|Publisher:||Wimbledon Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Norman Stanton lives noisily in North London with his wife, three children and their families, including nine grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
'Very superstitious, writing's on the wall.
Very superstitious, ladder's 'bout to fall.'
The strains of Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition' blasted in Arnold's car. It was his favourite song and he loved to play it as loud as his ears could take. He particularly wanted to hear this song today. He was going into his office to complete the handover of his solicitors' practice. He didn't need to go in by car – it was only a five-minute walk from his house – but it seemed appropriate.
He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he passed the high street shops that were so familiar. Usually, he saw each shop as a legal transaction – he had acted for most of the shopkeepers. But today the high street had an air of unfamiliarity about it. He couldn't help noticing the new awning above Saeed Patel's shop. It was bright red, and the shiny plastic seemed to blazon out like a beacon. He turned into the small car park behind his office.
They were all there when he arrived. The whole thing seemed unreal for him. Lots of handshakes all round added to the pantomime. The truth was he had found it very difficult to settle back in, following the death of his wife three years ago. The practice was going reasonably well, but his heart was no longer in it and he had sold out to his partners. In fact, over the last few months he had hardly been in at all. One of the secretaries was dabbing her eyes with a tissue, and said: "It won't be the same without you."
"Pastures new and all that," said Arnold. "I'll be able to do all the things I wanted to do but never had the time for."
He left without regrets. Thinking about it, his whole working life up to now seemed trivial, unimportant and without passion. He couldn't remember the drive back to his house, except for Patel's awning that seemed so out of place.
Dee was bored. University was fun but the final year was interminable. She had a reasonable degree, but jobs were not falling into her lap. In the meantime, she was stuck in her Father's off-licence filling time.
It was a quiet time of day, and once all the bottles in the shop were neatly lined up with their labels in serried ranks, there was nothing for her to do but daydream out the window and watch the world go by. The high street looked smaller than when she was younger. The thought of spending the rest of her life looking out of the shop window filled her with horror.
Most of the people who passed by the shop were known to her; the dullness of the scene offended her senses. She did, however, notice one splash of colour: her father's solicitor's bright red jaguar. It was an old S-type and she remembered travelling in it once with her father. They had all gone to see a shop he was thinking of buying; Arnold had just bought the car and took them for a ride.
As Arnold drove past, Dee thought he had a pained expression on his face – maybe he was daydreaming too.
Arnold went to bed that night relaxed but unfocused – much the same as any other night. He woke up covered in perspiration. The dream – or was it a nightmare? – had been particularly vivid, and the images and smells were still reeling in his mind. He reached for the glass of water on his bedside table and took a few sips. Maybe yesterday's events had initiated the dream. Whatever the reason, the images refused to be shaken from his thoughts.
He wasn't someone who was prone to fanciful ideas. In fact, he fitted very well into the stereotype of the dull solicitor. He didn't mind. Dull, yes, but also solid, dependable and honest – perhaps with a streak of bloody-mindedness. Yet the dream still bothered him.
He dressed quickly and left the house. The mess didn't matter; Mrs M would come in later to clean. He bought a newspaper and settled himself in his usual place in the café near his office – his former office, now. He tried to concentrate on the newspaper while he drank the coffee in front of him, but the dream images kept passing in front of his eyes. He couldn't really put them together as a coherent whole. But wasn't that a characteristic of dream images: that they did not represent a unified narrative? One particular sequence dominated his introspection. It included, of all things, the daughter of one of his ex-clients, Saeed Patel, who ran the local off-licence. He remembered Saeed telling him that his daughter had just finished university and was working temporarily in the off-licence until she could find a permanent job. He had known the girl, Deepal – Dee to her family and friends – since the Patels had arrived in the town some ten years earlier. They were a hard-working family. Overcoming prejudice was not easy for them, and putting their daughter through university had been quite an achievement. He remembered having to have 'a few words' with their bank manager when they first arrived in the town. The manager had been unusually reluctant to sanction a loan, even though they had adequately qualified for one – at least according to Arnold.
He was about to pay the bill when Deepal Patel walked in. She spotted Arnold, strode over to his table, and sat down.
"I've been looking everywhere for you" she spluttered, her face flushed. "I went to your house first, and then your office. They told me you might be here"
Arnold paused for a moment before speaking. Some people thought it was a device to give his words more gravitas, but in fact he used it as a means of coping with a slight stammer, which he had had since childhood.
"Why were you looking for me, and what's your hurry?" he asked.
He asked this as his mind recoiled at the possibilities that were invading it. Her presence and demeanour suggested to him that somehow this was all mixed up with his dream. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen her – it had probably been several months earlier. It must be a coincidence: she must just be in some kind of trouble and need his help.
She looked at him quizzically. She had known Arnold since she was a child. He had, through his firm, acted on behalf of her father in a few legal matters and her father had always spoken highly of him. To be honest, she had not thought much about him, seeing him just as one of those minor background characters that collectively make up one's upbringing. That is until last night, until the dream.
"I've never known you to be dishonest," she said. "You had the same dream I did last night."
It was not a question.
She didn't suffer fools, and on many occasions her abruptness had lost her friends. At school, and even at university, she hadn't had any close friends. She was always restless, always in a hurry. The dream last night had really animated her.
She described some of the images from her dream to Arnold, and it was clear to her, as she continued her narrative, that he had witnessed the same images in his dream.
"You know, to the American Indians, dreams were an important part of life and culture," she said. "Especially shared dreams."
Arnold was still in a state of shock and disbelief, although he managed to regain some of his composure.
"Okay," he said, "so what if we had a shared dream? What follows? What are we supposed to do about it?"
"Do?" she exclaimed. "You saw those terrible images. It's not just a question of 'following your dream,' we have to help those people, we have to save the world."
This time he looked at her quizzically.
"I think you're being a bit melodramatic."
He paused, and then added, "Mind you, those images were pretty vivid."
He ordered Deepal a coffee, and they sat in silence for a few moments. The tables around them were beginning to fill up with people. The banal landscape around them seemed to take on an air of unreality. The images of their shared dream invaded the scene. After a while he said, "America! Some of the places in the dream were in the States."
"So they were," she said. "We'll have to go."
"Don't be silly," said Arnold. "You can't up sticks and leave just like that."
"What ties do you have here?" asked Dee.
Arnold hesitated. He had just sold his practice; he was now wealthy and had more time on his hands than he ever could have imagined.
"Okay, my only ties are the fact that I live here. I'm used to this town" he said. "But what about you? You have your family here"
"My parents are here and I'm on reasonably good terms with them" said Dee. "But I need to do something with my life. This dream has given me the impetus I needed"
She stood up and said in an abrupt voice, "You book the plane tickets. I've a few things to pick up. I'll meet you at your house in fifteen minutes"
She turned and, without waiting for a reply, walked out onto the street.
Arnold sat for a few moments. The scene around him had not changed, but he felt that somehow the world was now a different place. He paid the bill and hurried home deep in thought.
The house was the same as he had left it. There was an answerphone message from Mrs M. Apparently she was going to visit her sister, who was ill, and wouldn't be coming in to clean for a while. He looked around at the room. The house no longer seemed to mean anything to him. He didn't feel any attachments. Even the town seemed remote, unrecognizable. He telephoned the airline.
"Two tickets, one way to the USA" he said. "Where? Oh, Washington ... Yes, DC"
It had been the first place in the States that had come into his head.
He phoned a local minicab firm and arranged for a car to the airport. He was halfway through putting a few clothes into a suitcase when there was a loud knocking at his door. It was Dee. She was wearing a different set of clothes and was carrying a kind of knapsack on her back, and had another one in her hand.
"I've brought a spare backpack for you. I thought you wouldn't have one. You can't save the world with a suitcase."
She helped him transfer his clothes to the backpack.
"Pick up your passport and let's go," she said. "The station's around the corner, we'll be at the airport within the hour.''
"But I ordered a taxi" he said.
After he cancelled the car, they left the house. As they walked along the street, he scanned the buildings on the way to the station. He had walked this route countless times and yet, today, the road seemed quite different, almost alien. He didn't even remember buying the rail tickets. The people waiting on the platform didn't seem to take any notice of them. The train finally arrived and he found two seats in the corner of the carriage. As he sat down he realised that Dee hadn't asked him where exactly in America they were going.
As she sat on the train with Arnold, Dee's thoughts kept going back to the dream. She realised that the dream was not one incident that had occurred last night, but was a part of the whole sequence of her life up to this point. Her parents meant well and wanted the best for her, but life in this town was stifling her.
This feeling was more than simple teenage angst. She had always felt this way, as far back as she could remember. And, in any case, at twenty-two she was hardly a teenager any more. The reality was that she was waiting – had always been waiting – for the dream. The vividness of the dream, though, was odd. And the absolute certainty she had in her mind that Arnold had shared this dream with her was also odd. True, as it happens, but maybe that was the oddest part.
She turned to Arnold.
"By the way, where exactly are we going to in the States?" she asked.
"Washington," he replied. "DC, is that okay?"
"It's as good a place as any to start," she said.
"This dream we had," she began in a whisper. "You know that there were other people in it, not just us? I don't mean just background characters. I know that it was not just us that shared the experience."
The rhythm of the train merged into the background. A man wearing headphones in the seat in front of them started to move his fingers in time to music they could not hear.
"I must admit that that thought crossed my mind as well," he said. "There's nothing we can do about it, I suppose. We'll meet these people as and when we need to."
The answer seemed to satisfy her.
The man with the headphones seemed lost in his sonic world. He started to sway his head, and they could just hear the faint boom from his headphones. It was irritating.
Dee was pleased to leave this world behind her. She had told her parents that she was going on a trip with some university friends for a few weeks. They were not happy, but at twenty-two there wasn't much they could do about it. She knew what kind of life they had mapped out for her; a good marriage, kids ... Maybe one day, but not now'.
The train pulled into the airport station. Arnold went off to collect the tickets. They agreed to meet in the bookshop. Dee wandered along the shopping boulevard. The lights and garish notices screamed out from the various shops. Promises of a sophisticated world for the discerning traveller poured out from the shop windows, all with the exquisite delight of 'duty free.'
She finally found the bookshop tucked away at the end of the concourse. There were not many people browsing the shelves. The shop had two assistants; one was packing shelves and the other stood behind the counter wearing a bored expression. Dee picked up a book at random. The shop was full of other people's stories; she wouldn't find her own here.
Arnold appeared in front of her.
"We can walk through to the gate," he said.
They shuffled through security and performed the elaborate dance ritual that goes with embarkation. Finally, after being shoehorned into their seats and having witnessed the arm gyrations of the air hostess explaining the safety procedures, the plane took off.
Dee was sandwiched between Arnold – he had to have a window seat – and a rather large gentleman. Conversation was difficult, so she just lay back, closed her eyes and tried to snatch some sleep.
She woke with a start. She didn't know how long she had been asleep.
"I didn't want to wake you," said Arnold. "You've been asleep a few hours."
At that moment the loudspeaker was blaring out. Apparently there had been a small electrical fire at Dulles Airport, Washington, and the airport was closed. Their flight would be diverted to Roanoke. Dee had never heard of Roanoke. Arnold told her that it was in West Virginia, near the Shenandoah Valley. She was none the wiser. She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
Dee looked out of the airplane window as they made their approach. She couldn't see all that much because Arnold was in the way. What she did see was mostly trees, with mountains in the distance. It did look quite beautiful. As she stepped out of the aeroplane onto the stairs, she wasn't prepared for the heat, or the humidity. It hit her in the face, taking her breath away.
The airline was bussing them to a hotel in Roanoke, and then onto a coach to Washington the next morning. The bus went through the town and deposited them at their lodgings on the northern outskirts of Roanoke, next door to a mining company's office. It felt like they were in the middle of nowhere, but Dee didn't mind; she felt a strange familiarity with the place.
After they had checked in to the hotel, they went out for a walk looking for somewhere to eat. They found a diner just around the corner. It wasn't crowded and the two found a convenient table in the centre of the room. They ordered some food and a couple of coffees, and then sat back watching the people around them.
"You know, Dee, I was a bit reluctant to come on this trip at first" said Arnold. "I'm glad I did though; I needed someone to wake me up"
"Do you believe in fate?" asked Dee.
"I don't know," said Arnold. "But I do know that I couldn't face the idea of spending the rest of my life with nothing to do. The idea of filling my days with trips to the supermarket to buy groceries, just to pass the time, filled me with horror. Do you think we're fated to be here?"
"We can never know the answer to that" said Dee. "But even though I believe we have free will, I do believe that we are constrained by certain patterns of nature. Some people call that fate"
"I don't know about that" said Arnold. "All I know is that going to my local newsagent early every morning to buy a daily newspaper just as a means to get me up in the morning to an empty day, is not something I could spend the rest of my life doing"
At that point a group of scruffy-looking men came in, most probably from the mining office next to the hotel. One of the men turned around and stared at them. He was wearing faded jeans and a bright red shirt; his hair was tied back in a ponytail. Arnold and Dee returned the stare.
Excerpted from "Perfect Nightmare"
Copyright © 2013 Norman Stanton.
Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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