In an Absent Dream
by Marian L. Thorpe
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
I heated soup and ate it with cheese and baguette and a glass of wine while I typed up my lecture notes, resolutely ignoring my e-mail. Only when my notes were complete and the summary posted to my website did I open Gmail, a new glass of wine in my hand. I scanned the new mail: a reply from Abby.
Hi, Claire, Of course I will! I can’t do it today but I’ll see what I come up with as soon as I can. Lunch sounds great! Let me get the picture done and then we’ll set a date. Looking forward to seeing you! Abby.
Over the next few days I taught my classes, went to a film with friends — you were there — and enjoyed the spring sunshine whenever possible. It wasn’t till Thursday evening that the e-mail from Abby arrived, with the little paperclip symbol that indicated an attachment. I opened the e-mail.
Here it is! I had a lot of fun with it! It’s a really interesting picture — don’t know what was reflected there — maybe a builder’s ladder? Or some scaffolding? but it’s come out well. Let me know what you think! How’s this coming Tuesday for lunch, one o’clock, Florrie’s? Abby xo
I opened the attachment. Abby’s skill with Photoshop made my attempts look pathetic. Rising from the roof garden, shining in a sun I hadn’t remembered, was a bridge of finely wrought metal, looking barely able to take a person’s weight, spanning the passage and ending at an arched doorway cut into the wall of the next house.
I typed a reply to Abby, words of thanks and a confirmation of lunch. Then I sat, staring at my computer screen, until my eyes itched with dryness. It couldn’t be. Eventually the persistent mewing of the cat brought me to myself. I got up, let her out, tidied away the remnants of supper and put the dishes in the dishwasher. By the time I’d done that, and used the loo, the cat was asking to come back in. I scooped her up and went to bed.
Sleep was slow in coming. Part of my mind told me that Abby’s image just confirmed that there had been a reflection, somehow, of some builder’s gear; she had just artistically enhanced it to create that exquisite bridge. I’d buy her lunch to repay the time she’d spent on it, ask her if she wanted the picture for her cards. But another part of my mind told me a different story. As I drifted, finally, into sleep, I thought, at the edge of consciousness: Bring something back, the next time you walk the faerie paths.
I’ve never been able to compel these dreams: they come as they want. But late that night — or more accurately, in the early hours of the next morning — I found myself again walking the cobbled passage and taking the stair to the roof garden.
In the dream, I stood on the roof, looking at the plants, and at the bridge before me. I crouched, and from the planter box in front of me, I picked three pansies — two yellow, one deep purple — tucking them deep into the pocket of my jacket. Then I crossed the bridge, feeling its structure vibrate underfoot, and followed the faerie path away.
And woke, disoriented. I lay still. The familiar weight of the cat at the foot of my bed and the soft hum of the boiler reheating grounded me, brought me back to the real world. I rolled over, and returned to sleep, deep and dreamless.
I had an early class the next morning. The bright smiling chatter of the morning weather girl told me the day would be warm and sunny; it was already ten degrees at seven a.m. I left the house without my jacket, simply throwing my favourite scarf, bright with poppies, around my throat against any chill.
The day passed as every last Friday of the month does: my morning classes, the staff meeting after lunch. Budget and curriculum, new regulations from the government, enrolment figures. Late in the afternoon we moved to the pub, but the conversation didn’t change much, as you know.
It was dark by the time I left, and the temperature had dropped considerably. I wound my scarf more snugly around my throat, and walked quickly to the car-park. The car barely warmed in the ten-minute drive home, and I was shivering slightly as I unlocked my front door.
A jumper and a cup of tea helped warm me. After a short while I unwound the scarf and hung it on the coat stand in the hall, beside the jacket I should have taken that morning, regardless of what the weather girl had promised. And then I stopped. Slowly, I reached into the left-hand jacket pocket. Nothing but a pound coin. I put my hand in the other pocket. Again, nothing. I felt my shoulders relax...and then my fingers found something dry and crumbly. I caught a piece between my finger and thumb.
In the poor light of the hall it looked like a bit of dry leaf, something that could have been there since autumn, picked up and forgotten. I walked slowly to the kitchen and its brighter light, laying the shred of dry material on the white counter. I stared at the counter. The scrap was brown and dry, but along its crumbling veins a hint of purple ran rich and deep.
“It’s just a piece of copper beech,” I said to the empty room. The cat mewed inquisitively. “It probably stuck to my glove the day I was picking up conkers along the river,” I told her. She wound around my ankles, wanting her dinner.
I fed her, and me, and poured myself wine, flipping through channels to find something half worth watching. I settled on a film, a sci-fi thriller set on a space station, good enough to keep my attention to bedtime. I took the last glass of wine to bed with me, and while I dreamt that night, confused, alcohol-induced images flashing across my eyes, I did not visit the faerie paths.
I didn’t make it to the Saturday Market until nearly noon, my pounding headache eased by then by water, strong coffee, and paracetamol. The day was dull, low clouds hanging over the town, for which I was glad.
I bought bread and oranges, cheese and a bunch of daffodils, and a book I’d been wanting at Waterstone’s. The first chapter occupied me through lunch: another cup of coffee and a sandwich I couldn’t finish. But regardless of how good the writing was, I kept looking up, east, to where the cobbled passage ran out of the market square and towards the river. When I finished my lunch I closed my book, gathered my bags and very firmly walked west to the car-park.
I’m telling you this so you know how reluctant I was to go any further with these wild imaginings, and yet how drawn I was to the thought of that faerie bridge. I kept myself occupied all day Saturday — yesterday — cleaning, laundry, a trip to Tesco’s. In the evening, I drank water and tea with my supper, and marked papers until past eleven, and then took my book to bed.
My bedroom was cool, so I got up again to get my poppy scarf, draping it around my shoulders like a shawl while I sat up to read. At some point, half-way through a chapter, I fell asleep. The dream started as it always does: I’m on foot, and walking east on the familiar path. I reach the courtyard and climb the stairs that aren’t there in daylight. On the roof, I stop and very carefully loosen my scarf from around my neck, my poppy scarf, bright with blood-red blossom, and I tie it, tightly, to the railings. And then — I’ve never done this before — I retrace my steps, instead of going on.
* * *
It is barely light when I wake. I’m cold: the covers are pushed down, and my shoulders are bare except for the thin straps of my nightdress. I sit up, switch on the light. The cat blinks at me, disturbed. I close the book which has fallen, spine up, beside me and hunt around for my scarf. It’s not on the bed. Of course not, I think, I tied it to the railings.
I spend the next hour looking for my scarf. I pull out the bed, to see if it’s slipped between the mattress and the headboard. I go through my closet, the drawers; I even look on the washing line in my tiny garden. It’s nowhere to be found.
The Minster bells are ringing for early service as I drive into town. I park in its car-park, take my ticket from the pay-and-display machine, drop it in the car. I turn, the wind from the North Sea blowing my hair, and walk away from the church, up one passage, across the deserted marketplace, and east along the passage that will bring me to the roof garden.
Even before I leave the cold shadow of the passage I can see my scarf on the railings. It’s moving in the breeze, fluttering, the red poppies blowing bright in the early light. I stand. I stare. I walk slowly into the courtyard, and carefully, quietly — it is still very early on a Sunday morning — I walk along the row of houses, looking for a way up, a way I could have put the scarf there, sleepwalking, entranced.
There is none. The roof garden has no staircase, no access except the door from the house beside it. Not under the sun of this world. A dog barks. The town is waking; I need to leave.
* * *
I think I walked much of the day; my feet are sore, and I’m hungry, but it doesn’t matter. It’s very late now; I’ll finish this e-mail and go to bed soon. I know you check your messages every morning, before you teach your first class, so you’ll see this one; I’ve scheduled it to be sent at eight. If you get it, cancel my class — I don’t teach until one o’clock on Monday, you’ll recall — and you’ll probably want to make arrangements for all my other classes this week. I’m going — I hope — to get my scarf back tonight, if the dreams allow. If faerie allows. I think it will. What I don’t know, Wills, is if it will let me come back.
Try to find me, Wills. If you can’t, please take care of my cat.
Copyright © 2017 by Marian L. Thorpe