Dream Dream Dream - Phil
I was woken by the implant in my head, sending impulses directly to my cochlear nerve, making me think I could hear a beeping sound.
I tapped behind my ear, cancelling the noise and emerged, blinking, from sleep with a shot of cortisol delivered from the implant directly into my bloodstream.
“Sarah,” I called, “Dream diary!”
Let’s deal with this first. Yes, I’ve called my computer Sarah, but you have to call them something. I’m not spending my time shouting ‘computer’ at the wall. I’d sound crazy. But I don’t know anyone called Sarah, and the voice print I use, whilst female, is from the stock library – I’ve not sampled it. And I haven’t designed her an avatar. I’m not one of those guys. Although yes, I have got in the habit of calling it ‘her’.
“Tell me what you dreamed,” said Sarah, simply. See, no funny business.
“I…” I struggled to make sense of the jumble of images that formed in my mind. Even with one this vivid, dreams are insubstantial things, with a way of starting to dissolve as soon as you try to bring them back into the real world with you.
“I had a job,” I said. “Not a work assignment, a job. I had to do it every day. More or less. Otherwise I, basically, couldn’t eat. It was… like some kind of endurance game show. Which if it had existed in the dream, I wouldn’t have time to watch. But no!”
I suddenly remembered something.
“That wasn’t the weirdest thing,” I continued. “I lived with this woman, I can't believe I forgot that bit. She was called, oh…”
She was called Sarah, I’d just realised.
“But we hadn’t done any compatibility work, not even the basic Intro Test. We just decided, somehow, through what seemed to be a series of accidents, to spend our lives together. No real planning, no real… oh man, we fought a lot. But there were times… she was amazing. I don’t know how I found her…”
I am awoken by the silence of the alarm clock.
I roll over and bash it, making it burst into life, filling the air with beeps. I check the time on the digital display: 10pm. Time to get up.
I pause, as the memory of a dream comes flooding back to me. I was in the future! Cool. Maybe I can remember something amazing that I saw and I could invent it in real life and make my fortune? Try not to think about it too hard. Dreams are fragile. If it’s in there it will come to me.
Ah, bless, Sarah’s left a mug by the side of the bed. I pick it up and spit a mouthful of tea into it. Putting it down, I get a sniff of my armpit. Way too clean, definitely time to get up. I need a shower to wash myself dirty again before work.
Oh no! I just realised. I dreamed everything was backwards again, didn’t I? I can’t invent anything that would work in real life. Who would want a shower that made you clean? Or a fridge that kept your food fresh? I wonder why that keeps happening?
I woke to the sound of the overture, right on cue.
I leapt from my bed, already beaming the biggest grin I could find. I bounded across to the window and threw the curtains wide. The morning sunlight streamed in, just as I knew it would.
“Oh! What a beautiful morning,” I sang.
The bluebirds nesting in the tree turned their heads and sang, in unison:
“Oh! What a beautiful day!”
I winked at them and tipped them a cheeky salute.
“I’ve got a beautiful feeling…” I sang…
I am awakened by the clanging of the morning bell.
I lie still in my bed for a moment, letting the juxtaposition of my having dreamed that my life was a musical with the reality of the bell summoning me to work really sink in. It was so brief, that moment of joy. Just like a dream, slipping away in the blink of a waking eye, crushed by the weight of onrushing reality.
The chimes of doom continue, but it’s the jolt I feel when a guard’s boot connects with the foot of my bed that gets me moving. I don’t need to hear the tap-tapping of the electric crop against his leg. Tardiness is not tolerated here. Nothing is tolerated here.
I swing my legs out of bed and start to shuffle towards the indignity of the communal showers. The gash in my calf from Number 149’s pickaxe, that I got when we were working the quarry face yesterday, causes me to stumble, as pain shoots across what, I haven’t checked but, I’m pretty sure is an open wound. It wasn’t her fault, she was near unconscious in the heat. I hear the swish of an upstroke of one of the guard’s crops. It doesn’t matter which. Falling isn’t tolerated here. I close my eyes and wait for the impact.
I woke with the impact, which wasn’t with the crash barrier as I’d expected, but with the water below.
We must have jumped it somehow. A rush of memories: we were going too fast, I knew that, but Sarah was late for work; we’d been singing, the soundtrack to Oklahoma! on the stereo, it was Sarah’s favourite; the skid, the way the car had lurched 180 degrees and then ploughed, backwards towards the river. My leg hurt, something was crushing it, cutting into my calf from behind. I turned my head, tried to see if Sarah was still conscious, but she wasn’t even there.
I thought the water would fill the car slowly, but it burst in with a violence that took my breath away, shortly before the water filled my burning lungs and made sure that I would never breathe again.
I hear the beeps of the delivery truck reversing and that brings me out of… whatever state I’m in.
I don’t think you can even call it sleep. I can’t afford to sleep, sleep means letting your guard down, sleep means being vulnerable and open, sleep means losing what little I hold dear, up to and including my life. I don’t sleep, I sit in a doorway, cocooned in cardboard and stinky old blankets and rags. But I still dream.
The truck swings around, lining itself up with the delivery bay doors. Its headlamps sweep across my doorway, and I’m dazzled by the intense light. They never used to be this bright. The burning in my lungs hasn’t gone away. Maybe I am drowning, after all.
The blanket bulges at my feet and a scrawny tabby cat slides out. I hadn’t realised that he was there. I can’t even feel my feet, and it’s not because of the cold any more. Life is taking its toll, it was always going to when it got this hard.
“Morning Mittens,” I greet the cat. He looks at me disdainfully, which is a bit much as he’d been using my bed for the night, and meows, stretching his mouth wide in a grotesque half-yawn, as if to say ‘yes, I used your bed for the night but it was dreadfully uncomfortable and I’m no less tired as a result’. I know how he feels.
The tinkling of a teaspoon on the edge of a china cup.
No, I didn’t dream that.
I opened my eyes. It takes so long these days.
Sarah lifted Mittens off the bed. I hadn’t realised that he was there, but I now I felt the space next to me where he had been, only moments before, felt the cold replacing the warmth of his tired old moggy body. Dear old friend. We were neither of us long for this world.
Sarah smiled. She was a lovely girl. I couldn’t remember if we were related or not.
“Good morning, Mrs Edelman,” she said, “I brought you a cup of tea. It’s nice and hot, so there’s no rush. You take your time. Are you ready for me to sit you up?”
I whispered something that meant yes, but didn’t quite come out that way.
“OK,” said Sarah. Such a sweet girl. “Are you ready?”
It’s not what finally wakes me, but I become gradually aware of the regular beeps of a heart monitor.
“Are you ready?” asks an unfamiliar voice. They’re not talking to me, I don’t think. There are other people in the room. It’s weird, I can sense their baited breath.
I open my eyes. I thought it was going to be hard work, but I do it quite easily. That’s right, I’m not an old lady any more. That’s… an odd thing to think. I think I dreamed… so many dreams. So many pieces to try to fit together.
A face looms over me. An older man.
“Mr Edelman?” he asks.
I murmur, it’s the best I can manage, although I feel strength returning.
“Welcome back, Mr Edelman,” says… the doctor. He’s a doctor. He has a white coat and a stethoscope. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I…” I do, but… at the same time I am gripped by a feeling that I can’t trust my own memories.
“There was a crash,” explains the doctor.
“I thought there might have been,” I say, but this sounds flippant, “I mean, I wasn’t sure if I dreamt it.”
“There was a crash,” nods the doctor. “You’re lucky to be alive, Mr Edelman. If you’re up to it, there’s someone here to see you.”
My heart leaps. Sarah? But no, it’s not Sarah, it’s someone who looks a lot like her.
“Daddy?” says the young woman, and I instantly know who she is, even though I can’t believe it. She’s clutching a soft toy, a scrawny looking tabby cat that has seen better days.
“Em,” I whisper, tears welling but a huge grin spreading across my face.
“Hi Daddy,” Emily says, stepping forward and gently taking my hand. It’s a comforting feeling, like an anchor back to my real life. “You’ve been gone a while. Do you think I’ve changed?”
“All grown up,” I’m crying now. I don’t know what’s going on in my mind or my heart but I know that, finally, this is real. Almost too real. “He’s not changed, though.”
I nod towards Mittens the cat. Emily laughs and rubs the toy against her cheek.
“It’s silly,” she says, “but I wanted you to have something to remind you of me. When I couldn’t be here. He’s been watching over you.”
“He did a good job,” I say, through the tears. There’s a question I need to ask, but I don’t want to.
“Daddy, there’s something you should know,” says Emily, tears now trickling down her face too. “It’s about Mum.”
And I know the answer. I think I always knew.
I close my eyes, and whisper her name.