Monday, 6 September 2010

The Nightmare

We all walk down the corridor to their front door, friends of my Mum and Dad. I don’t know their names, not sure that it matters. Kaede and Nate are bouncing of the walls, they’ve been cooped up in the car for far too long. Happy to be free of the restraints they are loud and over-enthusiastic. Dad frowns, Mum laughs. They take this as approval and somehow get louder.

I manage to quieten them as we ring the bell, waiting for the shuffling feet from behind the door to eventually reach the lock and let us in. An old couple welcome us, possibly the same age as my folks but they seem to have given in to their age, all the trinkets and pot plants confirm it.

Everything is clean and yellow, shapes and shades of it everywhere. From the wallpaper to the dado rail, the carpet to the lampshades, the tobacco coloured fingers to the same smokers teeth. I look at those stained fingers but am still jealous. Three years a non-smoker now, and not a happy one, not even when confronted with this sight and smell.

The flat seems to be all narrow hallways and doors, wasted space and old paintings. We are ushered down an ever narrowing corridor that opens up into a living room. There is only space for a two seat sofa and an armchair, not all of our party is inside and yet we have filled the room. One whole wall is all glass, with patio doors that overlook the sea. There is no television, but who needs one when you have this view.

It is a cloudless day and the blue sky seems to melt into the sea, the only discernable join being the white horses racing towards the shore. Endless sets of them, each one bigger than the last until we reach the ninth and the cycle starts again. My brother Daniel has entered the room now, all six foot four of him, and thankfully our hosts open the doors and we spill out onto the patio.

The tiny garden has been cut into the cliff, it is lush green grass and flower beds, it seems out of place amongst the surrounding white wall of rock. The only way to tell how high up we are is to look across the bay for reference. Not strictly true as I could look over their too small white fence to judge, but I don’t. I’ve been no good with heights since Dad sat Daniel on Westminster Bridge a lifetime ago, I was sure he was going to fall in. He didn’t.

The children have been given ice lollies to quieten them, the pounding in my head starts to let up at last. Nate sits on a tiny chair near the fence, happily watching the seagulls gliding through the air. Kaede sits behind him on a wall, intent on changing the colour of her tongue from pink to blueberry blue.

She turns round to poke her tongue at us, demanding to know its colour, the sentence half finished as she falls of the wall and rolls toward her brother. In a split second I can see what is about to pass and I dive towards her, not even getting close. The chair her brother is sitting on arrests her progress, but the impact throws him forward. All sound is muted as I watch him topple over the fence that should have set off my alarm bells earlier.

I reach the fence and look over. His tiny body lays unmoving on the sand 60 feet beneath me, the drop slightly inclined, bushes and copse brush all the way down. I see all this in the half second it takes me too step over the fence, and start my slide down to him. I can see my brother in my periphery, sliding down with me, but my eyes are fixed on my son, willing him to move. The silence continues, and I pray to hear him cry. Hurt not dead that’s all I want, hurt not dead.

I reach the bottom and grab him into my arms, he doesn’t seem to have a mark on him, but he is so limp, so still. I shout at him, shout his name, I can’t hear this but I know I’m doing it because my jaw aches. His eyelids flutter and my hopes rise. I cradle him into my arms, worried I’m hurting him but the need to hold him tight is all encompassing.

My parents have run down the steps cut into the cliff and are standing the other side of a concrete sea wall. I let Daniel take him off me, and watch as he is gently passed over to Dad. I try to find a way through the wall, looking for any gap that will lead me back to my son. I am still searching when my hearing returns. My Mothers screams at first, then my Dads voice repeating the same thing, over and over.

“He’s dead, oh no, he’s dead.”

I stop breathing and sit bolt upright. My heart rate goes from 0 to 120 in a second, as I look around and see my dark bedroom through eyes filled with tears. The sobs are caught in my throat as confusion starts to release its grip on me and reality returns. My first instinct is to go check on Nate, still sleeping in his cot. My second is to send my brother a text, thanking him for jumping with me. I now know it’s a dream, but both my head and heart obviously knew that he would.

Sleep evades me for the rest of the night, but I’m not bothered, it’s a small price to pay.


  1. Oh my god I was right there with you. Just horrible. You really captured the fear and the not being able to get there fast enough and the seeing it about to happen and knowing there's nothing you can do.

    I had a similar nightmare at the weekend where my two year old was balancing on a steel bar on a huge staircase with a massive drop underneath. I could see she was about to go over and was frantically trying to leap to get there in time but woke up before I did.

    I'm sure many, if not all, parents have these dreams but I wonder what purpose they serve. To keep us on our guard?

    Really well told but so glad you woke up.

  2. A harrowing nightmare, but brilliantly captured J.

  3. oh, wow, every parent's worse nightmare. I was on the edge of my seat, wanting to reach out to him, grab him before he fell, clambering down the bank, willing his eyes to open. Phew, so glad it was a nightmare!

  4. Horrible, horrible, horrible...It's something we see in our minds eye every time they go near a high place or the edge of a road or...

    You certainly pulled us right into the nightmare with you, though.

  5. And I'm breathing again. Jeepers, Jamie. Had my head in my hands for most of that.

  6. So relieved but still with tears in my eyes. And a wonderful story of brotherly love.

  7. Heart stopping stuff, very well written.