Saturday 22 February 2014

Chasing Tails: short story

Through a crack in the curtains (12:33pm)

She woke up in a sweat. The bedcovers twisted around her in a knot of sleep, like every morning. Every night was an ordeal. Her dreams were bloodied with anxiety; awkward scenes with past lovers, public shame and the losing of keys. Her jaw ached from clenching. It was the drugs, she thought. She had to blame something for ailments which spring up so uninvited; they could not be organic, surely. 

It took her back to childhood, when she dreaded night time ferociously. She would lie in bed with the light on, close her eyes, and wait for it to come. The shutting of eyelids switched on a projector, a slideshow of shadows who chased her into the night, past nine o’clock and all hope of daylight. Every night her eyes would close, heavy as sand, forced to meet the projector and its characters. The dread chimed with each tick of the clock. She had no choice but to creep downstairs and climb into her mother’s bed. Warm arms, maternal armour. When morning came she was saved. Even the weak light of winter granted her freedom, the slight hint of blueness meant there was a whole day ahead, only the world and its own snapshot of reality to observe. There was less fear when daylight came with its transparency. 

There she lay, older now, but still afraid. It was half past twelve, she had overslept. She kicked off the duvet which was heavy and stifling, and tore off her t-shirt, now soggy with sweat. The room was so still and so quiet. She looked down at the cage of her ribbed sternum heaving up and down, rapid with her heart. Closing her eyes, she replayed her dream.

I am in a house and we all live there in the house, familiar people, friends and some that I haven’t seen in ages but it feels like we’re living in a commune sort of thing, communal living, it’s a big house in a marshland with trees all around, it’s the landscape that I always go to in dreams, a vast stark bleak one, there is danger in the air, there is a house opposite ours, an evil man lives there, we are banned from going in there but one day someone needs some sugar so we sneak in and at first it’s fun, we look around the cupboards and giggle, but then there’s a noise and he’s almost back, we escape but the dread---

Paralysed by a danger always slightly out of reach. And now it was time to get up and out of this nest which held her captive. One glance around the room confirmed her suspicions of last night. She was in His room, again. She had said never again but she had lied. Her shoes were by the door, black boots marking where her consciousness had stopped at the threshold, leaving her body to bask in His bed. A slither of her dream remained above her, a wretched halo buzzing with aftertaste. 

The room smelt neglected, she had to leave. She dressed with shaking limbs. Outside, out of the door which creaked with complaint, the air fell sharp on her face, and the ground steadied her like a paperweight. The street was empty, strange, she thought, for a Saturday. Or was it a Saturday? Names of days and windows of time had lost their potency. As she walked, something faint gnawed at her, an appointment, a place to be. She glanced once or twice up at the sky, the sun’s misty glow, and thought of the days she had missed, all the fluctuating light which had slipped past her. She could not remember. 

Remember what?

With a mind far removed from the soles of her feet, she turned left at the crossroads, and walked down a lane which constantly curved to the right, as if you would end up where you began. Gradually the houses became taller, white-washed, more contained. There were bushes and gates outside each one, guarding against curious eyes. After a while, she stopped by a building, huge and square, and peeped in through the cracks of the gate. She could see through the windows only slightly, the dull sunlight had created a gauze. Figures moved, shadows danced, her eyes blinked and she lifted the latch and moved towards the door, crunching the gravel as she walked. How noisy it sounded crackling beneath her, as if the volume had been turned up. 

Sleep- my eyes so tired so restless I must remember to--- before I lie down before I close everything Dr. Sandson Dr. Sandson Dr. Sand---

There she lay, legs spilt in front of her, on the smooth slate porch. Her head bent down into her lap. She had collapsed in front of the building, underneath a plaque which read ‘Sandson Health Centre: We remember when you forget.’ It shone and loomed in the grapefruit sun. The sleeping girl snored and remained unseen. 


From the desk-lamp (2:07pm)

You remembered.

Did I?

Yes, you’re here aren’t you?

Am I?

Yes. Tell me about your dreams.

I can’t remember.

Tell me. Try.

I think I remember one image and I chase its tail but it runs so far.

What image do you have in mind?

A house.

Good. How does this house make you feel?

I feel dread. I don’t want to be here.


There. I don’t want to be there. It’s a bad place. 


The man.

Tell me about him.

I don’t know. It’s the idea of him which scares me, not his body.

Good, good...

I can feel it now- that wrench- in my chest. It must be bad for my heart. Do you think?

We all know psychological ailments manifest themselves physically.

Yes, that’s what I thought.

Did you remember to take your pills?

I don’t know. I can’t remember.

I will up your dose. This is crucial. Notice any unusual side effects?

I don’t know. I can’t tell what’s unusual any more.



The fields dip and dive in the afternoon sun, sheep bleat faintly amongst the curves, and I hold your hand as you squeeze me like a lemon. It’s windy but I don’t mind. My face is numb and my ears ache but suddenly it’s all opened up and I can see again. As something sparkles in the air you come close.

Come, come.
I’m here.
Come with me.
To where?
Somewhere, anywhere.
I’m here.

Your voice sounds static and thick: jam falling in slow motion, sticking. I think of the snail that lives in my ear that I saw in a children’s science book once, and how it vibrates. It’s windy and I shiver. 

We must remember to- must remember-

The sun and clouds intertwine until they bleed into each other, orange and violent, I stick my tongue out to taste it but it shatters into crystals. I try to pick them up and you disappear, and I am left crouched down picking up sherbet. 


Out of a flickering strip light (5.14pm)

You made it then? Didn’t expect you to turn up.

No? Well I did.

Yeah, alright. Sit down then. Shall I get us a coffee?

Yeah. Thanks.

She fiddled with sugar packets as she watched Her walk up to the till. The coffee makers made whirring sounds, like time machines. She would not be surprised. It felt like the 1950s with the radio on in the background, music as audible as an afterthought. At the back of the mind but not solid. It felt like the 1950s inasmuch that she was not familiar with this moment, or the lightness in her bones. They felt hollow like a bird’s. There was a greyness to the day which screamed out for colour TV. 

Here you go, I remembered how you like it. 

Three sugars?
Yep. And a drop of milk.

I’m impressed.

Where have you been?

I don’t know.

You look a mess.


No, I mean, I’m worried about you. You look skinny. I can tell you’ve been back at His. 

She looked at her friend without knowing She was her friend. The woman who sat opposite was an imprint in her mind, like the curves on the flesh of her thumb, permanent but faint. She studied her face with a removed curiosity. She looked worn and empty, perhaps she was mirroring Her. She too felt worn, an empty sack, devoid.

Babe? Did you hear me? I’m worried. First you don’t call me then you don’t answer my calls, then you become all everyone talks about. Every day someone asks me where you are. You’re missed, you know. What’s going on?

The question mark hung dead.

Are you sick?

No. I don’t know. Maybe.

Are you sleeping?

I think so. I keep getting these dreams. They feel so real.


It’s just...

She held her mug and felt the coffee inside vibrating with her nerves. The room was full of people, tightly bound to each other with conversation and ease, carrying on. They did not know about the danger on the other side, the gulping depths an inch away from daylight. What kept them so happy? Were they blessed with not knowing? It was the only thing she was certain of, she felt it rumbling in her stomach and coursing through her eye sockets. Knowing nothing, feeling it all.

I have to go. My shift starts at six. Have you got a phone?

No, I lost it. 

Well, I don’t know what to say. Are you coming to Sal’s?


It’s her birthday tomorrow. Please come. So I know that you’re safe.


She leaned her cheek upwards to receive Her kiss. 


From a streetlamp (8.59pm)

She was back at His door step, at the inch that bridges one side to the next. She knocked and felt the hollow sound. The door opened and she stepped in, following Him up the stairs with reluctance, but at the same time an apathy which held her by the the wrist and dragged her into murky moments such as this. The flat was full of smoke and week-old debris, scattered in piles like a modern art piece. There was a body on the sofa, arms covering the face, hiding in sleep. 

Come upstairs. It’s a shit hole down here.

She nodded. Without care or calculation she followed Him up the second flight of stairs, watching the creases of his jeans and breathing in the stale Fate in which she had been snared. His bedroom was just as she had left it. He had not tidied, why should He? He was immune to domestics. They say a tidy room makes for a tidy mind. His was mess.

Take them off. All of them.

She said nothing as she undressed. The light was cold and waning, lighting up her body with a yawn. She took off her t-shirt and jeans, stepped out of her underwear, watched as they fell. Her clothes lay on the floor like a bonfire waiting to be lit and she the witch to be burned. When she was naked she turned her back to Him and fell face down on to the bed, spreading her legs to the sound of His belt buckle crashing to the floor. 


Her mother kissed her forehead.

Remember, they’re only bad dreams. They won’t hurt you.

And the tears had soaked her pillow, made her hair stick to her face. 

Remember, this bed will keep you safe, it is like a ship which carries you to the next day, through the wild sea of sleep, until you are washed ashore.

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