TW: gun violence
The figure just stood there, hovering, looming. His large stature hovering in the brightness that her eyes seemed to fight and protest against. The blurry haze engulfs and encompasses them. Louise is fighting against her senses and surroundings but nothing seems to make sense. Her movements seem uncontrolled, she can’t seem to get any part of herself to move according to her will. Then the figure draws closer and his face becomes crystal clear. It is a face she does not recognise but his features, strikingly prominent in the haze, imprint permanently in her brain. Everything fades away, but the man’s face remains. He looks deep into her eyes, and she can’t look away.
The blaring, relentless beeping of her alarm pulls her from her sleep. That’s when the realisation hits her that it was just a dream. Still, the memory of that man’s face is unsettling, but she knows in the next few hours it will be a distant memory.
It’s a Saturday, which, in adulthood, means a day filled with running errands, and doing things in the name of self-care or home-care but ultimately exhausts you instead of making you feel relaxed and replenished. But it needs to get done. And maybe she can get a decent brunch with Jim, the man of her dreams, despite the fact that they haven’t exchanged more than a daily greeting and general niceties for the longest time. She supposed that after five years of marriage, you did fall into a lull, reaching some sort of complacency regarding each other’s existence.
Jim owned his own construction company and in last few months, he received his biggest contract yet. This meant long days and late nights working or having beers with his employees. And what could Louise say to convince him to spend more time at home? Absolutely nothing. She had tried, in the past months, to make simple requests, for him to have dinner at home or that he spend a Sunday afternoon watching Netflix with her, but over the years, their tastes grew so far apart that she could barely get him to sit in the same room with her long enough to have a five minute conversation. Aside from that, Jim always complains about the endless list of chores she has for him to do. So, Louise made a conscious effort not to ask him to do too much around the house, in case he had even more reason to avoid coming home.
This left her to pick up the slack. Taking out trash, cleaning the pool, cooking and cleaning the entire house herself – all of this, coupled with her full time job as PA to the top financial executive at Union Bank, meant she was always busy too. Between being a wife, a husband (yes, she considered herself the man of the house too), and a busy employee, she barely had any time to give to Jim anyway, let alone to have any kids. But that’s a story for another day.
So when the opportunity presented itself – both of them needing supplies for themselves and the house – Louise grabbed the opportunity with both hands, despite Jim’s protests and alternative plans of going himself to get what they need.
“You might end up buying the wrong thing, so its best I go with,” she told him, hoping it would be enough to change his mind.
“Alright, fine, but we need to be back by 3pm because I’m meeting the guys for drinks later this afternoon,” he says over his shoulder as he makes his way into the bathroom.
By 11am, they are out of the house and the unsettling feeling that her dream left in her gut is just a distant memory.
After heading to the large grocer, they move on to the small butcher down the road. After Jim’s sweeping declaration about drinks with the guys, she knows brunch is out of the question. It is in that moment that Louise decides to take the plunge. She decides to work on their marriage and save what remnants of it remain, broken and fragmented as it might be.
Terrified, she speaks her thoughts to him, she lets him in to the deep and dark corners of her heart. She expresses her fear of losing him and hopes that he doesn’t throw it in her face. And in return she sees compassion in his eyes, an understanding and realisation that dawns on him. That moment in the car, seconds before walking into the butchery, husband and wife met at the same point for the first time in months. In that moment, they both decided to work on themselves for themselves and for each other.
“I’m not going to cancel dinner with the guys tonight,” he tells her bluntly. What the hell?! I thought we made some progress. “But why don’t we have lunch together tomorrow. We’re not going to patch things up overnight, we have to put in the work. So let’s start dating each other again.”
This obviously wasn’t what Louise wanted to hear. But did she really expect him to drop all his plans for her? Truth be told, she didn’t even know where to start fixing things. If he did stay home tonight what would they even talk about? Maybe starting afresh and dating each other was a good place to start.
They leave their car and an uneasy feeling creeps back into Louise’s stomach. A feeling that felt very close and very familiar to her. Was it because her marriage wasn’t immediately fixed? Whatever it is, she brushes it off and for the first time in a long time, they hold hands as they walk into the butcher.
The parking lot seems to go on forever, the cold wind blasting in their face. There is no comfort or promise of warmth because, when they enter the butchery, they are met with a blizzard, greeted by the cold air of fridges and the pungent smell of raw meat. Although there are many people in the small store, they generate no body heat. She shrugs a little bit closer to Jim, the smell of his coat and the feel of his arm temporarily disrupts the reality of their surroundings. She feels the comfort for a split second until he abruptly leaves her hand to pick something out of the nearest fridge.
Louise reaches into her pocket to get her list out, when suddenly people are screaming, scattering, running in different directions. It all seems to be happening in an abstract space, outside of her realisation, and far outside of her reality. Then she sees it, a man, standing on the counter, a gun in hand, telling everyone to shut up and get down because he is robbing the store.
The reality doesn’t quite register, her mind weaving through reality and latching onto other thoughts as a distraction. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism that usually ends in someone saying ‘it all just happened so fast’. Her fragile mind trying to latch onto some sort of concrete security because the fear and looming terror are imminent. Is he really robbing a butchery? That’s so strange. I guess it makes sense because they do keep cash onsite. Perhaps he is hoping to steal some meat. How would the butcher explain that to the police. Is this how the brain stops the terror from becoming real?
And then it hits her. The man makes eye contact with her and her heart drops down to her stomach. “I SAID GET DOWN!” he screams directly at her.
It is him. The ominous face from her dream. The face that so harmlessly haunted her sleep is the man robbing the store she is in. What are the chances of that? She has never seen him or met him before. Her blood turns icy cold. It courses through her veins, spreading to the tips of her fingers making her numb. Fear grabs her heart, that strange feeling in her chest of her heart battering and bruising her sternum is becoming more and more prominent to her. She drops down flat onto her tummy. She is suddenly strangely aware of her surroundings, the fear and tension in the store is electric, frenzied, everyone muttering a prayer, screaming or closing their eyes preparing for a bullet.
It is then that she realises how far away she is from Jim. She sees him a few feet away from her, on the cold ground surrounded by scrap pieces of paper, old till slips, trampled upon and bruised. She makes the daring move to get to him. While the criminal is shouting heated instructions to the shop owner to put all the cash in a plastic bag, she decides to make a move to Jim. After all, in cases like these, the robber wouldn’t risk shooting someone when all he wanted was money. If he got caught, it would be a far shorter sentence for robbery than for murder. She takes comfort in that, and makes her move.
“HEY,” the scream comes and the loud shot rings in her ears, it reverberates through the store, she can almost see the vibrations in the air coming as waves.
Louise lays on her back looking up at the fluorescent lights in the shop ceiling. The smell of meat surrounds her. Her body is filled with heat even though she is aware of the cold surrounding her. Jim’s face occupies her vision, he is screaming but she can’t hear what he says. It feels like she is back in her dream, Jim is hovering over her. His large stature hovering in the brightness that her eyes seemed to fight and protest against. The blurry haze engulfs and encompasses them. Louise is fighting against her senses and surroundings but nothing seems to make sense. Her movements seem uncontrolled, she can’t seem to get any part of herself to move according to her will.
Numbness spreads throughout her except for the centre of her chest where her heart was so fervently beating a few seconds ago. Wetness spreads and a throb radiates from a pinpointed area on her chest. She feels like a bullseye.
Everything begins to fade and her thoughts race. Aw man, I needed to work on my marriage. From tomorrow everything needed to change. I would have liked for everything to change from the moment we left the car. Tomorrow is too far away, too much can go wrong between then and now – like a bullet to the chest haha. What’s that saying, people who died today had plans for tomorrow? Ha, what a coincidence that I should make plans for tomorrow.
With what little energy and consciousness she has left, she looks to the door and gets one final blurry glimpse of the man of her dreams as he runs away from the damage he has caused. It is then, as she loses consciousness, that she realises how similar dying is to dreaming.