Sunday 9 January 2011

The nightmare

Inspired by Lydia Davis, here's an attempt at a one-paragraph short story:

Once I dreamed my whole life. I dreamed my childhood, the easy early years in the shade of mango trees and frangipanis, the joys of solitude and reading, the boredom of high school in a boring town, the humiliations of puberty, the happiness of friendship, the perplexing misery of teen romance. I dreamed I loved a girl on my street with small brown curls, but then I moved away, I met someone else and we were married, we made a home, we made children, we shared all the tenderness and drudgery of married life. But as the years passed we grew apart, our closeness became an intolerable burden, a slow suffocation, until one day I knew, with a breathless, terrifying certainty, that I had married the wrong person. I saw that the only one in the world I needed was the girl on my street, the girl with the small brown curls whom I had loved all those years ago. But she had long since gone away, she no longer knew me or remembered my name. When I woke from the dream, I lay in my bed beneath a suffocating blanket of despair. The truth of the dream was acute and unbearable: my whole life had been a mistake, one immense and sickening catastrophe, and nothing now could ever make it right. I heard the breathing of my wife next to me, and, choked by grief, I knew she was wrong, a mistake, the reef on which all my life was shipwrecked. Then she turned in her sleep, and I saw a single dark curl slide from her naked shoulder, and saw that she was not the wife of my dream, but the other one, the girl from my street whom I had loved as a child, whom I had longed for, desolate and unrequited, in my dream.


Steve Wright said...

Have you ever considered how similar your life is to Peter Parker's?

Pamela said...

Mills & Boon eat your heart out.

Andrew said...

Thank goodness for the happy ending. I was about to go out and get a copy of Niche to beat myself over the head with. I'm in Toowoomba where yet more torrential rain is falling even as I type. Another short story like yesterday's would have really capped off what has not been a great couple of days.

Jordan said...

I was confused by the ending. As I understood it, when the man discovered that his wife was in fact the brown-haired girl of his childhood, it meant that even though he had in fact married the 'right' girl, he was still full of despair. Because as he says earlier, upon awakening, he felt despair, and that he had chosen the wrong person.

So I thought you were trying to say that even though he had made the 'right' choice, he was still unfulfilled and unhappy, which would be a really sad comment about life, as though no matter what we are doomed to unhappiness.

But apparently, after reading Andrew's comment, the ending is supposed to mean that when the man realizes the brown-haired girl is his wife, he knows that actually his life is a good one.

John Hartley said...

Dear Ben,

Inspired by your attempt, here's mine:


My wife had been suffering persistent slight pain in her wrist, but it was only in a dream that the cause was revealed to me. In graphic technicolour, first as if it were a mad science-fiction programme on TV, but then in ever-increasing reality and clarity, I saw how an alien species of parasitic spiders had invaded the earth, laying their eggs in the bodies of their unsuspecting hosts in the silent hours of hot nights. The genius of these particular eggs and larvae was that they secreted a hormone which inclined their hosts to discount any aches or pains, to refuse to visit the doctor, to resist any suggestion that anything might be abnormal, to be convinced that all discomfort would simply go away by itself. Which indeed it would, mostly, after the mature spider emerged from its subcutaneous refuge during another warm night, and scuttled away to grow, mate, and lay its eggs in another unsuspecting victim ... perhaps one close by? In a fit of misguided enthusiasm the next morning I explained all this to my wife, but she simply smiled in amusement at my explanations, and pronounced herself quite certain that any pain was transitory and of no consequence. Nor was she in the least bit moved by my pointing out that this was the effect of the alien hormone. On the other hand, looking back on it all ... maybe she was right? I'm sure the recent pain in my own shoulder is simply muscular!

Yours, as ever - JOHN HARTLEY.

Lucidus said...

Ben, have you come across the Swiss short-story writer, Peter Bichsel? Your story, with its open, ambiguous ending (inviting the reader's ideas, rather than prescribing too much), reminded me just a touch of his style and story.

He's not known widely in English-speaking circles, but quite popular in Germany. He's a master of the "long-paragraph" story. You might enjoy him.

Here's a story of his, 'San Salvador':
(That's the best I can find, I'm afraid.)

Daniel Imburgia said...

...she was not the wife of my dream, but the other one, the girl from my street whom I had loved as a child, whom I had longed for, desolate and unrequited, in my dream....I smiled and sighed in relief. My wife turning and seeing my smile but also the tiny baby tears in my eyes looked puzzled. I reached to pull her close but she pushed my hands away and sat up. “You were dreaming of another woman weren’t you?” “No!” my voice squeaked too loudly, “I mean yes, but it was really you, only younger, you know, not some other girl.” “A younger me is still another girl” she snapped, ripping back the blankets and sitting up. She rested her face in her hands, deciding how angry to be. She, too, had her dreams.

Paul Tyson said...

I find it interesting and right that in a romance about Ben’s wife, the notes of desolation and commitment anxiety are rung, but strongly overcome. Is this mere sentiment and shamefully non-realistic, or is Ben onto something of real (I might even say Real) importance here? With Augustine I think only truth, goodness, love and beauty are finally Real, so whilst indeed we are always desolate, always make the wrong decisions, the flux and contingency of life always corrodes ‘timeless’ love, and we always only partially find what we are looking for in these shadow lands, it is the shadow lands, rather than the sacraments of the true city of God, that are unrealistic. So every failed romance is truer (in what is true in love that is) in its vision of love than in its vision of desolation. Every true love, with all its stresses and drudgeries, is truer than the abandonment of the bonds of committed love for fleeting ‘sexual fulfilment’, interest, freedom etc. Bravo Ben.

Pamela said...

Bravo Paul.

Paul Tyson said...

Thanks Pamela. You started me down this track with your seven word post above - I thought this was what you were driving at. Nice to know I read you aright.

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