9 February 2010

The Somnambulist and the Song

It starts with a man sitting up in bed. He’s dreaming but has done like this for a long time. The woman lying beside him used to wake up, years ago.

In the dream the man is looking out of the eyes of someone else. He can’t see himself in the dream, but he feels convincingly old. His breath is heavy and sounds like a far away carpenter’s workshop.

The old man in the dream is looking down at the tracks of a railway from the edge of the platform. He looks down for a good while, studying the lustrous surface of the steel. Eventually he looks up, turning his head in unison with the man in the bedroom and staring down the tunnel where the train will go. The old man considers its quiet, calm blackness.

Then there is the sound of a train coming from the opposite direction. Both men turn their head to look. The man sitting in bed feels his pulse begin to rise. On his left hand, his thumb starts to twitch. The men look down at it and frown. It’s got a lot worse recently and the old man knows what it means. He brings his hands to his open mouth to try to calm the tremor. All the man in the bedroom can think is that his hands feel so cold. Then the man in the bedroom starts to pull at something at the side of his finger. The old man is pulling his tatty fingerless gloves over his second knuckle. Both of them shiver.

The train comes into the platform and once again the man in the bedroom feels his pulse begin to race. He can feel his heart beat at the tips of his fingers. Just as the train is about to pass, both men can hear and see nothing else and the man in the bedroom feels the legs of the old man twitch. The man’s heart stops momentarily as he looks up to see the train pass. He feels the cold again, creeping through the old man’s anxious state.

The old man turns around and walks back to a blanket on the floor by the wall of the platform. He sits down like a rusty box of tools.

They both sit still for a while, catching their breath.

At this point, the man in the bedroom becomes aware of something in the old mans’ arms. He can’t see it because the old man has his own eyes closed. Instead the man in the bedroom just feels and hears the object. First the old man runs a fingertip along a wire. It gives a distant squeal. Then the old man runs his finger along a thin piece of something, counting small hard protrusions. Both men count nineteen and the man in the bedroom is suddenly aware of how warm the object feels in his arms. There is a pleasing wooden grain to its surface. Finally the old man looks down and it is a small guitar that the man in the bedroom does not know the name for.

Just before the old man starts to play, the man in the room notices how much calmer he feels. His breath is soft and relaxed. Then the old man starts to play and the quiet beauty of the song surprises him.

There is no one around of course; it is winter and late and there is never anyone here. Nobody walks past to hear the song. The only person who hears it is the man in the bedroom from somewhere inside, as it travels down and across his spine. A part of the song briefly makes him tingle as it becomes ever so slightly faster. Like the dream, the song is a minor lament and the sound of it is beautiful in their arms. The song is played so quietly by the old man it would be completely drowned out, were it not for the place being so utterly deserted.

After the song is finished they both look down and see an upside-down hat on the floor. It is as empty as ever. Both men reach out and pick it up, placing it carefully on their heads.

From somewhere far away, there is the sound of another train. The old man says, “I think this is mine.” He says it with a grainy lilt to his voice. The man in the bedroom speaks the words silently.

The old man stands up painfully; but both men expect this by now. The sound of the train comes in louder than the previous one, because of the quietness of the song.

Suddenly the old man breaks into an uneven run. This hurts both of them right down their spine and into their knees but by now it is too late and both men have smiles on their faces now. The train meets the men with its sudden light and noise and just as sudden blackness. The only thing the driver saw was a man in a dark coat, and the head of what looked like a guitar poking up over his shoulder.

The man in the bedroom wakes. He lets out a small shout.

The woman sits up and reaches around him. His body is cold and damp. She has seen this so many times before.

“Bad dream?” She says, softly into his ear.