The Point of Vanishing & Other Dreams

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In my blog, I explore the themes that weave through my stories and dreams:

the need to belong, and the fear of loss; the longing for family and home and love; loneliness and the extraordinary power of the human spirit; depression - and hope; the clarifying presence of the natural world, and ways of being awake and alive in the only moment we really have: this one.

I hope you'll follow me beyond the storytelling, and join me on this very human journey....




MoonsilverTales

"Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world." ~Oscar Wilde

‘I dream my paintings and then I paint my dreams’. ~Vincent Van Gogh

The following little creations are taken from recent dreams, rough hewn and unpolished, mined directly from the unconscious. They are the raw material for future Wishing Tree tales, and they are very, very short .

Kiri


Miriam couldn’t remember exactly when she first noticed that her shadow behaved differently from everyone else’s. Tiny things at first: a finger moved when her own was motionless; a sudden tilt of the head at the very edge of her line of sight; a slight lag as it followed at her heels.
Then gradually, over time, it had become bolder. It would kick up a leg as she stood frozen to the spot, or clutch at her ankles so that she felt she was a fly caught in thick syrup. Mostly she tried to ignore it, but this seemed to encourage it to behave even more outrageously. Miriam would cast an anxious glance around at other people to see if they had noticed her aberration, her peculiar disorder, but nobody ever had. When they did look at her, which wasn’t often, they squinted, as though it was a real effort to see her at all, and turned away in relief as soon as it was polite to do so.

But there were days when the shadow was impossible for her to ignore. It would clamber up onto her back, wrap its legs tight round her waist, and sink into a deadweight, so that she could hardly walk, hardly stand, barely fall out of bed.

She swore she wouldn’t give in to it.

She would make her way to the public library where she worked, stooping like a bag lady, and methodically push the overflowing trolley to the shelves. There she would slot the books back in to their rightful places, each book cast-iron heavy and stubbornly fatter than the gap available. By the time the shelving hour was over, and the front doors were open to the public, she would pretend to search for books in the dusty solitude of the Stack on the fourth floor, where people infrequently came, and lie there between the shelves like something unsavoury and unwanted washed-up on the beach, waiting to shrivel and rot in the sun. Those were bad times, when it took a herculean effort to speak, or to smile, or to put one foot in front of the other.

At the end of these interminable days, Miriam would stagger to her apartment (which looked exactly like all the others in the tired block) and eat her ready-meal (which tasted like  cobwebs and mothballs, by the time her shadow had finished fiddling with it) and stare out the window at the stone sky and lumbering clouds, and think of nothing at all.

Until early one Thursday evening.

*

Walking home from work, Miriam flinched as cars whooshed by, spattering muddy water up her legs and over her black coat. Her eyes, behind her round glasses, had no light in them. She paused to stare at the ocean, or what she could see of it; a scrap of mutinous grey, edged between the bank tower and the office blocks. She always stopped at the same place. Partly to have a rest from hauling her deadweight, which today was lying with arms outstretched and flopping about like a rag doll, and partly to wonder what was on the far side of the sea, far away from her non-life.

The apartment greeted her like it always did: devoid of expression. Even the tiny square of green in front of the block had failed to relieve the uniform bleakness of concrete, steel and broken glass. There was a single tree, and it was dead.

The sound of heavy traffic abated as she shut the front door and entered the foyer. She checked her post (as usual nothing but bills and adverts), and sniffed the familiar sour smell of urine and rising damp. Televisions blared from behind closed doors. She took the stairs at a painstaking pace, slower than her ninety-year old neighbour, Mrs Furnlow. But when, eventually, she reached the third floor, she was brought up short.

Sitting on her doorstep, legs outstretched, barefoot, was a girl. About seven, maybe eight. Skin the colour of overbaked biscuits, a mass of wild dark curls on her head, the gut-wrenching stink of sour milk seeping from her clothes.

They stared at each other.

Eventually, the child asked, ‘Is it sick?’, her voice unexpectedly hoarse and gravelly, like the voice of a habitual smoker.

'Is what sick?’

‘That,’ said the girl, indicating the shadow with a nod of her head. It flopped behind Miriam with arms outstretched, flaccid as a dead fish. ‘If it’s not sick, then it’s nasty. Making you drag it around like that.’

Miriam was momentarily lost for words. ‘You can see it?’

The girl snorted. ‘Of course I can see it. I’m not blind.’ She looked bored, and began picking at her toenail. ‘So, what’s for dinner?’

‘Where are you from?’ said Miriam. She was sure there were no children living in this block; the average age was about seventy-five. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Kiri,’ said the girl shortly. She jerked her head at Miriam’s shopping bag. ‘Is that your dinner?’

Miriam looked at the bag as if she had never seen it before. She opened it gingerly and peered inside. ‘Sort of,’ she said. ‘Listen. I live here. You’re sitting on my doorstep.’

Kiri made no move to get out of the way. She kept staring at the bag. ‘Got any pineapple in there? I like pineapple.’

‘No, no pineapple. Just sawdust and stones,’ replied Miriam, only half-joking. She noticed the bruises and scabs on the child’s legs, and the shoulder blades jutting out like cables.

‘Yuk.’ Kiri scrunched up her face and grinned, exposing three gaps in her upper row of tiny yellow teeth. ‘What about marshmallows? You got any marshmallows?’

‘Kiri, where do you live? It’s getting late, you’ll be missed.’

‘No I won’t.’ Kiri drew her hand across her discharging nose and inhaled loudly. ‘Mum’s out.’

Miriam unlocked her front door. ‘What about your dad, then? Or a babysitter? ’

Kiri looked indignant. ‘I’m not a baby. Never had a babysitter. And I don’t have any dad. And I don’t have any brother or sister. It’s just me and mum.’

'What, you’re at home by yourself?’

Now Kiri looked impatient, and pushed past Miriam into her apartment. ‘That’s what I said.’ She looked around at the barely-furnished flat. ‘You moving out?’

Miriam, frowning, followed her in and dumped the shopping bag in the kitchen. Her shadow dragged itself behind her, reluctant and sullen. ‘No,’ she said.

‘I just don’t have much furniture. Kiri, does your mum not leave you something to eat?’

Kiri shrugged. ‘Sometimes.’ She sat on the sagging sofa and bounced. ‘Sometimes she forgets. Today she forgot.’

‘Well then, where has she gone? Do you know?’

‘Nope.’ Standing up, Kiri stood at the window and looked out. ‘You got a better view than me.’

‘Your view is better than mine,’ corrected Miriam automatically. She wondered whether it was worth ringing social services at this late hour.

‘No it’s not,’ said Kiri. ‘You never seen my view.’ She stood on tiptoes, her nose pressed to the glass, her breath flowering and fading. ‘Wow, you can see the tree from here.’

‘It’s a dead tree.’

‘Nope. It only looks dead. But it's not dead. It's really alive. It's - '

‘Why don’t you wear shoes?’ interrupted Miriam, pulling bolognaise from the freezer and shoving it in the microwave. Her shadow neatly intercepted it so that she dropped it upside-down on the floor first. ‘It’s cold. It’s still winter. You’ll get sick.’

‘Don’t like ‘em.’ The girl turned away from the window and sniffed loudly. ‘Changed up my mind,’ she said abruptly. ‘Got to go feed my cat.’

‘You don’t change up your mind,’ said Miriam, exasperated, pressing the timer button. ‘You make up your mind, or you change it, you can’t do both. Listen,why don’t you stay for a bite to eat, if you’re quite sure there’s nobody waiting for you?’

When there was no response, Miriam peered out the kitchen doorway. The room was empty; the front door stood open. She walked over to it, and looked out into the stairwell. There was no sign of the child. ‘Kiri?’ No answer.The apartment’s silence was more deafening than usual that night. Miriam turned up the television as loudly as she dared, and left the front door unlocked.

She didn’t sleep. She couldn’t remember when she had last slept more than three hours in twenty-four. During nights her shadow grew so large and menacing that it sucked all the air out of the room and she felt she would suffocate. It was almost a relief – almost - when the thin, wan light of morning washed away the dark, and shrank everything back to a more manageable size.


*

It was a full week before she saw the child again.

The temperature in the apartment had dropped further, and Miriam had turned on the wall heater when there was a hammering on the front door.  Her shadow quivered as she went to open it. There was the child, all eyes and teeth and expectation.

‘Look what I found!’ Kiri spread her grubby palm. ‘It was in the gutter. It was drowning. I saved it.’ ‘It’ was a
dejected looking black beetle which appeared more dead than alive.

‘Well,’ said Miriam. ‘You had better bring it in.’

They put the beetle in a matchbox, and pierced the cardboard with holes so that it could breathe. Kiri wanted to blow-dry it with Miriam’s hairdryer. Miriam said it might not like being burned so soon after nearly drowning. So the matchbox went in front of the wall heater. Kiri was soaked through, and Miriam could smell her: a potent rich earthiness mixed with frying grease and something unidentifiable. She grabbed a towel and attempted to pat the child down, but it was like trying to hold onto a squirming puppy.

The beetle did not revive. Luckily, by then Kiri had forgotten all about it so Miriam tossed it into the rubbish and hid the matchbox. They ate pineapple out of a tin, and macaroni cheese with their fingers. Kiri said that her mum didn’t really like eating, she just liked drinking, and this was what made her forget that other people needed to eat. When Miriam asked her what number apartment she lived in, she pointed upwards to the ceiling.

‘Up there,’ she said. ‘Above you.’ When Miriam asked how long she’d lived there, she said ‘Always and always.’

*

On Wednesday, Miriam took a different route home. The path was carved into pieces so that she was forced to walk onto the road and behind a cement mixer truck, narrowly avoiding wheelbarrows and piles of broken mortar. There were no workers in sight. A bus passed her, belching a cloud of diesel as it lurched up the hill. As always, Miriam stopped when she saw the sea. It was lighter today, a nauseous green, tossed by the wind and seething with foam. For the briefest moment a dispirited sun appeared, causing the pools of rainwater at her feet to glimmer like fragmented mirrors; then the light was gone.

‘Got any ice cream?’ came Kiri’s voice above her head, as Miriam climbed the stairs, and there she was, peering
down the stairwell, all wind-tangled and gap-toothed. Miriam’s shadow flinched, hit the wall, somersaulted, and promptly shrank to the size of a footprint. Miriam felt suddenly as light as thistledown.
She began buying ready meals for two. She knew she should ring social services, but she argued herself out of it every day. Surely, she reasoned, the child was safer spending time with her than wandering around the apartment grounds, or knocking on strangers’ doors, and it wasn’t as though the child was unhappy. On the contrary, she spent the majority of her time exclaiming in delight over the most ordinary of things. Miriam decided she would feed her up first, and give her regular hot baths, and then decide what to do.

Miriam’s shadow did not like Kiri. It shrank away from her at every opportunity, hid in dark corners and visibly trembled when the child stood near. It began causing the door to slam directly behind Miriam as soon as she stepped over the threshold, as if this would succeed in keeping the child out. Kiri took no notice. Miriam made a point of wedging the door open and flinging the windows wide so that the breeze whipped up the curtains and made her eyes sting. She began contemplating her shadow in a measured sort of way, and noticed with interest how it shuddered and faded a little under her direct scrutiny.

One day, when Miriam turned up with some gruyere cheese, Kiri’s wonder was so great that Miriam may as well have brought home the moon. After that, Miriam made a point of arriving with something new every day: two wrinkled passionfruit or a sprig of lemongrass, a bunch of aromatic coriander or curly-leaf parsley, prickly lychees or a hairy coconut. She found herself sniffing and squeezing and poking and tasting as if, like the child beside her, it was the first time she had ever encountered such outlandish things. Such succulence! Such dripping sweetness! Such delicacies, lingering deliciously on the tongue! She began putting the ready meals in the freezer, and cooked with fresh ingredients instead.

They played beetle races, which weren’t very successful since the competitors needed lots of prodding to stay on the designated route, and a variation on poohsticks which involved dropping sticks from the window and seeing which one hit the dead tree first. After dinner, Miriam started to read books again for the first time in many months, and pretended not to notice Kiri poking into her cupboards and wardrobes and trying on her clothes in front of the mirror. Miriam’s shadow sulked and occasionally breathed icily down her neck, but it no longer climbed onto her back. From a distance it watched Kiri balefully, but had given up trying to trip her or shut her out of the apartment.

‘What you reading?’ said Kiri on one occasion, who until then had shown no interest in books.

‘It’s about a war,’ replied Miriam, putting the book down on the table.

‘What war?’

‘Oh, the usual sort. People killing each other for more land.’

‘If I had a war,’ said Kiri, trying on some enormous sunglasses and eyeing herself appreciatively in the mirror, ‘I’d
make it a draw.’

‘Would you indeed.’

‘Yup. She lowered the glasses to the tip of her nose. ‘And I’d have tea breaks for everyone. With chocolate and
pineapples and marshmallows.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘And gruyere cheese.’

*
'Thank you, Mrs Bevan! Have a good day, won't you?'  Myriam smiled at the borrower, a large lady who was squeezed into a pink blouse two sizes too small.

'Oh, I most certainly will.'  Mrs Bevan placed a pudgy hand on her arm. 'Now, don't you go and forget to tell me when those reservations of mine come in, will you?'

Myriam assured her she would telephone, seeing as how Mrs Bevan didn't 'hold with all that computery nonsense.'

She walked briskly home, with a measured step, lifting her face to the wind. The sky above her split into puddles of blue and the handkerchief-sized ocean was scribbled with white. Her shadow stomped behind, matching her stride.

She entered the apartment and put shopping on the table. Fresh pears, and an introduction to root vegetables. ‘Kiri!’

There was no reply. Unusual. Kiri had been waiting for her every day for the last few weeks. Perhaps her mother was home early. Miriam fought the disappointment down. This was a good thing, she told herself. This was how things should be.

She ate alone that evening, looking at travel books of exotic countries on the far side of the sea. She wished she could show Kiri. Perhaps she could teach her to love books as much as she loved food. Her shadow stretched out long, like a cat, but gave her no trouble.


*

After no sign for a week, Miriam grew worried. Her dark companion began elbowing her in the small of her back, like an irritable walking stick. She decided she had to do something, so she went upstairs to the apartment above hers, and knocked on the door. After a while, it was opened a crack and an elderly man peered at her, bleary-eyed.

‘Is Kiri at home?’ she asked.

‘Who?’ He looked suspicious.

‘Kiri. Your – ah - granddaughter?’

‘I don’t have kids.’ He shut the door in her face.

Miriam tried the apartment next door and the one on the top floor. The residents did not know of anyone called
Kiri. Two apartments were vacant. With a growing tightness in her stomach, Miriam started to work her way downstairs. When she got to Mrs Furnlow’s door, the old woman insisted she come in.Reluctantly, Miriam followed her into a claustrophobic living room bulging with frilly cushions and chintzy armchairs. It smelled of rotting fruit and overripe cheese.

‘A child, you say?’ inquired Mrs Furnlow as she made them a cup of tea. ‘Ah, I think I know the one. Poor wee
lass.’

‘Why, what happened to her?’ Miriam said, glancing down at her shadow, which was growing darker and denser
by the minute.

‘Oh, it's always the same, isn't it. Quite fond of her, I was. Cheeky thing - what was her name? Katy? No, Karen.'

'Kiri.'

'Ah yes. The old memory isn’t what it once was, my love. My pills! Where are my pills? I put them over here
somewhere – did I take them with breakfast?’

‘Did - something happen to the child?’

Mrs Furnlow turned to her, squinting, her breath stinking of menthol drops. Her hands hovered uncertainly over the teacups, like hummingbirds. ‘What child,dear?’

‘You said 'poor lass'. Did something happen to Kiri?'

'Happen? Oh, I doubt it, no more than it usually did. She was a survivor, that one. Now don’t you worry yourself love.' She laid a hand on Miriam's arm and patted gently. 'The mother was always out somewhere, goodness knows where – she had problems of her own, drank like a fish, that’s true enough, but she did love that wee girl.  Poor excuse for the little mite….Do you take it white?’ Painstakingly, the old woman fished out a teabag with her finger. ‘Just as well, dear, since I haven't any milk. No, I suspect all that happened was that they couldn't manage the rent. So they moved on. In the dead of night it was - I heard them because I was up.' Mrs Furnlow leaned towards her in a cloud of talcum and whispered, 'The bladder isn't what it once was.'

Miriam attempted a smile. She felt suddenly empty.

'Did you know the lass, then?'

She held the teacup in both hands, savouring it's warmth. 'I think you could say...we knew each other.'

Mrs Furnlow placed an ancient hand on Myriam's knee. 'Well I must say I'm so glad you dropped in, dear. I was wondering if you'd like to join me for a sherry this evening? I'm trying to sort out my photograph albums, and I'm up to Borneo, but I really need the advice of a young person like yourself. My son tells me I should load up all my photographs into a computer, and so he's bought me one. Me! I have trouble using the telephone!'

Myriam hesitated for the briefest moment, then nodded. 'Of course I can,' she said.

*

Outside, there was a stiff breeze. The late afternoon sun stroked her face. It was the kind of day Kiri would have exclaimed over. ‘Sun’s out!’ she would say, as she had on numerous occasions. ‘Did ya see it? It’s gonna get finer, you wait and see!’

Miriam sat there on the doorstep for a long time, her shadow watching and waiting, flickering on the edge of her vision. The dead tree stared back at her.

Finally she stood, and went over to it. A pile of poohsticks littered the ground at her feet. Miriam ran her finger along a craggy branch, and then stopped. There, in front of her eyes, as audacious as you please, was a perfectly formed green bud, like a tiny artichoke.

A bud, on a dead tree.

In winter.

An unfamiliar sensation swelled in her belly and spread upwards and outwards through her chest and up into her throat. It was so unexpected and bittersweet that she drew in her breath sharply, and then held it for the sheer pleasure it gave her. Beneath her, her shadow shuddered and sighed, and crept back in line with the sun.

Miriam smiled to herself.

Thrusting her hands deep into her pockets, face upturned to wind and sky, she strode away down the road, to nowhere in particular.
    



Copyright © 2014 by Julie Dawn
    


Copyright © 2014 by Julie Dawn