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Fiction


I had the dream again last night. I say last night, but it was really this morning. The time that is neither night nor morning, the time the French call Les Heures Blanches, the white hours, and although they are more often grey, even though dawn comes early at the moment, I can see why they are called that.

The thing is, I no longer know, and wonder if I ever did, if it is a dream of something that was once real, or just a dream of a dream of a dream. I know some maintain no dream comes from nowhere, but that is one of those phrases that can be interpreted how we choose, or how others choose for us.

There are variants and versions, and sometimes it is more real, and sometimes it is surreal, and sometimes I remember it clearly, and sometimes I barely remember it at all, but still know I have dreamt it.

This time it began as if often does. I was in a bed. Perhaps in this bed, though I am not sure, but in a regular bed, not some magical flying bed, nor even a four poster. And it was the small hours, but in these small hours it was still dark. It was dark, and yet the streets were astir as if it were light, but in a different way. There were stalls, as if it were some kind of market or fair, some kind of parallel world in an in between time. All was too bright, and yet too bright because it needed to be, in order to be visible in the darkness. I left my bed, and do not recall getting dressed, but know that as I walked down the street that was both familiar and not familiar, I was dressed in daytime clothes, and even had a coat on, for there was a chill in the air. I walked past the stalls, saw their sights, heard their sounds, smelt their smells, and felt a strong urge to stay, but did not. I walked on, and then I was out of the suburban street, out of the town, and I don’t know if it happened gradually or if it happened at once.

I was out in the countryside, though I fancied that if I looked back I could still see the stalls, bright in their between time darkness. I carried on walking, and soon I stood before a path, winding upwards, although I thought the landscape around me was flat. I have it in my mind that I once did encounter such a path winding upwards from a flat plain, that it is not only a product of the echoes of a self-referential dream, but that does not necessarily prove anything. Such things are not uncommon, and they are not always in the country. I have known a quiet cathedral city where flat concrete turned to arduous cobbles, and a modern campus university where, to reach the top, you had to quit the road running past it, at least if you wished to get there quickly, and trek up a steep path.

This was not like climbing a mountain. It did not involve dangerous rocks and massive boulders, and there were no spikes of ice, and no circling arctic birds or snow in the spring time. It was more of a scramble. It was uneven, and there were some steps cut into the path, but perhaps they were the most dangerous of all. I was more nervous on the steps than I was on the path. The ground was hard beneath my feet, and yet there was grass, too, and there were flowers. Flowers that were not strange and exotic ones, that were almost like the flowers you would see every day, but yet not quite the same. One minute they seemed to bloom profusely, the next in sparse outcrops, and I did not know whether to gather them or not. I had it in my mind that I should take flowers, that I was visiting someone, and that I should take flowers, and they were there for me to pick, even though I didn’t know who I was visiting, or had chosen, for as long as I could, to block them out of my mind.

I don’t think this happens every time, but it happens last night. There was a stall, even a cluster of stalls, but I was still on the steep path leading upwards, and not back in the town. Some of the shops sold flowers, and my logical mind, or the vestige of it that had carried over into the dream, which had a logic of its own, wondered how anyone could find it worth their while to sell flowers, when there were flowers all around to gather for free. Other stalls sold – well, silly, pretty things. Jewellery, ornaments, little scarves, that kind of thing. I realised that I had no money with me, nor any other means of buying anything, and that made me feel an odd panic, even though there was nothing I wanted or needed to buy, there were plenty of flowers I could gather without payment, and the other things were just – an old fashioned word but an apt one – fripperies.

I do know there was some echo of reality in that, as I suppose there would be for most people. I have been in a position with no money, both when I had money and when I did not, and even if there is nothing you want or need to buy, that can be disorienting, even, or perhaps especially, in a dream that may be a dream of a dream or may be a dream of reality. I had no money with me, nothing in my pockets, I was carrying nothing.

I hurried past the stalls, though nobody especially tried to attract my attention or to entice me to buy.

Once I was sure they were safely behind me, though in dreams dimensions do not necessarily play by the rules, I leant against a tree to catch my breath, and to try to remember, to make clear in my mind, why I was trekking up the path that had suddenly appeared. I wanted to remember, and yet I did not want to remember.

For a while the putting of one foot in front of another was purely mechanical, though I don’t know if the gradient had lessened or if I had started to believe I had grown used to it, and to think that there would be no time or space when I was not putting one foot in front of the other up a path leading to nowhere – except it was not leading to nowhere. There was awareness of that, both residual and blatant, both reassuring and frightening. I did not want to carry on forever along that path, but I did not want what came after it either.

This was the juncture when half-memories, clear and vague, began to inject themselves into the dream, not exactly as a dream within a dream, but as another level that was both before and beyond the rocky path where there were now flowers again, but both sparser and wilder. Another person entered the dream, as if I were some kind of spectator rather than participant in his own dream. I knew him. He was my grandfather. My grandfather on my Mother’s side. This was strange, though not strange beyond comprehension. We had been fond of each other, but not exceedingly close. When my parents owned the business, the one they moved to after my Dad was made redundant, he and my Grandma came to live with us. I had been exceedingly close to my Grandma, though perhaps to this day I paint the relationship through rose tinted spectacles. She died before he did, and though he lived well into his eighties, and until a couple of months before the end, his physical health was good, and he was not ravaged by dementia, he seemed to turn into something of a husk, and I did not like going into his flat. It would be hard to say why. It was cluttered, but I was a clutterer by nature myself and still am, and though it was sometimes a little musty, it was not unbearable or even unpleasant. My Grandfather was a small man, and when we moved there when I was 12, I was already taller than he was. He had also been totally deaf since his early twenties, and those were not days that were even as respectful of those with disabilities as they are now. I suppose it was inevitable that had given him a certain quality that some called stroppiness and some called feistiness. He did not always accept help graciously, nor give it willingly. He was never a violent or mean man, but he was not the kind who made allowances or had time for those who messed about either. Yet yes, I was fond of him, and think he was of me, even though we didn’t have much in common and I suppose he may have resented (and possibly not unreasonably) the fact that I had overtaken him in my Grandma’s affections – or liked to think I had.

Yet I knew in the dream that I was going to visit Granddad, and as I climbed higher and higher knew that it would not be in his cluttered and slightly musty flat on the ground floor of our family business, with a backyard to one side (which he almost certainly hated, as he had been a gardener, one of the few jobs where his deafness didn’t seem to matter) and a corridor that never seemed properly light on the other. It would be either to the old people’s home where he had lived out the last months of his life, or to the hospital, and I had a horror of hospitals. And here is a strangeness; though he had previously been in hospital, he did not die in hospital, but in the nursing home, and yet in the dream I was going to the hospital, and knew that the path leading upwards, the path past the stalls and with the flowers growing both richly and sparsely, would not lead to a peak or to a plain, but would lead to a place with corridors that were always lit and the smell was always sterile and antiseptic, and beds had bars on them. I wondered what he would say. Unlike some deaf people, perhaps because he had heard, and perhaps because Grandma sometimes gently admonished him on the subject when he was alive, he didn’t shout all the time, but there was still something ill-modulated about his voice, something ragged, and I wondered if it had nothing to do with his hearing loss, and would have been the way he spoke anyway.

I had a tangle of feelings in the dream. I knew there may be bad news waiting, the worst news, and yet there was a part of me, a part I acknowledged as shameful in the dream, that couldn’t help thinking that he was an old man now, a very old man, and I knew he hated being frail and having others tend to what they euphemistically termed his “needs” and that if he did pass away, if I arrived at the place of light corridors and antiseptic smells and beds with bars to discover he head died, it would not be such a terrible thing.

I realised that in this version of the dream there was going to be the white corridor. No, not the light corridors inside the hospital, but the white corridor I had to go through to get to the hospital. The path would simply not be there anymore, not to either side of me, not as a detour or a diversion, and I would have to go through the corridor. It was high enough for me to stand without crouching or bending, but only just. It was domed, and still led upwards. All that seemed to vary was the material, but in this dream it was some kind of thick, thick plastic, I could touch it and it did not give, but I did not trust it as I would have trusted brick or stone or wood. Perhaps oddly, in the dream I was less claustrophobic than I am in real life, but I still wanted and needed to be at the end of that corridor, and yet at the same time, I did not. As I made my way through it I wondered if Granddad would be in that state that was neither dead nor alive, comatose or delirious. I was sure that I had seen him in both states before.

Sometimes I heard voices as I approached the end of the white tunnel, and sometimes I did not. When I did hear them they were often discussing practical things, the kind of things that would be discussed in a hospital, but ever so slightly slewed. I was half-expecting, for I knew that it had happened before, probably in another dream, maybe in reality, to be asked to wait, to be told that they had moved him, to be recognised as if I had visited before, but still looked on with puzzlement. But this time, for the first time, or at least I think for the first time, I heard his voice. “Margaret!” he called my name (I had been christened Margareta, but he had no time for what he termed fancy foreign names, and to be honest, I sometimes, especially when I was at school, called myself Margaret, too). Well, I thought, he was definitely still alive, and sounding, to use a term he often did when accusing others, rag-mannered. “Margaret, go away! I don’t want to see you. It’s not time to see you. Stop this silly messing about!”

“But Granddad,” I said, partly relieved, and partly resentful that I’d had such an arduous journey for nothing.

But Granddad nothing,” he said, mocking my voice, not terribly unkindly, but with unnerving accuracy, and that meant – that meant that he could hear …….

It sounds ridiculous to say that things can speed up and be in slow motion at the same time, but that was how things were, and also at the same time, I clearly saw the corridor and the path, and the flowers, and the two sets of stalls, and the strange light that was neither day nor night, saw them all reversing, and yet it was over in less than the span of a second.


“So you’ve decided to come back to the land of the living.” But even as I hear the words I know that the jocular tone, as if it were something trivial, and as if I had just been “resting my eyes” and was about to deny I had been asleep, was, if not exactly false, then forced.

And I, not Granddad, am the one in the bed with bars, in the space of perpetual light and a pervasive clinical redolence, and a glance at the calendar on the wall tells me it is May, and I wonder what happened to April. The woman who said those words has called over a man, and they are both in uniform, and they are trying too hard to make light of things. I have some kind of strange prescience, and know they are wondering if I have suffered any memory loss, but I have not. I remember the instant of the attack, when the air turned to splinters and screaming, and know that, for some reason, I survived it, and for some reason, though I don’t know why, I have survived it, and I am back in a world where it is not the perpetual small hours, and Granddad is long dead, but I am not. I should feel a rush of elation and gratitude, though I already know, in the mosaic of shifting thoughts, that there may well be cause for survivors’ guilt.

Still, I have been given a second chance at life, and I may as well get used to it.

I like to think that Granddad was in some kind of heaven, though I don’t know what his idea of heaven would have been, and that, like Beethoven, he could hear in heaven, and that he was with my Grandma again, without a demanding overgrown child coming between them.

I will, I suppose, find out in time., or beyond time And time, once more, is something I have. At least at the moment.

March 24, 2021 07:17

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2 comments

13:34 Mar 24, 2021

"The ground was hard beneath my feat." This should be feet. "All was too bright, and yet too bright because it needed to be to be visible in the darkness." Remove one "to be" This one felt real to me. Yes, it was kind of a dream for the protagonist but it was so real that I couldn't stop reading. Yes, there were a few typos but overall, I think this was done well. What I liked most about it was how you showed the dream and the protagonist's fears for the unknown. In that way, you brought us closer to your character. Brilliant work.

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Deborah Mercer
13:47 Mar 24, 2021

You are too kind! I will correct the typos!

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