night-mare n. 1 formerly, an evil spirit that was believed to haunt and suffocate sleeping people. 2. a frightening dream, often accompained by a sensation of oppression and helplessness.

It's that, all right, and I know all about it. The only thing is that my nightmares -- actually, nightmare, since it is always the same theme is different settings -- are not full of monsters, evil spirits, episodes of falling from buildings, or being burned alive or any of those mundane things. Mine is the ultimate nightmare which could and probably does disturb the sleep of many a mother and homemaker. It goes something like this.

I find myself living in a strange house -- one we have just moved into, perhaps. The house is very large with many rooms. Some of the rooms seem to flow into each other, separated only by short, thin partitions. There are dirt floors and the light is dim. Often there are no windows at all. The nightmare can begin when I'm alone in the house with the children and we're expecting visitors. Sometimes the visitors are already there.

What's so nightmarish about all that? The huse is a total MESS. Not one bed is made, not one dish is washed and clothes, toys and JUNK are everywhere. I am running around the house like a madwoman trying to get things in order, and of course, I can't.

For example, I'm in the kitchen. The stove is in the wrong place. I pick it up (how did it get so small?) to put it where it belongs and find that it won't stand level. It tilts. Besides, when I move it I notice a big puddle of water has collected under it. The wall it stood against is thick with greasy dirt. Wads of dust scurry along the floor.

I open the oven and find a lump of unbacked cookie dough turning to mold in its foil wrapping. I contemplate trying to bake it but there's no time. THEY'RE COMING!

I race to the living room and find it already packed with people: my neighbors, friends, strangers and always my mother and my aunt. My children are lying around not doing a thing. NOT HELPING. I screamed at them to help. They won't. I yelled and scream and cry and scream some more but nothing works. They smile slyly.

I try to stay ahead of the crowd and put things right before anyone moves to another room. Into the bedroom -- beds are everywhere -- how can we organize sleeping room for everone? It seems they are all going to spend the night. I'm frantic and still screaming.

Back to the kitchen which is now full of people. I try to take a pot of soup off the stove but spill it. It oozes across the floor, mixing with the dust and puddles of water. I'm in a frenzy and yelling again -- this time at my aunt. I move too quickly and knock off my glasses. They wedge between the walls and the sink. I fish them out and, of course, there're broken.

Exhausted, weeping I wake up. But I can't get my eyes open. I struggle. I panic! Iget them open, but Oh, God -- it's ture! All of it! The bed clothes from my bed and several others are draped all over the room and I cant hear voices. Dozens and dozens of people are here and I'm not even dressed

Then . . .

The sun shines through my bedroom window. The house is still. There's a thick carpet on the floor. I take a deep breath and listen to my daughter singing softly to herself as she dress for school. I am sure that when I go to the kitchen the stove will be level and the cookies baked and in the jar. No one is coming to visit and my mother and aunt live 1,000 miles away.

Mysterious . . . . the mind. What does it all mean, this ultimate nightmare? CAPTION: Illustration, from "The Cry" by Edvard Munch