‘Describe it to me,’ the therapist says.
She leans back against the cool black leather and closes her eyes.
‘It’s always the same,’ she says. ‘There’s a long, flat beach. Sand the palest gold you could imagine. As far as you can see, no-one. Not a soul. The sea is so far out it would take minutes to walk to the edge.’ She opens her eyes and begins to sit up. ‘It’s ridiculous. I live in Nebraska, about as far from the sea as you could get. I’ve not seen the ocean since I was a child.’
The therapist shakes his head and motions her to lay back.
‘Your dream,’ he says. ‘The beach.’ She closes her eyes again.
‘I have a towel. A round one; always a round towel. I lay it on the sand where I know the tide will turn. I know the exact spot. I relax on the towel and wait for the waves to creep towards me, knowing that just as they reach my feet the tide will turn. Every time it does. But sometimes, once or twice a month, this man appears.’ She stops and draws a deep breath. The room is silent apart from the rhythm of raindrops against the window.
‘Describe him,’ the therapist says.
‘He is tall and fair. It’s the wrong sort of beach, but he looks like a surfer, tanned and athletic. There is a fluid balance to his movements.’
‘Do you know him?’ the therapist asks.
‘No. Never seen him before.’ Her lie is emphatic, perhaps a little too quick. Her lids are still closed and she does not see the therapist raise an eyebrow. ‘He is a little too perfect, you know? Flawless. Like someone from a book, or a model from a fashion shoot. He smiles but just as I think he might speak he turns and grabs the waves, actually grabs them, like they’re linen sheets. He runs towards the dunes, pulling the waves behind him, covering me in the sea.’ She stops abruptly. The rain continues to patter against the windowpane.
‘Does it frighten you?’ the therapist asks.
‘No. I feel immense calm. The sea is warm and I can breathe, even though I’m covered in water. I can see tiny fish darting between fronds of seaweed, and there are pearly shells underfoot. But the man has gone and I need to find him. That’s when I wake up.’ She opens her eyes. The clock on the mantelpiece shows her hour is nearly up. The therapist suggests some exercises she might consider and reminds her to write up her dream diary.
‘We’ll talk some more next week,’ he says, watching her go.
As she leaves the therapist spots the shimmer of sand beside the chair, the lustre of small pearlescent shells crushed beneath her shoes. And without needing to slip his hand into his jacket pocket, he knows he will find a single mermaid’s purse, pale and translucent, its tendrils still soft and damp.
First published by Visual Verse ~ https://visualverse.org/submissions/sea-dreams/
Angi Holden’s poetry and short-fictions explore the environment, family history and personal experience. Her pamphlet Spools of Thread won the Mother’s Milk Pamphlet Prize. Her short story Painting Stones for Virginia was a 2018 Cheshire Prize for Literature prize winner. Her work is currently shortlisted for the Lichfield Cathedral Prize. She tweets @josephsyard
Photo credit @jfelise at http://www.unsplash.com