When I Dream of Alison

I’m here again in this honeycomb of cul-de-sacs and it’s hot, like it always is. The white heat of the day evaporates the outlines of the houses and blurs them into a repetitive reel of blocky windows, flat lawns and tired looking fences. I’m walking. There are blisters on my feel and I feel them rubbing painfully against the damp insides of my boots as I make my way through the immaculately cartoonish suburban nightmare.

I’ve been here before and it always end with heart ache.

My feet stop outside a house distinguishable from it’s kin only by the Christmas decorations in the windows. It can’t be Christmas – it’s too hot to be Christmas. I walk up the path way to the front door where a wreath hangs sprayed in fake snow. There are flakes of it all over the door mat that someone has etched a ghoulish outline of Santa’s laughing face on. I reach into my pocket and draw out two keys attached to a solid silver snowflake charm. I hold them for a moment in my sweating palm and feel all the saliva in my mouth dissipate.

I’ve held these keys before but these keys used to open the doors to a small apartment in a wooden building by a man made lake. I think of how cold it was there and how the tree swallowed the view of the lake from the front room and I feel my heart stammer in my chest. I don’t need the second key for this house because there is no second door. Just the one before me, white as snow with the hanging wreath on it.

I open the door and step inside. It smells like cigarettes and clean washing. I push open a window to try and let some air in but there is no air. There is never any air in this place. It’s like it’s stopped moving and when I look up and see the vast empty room before me, my blood stops moving too.

Crammed into the corner of this empty room is an extravagant Christmas tree that reaches from the floor to the ceiling. I take a few steps closer and see that it is tied with small navy blue velvet bows and expensive looking glass baubles that catch the sickening off yellow lights of the pulsing bulbs that smother the tree. Beneath this monolithic creature are a handful of small wrapped presents with oversized tags.

I make my way closer to the tree, my sweat smeared face flashing in time with the bulbs. I kneel down and feel my knees click. I want a cigarette. That’s my first thought. And there just so happens to be a packet of Chesterfield red tucked to the side of the tree with a clean ashtray that has a Greek island painted on it and a packet of matches. I light a cigarette and inhale three times before I feel anything at all.

Then I turn my attention to a present in front of me. It is small and square and neatly wrapped in white paper with silver trees stamped into it. I hold it in my hands and flick the tag back with the tip of my finger, spilling a dot of ash onto the carpet. There in the looping handwriting that adorned many of my own gifts, another persons name is written.

Alison.

I feel my eyes start to itch as hot tears force themselves to be heard but I fear my head hasn’t caught up with my heart and as the tears begin to fall and my stomach hardens, I march through the other presents.

Alison.

Alison.

Alison.

There’s a stocking right at the back. It’s red and has glittering gold reindeers embossed into it’s expensive fabric. Along the white cuff of the stocking is the same name.

Alison.

The stocking is empty.

I put my cigarette out dead in the centre of the one of the gifts and I stand to leave, my eyes now raw with hot, angry tears that match the way the rest of the room feels. I turn to leave when out of the corner of one bloodshot eye I see another gift, wrapped in brown paper and tied with dark green string. It’s by itself, underneath the window. The curtains are drawn, to keep this bastard heat out I think to myself, but it’s low enough that it’s got a view of the garden.

I wonder, then, if there’s a lake.

I make my way over to the parcel, my body suddenly tired, my muscles sore, my bones splintering. I’m running out of time here. When it starts to hurt too much I am pulled from this house that I’ve been to so many times before, but I can’t go yet. Not just yet.

I lay down flat on my stomach and my hair falls into my face. Beneath the blind I can see the garden, so I lay my face flat on the floor and turn my head so that the tiny brown package now looks as big as the tree behind me. The lights twinkle in the glass of the window.

The garden is covered with snow.

I let out a breath and melt into the carpet with my tears.

There are shapes out there that I know – a bench, a barbeque that’s been covered over, a bird bath, flower beds, a little sagging shed – and the sky is white and frozen and everything is calm. I turn over ever so slightly and look at the window behind me a few feet away from the tree and it’s the same as it ever was – harsh beating light, scorched grass, lazy birds flapping slowly through the bright blue sky.

I turn my head back to the winter window and take the parcel off the floor. There is no tag on this one and its small and flat and square. I pull on the green twine that holds it together and it unfurls like a flower. I feel fresh tears spike as a piece of card falls out onto my face. There is a name on the card written in the same looping handwriting.

Ronnie.

There’s a CD case inside the brown paper. It’s cheap and flimsy and green like the twine. I open the case and written on the opal coloured front of the hand burnt disc is one word – sorry.

I close my eyes and let my chest judder out a sob as I clutch the case white knuckle on the floor as through the winter window it starts to snow again.

 

 

 

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When I Dream of Dreams

The sun is setting outside and the thick summer heat crowds the small room. Everything seems too close. You sit a few feet away from me, mirroring my stance, cross legged on the floor. You hand me a piece of paper and show me the words that you’ve stitched together, words hidden within other words, worlds hidden within other worlds. I struggle to understand. It’s been a long day, I’m hot and I’m tired and I’m worried. He’ll notice I’m not home any moment now and as the sun sinks behind the grey skyline, a lump forms in my throat.

You sit beside me now, out arms touching, your strong, tanned forearm prickles against my side and sends gooseflesh shivering across my back and chest. You point to the words on the piece of paper in front of me and explain what they are. Your handwriting is messier than I thought it would be but the paper is precious in my trembling hands and I hold tight, tight enough to make the tips of my fingers go white. You stand, bare footed in jeans and a white t-shirt, the way I and everyone always pictures you, in their dreams and in their minds. You ask if I want to listen to some music. How could I refuse?

I sit stoic and scared on the sofa as you place a record on the turn table and the black magic scuffs its way to life. Have we been drinking? Smoking? I feel about ready to float off of the sofa when you sit down heavily next to me and the music takes up the last of the space the heat left behind in the small, sweet smelling room. Your hair is a mess and my heart is a mess and you look at me like you’ve known me forever.

We sit, together, perfectly enclosed in each-others company and listen to the music. You close your eyes and a bead of sweat falls down one cheek. It takes everything in me not to wipe it away with the corner of my t-shirt or to run my hands through the sweaty mess of black curls mopping at your forehead. We sit for a moment longer as one song ends and another song begins, the stop and starts of the record player sending little jolts of awareness through my mind and down to my fingertips.

This will end. I know this will end. But for now it’s here and until the record skips and changes its tune, I know that this is here and it’s now. With your eyes still closed you lean into me your face graving mine as you nestle you hot, damp head in my lap and exhale deeply. Your breath reaches up my bare thighs and settles somewhere near where my shorts begin. I am useless, speechless, dumbfounded and lost. My hands suddenly seem superfluous, my breath seems ragged and painful.

You open your mouth to speak and every word hits my bare legs with a soft gust of hot, fragrant breath. You ask me not to go, you tell me to stay, here with you in this place, in this moment and though we haven’t spoke of my leaving, it appears we both knew I would have to go sometime. Your voice breaks and my fingertips find your forehead, sweeping back your sweaty hair and stroking away the hurt. I have to go I tell you. But not yet.

Not yet.

When I Dream of Buttermilk

It’s one of those days when the air just isn’t moving and it sits in my mouth and lungs like ash. I can smell the dirt and the tobacco on my hands as I wipe the sweat out of my eyes and make my way through the crowd. You’re not looking at me because you never do and I’m looking at you because I always do. And I wonder how you’re not clawing your beard off in this heat, effortlessly cool in every possible sense of the word as you sip a warm beer and laugh like a lunatic. People are melting out at your feet. I’m just melting.

She creeps up behind me and asks in her own flamboyant screech if I would like a drink. I see what you’re drinking. I tell her the name of the beer and she scurries off, eager to please me for reasons beyond my own comprehension. She returns and hands me a lukewarm beer that tastes like old milk and I wince as I take the first sip. She asks me why on earth I would want to drink that stuff and I shrug it off, not content to tell her that it’s because it’s what you’re drinking and that it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to come to knowing what your mouth tastes like.

I look at my battered boots and smile, my hair falling in front of my eyes. I look as insane as I feel. Because here they are, suited and booted and dressed to the nines, in their sling backs and halters, all bare skin and radiance and here I am in a sleeveless R.E.M shirt, black jeans and the same dusty boots I’ve kicked the ground with for most of my life. I’m a shadow in a room full of stardust and it’s no wonder you’ve never noticed me lurking in your peripheral. I take another sip of the awful beer as she slinks away to go irritate some other poor bastard with her own desperate sense of companionship.

Everything’s hitting me in monotones and monochromes, a sea of nude fabrics and sterile music thumping through the air like an infected tooth. A woman pushes her ample chest against yours, standing on her tiptoes to whisper something in your ear. Your hand, the tattoo on the back of it crystal in my eyes even from this distance, presses against her lower back and she wafts back down to her normal height, looking at you with expectant eyes that beg you to laugh or nod or shake your head. Instead you look up and through the sea of faceless people in nameless gowns, your eyes find mine.

It’s your turn to whisper and as your hand leaves the woman’s back, violent ripples of gooseflesh break out all over my body. Your eyes are still on mine, those dauntingly dark eyes and as you make your way through the ebb and flow of desperate creatures in dainty gowns, all the blood rushes out of my body and hits my cheeks. My face is on fire by the time our toes touch. It’s like I’ve being queuing for a roller coaster nine hours of my day and when the time comes to get on and buckle up, I want to run. And that’s just what I do.

I run. Through the crowds and out into the blistering heat of the day. The sun hits me like an open palm and I gasp in the dusty air, doubled over with my cold fingers biting into my shaking knees. A few moments later, silence fills the air. You haven’t followed me. I wait for my heart to climb back down from the roof of my ribcage and when it is safely beating at a steady pace, I begin to make my way through the ruins of what was once a car park. Where I’ll go, I don’t know but I know one thing is for sure – I will never come back to this place again.

On the other side of the car park I hear my name, whispered in buttermilk. My heart loses it’s mind again and begins flickering about the place, a manic moth caught in its own dead lights. You say my name again and my shoulders slump, ready to swoon, but I don’t. I hold my shivering right hand out in front of me palm down and force it to still. Then, methodically, as if reciting some sacred incantation, I turn my hand palm up and slap myself across the face hard enough to draw blood. My cheek stings and the corners of my eyes begin to run with hot tears. I run my quivering tongue over the torn groove in my bottom lip and laugh.

You say my name again, and this time, I wake up.