The usual house - whitewashed, deserted, possibly continental - laid out slightly differently this time. He ascends the half-lit stairs, throws wide the doors. Sensing the air thick with a discomforting presence he zooms in on the only object in the room. In the corner to the right of the window, through which the moon pales, is a tailor's dummy in hessian. He presses on, knowing damn well that there is something wrong, that he is not the only one in the room. The dummy is wearing a shirt - claret slubbed silk, wide collar, double cuffs. Five paces later the shirt's right sleeve begins to flail, desperately cutting the air - a hopeless rooted marionette. The moon is extinguished, leaving him in total darkness with the chemise possessed.
Fumbling for the light - the fucking light - Dave runs the nightly race against the tail end of the dream. Depressing the switch he sighs, turns to look at Laura. She is out for the count: oblivious both to the sudden illumination and to her love's suffering she snuffles away. Dave is not so callous as to disturb her, but needy enough to wish that he could. Wishing to be held himself, he puts his arms around her, hoping to feel the real, to dispel the isolation of the nightmare.
It was the third time this week and Dave was beginning to despair. He could have coped a lot better were it not for the accompanying stomach cramps and cold sweat - there was enough damp in the room without his contributing to it. Yet again the thought occurred to him, what to do now? Nothing to read. Too early to get up. Can't go back to sleep. Run the risk of the dream carrying on. Fairly sure I don't want to find out what happens next.
Seemed like hours, but at some point after 5.15 (when he last checked the clock) Dave must have nodded off. The alarm sounded an hour and a half later, dragging him out of the pit in which Laura always managed to sleep soundly. How the hell did she? Having accumulated steadily all week the resentment appeared to be coming to a head he could now taste the bile. After several expressions of concern from (mostly female) colleagues he examined his appearance in the Gents at work.
He was green. Not jaundiced, not even livid, but verdi gris. Stubble gives the bristle of Astroturf. Like a drugged up gimp he underperforms his way through the day. In the photocopying room, in the kitchen, plugged in at the VDU, in the fag break on the fire escape, he is haunted by the nightly visitation. What the hell did it mean? And why did it insist on coming back night after night?
Two nights ago, as he had lain in the now familiar funk, he had attempted to interpret. He wasn't stressed at work - if anything the load had been light for some time. His relationship with Laura was stronger than ever. The kids were fine: Edward had been slow to make friends at the new school, James was at a loss as to which A/S levels to select, but otherwise they were reasonably happy, well-adjusted individuals. He could, in short, be fairly proud of his parenting. As the obvious explanations dwindled a wide-eyed and vigilant Dave delved into the dim recesses of his psyche. Could there be some kind of hangover from his childhood, deep-seated resentment of long-buried mistreatment, fear of being haunted by past misdeeds?
He values the mornings more and more now. Previously a thawing-out period, a prelude to the liquid lunch and brief afternoon of work en route to early doors drinking, the dawning of the new day now signals blessed relief and the opportunity of escape from his bed. Whereas before he had done his damnedest to pass the time he now drags out his hours, savouring every moment of daylight in an attempt to postpone the moment when he will be forced to return home to the locus of torment.
Days pass in much the same fashion. Towards the end of the fifth week Dave, stiff and bloodshot, levers himself into bed, careful not to rub the raw nerve endings, bruise the wires in his head. Aware that he cannot go on like this for much longer, he begins the nightly ritual: lying now on his front, then again on his back, he is torn between dread of sleep and torpor of exhaustion. It is 10.35 pm. As he is just dropping off it hits him - he must get rid of that fucking hideous shirt.