She sits at the bus stop day after day. I stand at my window, imagining her name. Rain or shine, snow or wind, it makes no difference to the girl in the little lemon dress. She waits there regardless. I watch her the same.
There are buses every fifteen minutes that lead to and from the city, but which city, I no longer recall? I’m as obsessed with her as she is with time. She’s crying today.
I pour out a coffee on this evening to chill souls. Seeing her waiting for a man who’ll never arrive has warped my mind. Today, I shall make a difference. Today, I shall do the right thing.
The door clicks shut in my wake; my eyes are already upon her. She shields her own from the steadily falling snow, invisible against her porcelain features. The coffee steams from the cup.
The distance takes an age to cover, not because of the traffic, as there is none, but from my stuttering footsteps.
“Hello,” I say when almost upon her. “I’ve brought something to warm your soul.”
The cup is offered and dropped, slipping from her fingers like a dream. This saddens me and I leave.
The next day comes, and she is gone. All I can think is, was she ever there? And, was I?
The roses bloomed like cosmic supernovas in vermillion, emerald, and sapphire blue, bursting across the meadows in unadulterated expressions of joy. Insects roamed amongst these fountains of colour as if seeking rainbow drownings. The world exuded everything and more.
There were many such wonders in this scene, aquifers of liquid gold, silver raindrops falling from mercury clouds, birds to make a phoenix seem dim, ants so polite as to have just graduated from ant finishing school, but it was a falsehood. Why? This world had never seen the sun.
The moon blazed a molten silver, did its best to provide life with an excuse to live. But moonbeams don’t nurture and stars can’t shine in the day. I closed my eyes and wished.
I woke to a tungsten sky and brick walls. The city. My city. Home. Gone were the fabulous moments, lost were those most stunning views. The dream was over before it had even begun.
I had many such dreams over too few hours, as though God himself wished me to see all the possibilities I’d shunned. But the Devil desires what man has, and so this was my lot. Reality stunk, but it was my reality. Or was it theirs? I supposed only He truly knew.
The bleary-eyed awakening offers little to billions of sleepers each night. Less than a gap and at best an inconvenience, mankind surf those moments eyes closed and desperate. The chirruping blackbird is a nuisance at such times. The ticking clock is akin to the devil. As for a dripping faucet, or rain upon the windowsill, enraging.
We tend to focus on those instants, expand them unwillingly, when all we wish is to contract. But time suffers no interventions, at least, not by us.
We desire the flavoured darkness, where ex-loves taste better than ever they did in reality. Where we as sports people score wonder goals, tackle like rhinos, run like the wind, so far from actuality that it’s a good job we can’t see ourselves; unrecognisable faces frighten the children who spy them in clouding mirrors. We act as never we would in real life, for our dreamworlds offer security, sanctuary from prying eyes. Some might term this, release. Others might term it a mass delusion.
Be it a minute or a restless hour, we struggle to depart the awakening and return to the promised land of dreams with utmost expedience. There’s almost a dread. We fear the darkness, for everyone knows it’s where monsters hide. We curl our toes and squeeze our eyes so tight they hurt. Tossing and turning are par for the course. Burying heads in pillows, the same. All that is wanted, needed, required is a return to the hoped-for pleasantness of that pause until dawn. Gold light and blue skies beckon us. Well, when I say us, I mean you.
I don’t want to go back to sleep. I don’t want those moments between dreams to end. If ever serenity offers a troubled mind a chance, it’s during these spaces in eternity. They calm a struggling mind, don’t stir them to further agitation. They soothe troubles, not pretend them not there. A divine gift to restless souls, those who exit limbo into the hushed still of their own bedroom, roofed and walled, secure, free from the ragged world beyond the window glass, these are rare treats indeed.
The moments between dreams never last long enough, for if they do, they are no longer moments but extents. No one likes an extent, they’re too, well… long. Brevity is key to the moment, as time is to life. Yes, life. But what of death?
We do not dream to sample death, we wake from it to taste what will. What good is a stomachful of forever if you’re not afforded the luxury of swilling it around your mouth beforehand. And here I pause…
As I write, I reveal. I unpick the truth with a sledgehammer. There is a liar amongst us and that liar is me. I lust for the pause and dispute every moment, afraid that to do otherwise might prove that I’m gone. I am afraid of the night more than any. I savour the waking, or I’d cry before sleep. The paradox of it all tingles behind my eyes. These moments have sold me a fable I no longer wish to read. Am I awake, or am already gone?
I dream of a darkness I’ll never escape. I dream of a life where there’s light. This nothingness clings like an obsidian straightjacket. It stifles me. I can barely breathe.
She appears as a comet, all flashing, dashing silver. The night peels apart before her, whereas I stand my ground. I am no hero. There’s no other choice. It’s what I always do.
She strikes like a velvet glove. The softest sparks fly. Traces of her flutter before my eyes, instants in time, forgotten memories. I taste her like blood licked from a wound. Hear her heartbeat pounding in the void. We are together again, albeit briefly.
I die each evening when sleep comes a calling, such bittersweet departures as to drown arid hearts. And I wonder: Are we both dead, or just me?
She frowned in that way little children do, with that absolute certainty that she and not them were correct. Her brows creased to Norwegian fjords so severely as to threaten to crack her porcelain features. Her eyes narrowed. The crème de la crème, out came her tongue to blow a raspberry to wet the world. She ran.
“Come back, stranger!” roared the little boy.
Kara bolted back into the trees from which she’d emerged to a whiplashed face and thorn-tugged clothes. The boy had no such issues, for he was smaller than she. He proved faster, too.
The little boy had her by the ponytail before she’d exited the hawthorn bush. He tugged. She wailed.
There was a scuffle, a curse regarding the football shirt the little boy wore, one returned with interest about her red wellington boots — how she wished she’d worn trainers, he’d have never caught her then. And only when the two staggered from the bush and fell in the long grass did the idyllic summer return.
It was several minutes before the boy rose to his elbows and offered the first words of a truce. “You’re the strangest girl I’ve ever met.”
“My name’s Kara,” she hissed. “And I’m not.”
“Robbie,” he replied. “And you are so.”
Robbie was unsure whether the wellington that hit him square on the jaw was called Kara or the girl who tossed it? He imagined he ought to have known, but the stars in his head prevented any confirmation. So much so, that Robbie collapsed back into the grass with a thud. There, he remained.
Kara waited an appropriate amount of time before retrieving her boot; it slipped back into place with a schlep. She gave her new nemesis a kick, then a pinch to his bare arm, both to no reaction. “Hey-ho,” she mused.
Robbie remained as recumbent as an overfed sloth.
“Why did you leave him, love?”
“But it sounds like he’s hurt.”
“So what? He started it.”
“It sounded very much like you did. It’s not normal to blow raspberries at someone who was just walking past.”
“Raspberry,” corrected Kara.
Her mum rolled her eyes. “Come on, you’ll have to show me where you left him. I want to make sure he’s okay.”
“He’s not okay.”
Her mum pulled the same frown Kara had.
“How’d you know?”
“The same way I knew he was going to call me names.” Her eyes widened to raging suns. “I’m strange!”
You know when your time’s up by the slowing of your breaths. A blink takes a century, a smile forever, the world around you stalls. Teardrops catch mid-cheek like dewdrops in a web. The blood in your veins turns sluggish and turgid. Your every organ closes down with a malfunctioning sigh. That’s what they say, but that’s not what happened to me.
I hung in the moment as Hell opened and Heaven slammed closed its gates, straining, determined to breathe, convinced of putting words to my madness. Battles raged all around as though I wasn’t there, smiles flitting across faces, scowls more, love, honour, all instants in time. More was lost in those seconds of non-redemption than eternity could hold. Infinity wrapped in a watch face, I crumbled.
That’s what you did to me, when you stole my heart. You killed me with a bullet not shot from a gun. You attacked with a weapon called love, then walked away and left me to die. Kindness, that’s what you murdered me with. I never stood a chance.
I never will.
Londinium’s streets filled with merchants of every description. Some purveyors of fine silks set up stalls in such-and-such an alley, others of fresh produce in this and that, the retailers of jewels and gold settled closer to the constabulary’s arterial junction. It, or rather, she, sat somewhere in between.
Less an organ grinder’s monkey, but not quite a ventriloquist’s dummy, she rested, her coiled legs draped over the side of a wooden cart. Her creator, or owner, or whatever he was, poled people to guess her name at a sovereign a head. He promised great riches to the soul who guessed correctly, though I ventured no one ever did.
Entranced, I squeezed through the gathered crowd to better gaze upon her, excusing myself more times than decorum demanded. Nevertheless, it felt nowhere near enough. At my last muttered apology and doffing of my hat, I looked up: there she was.
She was stunning, beautiful, yet made. Plaited horsehair adorned her bonnet-less head, which stood against convention, but looked right on her. A face of chalked perfection rested on a frame of awkward, angular imperfection. The contrast made for an uneasy balance. Yet, it was not her body I looked upon, but her eyes. Even though I knew it was wrong, evil even, an affront to God, I could have stared into them forever.
The almost-woman had the sort of eyes that dreamt of oceans, a blue so deep as to swim to the stars. She stared out across her audience impassively, searching for something, searching for me. I was hers, and she was mine.
“Hey, that’s a sovereign’s worth of a gawking you’ve given. You gonna guess ‘er name or not?”
I paid the man his money and walked away.
“Hey! Hey, mister! Ain’t you gonna guess then?”
“Sapphire,” I replied.
“Wrong,” he expounded. Maybe to you I thought, but Sapphire she remained. My dreams would be eternally painted blue.
“There’s sharks in the river!” screamed Ray.
Our elders set out to kill them, men and women. No one returned.
The army tried next. They dynamited everything, then drained the river. There wasn’t a shark or a villager in sight.
“I lied,” confessed Ray.
“So did our parents,” I replied.
There was something unsavoury about her smile, an unavoidable diagnosis of disgust. Whilst she revelled in self-centred superiority, the world might’ve burned. The others played on.
She felt wrong. The whole thing felt wrong. As if having swallowed a live worm when expecting a jellied one, she wriggled within. I’d have wretched, but she was watching.
She’d done nothing other than sit there politely minding her own business. I hadn’t sought her, nor looked upon her by any other reason than an accident. She happened upon me. This was the simple truth.
Evasion proved the smarter side of valour. I slipped away to another table like a furtive rat, eager for some space and a place to breathe. She followed. Why the hell had I chosen this casino?
She sat and asked the time. I made a point of looking at her watch, but she ignored it. I gave her the correct hour but added twenty minutes. She laughed a crescendo.
I woke to an empty bed and an emptier wallet. She was long gone. I wasn’t annoyed, though. I blamed myself. She enjoyed her games, always had. I savoured them, too, once, but less so after we married.