I remember being in the car, one of the series of station wagons my father loved, on a family trip.

I believe it was somewhere in the USA, to Seattle or maybe Spokane for the World Expo. I would have been four, almost five. It is one of my earliest memories.

I was bored and dreamy, and I specifically remember conjuring up to me the worst possible situation. It was losing my parents, and particularly my mother, who I felt closer to and clung to, often. Knowing nothing of death and disaster, mother was abstractly being swirled around within a large black cauldron… by witches, the classic cartoon ones in pointy black hats and shapeless dresses.

Amusingly, as evidence of the child I was and the person I would become, I was not truly frightened by this idea, as I knew that it wasn’t true.

Instead, I sunk into the warm sadness, and imagine myself crying extravagantly and how tragic it would be to be orphaned yet how sorry everyone would feel for me.

Where did this melodrama come from? This attraction to melancholy? It was not found in anyone else in the family so I think it was nature, not nurture. I also suspect anyone who could not relate to this tiny drama queen would judge him as ridiculous.

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Now, many decades later, I am older than my mother was on that trip, and she is in a hospital bed. When we first heard the news, it was relayed as especially serious.

‘I am not ready to lose you,’ I thought.

The whole situation brought up memories of Dad’s death eight years ago, and the strange possibility of being orphaned. No one would feel especially sorry for me, though those who had been through the same would feel empathy.

It is a possibility not of fairy tales but of the usual trajectory of life.

Mom goes in and out of lucidity, normal after a brain injury. But yesterday night before dinner, she tells me she had a nightmare, which was strange. I’m not sure Mom ever talks about her dreams. I ask her what it was about, but she seems reluctant to say.

“Just people gathering,” she said. “In covens.”

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