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Contemporary Fiction Mystery

It was a strange coincidence. My wife and I had just had our first real opportunity in over a year to go to our favourite local British pub. You have to thank Covid for the delay. By real opportunity I mean not sitting out on what passed for a patio, but was really just a slice of the parking lot, surrounded by a two cord fence. There you could get drenched if it suddenly started raining, as we did twice. The large umbrellas provided surprisingly little protection when there was a wind and horizontal rain. And all there would be to eat would be a cold ham and cheese sandwich, and that only if you got there in time before they ran out. Anything can be popular when there is nothing else.  And then there was drinking beer out of a can, rather than as a draft. I could do that at home. I’m not blaming the manager. Those were the only options available.

But this Friday evening was different. We were sitting inside, eating burgers, fresh cut fries and mushy peas, and able to talk to people without shouting through masks. Bar friends we hadn’t seen in ages were sitting with us in the longest table in the place. Strangely, the conversation arrived at talking about ‘dream landscapes’.  It began when someone said, ‘This is a dream come true.’ Some smarty pants (me) replied, ‘You mean that you have been dreaming of this place. Is it part of your dream landscape?’ In response to the faces of curiosity, I replied with an explanation of it being the name that my wife and I have given to those places that you regularly inhabit in dreams, often with strong emotions connected to them. 

I got to talk about my most common frustration dream landscape. I would have had a day when my efforts to do this or that thing thought important at the time would have failed. Then, when I drifted off to sleep, I would be transported to hallways that are a combination of my high school, universities I went to, and, in terms of the plot of the story, the halls of where I used to teach college before I retired.  I would be needing to rush to a classroom where I was about to teach in only a few minutes, but would repeatedly go to classrooms where someone else was teaching, or a room that was completely empty of any signs of life   Not a pleasant place to keep visiting in my dreams.

I spoke of  a good place as well, the grass road/path leading to where the fishing pond was on the farm where I would walk proudly by my grandfather’s side, feeling like a man, but in the dream like in the past being just a young boy. I could walk that all night, but my unconscious did not give me much time there, unlike the hallways of the school which went on and on.

Not wanting to hog the conversation, and definitely desiring to avoid talking about my scariest dream landscape, which even conjuring consciously would, as my grandmother would have said, ‘give me the willies,‘ I passed the invisible baton.

Others spoke, and I did my best to listen attentively, nodding my head as I did, trying to keep my scary landscape, now floating at the edge of my consciousness, from coming any closer.

All in all, it was a good evening. The night of dreams would be different.

The Next Morning

My wife took one look at me the next morning, and could read in my face that I had visited a bad location in my dream landscape the night before. Her first words to me were “So where were you in your dreams last night? Were you walking the hallways that you talked about yesterday in the pub?” I answered without words, just shaking my head.

           “So you went to that place”, the last two words spoken with certainty and emphasis. This time the nodding of my head gave her the answer that she expected with a good measure of dread.

           “It was horrible. I was there with the building soaring above me. I thought I would die soon. I didn’t, but I kept thinking that I would.”

           My wife said nothing, because she knew that words of assurance would not do much good at this time. She just held my hands in hers across the kitchen table. Eventually I calmed down enough to get up and make some coffee for the two of us.

           I had to be strong for her on this day. She had to go to a hospital across town for some tests. It was nothing too serious, but the two of us had a strict policy that ‘no one goes to a hospital alone’.

           It was a good drive, the two of us not talking much, but listening to some favourite tunes, that she had programmed to save on her phone. We were enjoying one of the best, “She Moves Through the Fair”, when I almost missed the sharp turn onto the road that led to the Gateway Hospital. I had been told ‘just look for the newspaper office before you turn’, which I had almost forgotten in my musical reverie.  We didn’t have far to go down the road before I saw it, the towering building that was the scariest image of my dream landscape. I had to hide my horror well. I needed to be strong for my wife’s appointment at the hospital.

           I parked our car, trying my best to keep my hands from shaking. Pressing the button to get the ticket to put under the windshield was even more difficult than usual. I poked the wrong button twice. We walked to the entrance. Usually my wife struggled to keep up with my pace. In this situation it was the other way around.

           We entered the building and saw an old woman (being or at least looking older than we are qualifies for that label) at the reception desk, behind her a wall filled with pictures old and new, taken in or around the hospital.

           “What are your names, please?”

           “Jock and Margaret Redmond.”

           “Your name sounds familiar. Have you ever been at this hospital before?”

           “Never” I said in a tone that would have done Poe’s raven proud.

           She stared at me, then at my name as she had written it down. Then a smile broke open on her face, “I know. I know.” She turned her head, and scanned the pictures behind her, then pointed to an older one. “There you are”.

           What I saw was a faded newspaper. The picture was of a woman lying down on the steps leading to the front entrance, two nurses standing over her. She was in some pain. That could be seen even in the faded black and white of the photograph. In her arms was a baby, who looked to be crying. The caption read, “He just couldn’t wait.” Looking more carefully at the picture, I could see that the woman was my mother.

July 18, 2021 21:47

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