The Sunday Post (Newcastle)
Heartwarming short story
Sarah’s nightly visions about her boyfriend have a knack of coming true – and reflect a rising fear and unease in her real relationship
During last year’s humid summer, I dreamed of the Brazilian fishing village where my boyfriend, Mark, grew up. I’d never been there or seen photographs but my dreams were accurate.
I’d wake up with the sheets twisted around me and sweat glistening on my back, with images of lobster pots and blue boats in my head. Sometimes I’d see Mark as a boy, and I could describe the colours of his mother’s dresses and the jangly jewellery his sister wore. I saw their pride at his academic prowess and their sorrow at the death of a baby brother I’d not been told about.
“You’ve clearly been snooping,” Mark said.“And it’s p***ing me off.”
One morning I awoke from a dream about Mark’s grandfather’s funeral. I could still hear the mourners wailing.
“Well, that one’s wrong,” he said.“My grandfather’s fine.” I shouldn’t have said anything.
We received the phone call a few days later.When I had my dream, he was alive.
As the long summer progressed, my dreams remained vivid but the setting moved to our stone cottage in the north Peak District. In a recurring dream, we sat in our living room in the evening, with the curtains drawn against the bright sunshine, the light filtering in to make patterns on the wooden floor. It felt good to be out of the sun and hidden away behind thick rubble walls and mullioned windows. There was a knock at the front door – a distinct three taps of someone’s knuckles against the old oak. In the dream, one of us would head for the door but I’d always wake up before we saw the visitor.
“It’s not going to win any prizes for most horrifying dream ordeal of the year, is it?” Mark said as he turned away in bed and checked emails on his phone.
“It’s sinister,” I said.“Not knowing who’s there.”
At first Mark pretended not to be bothered when it started happening.The three sharp taps on the door, but no-one outside. After the first few incidents, he became angry, running out onto our cobbled driveway in his socks, shouting obscenities into the shimmering evening air.
“If I could just stay asleep long enough to answer the door...” I muttered one evening when he returned, stamping dusty footprints over the polished floor.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sarah! Your dreams are not coming true!”
“But they are,” I said.
Mark looked at me through narrowed eyes as if probing for the early signs of mental illness.
Mark and I had been together eight years, and there were cracks appearing between us. I noticed I’d stopped liking the smell of him.When I first kissed him, he’d had a manly saltiness I’d loved. I’d imagined it was the scent of the village where he grew up – the village I now knew so well – a mix of sea breezes, fresh fish and those coarse grasses which sprout through sand dunes. I drank it in.
But over time his taste had become mundane, evoking hints of a fish and chip supper. I worried about the progress of my descent from adoration. In the heat of that summer, I detected a tinge of rotting sea-weed and decaying fish on his breath. Would it get worse until I could no longer be near him?
I never understood why people talk about dreams coming true as if it were a good thing. My dream landscape was full of anxiety – vital appointments missed, exams not prepared for, underwear forgotten, dark strangers fled from. But I admit I was intrigued by the idea of myself as a soothsayer.
I decided to keep a dream journal. Each morning for the next few weeks, I reached for my notebook in the early hours and scribbled before my brain woke fully, while Mark sighed and tossed impatiently beside me. My spidery writing covered the pages, looking not quite like mine – as if there was a different dream-person who was me but not me, and remnants of her persisted in these half-awake dawn scrawlings.
I discovered that most of my dreams didn’t come true. But too many did – especially the recurring ones.
I forced Mark to look through the journal with me.We folded back the crisp, dated pages and found the numerous events I’d foreseen. Many of
I glanced into his dark, deep-set eyes, which used to be so attractive
them were banal, but I was scared.
“There must be a rational explanation,” Mark pronounced.
The next night I dreamed again of the knock on the door. But this time I opened the door. I found a short, sturdy man with a beard, standing so close he seemed to be in our hall. I took a step back.The man was wearing a cheap suit and he smelt of aftershave. He had an official badge but its letters swirled and shimmered. He said,“I’d like to speak to Marco Silva.” I stepped away again, catching my heel and tumbling backwards. I woke up.
When I told Mark, the little muscle above his left eye started twitching. You see, Mark hasn’t always been Mark Silver. Ten years ago he was Marco Silva, arriving in the UK from Brazil on a “student visitor” visa to do a postgraduate electronics course at Sheffield Hallam University. His English was so good most people assumed he’d lived here since he was a child. He almost forgot he wasn’t just like any other student. Mark was offered a job with a local electronics firm after doing a short placement with them. He couldn’t turn his student visitor visa into a working visa. Obviously he should have flown home and applied for the new visa. This wasn’t exactly a visit – more of a life. But he’d had friends who’d gone home and not been allowed to return. So he bought an NI number from an intimidating character introduced to him by the official university drug dealer, and he’d been pretending everything was normal ever since. It was one of those “non-subjects” that I couldn’t mention. With Mark, I could tell he was angry by a sick fizzing I felt in my stomach. Looking back, I suppose I was scared of him, though I denied it at the time. Anyway, if I mentioned his immigration status, I’d get that feeling.
I’d been Googling it, though.The advice, from the Home Office website through to the Mumsnet forum, was disheartening.
Everything was in my name – the quaint stone cottage, the almost new BMW. He’d put money in, but strictly speaking – legally – it was all mine.
The next day I found Mark curled up on the sofa peering at New Scientist magazine.
“Hey, Sarah, if you learn to do this, you’ll be able to control your dreams,” he said, running a hand through his dark hair to make the conversation seem more casual.
He’d been reading an article about lucid dreaming.
I glanced into his dark, deep-set eyes, which used to be so attractive. “Are you worried about the visitor?” I said.“Surely you don’t believe my dreams are coming true? I thought there was a rational explanation.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re not a 21st Century Nostradamus, but why take the chance?”
I reached for the crumpled magazine. “Has this accompanied you to the loo?”
He gave me a venomous look. There was a menacing edge to him these days. He’d never hit me but I felt he had the potential.
According to the article, certain people often realise they’re dreaming. It had happened to me occasionally, but normally just before I woke up. Apparently you could train yourself to dream “lucidly”.
I followed the instructions in New Scientist. I kept my dream journal. I checked regularly throughout the day to see if I was dreaming. If I looked at a clock, did the time stay constant? If I looked at the back of my hand, did I have five fingers, still and solid, not a shimmering six or four? By getting into this habit in the daytime, I would eventually start doing it in my dreams.
For a few nights, no lucid dreams, but then it happened. I heard the distinctive thud of knuckles against oak. I asked myself,“Am I dreaming?” My fingers swam in front of my eyes, refusing to solidify. I was dreaming! I was in the mysterious sleep world and was aware of it. I didn’t want to answer the door and confront the visitor. As I clawed myself up into wakefulness, I heard Mark’s snoring and the drone of the cars on the main road two streets away, insistent and unrelenting.
I lay beside Mark, my right arm lightly touching his. I shifted away from him. It was so hot. I turned the pillow over to feel its cool, smooth underside against my cheek. I looked at Mark’s sleeping face and wondered if I’d prevented a visit from the immigration people.
That evening we were jumpy, anticipating the knock at the door. “Don’t answer it!” I whispered when it came.We sat like statues on the sofa, staring at the uneven wall opposite where the lumpy lime plaster looked like icing on a Christmas cake. There was no second knock. Later I crept out and opened the door. Nothing. No note, no sign anyone was there.
“Why on Earth don’t you just apply to stay here legally?” I said one evening when Mark seemed to be in a stable mood.
“I will. But if I do it from here, they’ll boot me out. I bought an NI number from a member of the criminal underclass, remember. If they catch me, they’ll never let me back.”
“What if we got married?”
Why did I say that?
“It wouldn’t make any difference. They’re a very unromantic lot these days, immigration officers.”
I was faint with relief.
He scratched the stubble on his chin. “I will do it, Sarah,” he said. “Go back to Brazil and push around the necessary bits of paper. Fly back and we can get married and make it all legitimate. But I’ll lose my job. When I come back, you’ll need to support me while I look for something.”
“Oh, so I’ll be returning from work each day to a nutritious home-cooked meal?”
Mark seemed to think I was joking. Sometimes I wondered what century it was when he grew up in Brazil.
That night I fell into a deep sleep. My dream came.The knock on the door. I jumped up. Realised I was dreaming – such an uncanny feeling. I walked to the door. Glanced at my phone on the hall table, the numbers of the keypad shifting beneath my eyes. I paused a moment, then pulled the heavy door towards me. There he was, in his cheap suit. I still couldn’t read his badge.
“I’d like to speak to Marco Silva,” he said in his government-official voice. I hesitated, could feel myself on the edge of waking, then I let myself tumble back into the thickness of the dream.
“Mark!” I called, in my dream. “It’s for you!” I’d decided to let this one run its course.