head, confused and a little scared. “No.”
She looked back out the window. “Then it was nothing like that.”