middle of the night

We woke at around 3.30am, I sensed me a little before you. The wind was howling as it had been for hours, rattling the blinds and slamming the window. It was somehow perceptible even through sleep, through dreams.

They were unpleasant dreams, both of ours, as edgy and unsettled as the weather outside. Perhaps because of it. Someone brutally attacking our dog while out on a walk in my dream, followed by a wider world issue, a war, trying to edit a photograph I’d taken of South America from space. It looked good and felt important.

In your dream my Mum had a stroke while we were on the phone to her. It upset you, clearly reopening your large allotment of brainspace dedicated to illness and death. It made me fearful.

Did we wake up around the same time or had one of us woken the other? Who can say? Now in this middle of the night unsettled wakefulness, everything seemed fearful. There was a grave sense of immediate dread. What was that creak? The dog shuffling round or an intruder come to kill us?

What if our fearful unconscious synchronisation of unpleasant dreams actually meant something? Like it might in a film. What if something had happened to Mum, or Dad?

Considering the reality was distressing. I realised how I take my Mum for granted, her permanent twittering, eminently mockable presence. I imagined what a colossal hole it would leave in our family if Boom, game’s up sorry, no more Mum. It wasn’t impossible. They were both of a certain age, although both in ostensibly rude health. It could change everything about our family. It was frightening and shocking to ponder the reality if death were to happen like that, rather than creep up quietly. She does so much, far more than Dad, more than she should. She moans but you suspect quietly loves most of it, feeling needed, being so much better at handywork than Dad.

Shit. I hope she’s ok.

Has North Korea tested another long range missile? Or maybe they’ve actually gone for it and made the Japanese mainland with one, sparking World War Three. Perhaps that howling wind isn’t entirely natural. The distant fallout from something? What if a major global incident like that happened in the middle of the night UK time, around 3 or 4am when most people are asleep, unsuspecting, not checking Twitter every half hour, able to slide away and die almost unconsciously as passive Putin’s shockwaves rippled out? Would that be the most humane way to conduct nuclear war and destroy a civilisation? Maybe it wouldn’t work like that.

The brain freewheeled on and on, entirely conscious. You tried to tame it, control it, put yourself on a football pitch because dreams of playing football were the best, if they stayed with you playing football. It didn’t work.

Everything was unstable, on edge, dark, unsettled. The wind flumped the window closed again. You got up to pee, I checked my mobile phone. Nothing.

dream dying

It’s like a slow and heartbreaking kind of a death, feeling like giving up on a dream, relinquishing a long-held hope.

You sense things aren’t working and won’t ever work, it’s just not happening. The stubborn hope begins to wobble, teeter and ebb away together with the dim belief, even while you still sustain the work-rate.

Your bank balance, like a football league table, doesn’t lie. It brutally doesn’t tell the sob stories of bad luck and industriousness and how much you care.  And its power to suddenly influence mood is never dimmed. The sharp injection of panic and fear thanks to another retainer lost, income stream dented again, squeezed down now to almost nothing.

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little dreams of me

On the nearby mountain, or steep hill.  It’s a big peak at least. They call it a mountain and it’s called a mountain, but it isn’t really, you know, a mountain.  It’s not the Alps: rugged, snow-topped and majestic.  It’s Wales.  Pretty enough, but still just Wales.

It’s also besides the point.  I’m there anyway.  Perhaps I’m just sitting and worrying, or thinking. Or walking about.

When suddenly a plane appears, very low and very close.  It’s an old Nazi war plane. It’s quickly clear it’s in trouble, before crashing to a controlled, surprisingly unspectacular landing. I rush over to help, much to derision of other walkers and passers by who don’t seem moved in the slightest. ‘But the war is over!’ I argue, annoyed by them.

I find an old lady in the cockpit. I shake her gently by the shoulders and make sure she’s ok, then I back off.  She slowly climbs out of the cockpit and wanders off down the hill without so much as a thank you.

*

Standing at my childhood bedroom window, I see it’s wintry and bleak outside.  The whole landscape has changed in a possibly post-apocalyptic fashion.  It’s virtually blank now, white.  No back lawn, no forest, not a single tree.  Clusters of small white, feral beasts scuttle around, sniffing for scraps.  I drop a glass off window ledge and it smashes upon impact with the ground.  I lean out and look around the corner, hearing something loud and monstrous and massive.  I see the edge of what must be the expected biblical tsunami which rapidly engulfs everything: the building, the room, me. I wake up drenched in sweat.

*

I’m scared and nervous again about work, my finances, paying rent. Those parameters you’re used to seeing your bank balance being between, generally, month to month: they are ever shifting, down and down. My cushion, my safety net, is ever slender. Is it worth the worry, the pressure, the angst and the self-doubt? Should I seriously consider getting a job again? But I’m not very employable anymore, 4 and a half years out.  And a redundancy before that.  Should I at least try? Look? Even a part time thing to give some much needed cash injection?

Dreams are always more vivid on the nights of the week when she isn’t lying next to me.

*

In a mazy tall block, I’m being officiously controlled by a boss or a leader, or leaders.  He or she or they want to put us in individual physical boxes and push us down steep chutes to somewhere. Nobody knows where. There is urgency and panic and desperate need to escape. Which eventually I do, after a leap and a fall, and a guilty sense that I’m deserting colleagues. I’m running away, relieved, things around me fading, waking up.

Of dolphins and decapitation

“Come and look!” I beckoned my friend.  “There has to be a dozen or more of them.”  We looked down from a lofty flat in what felt like an otherwise empty building.  Swimming around in the rain-specked sea, at the base of the cliff were dolphins.  Their fins rose and fell, panicked and urgent as they circled, as if in warning of something.

“Strange.  They never usually come this close.”

No humans were nearby.  We were alone here.

I moved away from the window and back to the oven hobs.  Looking down at his cleanly dismembered head simmering in the large saucepan, I was unsure of myself, of what strength heat was correct.

For him to stand any chance of survival we needed to take him out of the freezer and slowly defrost his head at regular intervals, before returning him to the freezer again.  I didn’t understand the science.  It was horrible and I was painfully squeamish about the whole thing.  My stomach turned just to glance at him.

My two friends had done it already, I think, and appeared far more stoic about the process.  One had shown me how, the gay one who was closer to him but not like that.  He was unflappable and had put it all very simply, what we had to do.  We all had to do it.

It was a struggle to look at his face.  I’d never really liked him but you wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

“You put him on a low heat at first, didn’t you?” my gay friend asked.

I hadn’t.  I’d put him on full heat straightaway.  I felt guilty and lied.

“Yeah.”

I turned the heat down three notches.

(a dream).

remember when

This was a bit silly, you thought.  What did you hope to achieve exactly?  A brain-jolt of some kind, clarifying the hitherto blurry memory?  You didn’t really believe in the mystical stuff, that there might have been some significance, some message.  No, that was silly.

Nonetheless it was disconcerting, being ejected from that dream – sitting on a train with your good friend of many years, and a stranger, an older suit – and waking with memories of a single day over ten years previously.  Wales versus Ukraine, a World Cup qualifier.  What was it, March sometime, in 2001?  The 17th or 21st: something like that.  You didn’t know why you remembered but your brain often did that, plucked from nowhere with a loose certainty that you were in the right ball park.  You’d been to something in the day, an event?  A training course?  It was at a Halls of Residence, a large one the furthest out of the city, a fair journey across town.  Had you won something?  What was it?  Or made a good impression?

Your mind lurched around for the event or the course or whatever it was, but failed to pin it down.  You’d been in a rush when you returned to the grubby second year student house you shared with two girls and one guy.  You had tickets for the match and were heading into town straight away.

Who did you go with?  Anyone?  Couldn’t remember.  Did you go out in town afterwards?  What was the score?  0-0 or 1-1, something like that.

Why were you remembering this day, you puzzled, now wide-awake in bed, eyes opened in the grey 4am light.  What significance did it have?  What had prompted it?  How was it related to the dream?

Perhaps something to do with the memories jerked by that old picture a friend had posted to Facebook, a group of you.  Your starey creepy piggy eyes looking on from the background; pale complexion, uncertainty and youth.  They weren’t great pictures of anyone.  You never felt you enjoyed university as much as you should have, didn’t have enough fun or success with girls.  Just staring at them and hoping never seemed to do the trick.

You reached for a device on your bedside table and Googled “Wales Ukraine qualifier”, which quickly yielded a Youtube video.  March 28th 2001.  A little later on in the month.  1-1, John Hartson and Andriy Shevchenko the goalscorers.  A supporting cast of average forgotten footballers from recent history: Oleg Luzhny, Darren Barnard.  Ten years can only ever be recent history but it’s a timespan with almost magical powers too.  It can feel both like yesterday and 25 years ago, especially when looking back to such a supposedly formative time.

The next afternoon you went for a walk to areas of studentsville you hadn’t visited for a number of years.  It was silly.  What were you hoping for?  Or was it just a pique of curiosity, just to see if any other memories would be prodded out.  You’re never exactly slow to navelgaze.

You stopped in a small coffee-shop you used to frequent, possibly less as a student and more when you worked for the University.  There were young, fresh-faced, posh-voiced students everywhere.  You were never this fresh-faced, were you?  Those Facebook images suggest otherwise.  Although some had inflated and aged since then, while others had shedded a youthful puppy-fat and looked better now.

The second year street looked the same: anonymous, ordinary, a dowdy net curtain in the front bedroom window, a letting agent sign stuck to the outside.  You remembered your two girl housemates falling out, due in no small part to the thin wall between lounge and bedroom.  One had come back ranting, thinking her friend had been out.  It shouldn’t have been funny but it was.  You remembered walking back drunk with your housemate one freezing cold winter’s night to find his lovely but quite insane girlfriend curled up asleep on the pavement.

Nothing much of any note returned or jogged a memory as you aimlessly paced the dirty, waste-strewn streets replete with skips, half-eaten polystyrene boxes of fast food and discarded mattresses nestled in the front yard.  Shops had turned into other shops, a hypervalue had become a Sainsbury’s; your third year flat had a new front door; intimidatingly beautiful females wafted past, leaving you reeling, as frozen in your admiration now as you were then.

cruel dream

There she was, sitting down on the floor, her back to the tiled swimming pool wall.  You said hello and began chatting, clumsily half crouching / half leaning to her level.  Why didn’t you just sit down?  She was doing well in her work, it seemed, doing impressive things.  You remembered you still had those shared interests, she’d been to different places you yourself would like to visit, often hiked the mountains nearby, like you’d like to.  You didn’t speak about this and weren’t sure how things were between her and her boyfriend / husband.  She was down here in the hotel swimming pool on her own, looking a little sad?  Had something happened between them?  Not that you’d ever dare try to elbow in or anything, being generally averse to the indignity of competition, as well as always suspecting that better candidates than you exist for everything.  Where had that Scottish twang in her accent come from?  She was from Cornwall.

Speaking to her brought it back:  the warmth of feeling, the painful sense that she might have been it; you shared so much, she was still damned cute, you had hurt so much and for so long when you parted, nobody has even come close since.  ‘Since’ has been a long time.

On Facebook she initially sent a friend request a few years back, which you falteringly accepted.  After a while quietly unfriended her because you didn’t like seeing and feeling those things.  Then a few months ago you sent another request to re-friend.  Odd behaviour.  An idea that any new friend is an audience expanded if you’re trying to subtly pimp business interests, combined with new unsubscribe settings that mean you can immediately opt out of someone’s inanities if they prove too idiotic, combined with curiosity and nostalgia, combined with whisky; all shaken into a nervous cocktail that made you tap the Add As Friend button.  You were still interested to know where she was up to – married yet, kids?  Just moved in, in turned out.  The photo albums hadn’t changed much.  Perhaps a few more looking beamingly happy and couply on mountaintops.  No messages were exchanged upon re-friending, as they had been upon initial friending.  Not a frequent user, you presumed by her activity, possibly wrongly.  She merely accepted the request.

You’ve heard tale, or maybe fable, of weak old men who once upon a time missed a boat, who didn’t struggle as much as they should have to stay afloat, and subsequently paddled off elsewhere, living out their lives on an island of dim regret.

Water came trickling in around the poolside and began to rise, over the edges of your slippers and socks.  Why were you wearing slippers and socks?  You couldn’t detect its source, the pool didn’t appear to be overflowing.  She was apparently unfussed, sitting in her bathing suit.  But it unsettled you and you sought higher ground, pleased at the meeting, heartened almost, yet also knowing it had meant nothing.  You wondered where your friends were and what you’d be getting up to that day, cycling the cobbled roads and coastlines of that island.  Later on you’d have a spat with a friend whose behaviour you deeply question, all the while faintly knowing that this is all just another nonsensical, cruel dream.  One which will leave remnant fug when you eventually wake up.

*

Wistful residue which results from dreaming about females is easier when the female subject is entirely fictional.

Snooze ripples

You were aware of having to wake up soon and not wanting to.  Through your dreamy fuzz you half wondered what the weather was going to be like and whether you could take your bike to school. 

You’d been dreaming about holding hands with a nice girl again. You didn’t know who she was but that didn’t matter.  She showed you attention and affection.  Unfortunately she wasn’t with you in bed because she wasn’t actually real. 

You woke but you didn’t. 

In your bed but not.  Hearing wind and rain spatter against your window, you shivered, still without opening your eyes.  Then you were awake.  Except you weren’t. 
 
Everything seemed familiar and comfortable.  But it shouldn’t have been.  You’d never been there before in your life, although it all felt normal enough.  You were aware of the other people in rooms nearby, people your age but not related.  It was pissing down outside.  How were you going to get to school?  Biking in would be quicker than walking, but you’d get wet.  There was the bus, but you hated the bus, the people.  The stress of making the decision was too much.  Then you got confused. 

What time was it?  The red LCD display of your clock radio (but not really your clock radio) said one thing, said it was time to get up and begin the day.  But surely it was still way too dark outside?  It was still very dark, nightime and raining.  Was it really just the clouds making it that dark outside?  It was a day that wouldn’t inspire the most vivacious, annoyingly cheerful, life-loving person to get up. 

You walked across your room and pressed the button to start up your aged television.  It clunked, struggled for a second, then revealed the breakfast news.  Two people sitting on a sofa, smiling.  The time in the bottom corner of the screen was two hours earlier than your clock radio said it was.  Why was that?  You trusted the television over your clock radio – it was controlled by someone else so it must be right – so you flopped back into bed, surrendering, allowing it to envelop you in all its swallowing glory.

You sank back into an unconsciousness which you’d never actually left.  Soon after, too soon after, so soon after that it was surely plain wrong – your clock radio went off, you joined the radio newsreader reading news mid-sentence and involuntarily tried to compute what he was saying.  You stopped trying as quickly as you’d started.  Aha, reality, you were sure of it this time – although you had been sure last time too. 

Now you were amused at how real your dream had felt, surprised to feel disappointed that the horrible, grey wintry weather of the dream was complete fiction.  You’re bored by this interminable summer sunshine which everybody is commanded to unconditionally love.  It bullies you into being outside, feeling like you should be outside even if you don’t want to be outside. 

Still lying there, you wondered, only for a second, how and why you were so convinced this one was your reality.  If you’d have pressed the snooze button and turned off your clock radio right then, slunk back into unconsciousness, would you have emerged shortly afterwards, teleported into another alternative, more real feeling reality you were convinced was your own? 

Then if that one wasn’t ideal, if you never woke up in a bed flanked by beautiful girls, happy with yourself and your life, then you could just try again. 

And again.  Until?  You found it, you died, you compromised, you gave up?   So would you try that, just keep hitting Snooze until..? 

No, you decided.  Your mum would get pissed off and you’d be late for school.

First thoughts

You realised slowly that you had in fact dreamt it, that it was just a dream, even though you were still within the dream when you realised. Oh good, it can’t be real, you figured, understanding somehow that it was a dream and that you were still asleep.

Those few horrific moments continued to plague your sleep, returning and replaying. And haunting. Even when you turned over and shook yourself into a momentary consciousness, attempting to finally shake it off – to begin a new, unconnected dream – even after that it returned.

Again and again.

The gunshot. A dangerous fizz, deafening crack, deadening splut.

You’ve never liked her much, your mother’s friend. Every time you meet her you try to like her, but always end up feeling annoyed with her. You think she believes herself magnificently entertaining to everyone who speaks to her, and anyone who disagrees is an idiot. You don’t agree. Still you appease her and wish her no bad feeling because she and her placid husband are good friends to your parents.

So when you saw the bullet enter the side of her head and the blood immediately seep out in ribbons as she slumped over, her head thudding on the desk for good measure, then you were shocked and scared. Possessed by an internal intense terror and punishing responsibility. What were you doing there? In that scene? You never found out, you had no role to play in it, a fly on the wall. And it was just a dream anyway.

So why were you still feeling guilty? Because, what if she was actually dead, somehow? Don’t be ridiculous, you told yourself, knowing you wouldn’t check.

When your day began, when you were eating your toast and brushing your teeth, back the memory poured. Insistently levering its way back into your mind. A harrowing blood-red washing across the freeze-frame.

And at inopportune times throughout the day. When you were in a meeting attempting to form a response (your reply took longer than normal and you knew your colleagues were wondering if you were all right). When you were bored, trying to terminate an unnecessarily detailed phone call.

Fizz-crack-splut.

Part of the shock was that it was unexpected. The scenario wasn’t highly likely. The woman you don’t like who would never be wrong about anything, she had been accused of a motoring offence. In a police interview room with here were two officers and her alleged victim, a quiet young asian man.  None were injured.

She believed he was at fault and reacted incredulously towards anyone who couldn’t understand this, shrieking melodramatically. Why they were even in a police station interview room in the first place was never clear. You had no physical place in the scene at all.

The silent young victim nonchalantly pulled out a gun and shot her – FizzCrackSplut – before lying his weapon down on the table and allowing himself to be seized by preposterously calm, unshocked police officers.

A short scene with little, if any intelligible dialogue. Aside from her dramatic remonstrations, the others were sombre, dutifully playing out the scene you orchestrated from a far off place. Then the dramatic climax, and you’re not even sure if it would have sounded like that as you’ve never heard anything like it in reality: simply pieced it together from films.

Then an abrupt cut. You next find yourself chatting to two police officers on a bridge over a motorway. They’re not surprised when you retell the story of what just happened. In fact, they predict what happens before you’ve even reached that part of the story. That happens a lot in your dreams. You can never surprise anybody you speak to.
On the bus to work in the morning, the images were still fresh, replaying themselves with a vile vigour. You couldn’t remember doing anything that would have evoked such a dream. No thriller novels or war films. The back of the woman’s head four seats in front could have been her’s. Except it wasn’t, because she lives hundreds of miles away.

A postscript to the dream shortly afterwards doesn’t remain as vivid but is the last connection before your mind escapes the chain of this dream and sets you free. She is alive. You saw her in another scene where you had no physical presence, on a lush, long grassed hill where she frolicked with children and a dog. It felt like heaven. This is where she went, this is where you sent her after flippantly designing her assassination, you evil person. You left her there and floated away. It’s not that postscript that you remember though, is it?

FizzzzcrACK~splut.

Eventually it slides away from prominence in your mind.

That is, until you settle to sleep again tonight. The newly relaxed state of your body and mind chillingly reacquaints you with your first thoughts of the day. You shiver, turn over, shut your eyes tight, try to pack the images away.

And now you sleep.