Chapter Eight

Woke up a few minutes ago to sound of scraping. Sitting up on bench, huddled in coat (cushion provided no dream). Scraping was soft. Almost a slide. A note under my door! I am staring at it. Still folded under doorframe. Peeking through the edge. Paisley is fast asleep. There is light under door and a shadow too. Someone is outside my cabin. I have swallowed my fear and am writing this as it happens. Shadow still there. Waiting for me. It is moving slightly. The note is pushed further under my door. As if the first scrape was not sufficient! How little they know how attuned I am to this place. To everything. I am a Dream Investigator. They must take me for a fool. They underestimate me, but I mustn’t underestimate them. Friend and foe are easily switchable.

There is a place of sand in my memory. A dune that was once a somewhere, and inside that somewhere there was a friend who stabbed another over money for a drink. I remember because on that dune remains a blood-stained wallet. I look back into that desert and I cannot place dates, locations, names... but some things remain. The wind that whips through that desert is made up of the deeds of men and women. Cannot trust this shadow under doorway. It has gone. Will count to two hundred and retrieve note.

It is morning, I fell asleep counting. What a fool! Though happy to sleep under a 200 count. Not by much through. Maybe under 190 but over 170. Paisley woke me up. Barking. Guttural bark. Bark had more weight than usual. He was by the door looking at note. He is more intrepid than I. And the note was not all that was there! Someone has been in this room. I know it. Things are different. A bowl of water for Paisley. I check the journal. It is here, they did not prise it from me. There is a pressed suit hanging up. Frock coat, quite fine, tapered tails and stiff collar. Shirt white. Whiter than mine. Could it be the Ticketmaster’s shirt? 

Smelt shirt – fresher than I can describe. A memory is triggered. 

I am seventeen years old. Lucy is in the bath. We have made love for first time. I was nervous. Now I am confident. Lying in bed. She is singing. Shirt smells of freshness. Freshness reminds me of making love. Sun was warm. Grass was green. I roll over and hang my head over the edge of our bed expecting to see natural wood floorboards with perfectly flaking varnish. Perfect for picking at as I lie there. Instead I see a fine layer of sand. It is building up.

Back in the cabin, I am crying as I smell this new shirt. The memory is fading. I write as fast as I can. Lucy. Making love. She moans. Pleasant moan. She sleeps. I wake many times in night. I kiss her without realising. Gentle kisses on nape of neck. Sleeping kisses. Kisses of purest love. She has soft tanned skin. Fresh smell. Don’t go. There is sand in the bed. I bury my face in the shirt more. I inhale harder. I am crying. I reach down under duvet. Sand everywhere. I break from narrative of memory as if altering it. Before, I let her sleep but now I turn her over. She has sand in her hair. Don’t go, don’t go just yet. Light comes in from ceiling! Hole in roof! Walls falling down! I am on a bed atop a sand dune. I kiss Lucy. Try to bring her back by kissing her. My memory cannot go, cannot leave me here! The freshness of the shirt!

I can taste sand. I open my eyes. I am alone. Lying on sand dune. A bed-shaped pile. The wind carries her song. Memory is dust. 

I pull my face from the shirt. The freshness remains. But it doesn’t link to anything.

Re-read the above passage twelve times. Means nothing to me. I am sitting on the bed. Paisley curled by my feet. There is more colour to him. Even an icky viscous film covering his exposed ribcage and organs. Regenerating? Most probably. “Good dog,” I whisper. The sound of my voice makes his tail wag in his sleep. I smile.

Re-read passage about making love to Lucy. One memory, by the sound of it that I would dearly like to have kept. I have many more of Lucy, but I put them from my mind, lest I tempt the red devil to come and turn more of my mind into a wasteland. 

I am holding the note in my hand. A dark shadow has suddenly come into the room from outside. The train is passing by something colossal! I opened the window to see. And there it is - sight of all sights:

The Exxon Valdez!

Seeing that vast hulk towering of us! The hull! The tear in her side! I cannot see the top of it, nor the beginning or end of her hull. Even the plumb line is beyond sight. It is terrifying.

This part of the wasteland must be Prince William Sound. I cannot make out any rock-bergs. The sandstorm is ever present although this monstrous tanker challenges even the sandstorm for sheer oppressiveness. A comfort inside me rises as I know that Brekker is close. His flagship, his masterpiece would not be left far from him. How he designed that leviathan ship in one evening, he never said. But he did. And here she is. Even sand hasn’t taken her from memory. 

I have sat back down, under the shadow of the Valdez’s hull. The train is rocketing along. Moving like a cradle. Very lulling. I am opening the note. After reading, I will attach to page for safekeeping and reference. For your benefit Brekker, master engineer, keen drinker. 

I cannot fulfil the above promise as the note turned to dust in my hand the moment I had read it. All that was scrawled upon it was a plate with some food heaped on it. Invitation to dining car. And, of course, the suit. I am meant to dress for dinner. Some person or persons demand me. Do I go? What of my plan to venture onto the roof of the carriage? If I go outside, the towering hull of Exxon Valdez will obscure my view totally. A quick answer to who was outside, and inside my room will be had by going to dinner.

I go. 

I have put on the suit. It fits me all too well. I am unnerved by it. I know I haven’t owned this suit before. Only conclusion is that I have been measured for it. Measured in my sleep by person or persons unknown who demand my presence. I have left Paisley in the cabin. He wanted to come, I said to stay and he did. Plus, the viscous film has started to smell. No film over eye socket. Bullet still inside. Can’t remove it, he doesn’t let me. Must remind him of my father, his master. 

Stopped in corridor. Ahead is door to carriage. Lace curtain over window. Movement within. I will report back. I note also to remind, lest the memory is to become a dune, that once out of the shadow of Exxon Valdez, I will climb onto the roof of this damned train. 

Read once more the passage about making love to Lucy. I will try to, as I approach the door to dining cart, construct a new memory, a false one. Can I plant seeds in my desert? Grow a new hope? I can only experiment. 

I am at the door.

Graham Thomas