“I was following these footprints.”
“Yeah, my own. No footsteps behind me, though. Not one. Like I was some kind of ghost.”
“Where did they lead to?”
“Nowhere at first, but they led me down one hell of a bloody long path, ‘til I came across one of those fancy pocket watches, you know, one of those fancy looking silver ones.” Michael goes on. “Stuck at 1am, as well,”
“Why one o clock?”
“I’ll be damned if I know. That’s why I’m ‘ere, Doc.”
“So, you walk through the woods and find a watch reading 1am. That all, Michael?”
“Hell no. The clock disappeared, right outta’ my hands. Then it became a tattoo on my right arm ‘ere.” Michael showed Dr Ray his arms, and pointed to his right inner forearm. “Weird part is, I got this god damn awful pain in my arms, like electricity or something if I tried to avoid the footprints,” Dr Ray, now looking puzzled, yet intrigued decides to lean back again in his chair. He says, “Go on,”
“So I followed ‘em,”
“Where did they go?”
“What kind of a garden?”
“I don’t know, with roses and shit. All different colours.” He says. “Can I smoke?”
“Not in here.” Michael puts his cigarettes back into his jacket pocket.
“Well, there was this statue in the middle of the garden. Looked a little off. Gets real confusing now, Doc. ‘Ere, I wrote down what it said next to it,” Michael pulls out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He unfolds it and reads:
“Pick a red to see the truth be bled;
A green to travel good and clean,
A blue to reverse the things you knew,
Or black, for all the things you lack.”
“You tell me, Doc. What the heck is that supposed t’ mean?”
“Which did you pick?”
“Couldn’t decide. It’s weird. I’m telling you this now and it’s taking so long; in my dream this was all but five minutes.”
Dr Ray just nods.
“Anyhow, a door just shot up in front of me. Stupid, I know but that’s what happened. Had to post a rose through the letterbox. Pfft.”
“Don’t be embarrassed, Michael.”
“Pfft,” he goes again. “Who’s embarrassed?” he moans. “Can I smoke, or not?” he says again.
“Not in here, please.” This time Michael had already drawn a cigarette from his pack, but placed it behind his ear instead of his jacket pocket.
“So you chose the colour…”
“Green? Interesting. What made you choose green?”
“Honestly, Doc I was beginning to panic, like I am now.”
“Why are you in panic, Michael?” Michael gazes out of the window. “Come, sit.”
“’Cause I don’t think you’re takin’ me serious. You think I’m mad,”
“Not at all, Michael. I’m your therapist; I’m here to listen. Been that way for how long now?”
“Six years. Six bloody long years,”
“Yeah, I know. Since Mary. Shut it now, alright Doc?”
“Green was her favourite colour, always was. Everything I see now: green. And I think of her. And she was good! Like the rose in my dream, and clean. She’d never hurt nobody. An angel, she was.” Michael, getting angrier now, stands up, rubbing with his fingers, his arm where he was tattooed in his dream.
“Am I crazy?”
“There is no such thing, my friend. Finish telling me about your dream.”
“I posted the rose through the damn door. Door opens, a great mist or fog – whatever you wanna’ call it comes outta’ nowhere and chokes me to death. Then it stopped. I was on the other side of the door, feeling real good.”
“Yeah, can’t explain it. I just felt good. Felt like a new man. I liked that feeling, Doc. I liked it a lot.”
“I reckon that was it, Doc.”
“What did you do last night?”
“Same as usual. Ass on couch, drank some good beer.”
“Did you drink a lot?”
“I was never drunk if that’s what you’re getting at!”
“Watch anything interesting, on Tele I mean?”
“Alright. So, these dreams, been a while now you’ve been coming to see me, Michael, for some reason they continue to recur. How would you feel about seeing a hypnotist?”
“I already think this dream therapy is a crock of shit, Doc.”
“I’d really recommend trying it. Either this, or maybe a break from the alcohol?”
“I like to drink, Doc. It’s how I wind down,”
“How would you feel about attending an AA meeting?”
“No thanks, Doc, you cheeky bastard.” Michael leaves Dr Ray’s office, considering what he had said, what they had discussed but also considering his thirst for a double scotch, and that sounded better. He sits himself down in a bar in town, pours his troubles down his throat until he can’t see straight, then heads outside for a slow walk home, to pass out on his couch and dream. And he’ll dream and dream. And that’s his reality.
It’s a black winter outside and a strong wind whistles through the gap in the window. The clock from the kitchen is ticking noisily.
“Slow down… slow down… slow down.”
Michael awakes from his dream, looking around frantically for a voice that he felt was still echoing in the air around him. Only the rhythm of the ticking could be heard and the slight drip of the tap from the kitchen. He sits there, patiently awaiting the next drip of water. It drips. The clock ticks. The water drips again. Again, the clock ticks.
Michael sits stiff, looking before him in his blurred vision, causing unusual amounts of blinking. A blink, a tick of the clock. A drip of water. He eyes up the bottle of whisky, with its lid missing, an empty glass by its side. An unopened bottle of vodka he couldn’t quite recall where from. Michael lifts the glass in his shaky hand, sniffs the tiny amount of drink left at the bottom, as he swirls it around with his wrist and immediately gags. He runs to the kitchen sink and vomits up bile, then turns the tap off, putting an end to the dripping sounds. The clock still ticks, and somehow it seems louder, building up Michael’s rage. He paces the kitchen with the same glass in his hand, clutching it tightly until the sound of angry footsteps silence. He releases his grip, throwing at the clock, his glass – shattering it completely. The clock falls to its death. But the ticking noise continues.
“Slow down,” Michael looks around for the relentless voice. He splashes his face with water.
“Slow down,” he hears again.
“Mary?” Michael says.
A dark figure appears in front of Michael’s stance as his body begins to shake, his legs barely carrying his weight no longer. The floating figure slowly reveals itself, first the feet becoming clearer, the olive dress, the dainty hands that wear, on the wrist, a watch. The sound of the ticking picks up again. Blue eyes illuminate the darkness that surrounds the face of a young woman, with dark hair, cuts to her forehead and neck, miming the words slow down. Michael’s legs collapse beneath him. He kneels on the tiled floor, trembling, panicked by the heavy beating of his heart.
“I’m sorry,” Michael cries. “I’m so sorry,” he cries, reaching out for the spirit but capturing, in his fist, nothing but cold air.
“Then what happened?” Dr Ray blurts out.
“I opened my fist, an’ there was a black rose.”
“Black? For all the things you lack?”
“Yes, Doc. That’s what I’m assuming – all that crazy shit an’ all.” Michael shakes his head in disbelief. “It never stops,”
“Never. I have these dreams over and over. I’m in a wood, I’m in a god damn garden, I pick the green rose, the door opens, I go through the stupid thing, I feel myself die and then… nothing. Isn’t it about time you told me what these dreams mean, Doc? It’s what I’m paying ya’ to do isn’t it?” Michael shouts. “At least this crazy bastard of a dream was different, I saw Mary. I get that.”
“So Mary was the woman you saw?”
“I think so. I don’t know.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Well of course, I bloody do. She’s my sister. Was my sister.”
“She’s still your sister, Michael”
Michael interrupts. “No! She’s dead. She’s in the ground. She’s nothing.” He cries. “She’s nothing.”
“Would you ever say you feel guilty about what happened? Could that be the reason you dream of her?”
“I don’t dream of her.”
“This garden you go to, full of colour. It must mean something to you?”
“It means jack, Doc.”
“Then maybe something to her?”
“We used to play somewhere like that as kids.”
“You once told me, Mary was an artist – colour was obviously very important to her. Was she a colourful person?
“Colourful? The heck you talkin’ about?”
“You choose a green rose in your dream; because that was her favourite colour. The things she loved were obviously very influential on you. Wouldn’t you say so?”
“Hm,” Michael forces out.
“What do you think would happen if you chose a different colour in your dream?”
“I don’t know, Doc, I’ll let you know when it happens.” Michael says sarcastically. Dr Ray unfolds his legs and leans forward in his seat.
“Perhaps, next time you’ll choose a different colour.” He hints.
“I don’t really have much say in the matter, Doc. Trust me, if I could control these bloody things, I wouldn’t be here.”
“Think about it, Michael. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bright and early.”
“I know the drill, Doc.”
And Michael does know the drill: a quick stop at the corner shop, a bottle of whiskey to accompany the still, untouched bottle of vodka waiting at home, a small glass of ‘the good stuff’, a crappy film on the Tele, an empty bottle of Bell’s, another series of flashbacks. A vision of the road becoming blurrier as Mary screamed at him to slow down, Michael’s foot on the brake and the sound of the tyres screeching in the rain, the pain in his arms from the broken glass buried in his skin, the struggle of escaping the flaming car, choking on the smoke as he carried his weight out of the seat – his entire body crying for him to sleep it off. His feet, sinking in the mud he shuffles slowly on, try hard to keep his frame from collapsing into the earth. But his knees crumble, and he curls over in agony. With one look over to the car, it is obvious there is no movement. He follows his own footprints in the mud, back to the car and finds Mary with a bleeding head, eyes open and lifeless.
“Mary, I’m sorry,” he cries, reaching out to hold her hand, already ice cold. With his sight weakening, and his world beginning to spin, his eyes finally close, savouring his last image of the broken watch on her wrist, at one a.m., still ticking.
Another session on the couch, another walk through the woods, the discovery of a garden, a green rose, another cold sweat in the middle of the night, a visit from Mary, another conversation with Dr Ray, a quick trip to the corner shop, a bottle of whiskey shoved inside his coat, a glass of Bell’s finest whiskey, another flood of flashbacks. A vision of the coffin being lowered into the ground, family dressed in black, my mother crying hysterically, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and a grave.
He hath awakened from the dream of life. Michael Ferry. Son, Brother, Friend. 1980-2014.