Plus Coco Khan
Late morning. I am dealing with a midday deadline by drinking coffee in the kitchen and fretting: I don’t know what to write. My wife calls me into the next room for an argument about the k kitchen ceiling light. It’s not the bulb, I tell her. I changed the bulb. As she speaks, something on the television catches my eye. I sit down to watch. I notice long shadows on the walls. I glance at the d c clock: it’s 5pm.
I fly into a panic, searching the house for my laptop. I check to see why no one has rung me, but my phone is not in my pocket. s
I open my eyes and the world goes dark.
It dawns on me that I am lying in bed. Reality filters in: the particulars of the dream – the looming deadline, the lack of an idea, the dread, the blinking kitchen light – are all true. Only the time is wrong: it’s 5am, not 5pm. All this is to come.
I fear that if I shut my eyes immediately, the dream will resume where it left off, so I get out of bed and wander through the dark house. I find an empty child’s bedroom – devoid even of furniture – and sit down on the floor to make an early start on work, using pen and paper. Still no idea comes. I look up to see an emaciated old man in a nightdress staring down at me. Someone punches my arm and shouts my name.
“What?” I say.
“You’re screaming,” my wife says. The grey-dawn bedroom takes shape around me. “Yeah,” I say.
“You’re having a nightmare,” she says. “I get it,” I say. “Stop punching me.” “Go back to sleep,” she says.
“I can’t,” I say. “I have to get up.” “Kitch is meant to come and fix the light today,” she says. “Are you in?”
“I’ve got deadlines,” I say. “I’m here all day.”
At 5pm, I am sitting in the kitchen, deadlines behind me, the faulty ceiling light flashing in its now-familiar pattern: blink blink blink, five-second interval, blink blink blink. Over the course of a week, the other ceiling lights have begun to dim in sympathy, to the same rhythm: dip dip dip, pause, dip dip dip.
My wife walks in. “I really don’t how you can sit in here,” she says. “It makes me feel sick.”
“Where is Kitch?” I say.
“Stuck somewhere,” she says. “But he promised he’d be here before seven.”
Seven o’clock comes and goes. I wander through the house aimlessly, listening to my wife on her phone. “Just admit you’re not coming,” she says. “So we can get on with our lives.”
At 8pm the bell rings.
“Christ almighty,” Kitch says, striding in. “All the roads around here are blocked off. I’ve had to…”
“What time do you call this?” my wife shouts.
“Glass of water, please!” Kitch yells. “Where are your tools?” my wife screams. “You haven’t even got any tools!”
“They’re in my van!” Kitch screams. “Which is parked a mile away!”
“Go get them then!” my wife shouts back at him.
“Stop shouting!” Kitch yells.
“You stop shouting!” my wife screams. Kitch turns to me. “Glass of water, please, mate,” he says. “She doesn’t seem to be picking up on the request.”
Kitch follows me to the sink, where I fill a glass. “I have got this with me, just in case,” he says, pulling a lightbulb from his pocket.
“It’s not the bulb,” I say. “I changed the bulb.”
Kitch drags a chair over.
“I told him it wasn’t the bulb,” my wife says.
As Kitch climbs on to the chair, I can see what will follow as clearly as if I had dreamed it the night before.
He unscrews the ceiling fitting and swaps bulbs. The blinking ceases. “Next,” Kitch says.
My wife turns to me. “How hugely embarrassing for you,” she says.
I take a long, slow breath. “I’m choosing not to see it that way,” I say.
“Aren’t you?” my wife says. “I am.” “Pure humiliation,” Kitch says.
“I know I changed the bulb,” I say, closing my eyes and hoping that, when I open them, I will be in bed