by Iiona Klein
Ever since her boyfriend began hijacking the dreams of others, Lucy had trouble sleeping. It wasn’t so much that she had anything to hide. She just didn’t want to be held responsible for the jumble sale of her subconscious mind. But judging by the last eight weeks, she didn’t have anything to worry about. He hadn’t even made it to the British Isles yet.
The first night it happened, she pushed him awake after becoming concerned about his breathing. No longer falling and rising tides, she had to hold her own breath in order to hear his. “Are you asleep?” she asked, her voice low but firm. He lay silent in response. She noticed his complexion was flushed, as if he’d just come in from the cold. When he woke to see her face hover over his still body, he froze.
“What are you looking at?” he asked, and Lucy detected confusion in his eyes.
Over eggs and coffee, he casually mentioned that he follows people in their dreams. “It’s like getting caught up in a really good film”, he explained, “only, you know it’s someone else’s reality your watching.” He shot Lucy a smile, but she just stared at the breadcrumbs on the floor.
Undeterred, he continued. ”I’ve been all over the world. China, Malaysia, even The Pyrenees. Last night, I was roaming the streets of Iceland. I think it was Iceland, anyway, I’ve never been great with geography. Like that time I was convinced I was in Paris, but it turned out to be Berlin.
Jonas was secretly glad that, so far, he’d never followed anyone from the UK. “Do you think it’s because you’re more interested in other cultures?” his mates ask when he tells them over a pint. He didn’t think that that would be the first thing they’d ask. “I think it’s more of a self-protection type thing”, he suggests, without much conviction.
During the week, his sleep was never deep enough. He’d just float, like a silent partner, unable to participate. Sometimes, it was hard to tell which person he was actually following. He usually knew just by whose side he was on, or whom he felt most empathic towards. But things could be deceiving. More recently, he slipped into a world, in which he felt such utter hatred towards a scar-faced fifteen-year-old boy, he was certain he’d dipped into the dream of the girl he was bullying. When at the end, it was just him and the boy, he was shaken for days.
To Lucy, it felt too much like betrayal. “Who knows what he gets up to in his sleep”, she told Sarah, who was too busy smoking. “The other morning, he told me he’d spent all night on a racetrack with a group of sixteen year olds, and when we woke up, his hair and skin stunk so bad of petrol and burnt rubber, I can’t even tell you. I knew something was going on, but he never wants to talk about it. He says he owes it to the sleepers.” Sarah poured another drink, eyes rolling. “What a load of rubbish.”
That night, Lucy drunkenly crawled into bed and fell asleep with her back to him.
Jonas knew Lucy was worried about his over-night travels. She wondered how much was left of him when he dipped into other peoples’ dreams. Sometimes, it was his perceivable absence that woke her, despite feeling the warmth of his body next to her. Feeling guilty for deserting her, Jonas tried to stay within the realms of his own dreams, but he soon got bored.
He loved the excitement he got from completely emerging himself in someone else’s world without suffering the consequences. So he’d flirt, threaten, tease and often fight, only to be saved every time by the ringing of his alarm clock.
He wasn’t sure how old he was the first time it happened. He remembers that it was a ten-year-old girl in Australia, but he couldn’t say what her dream was about. All he knew was that he woke up with the most furious sunburn of his entire life.
To Lucy, it felt incredibly intrusive, and extremely inconsiderate. Who’d want anyone to delve into their most private thoughts? As she became increasingly wary of him, she joined all sorts of classes from Pilates to book clubs just to avoid spending time with him.
It wasn’t until he woke up screaming and covered in scratches that she realised it wasn’t all that for him either. As they sat on plastic chairs in A&E, sipping thin coffee from the vending machine, the concrete wall between them slowly began to crumble. “It’s not like you think”, Jonas explained, his eyes begging and his forehead creased linen.
The following night, he woke up covered in water so muddy, Lucy had to wash the sheets twice before it was free of stains. The weekend they stayed at her parents house, he didn’t sleep at all, for fear of causing a stir. But on the drive back, he could only control his heavy eyelids for so long, before he drifted off into the afternoon nap of a middle-aged housewife. He quickly became immersed in her family’s deep-rooted rivalries and the grief that followed her husband’s affair. He felt for her, as her life unravelled in front of his eyes.
After pulling into their driveway, Lucy didn’t have the heart to wake him, so she wrote him a note with eyeliner and left him in the car. When he knocked on their door an hour later, his eyes were so dark she hugged him until his shoulder cracked.
“You get used to anything”, she told her mother on the phone. After six years together, her bedside table had become a survival kit, and she had learnt how to deal with almost every physical or emotional aftermath. That was until the morning after an entangled dream she’d had about her ex-husband Chris.
Anxious before even opening her eyes, Lucy felt for him with the back of her hand. Certain she was alone, she rose, and snuck into the en-suite. The tap running, she rummaged through her memories in search for something terrible. When she re-emerged, she found him in the kitchen, quietly whisking an egg. She didn’t even need to ask him.
“I can’t believe it had to be MY dream. There’s you crashing dreams all over the place, you’d think you’d have the decency to stay away from ME! It’s a breach of privacy, what you’re doing there. It’s not right!”
“Do you really think I deliberately slip into your filthy mind to find out that you’re dreaming of being with someone else?!” Jonas shouts, as he turns his back on the egg. Within an instant, the thoroughly whisked white and yolk separate, and the front door slams shut.
When he wakes with a grazed knee the following morning, his chest tightens as he leans over her side. Obsessed about the perfect jump, he’d spent the night with a teenage skateboarder. As he carefully pulls out Lucy’s drawer, his longing spreads through his body like wild fire. With each item he discovers, he licks another tear off his lips. She thought of everything. Apart from the obvious plaster and dressing, he found a small bottle of smelling salts, disinfectant for insect bites, tweezers and antihistamine tablets. She must have bought the tweezers after he woke up with glass splinters in his foot one morning.
That night, he looks at photographs of her and smells her perfume before going to sleep, hoping to join her in her dreams. But Lucy would be the last sleeper he’d ever join. Without her by his side, sleeping with one eye open and prepared to stop his bleeding, a part of him always stayed behind.
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