waking dreams

He can't tell the time from the light through the window. It's too grey. Mute. It could be dawn, dusk, or noon. 

His heart pounds loudly as he squints at the alarm clock. It's too far away to see without his glasses on. It could be six or eight. Either is fine. He can still sleep but his heart won't slow down.

She sleeps on quietly next to him, on her side facing the other way. He looks at the duvet rise and fall as she breathes in peace. He wonders for a moment if she's faking it, if she's awake but just not wanting to face him. 

Squinting again at the clock, he sees it's half past six.

It must have been a dream, he thinks. Something frightening; something horrible has set my nerves off. 

He slips out of bed and steps quietly out into the hallway. The coolness of the wood under foot calms him somewhat. He paces gently, avoiding the floorboards that he knows will creak. 

As he walks his chest settles; he tries to remember his dreams. There's nothing. Just darkness and then the grey light. 

a hush

Her shoes whispered to the cobbles as she walked. They were damp, and she could feel them slightly gritty beneath her feet. They were not smooth, or slippery. She liked that. Her hands dug into her pockets for warmth, her right fingers wrapped tightly around an old key. She held it like a talisman; it comforted her. The collar of her black coat was pulled high, a scarlet scarf tucked tightly to her neck. She felt cozy as she walked, even as her breath steamed out and dissipated into the cold air around her. The sky crept close to the ground, dark clouds lumbering slowly from west to east. The town around her sat quiet and empty. The houses and streets were lit but silent as her shoes whispered to the cobbles and her right hand squeezed the key. 

The whispering stopped when she came to the doorway of a house that stood right where the cobbles stopped and the tarmac began. She drew the key from her pocket, the metal warm from her grip, and slipped its teeth into the tattered looking keyhole. Her breathing stopped for a moment, and she closed her eyes as she turned the lock. It was stiff for a moment, but the tumblers then gave with a satisfying 'chunk' that echoed across the cobbles, pushing back against the silence around her.

She exhaled, but then held her breath again as she turned the brass knob and opened the door.


He sat alone, embraced by the barren room. They had filed out slowly, each at a loss for words. They shook his hand or gripped his shoulder, but could not quite bring their eyes to meet his. Their eyes found instead the rug-less floor and empty walls and the middle distance. After they left and the echoes of the shutting door faded behind them, he walked into the kitchen and to the sink and washed off the handshakes. The bubbles slipped between his fingers and down the drain until the water ran clear and bubble-less. He felt as his hands blushed red and tingled in the hot water. The handle squeaked as he turned off the flow. He flicked the loose water from his fingers to the floor but didn't bother to dry them.

There were no more hands to shake.

With his wet hands he grabbed a tumbler and filled it half way from a fresh bottle of whisky left by one of the handshakers. He sniffed it and didn't wince too much.

The floorboards between the kitchen and the sitting room whined a bit as he stepped through.

The chair wasn't very comfortable but he sat anyway and sipped his whisky and stared at the blank walls. They were pale, blue, and unremarkable. In one of the corners on the ceiling an old cobweb looked like ancient ash.

He sipped and held it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing the burning liquid and long, slow breath. They were gone and he could surrender, finally, to the last few months. His face tightened around his eyes and cheeks His breath shortened. He gasped a few times and sighed.

No tears came.

The blood in his temples throbbed. Eyes squeezed shut, head lifted skywards, face in a grimace.

No tears came.

There was no relief. It all lay too deep, pressed down and buried.

His chest lurched. He curled forward and covered his face with his hands and tried to dry heave his tears through. His face bright red, brow bright red and glistening, but his eyes were still dry.

The months before would not move. They rasped inside him. He breathed again and sipped his whisky and let it burn.

walk in white

The snow crunched and squeaked beneath his tattered boots. He felt his ankles and shins tense, this way and that, keeping his balance. Once every hundred or so yards a foot would slip, and he would steady his weight by grabbing the dry stone wall to his right. Each breath he felt fill every space in his lungs, the air viscous, creeping through the network of tubes, channels and chambers. His face stung on his cheeks and the borders where his lips met his skin. He could feel the hairs in his nostrils turn brittle and feel as though they would shatter with impact. Tears grew in the corners of each eye, brought forth by the weather. Or that's what he told himself, anyway.

bonfire skeleton

She looked among the charred wet remains. The blackened circle surrounded by damp sand. Green glass, melted, deformed, twisted into abstraction lay buried in part under the ash. She saw no smoke but she smelled the memory of it. Her fingers ran through her hair and grains of sand fell free, their landing a whisper. She shivered slightly and put her hands in the belly pocket of her hoodie. Her hair fell in front of her eyes but she didn't bother brushing it aside. About 10 feet away slept a boy. Or maybe he was just passed out. Half his face was covered in sand and his mouth was open. She could hear him breathe but tried instead to hear the sea.

The sky above her loomed low. She felt she could touch it. It brightened though there seemed no source for the brightness through the cloud. It sucked the colour from all around her. The sea lapped and looked of slate. It seemed a dead dawn.

A half-empty bottle of port sat in the sand a few feet from the scorched patch. She sat down next to it and peered down its neck, judging the remains. A small sip, to see how it sat. A deeper sip. It was sweet and hot in her mouth. It burned a little as it went down. She gasped and her eyes watered. She laughed at herself. Composed again, she looked out to the slate sea and the smattering of rocks that peaked through the high water, studying the ripples as they spread out from the stones.

A half-burned plank lay next to her feet and she picked it up and threw it into the pile of ash. Another sip. She felt a drop of rain and then another. She looked up, as though she needed to know from whence it came. It was a light drizzle, and it made a light hiss as it hit the water. She looked towards the sleeping boy and the rain did not move him.

Another sip and she stood and brushed in vain at the sand, trying to dislodge it. The rain fell harder.

She looked again towards the sea and stared and drained the last of the port.

Then she turned around and walked away, leaving the scorched sand and the sleeping boy alone in the rain.

an old road

He slings the handles of the duffel bag over his shoulder and slips on his headphones. The sky hangs low but it's dry and mild. There's no breeze, for a change. He pulls his hat down low and turns the volume up a little. The ripples lap the harbour walls but he doesn't hear them. The handles tug on his shoulder and he shifts the weight a touch. Within the bag sit a costume, a shaving kit, some other bits and pieces he might need along the way. He looks out towards the sea and pulls out the earbuds. The odd gull hovers ahead. The boats sit quiet. The tide's receding and the lobstermen are nowhere to be seen. He hears the lapping now, and a gull squawk or two.

He's been here before. He turns up the road he's walked so many times. He hugs the duffel with one arm. It's uphill now, and steep. He puts the headphones back in and chooses a song, something with energy.

crunch and slip

The sound of the snow pleased her. It crunched and it squeaked at the end of every step. Her boots slipped a little as they compacted the fresh powder. For each of those precarious split-seconds her heart jumped. Just a little. There wasn't any real danger. Just that momentary slip - an inch or so, maybe less. She breathed heavy and watched the steam of it drift away among the falling flakes. It was thick and turned the world around her into a winter mosaic. Everything familiar was different, temporarily veiled.

She stopped to kick a drift, giggling as the powder exploded from the tip of her wellie boot.

Her mittened hand waved at old man walking his spaniel; the animal amazed, confounded and delirious at the strange new medium that surrounded it. More laughter as the dog chased the falling snow.

She scooped with both hands and shaped a rough sphere. The 'phap' as it hit the stone wall echoed: a satisfying punctuation to her throw.

Before long she heard branches dripping, and saw above a sliver of blue sky.

She walked a different way home, listening to the crunch of her boots and the jump of her heart with every slip.

quiet sea

Sometimes he felt the sea too quiet. It lapped the butterscotch sand with a soft whisper next to him. He closed his eyes and the whisper gave no hint as to the vastness of it. His feet sank slightly. Cool damp seeped through his trainers. He clenched his toes against the cold and opened his eyes again. A fine ripple crashed and raced a foot or two up the beach. There were no stones to skip. He couldn't bring himself to look harder for any.

The sea whispered and he wanted it to shout, and to shout back at it. She wasn't there with him. He crossed his arms and kicked a haggard clump of seaweed towards the water. He remembered the concentric ripples as her perfect skimmers danced across the opalescent water.

That was a different sea.

His feet sank again as he stood still, feeling the chill touch of the whispering water.

She wasn't coming back.

walk away

He placed his empty pint glass on the bar and watched for a moment as the foamy remains of the head slipped down the glass and collected in the bottom. A nod at the barman. A thanks, a short one. The bar filled up. The regulars sifting through the awkward doors and taking their usual seats. Laughter rose from the table in the corner, where he'd been sitting. He didn't look back.

At the door he let a couple of familiar faces fall into the pub before sliding out. A gentle rain met him with a soft hiss as it hit the cars and cobbles. He blinked at it and heard the laughter again. The doors shut behind him and he stepped down the two short steps. He blinked again and there was only the hiss of the rain.

on toast ii

'You're wet. Soaking in fact.' He sipped the tea softly, with a whispered slurp. Brewed strong with one sugar and a dash of milk. It warmed him from the inside, reminding him how cold he'd been.

'Yeah. Got caught in the rain. It was nice.'

'I watched you. From the window. You sat in it.'

His bit into his toast with a satisfying crunch. He grinned as he chewed.

'Just felt like it.'

He wiped a crumb from his mouth with his thumb. They heard it, the percussion against the windows, the roof. There were bursts that shook the building, or so it seemed. The noise of the rain drowned out the howl of the wind. Almost.

She tugged her bathrobe, closing it tighter, the roar of the torrent carrying a chill.

'Hot shower?'

He said it with a mouthful of toast, his face pale with the cold wet. The corners of her mouth turned up a touch.

'That sounds perfect.'

pub chat ii

She made her way back through the rapt crowd. They stared at the televisions suspended from the ceiling. She stared at him. Her fingers flicked as she took her seat again. Her hair fell again. She cursed and pushed it behind her ear.

'Fucking smoking ban.'

He rolled his eyes. She was already fiddling with another cigarette. From the filter end she twirled it around her thumb and forefinger. The nail on her thumb was chipped, the polish peeling a touch. He watch it twirl. She watched him.

'I'm not going to smoke it yet. I just need something to do. And you're avoiding the subject.'

'I'm not. I just need to order another beer.'

'Go on then. And stop stealing sips from mine. Thieving bastard.'

Too many eyes on the game for a queue at the bar. He ordered two pints and tapped his knuckles against the hardwood. The other half of the bar gasped, sighed and then shouted the odd profanity. Jeers followed.

'So how long does she need to think for?'

He'd only just sat back down.

'I don't know. I hadn't planned a schedule. Neither, I think, did she.'

She reminded him of some 40's newshound from some generic film noir piece. Hurried, impatient, right. She tapped the butt of the cigarette on the table again. Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy. Prettier though. She didn't take her eyes off him.

'Is she that stupid?'

'Again, a little harsh.'

'Are you that stupid?'


She finished her first beer and pushed the empty glass aside, drawing the new one towards her. She used the hand that wasn't twirling the cigarette.

'No, dammit, you are NOT that fucking stupid.'

'Well maybe I am. Maybe I'm just that fucking stupid.'

'She doesn't love you. Love isn't about thinking about anything. Love's when you don't have to think. Love's not thinking.'

'So's being stupid.'

on toast

He didn't mind the rain. It peppered him, the tiny droplets settling and disappearing into the fabric of his shirt. He noticed it. He tried feel each individual drop as it landed on his head. Not to count, but to give each one its due. It occurred to him for a moment to seek shelter. He wasn't far from home. It came down heavier. He sat and felt the dampness rise through the seat of his jeans. The drops lost their individuality, becoming a rhythm. A hum. Before long it was like sitting in a shower.

But with no hot water.

He raised his head towards the sky, squinting to keep the drops out his eyes. He felt them race down his face, his cheeks and chin, matting his hair to his head. He tasted it. Stuck his tongue out like a child and for a moment focused only on what hit there.

It came down heavier. He looked down and saw his flesh through his clinging, saturated shirt. Shook his head and felt the waterlogged strands of hair whip to and fro. Standing he looked skyward again. Deep, bruised clouds looked so close he could touch them.

His key stuck in the lock for a moment, then a click. He felt a drop of water on his chin dislodge and fall.

She looked at him in the doorway, cocking her head to the side. In her right hand a mug, steam lifting lazily up; in her left a plate.

He grinned at her. She shook her head and smiled back, almost a laugh.

'Tea and toast?'

'Yes, please. Butter and honey on the toast, please.'

pub chat

'So.' 'Yeah.'

'So what'd she say?'

'She said she'd think about it.'

He drank his pint and fiddled with the beer mat, spinning it on its corner. Everyone else's eyes were stuck to the television. It was some manner of football final, he thought.

She didn't touch her beer. Her hands lay on the table, her long fingers splayed wide. Her eyes touched with urgency and disbelief. Impatience.

'Think about it? What the fuck? What does she need to think about?'

'A lot, I guess. It's...'

'It's nothing. It's a no-brainer. Which, you know, is ideal for her.'

'That's a touch harsh.'

He drank again and watch her long fingers as they tapped the edge of the table. He knew she wanted a cigarette.

'I'm going out for a fag... this conversation isn't finished. This is just a pause. I'll be back.'

She fished in her bag. Her dark hair fell in front of her face. She found a pack and muttered an exclamation of victory and relief. She looked up and held him in her eye.

'This isn't over.'

She walked out, the swing of the door mute in the noise of the pub. Someone scored and half the bar erupted. He took a sip and watched through the window as she lit up and paced.

'It never is.'

He finished his beer and took a sip of hers.


He wiggled his toes in the sand, felt the chill as the water seeped up through it. It made his bones cold, his flesh numb. He stayed. The gulls slept in the nooks of the cliffs above. He sank in the wet sand and the tide approached until it rushed around his shins. His legs ached with the cold.

At the horizon the sun appeared, its reflection a fiery teardrop streaked across the water. The sweet stench of dying bonfire lingered. He couldn't close his eyes. He didn't want to. He stood and watched the sun climb out of the water.

He was alone, and missed no one.


The warmth of the sunbeam woke him. It smothered. It felt like a blanket on his face. He opened his eyes and regretted it, squinting, flinching, he tried to block the light with his forearm. A cushion fell from the couch. He stopped and watched the dust float in the blanket of light. A few deep breaths and then he wiggled his fingers and toes, checking they were still there. His eyes closed again. The pillow took his head back and he feigned sleep. It didn't last. He rolled to his side and stared at the coffee table.

Three empty bottles of red wine, two white, a half-full bottle of Bacardi and an empty bottle of generic vodka littered the table.

Too many glasses to count, all grubby.

He rubbed his face, but couldn't feel it. His lips dried shut. He stared again at the suspended dust. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

The tv behind the coffee table played mute cartoons. In front of it lay a body using a coat as a blanket.

He stared then at the floor. The carpet may have been sky blue some time, long before. Every shade of stain in every shape. Jaundiced walls. He squinted again and looked up at the window.

He didn't know where he was.


The water lapped the rocks with a murmur. Calming, whispering; an eternal conversation that all could hear, but none understand. She skipped a stone across the gentle waves. It hopped four times then skidded along the surface before sinking beneath. Her fingers snapped and she faked a pout.

'I can do better you know.'

'I know.'

The pout turned to a smile and her feet sank a bit in the sand as she looked for another skimmer. Pebbles and stones clattered as she tossed them aside, looking for that perfect smoothness.

'I said I know. You don't have to prove your skill to me.'

He threw a round stone, not bothering to skip. It hit the water with a satisfying plunk, echoing over the quiet conversation between the water and the rocks.

'I know you know. And I don't have to prove anything to you.'

He looked across the loch. The sunny haze cast a pastel filter over the mountains in the distance. He squinted, even though his sunglasses hung loose from his collar.


She held a smooth stone up to him, grinning from ear to ear. She held it like a talisman.

He lost count of how many times it skipped. Seven or eight - somewhere around that. The sun fell behind a cloud and the hairs on his arms stood up in the breeze.

'I can do even better.'

'I know.'

He watched as a sailboat tacked on the opposite shore, almost indistinguishable from the wings of the gulls diving around him.

She grabbed his hand hers and kissed his cheek.

'I know you know.'

morning wine.

She lit a cigarette without interest. The smoke joined the haze of the room. It was like sitting inside a cataract. She sipped some wine. Her glass was filthy. Handprints and lip smears of an evening's drinking turned morning covered it. Her eyes flicked to the grey light growing at the window. Her fingers flicked the dangling ash into an empty beer bottle. His eyes hurt. Stung by smoke and exhaustion. He sipped flat coke and cheap vodka. The bitter, oily burn brought a grimace. He put the glass down and looked among the half emptied bottles for something drinkable.

There was nothing.

She dropped her butt into the beer bottle. A small hiss escaped as it hit the dregs. She sipped her wine again and looked over at him.

'Why is it always us?'