“In Dreams” by Eddie Hearne

Yes, he thinks, after lights out, and a turn to pull the blankets up to his chin and trap the heat below. Yes, he thinks, in those soft minutes before sleep, with the cars slushing the newly fallen rain outside. Yes, he thinks, hearing the flick of a light switch in the apartment next door and footsteps, something knocked to the ground, and maybe the thump of a headboard against the wall between them. Yes, he thinks, remembering that brief encounter in the hall when he joked about how much junk mail she had in her hands, and her short reddish brown hair sticking out like it hadn’t come in from the wind and rain with the rest of her. Yes, he thinks, picturing her dressed for jogging, cycling shorts and a faded t-shirt, her top half a little less shapely than her bottom half, in her thirties he guesses, but still held together pretty well. Yes, he thinks, imaging that she’s thinking of him too, her hand beneath the covers, like his, and her back arched. Yes, yes, yes, he thinks, and the mattress too loud for keeping secrets squeaks, and she comes with him, and he stops breathing for a second to  enjoy the moment, before the guilt sets in, before his phone flashes with a text from his girlfriend, ‘sweet dreams hon and a smiley face,’ like somehow she knows. Why now? he thinks, and snaps the phone shut, rolls back in the mess, wipes his hand in his boxers and closes his eyes.

Behind the shutters the room in his head is busy with people scrambling around, a guy in a suit pulling on a big fat cigar, a pretty secretary handing him coffee and a buttered bagel, a young guy with glasses and cropped hair lifting a pile of papers from the desk and almost tripping over the door saddle on his way out, and in the middle of it all typing feverishly, typing on one of those old fashioned typewriters, and pulling the paper out and pushing the feeder back to the start of another sentence that begins with a BING!, is he, sleeves rolled up and chin peppered in two day old stubble, hair slicked back like he’s in the 1950’s, he is in the 1950’s, black and white rain spilling down the window as the camera zooms in. Albert & Macintyre publishing house, with a gold trim if it wasn’t black printed on the glass, the blinds pulled open and through the slits the audience watches the opening scene in silence. Then the rattle of keys, and he, typing in an exaggerated manner, pays no attention to the fat guy in the suit who smacks him on the back and tells him through the side of his mouth that he’s “going straight to the top kid, this one’s the big one, number one best seller, they’ll be reading this in Albuquerque and Houston Texas, San Francisco and Salt Lake City, write it boy, write it till yer fingers bleed,” and he, still typing and ignoring him, lights a cigarette, slugs his coffee, pulls off more sheets and laughs now and then at his own genius.

“More coffee Doris?” he demands and the suited one yells at Doris to get her ass back in and pour the man some more coffee.

“Sorry Danny,” she pouts, leaning over him so that her breasts rest on his shoulder and he doesn’t mind at all, “The phone is hopping out there, they all want to know when you’ll be finished.”

“Finished?” he replies, his voice sharp with teeth clenched around a cigarette. “Tell em I’ll be finished when I type these three letters” and he turns to mouth it to her, “E.N.D.”

“Go tell em Doris,” the other one snaps, rustling a handkerchief from his pocket like it might have teeth to bite him, rubs his forehead, flattens his hair, and stubs his cigar out in an ashtray piled high with cigarette butts. “So Danny,” he says, with the slightest hint of a waver in his voice, “Not like I’m pushin or anything but y’know, the fine people of New York want to get their hands on the next Danny Samson blockbuster, you think you might be writing those three letters anytime soon?” and he laughs at the end, thinks it’s clever how he linked it, sometimes thinks he should be writing books himself, but then thinks again.

“Not now Babs,” he replies, one hand still typing while the other rises above his head, with palm flat like a New York Cop stopping traffic.

“Oh sure Danny“, and the suit bows, picks his hat off the table, and his coat from the long wooden hanger, “Sure Danny, you take your time, all the time in the world,” and he backs out the door like a filthy thief getting away with thieving.

The ink hits the page and the letters appear with a TAP, TAP, TAP, cigarette smoke rises from where he sits and the room clouds over. Alone, he begins to read to the audience.

She comes in with hair like it wanted to stay outside, she jiggles up the stairs like only a woman with a bag fit to burst can jiggle, her shoulders a dark shade of wet, and her long coat splits to reveal slender legs. Her heels knock on the steps as she ascends to the fourth floor, unaware that Frank O’Brien is waiting outside his door, with key poised to turn. Not like he’s waiting for anything in particular, but he’s intrigued to see what kind of pins are in those heels making all that noise. They meet at the top of the stairs where her bag surrenders and splits, throws up cans of tomato soup, packets of pasta, a jar of pickles and a bottle of milk that smashes onto the floor.

“Oh darn it,” she stomps.

“Let me,” he says, kneeling on one knee beside her.

“Thank you,” she gushes, blushing slightly, cheeks rising into two cute red buttons of flesh.

“It’s amazing how much they cram into these bags ain’t it?”

“I know. Not like they’re made for rain though.”

“That’s for sure,” and he stands up cradling a bundle of the spilt cargo in his arms.

“I’m just here,” she says, leaning toward the door with an outstretched hand. Number 402 – right next to his. He’s sure he hasn’t seen her before, but then he’s gone on business so much maybe he could’ve missed her. “I just moved in,” she says, her reddish brown hair spiked in every direction and her forehead leaking rain water.

“Well in that case, welcome to Auburn Heights. I’d shake ya hand ownee I‘m kine’a full here,” he says, trying out one of his so called movie star impressions.

“Why yes you are,” she replies, half smiles at his imitation, and rummages inside her bag for her keys looking even lovelier with fluster in her movements.

Inside her apartment the lifeless, lightless hallway disappears and fresh, as fresh as city air can be, fills their lungs and cools her face and new flowers, perfume and some absorbed odours of cooking get together for smells. Just moved in and already she’s made the place her own, already he pictures her sitting and reading on the big green sofa beneath the book shelf, sees the curve of her skirt as she takes brownies from the oven, smells the shampoo in her hair from showering, tastes the cherry lipstick on her lips welcoming him home.

“Just leave them there on the counter,” she says, and he does so with a salesman’s grin bunching one cheek into folds.

“Real nice place ya got here.”

“Thank you. I like to make a place feel like home.”

“I know, makes it nicer to come back to doesn’t it? Wish I could do the same with mine.”

Her jacket off, she hangs it on the back of a high stool and flicks hair from her eyes like she once had hair long enough to get in her eyes.

“So you live here too?”

“Well not s’much live as drop in now and then between business trips. But yeah, I’m just next door.”

“Well lucky me having a nice helpful gentleman right next to me,” she flirt’s, but not like she’s good at it, which makes it even nicer.

“I’d hardly leave a gal to pick up her own tins of soup now would I?”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” and they laugh like playful teenagers.

“So I guess I should leave ya to pack away y’things. Don’t want to be hangin round like a stranger in someone else’s private space.”

“Oh it’s ok. I’d offer you tea but I don’t seem to have any milk.”

They laugh again and he lets his mind wander, thinks how it would be nice to stay and get to know her better, and maybe she’d let him, but he knows better than to come across too keen. She’s right next door; he’ll see her again and then ask her out for coffee or ask her in for tea.

“Ok well nice meetin ya. I guess I’ll be seein ya round.”

“Yes you too, am…”

“Frank. Frank O’Brien.”

“Frank. It’s nice to meet you too. Thank you so much for your help.”

“More than welcome…” and he lets his jaw hang loose, and for a second she thinks he has a stammer before she realises he wants her to finish for him.

“…Deborah, but most call me Dee.”

“Dee it is so. Be seein ya Dee,” and he leaves with a soldiers salute, like he was ever a soldier, more a cowboy than a soldier, and more a bad cowboy than a good one.

The door closes and she watches it right until it goes CLICK!, finds herself watching for longer than she has to, eyes slightly glazed over like she’s hypnotised, breath softened, cheeks back to their usual pale milky texture.

Camera rolls back to Danny Samson still banging away, a strand of greased hair stealing away from the top of his head and onto his forehead, another cigarette chewed down to the butt, smiling wickedly as another sentence gushes from his creative geyser of a mind, and he says out loud, “they’ll love it Danny boy, they’re gonna bow at your feet when they read this.” Doris creeps back in tentatively, not sure if he’ll snap at her or make a pass, not sure which she’d prefer, what with a hubby and a new-born at home, starts to speak and finds her throat gone dry.

“Go home Doris and close the door on yer way out,” he says.

“Oh thank you Danny,” she replies, suddenly relaxed now that she’s been excused, and then stands around forgetting she wanted to leave, watches the back of his head and wonders what madness is churning inside, wonders if he thinks of her when he puts another character together, gives her hair and teeth and curves and cheeks and an accent and long long lashes to bat at gangsters in a cabaret club.

“Doris…?”

“Yes, yes, Danny, going now, just like watching you work is all.”

“You can watch me tomorrow. You can even put those nice breasts of yours in my face tomorrow if you like.”

She laughs before realising he’s serious, sees the wicked grin on the side of his face, knows if she stays any longer he might just stop typing long enough to look at her and see that there’s more to life than writing, and that he could put those fingers to better use.

“Sometimes I think you go too far,” she says.

“Goodbye Doris.”

“Goodbye. Get some rest will you?”

“Maybe,” and she’s gone, and for a second he thinks how easy it might have been to have unleashed some of his frustration on her, but thinks again, knows that he needs to lock it inside him and let it bleed from his fingers, let the caffeine flow through his veins and stick his eyelids to his forehead, and keep going until every sentence on the page is nothing short of perfection.

The audience watch as the screen goes blank, they wait a moment in silence before a rumble of annoyance and some loud mouth at the back shouts “What the heck? Where’s the movie gone?” and before he can shake his head for the fourth time the fire alarm goes off and panic ensues, he’s swamped by people clambering over seats and running down the aisle toward the fire exit. The alarm rings, and rings and rings and then he’s awake!

“Hey,” he mumbles with half his face in the pillow.

“Hi, did I wake you?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh sorry, I’m a little buzzed here.”

“Where are you?”

“Back in my hotel room. I just got in.”

“Oh, what time is it there?”

“Like eleven o’clock.”

He peels the phone from his ear and through one eye see’s that it’s four fifteen.

“So how was your night?”

“Great. We went out for dinner in this really nice restaurant and I got lobster and had the best desert ever.”

“Mm sounds good. Who was out?”

“Oh, just some of the guys doing the audit with me.”

“So just you and guys?”

“No, there was a girl too.”

“Who was she?”

“Just some girl that works for the company. I think she’s from Connecticut but she’s working in Boston now.”

“That’s good,” and a pause, followed by a silence that stretches longer than the time difference between them, his boxers crusted over and she, still on his mind even though he’s only half awake, his girlfriend on a three week working holiday in Boston and he jacking off to the girl next door.

“You ok?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he lies. “You just woke me up.”

“I know. Sorry. I just wanted to hear your voice,” and great big knots of guilt and shame pull his chest tight, great big knots made from the rope used to tie up ships.

“It’s ok. I like it when you call me.”

“I missed you tonight,” she says, and leaves it out there trembling, waiting for a gust of wind to snatch it away and leave it unanswered forever.

“I miss you too,” he says, and he does, for that brief moment when she’s so vulnerable he could break her with one word. “I was having the weirdest of dreams.”

“You were?”

“Yeah, you were in it I think.”

“Oh,” she smiles, and he feels it through the phone. “What was it about?”

“Well it was like we were in this old movie and this guy was writing a book and then the book became the movie and he starts reading his book which starts with this guy outside his apartment and a girl comes running up the stairs…”

“Who was the girl?”

“You I think,” he lies. “And the guy picks up her shopping after it falls on the floor…”

“Shopping?” she laughs.

“Yeah, and then they get talking and he’s all like ‘well let me get that for you ma’am’”

She laughs again, this time shuffling back onto the bed, feeling her eyes heavy from the three glasses of wine she had with dinner.

“So he was doing a crappy American accent like you?”

“Well no. His was a good one.”

They both laugh and sink into pillows inviting sleep.

“So what else happened?” she asks.

“Well not much. The story goes back to the guy writing and his secretary is going home and she’s afraid to leave without asking him and then the maddest bit at the end was the movie ends and everyone is in a cinema and the fire alarm goes off.”

“Ok that is weird.”

“Yeah but the fire alarm was my phone ringing.”

“Oh… Now it makes sense,” she teases.

“Crazy isn’t it?”

“A little, but not surprising given all those crap old movies you watch.”

“I thought you liked them.”

“Well…”

“You told me you liked them…”

“Well…”

“Ok, I’m not watching them with you anymore.”

“I’m joking. I like them. I do.”

And the audience sits back down, false alarm, and the curtain draws open again and there he is, lying in bed making small talk with his sweetheart, and none of them knowing how it will end, but him, already making plans without her, already thinking of breaking up with her when she comes home, but for now they enjoy the last few minutes of the last phone call they’ll have at four o’clock in the morning.

 

Biographical Note:

I am 29 years of age, living in Dublin but originally from Waterford. While working as an insurance underwriter I also graduated from a part-time Diploma in Journalism and Media in Dublin Business School. I have always enjoyed writing and completed a creative writing class in the Irish writers centre a number of years ago. I am currently working on my first novel while, at the same time, entering as many short story competitions as I can. Two of my lifetime goals are to complete (and hopefully publish) a novel and to get a feature printed in the national press. I enjoy reading, especially books by American writers, and include Jim Thompson, Daniel Woodrell and Jack Kerouac as my favourite authors.

 

 

 

 

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