Northwords Now Issue 37

The FREE literary magazine of the North


by Ian Tallach

By Ian Tallach

She had three dreams and everything is diferent now.

The frst one was a nightmare. She was in the bath, hoist hanging from the ceiling, strip-light straight above her head, nurses passing with the drugs-trolley outside. Someone had put easy-listening music on her phone: not her frst choice, but she was used to that – not-choosing, only waiting, breathing, fexing toes and fngers on the right, looking about. She valued the few choices she had left, but in the nightmare, even they were taken from her.

First of all, it was her sight. The strip-light shrank along its length, receding from her, concentrating all its luminescence into just one point. That point became a dot and even that began to fade. She felt herself starting to fall. The sides of the bath appeared like sea-clifs. She fought for breath and everything went cold. She was surprised to feel so little stress, or, to be more precise - she recognized the panic with a cool detachment. To her, it didn’t matter anymore that she was choking on ice-water, that her lungs were flling up with fuid, that the light had disappeared. The horror was that no-one had dropped in to say goodbye.

The nurses brought her back. She tried to tell them what had happened, without much success. After admitting her to High-Dependency, a junior doctor scribbled in her notes: patient appears to have had a nightmare in the bath. (That much was true.) Said doctor added that the patient’s neurological condition often gave her a sensation of impending doom. ‘The nightmare’ he stressed ‘would have preceded the choking episode.’ Her period of respiratory compromise, ensuing from near-drowning, was a lot shorter than predicted by her chest X-rays. Even so, that feeling of falling away from the light would not leave her alone. It felt as if the walls were closing in and pillows were just waiting there to smother her.The gap between reality and perception widened more and more. She breathed just through her mouth; there was a nasty smell, like acrid  sweat; she couldn’t tell if it was from the ward or something in her nose. She stayed awake for a week – alert, immobile, terrifed to let go of her consciousness.

But when she couldn’t fght it any more, she slipped under the surface. At the bottom of the sea, she came to rest. It seemed familiar. Everything pitch-black. This time, though, she had no need to breathe. She smiled. And then she saw the faintest glimmer, miles above. Slowly, it brightened and expanded. Delicate creatures came and went, their lights of diferent colours fickering. Far, far above, the surface of the ocean rippled. It was getting closer,though.She passed through shoals of fsh before they had the time to scatter and she felt their tiny bodies like the sting of hailstones on her skin.

Like a kiss, but in reverse, she broke the surface. In the orb of milky light that she was hurtling towards, she saw a melancholy smile. She felt the ebb and fow of many tides. When she awoke, she was laughing. Someone had put freesias in a vase beside
her bed. She inhaled a draught of their delicious fragrance and then laughed again.


The frst dream had been all-too real; the second was a fantasy. And this, of course,she knew,butsomehow everything had changed – not her condition, not the drudgery of day-to-day, not her profound fatigue – just an awareness of not falling anymore. She resolved to share that feeling with the others on the ward, although she couldn’t, for the life of her, imagine how.

Not long thereafter, her mobility improved. She found she could articulate her thoughts. It was her frst remission. A month after that she was discharged from the ward, but she came back to visit, fearfully at frst. She brought along a pencil and a pad, collecting stories from the others. Some described a desperate loneliness. The sense of falling was a common theme. One man was keen to speak but couldn’t; an invisible thread would pull his mouth to one side when he opened it. She vowed to understand him. He would try his best and she’d try hers, to no avail. One day, the speech therapist was at his edside,working with his new communication aid. There was a message on the screen; it read - ‘btm of th sea…’

And it was then she had her third dream - one which she now lives to make reality - a dream of fnding silent voices, making record of their words, however difcult to understand, however few: words from the ocean foor.