First published "Flickers 'n' Frames" 1990
In his dream, the female had sharpened nails, one of which she viciously dug into his cheek. The blood gouted as if a bomb had dropped on a high pressure mains...
Dell woke. That particular dream was becoming more vivid each time it recurred. Including the waking up process itself. Without fail, the drone of aeroplane engines above the house sent his eardrums into deep murmur and mumble. Forty odd years since the War, and here he was imagining it still going on. The contemporary newspapers were full of the Berlin Wall being dismantled (whether it be in reality or symbolically), and of the face of old Europe taking on a new disguise. *And* there was still this one mischronological pilot maintaining a blitz of London single-handed! For him (or her?) the War perhaps never began and he (or she) was trying to stir the embers of man’s natural antagonism to man by dropping a dream bomb or two on an innocent at home, such as Dell.
He had given the game away. He woke himself up with a start, knowing that dreams within dreams could not be allowed to continue or one of them might take on a semblance of unshakeable reality. The Berlin Wall was a fixture - its crumbling less likely than the London skyline being without the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral for one of its credentials.
Dell took a black ready-stick stamp from the album beside his bed and applied it to the wall mirror. He never questioned this routine. Much like an assassin would notch his gun handle (one for an enemy soldier, two for a nun, three for a new born baby of either sex). These stamps ware the mementoes, insignia, regalia, accoutrements of dreams had. Sometimes the stamp was white. An inch by inch square. Often black *and* white. With straight or blurred divisions. Sometimes slightly smaller, sometimes bigger, or that might have been a figment of his imagination. But always square enough. They began to fit like limbless jigsaw bits, as time built up. They were his proof of waking up. The room with the mirror was where he was at. He needed confidence in the reality of reality and in the discontinuity of dreaming. As long as he could return to this room in time, find the stamp album, *know* intuitively the exact place on the mirror’s surface to position the next randomly chosen sticker and, finally, with a flourish and a fanfare of tuneless humming, press it neatly next to its neighbour. Soon, Dell would not be able to see his own face at all.
One dream he feared more than any other. It was the female with nails. They looked sharp enough to worry and tease the edges of the stamps and eventually peel them from the mirror. If *that* actually happened in the dream, perhaps he would discover that it was not *him* dreaming it in the first place, as the silver back-up reflector shone into the room like an air-raid warden’s hooded torch ... lighting up his face as a wild ghost in the mirror.
Waking up from the dreams with *her* in them, he would be shaking and shivering, not even able for a few minutes actually to establish the whereabouts of the album, let alone have fingers nimble enough to pick out a single stamp.
In the early days, Dell thought the design of evolving stamps was a Jackson Pollock mishmash of monochrome. No rhyme nor reason to the shapes and smudges of black into white, white into black. They were predominantly spreading from the left hand side of the mirror in a snowstorm. After a spate of dreamless nights, he gave up the idea of ever finishing it.
Then eventually, a pure white gap began to appear about three-quarters of the way up, imperceptibly widening out as it angled downwards at forty-five degrees (or thereabouts). For several weeks of sporadic dreaming, each stamp was pure white. There were, of course, different shades of black that intervened, ever positioned to leave the white bar uncorrupted. There was, after all, a partially recognisable form emerging. It was as if real life was in slow motion, compared to the speed of his dreams. No other way to explain the phenomenon, however unsatisfactory. Holding his breath, to die...
One night when he dreamed of the old drone over the house, it was so close, he could hear the bombdoors unlatch and the half-stifled, shrieking whistle of a shortcut doodlebug. None of it made sense. It *must* be a dream. He woke, thankfully, before, whatever was dropped fell on his house.
But the stamp that particular night convinced him. He wondered how he had been so blind. The design on the mirror was nat a wartime St Paul’s Cathedral amid revolving floodlights: it was one half of an old-fashioned aeroplane. He recognised it from some of the black and white films they still showed on the box. Not knowing what it meant, he felt crazy to finish it, even If it meant ripping out stamps without the concomitant dreams first. It built up under his flickering hands, square by square. A star on its wing. Friend or foe, he could not recall from the history lessons at school. Heading into a snowstorm, or was it flak, over the dark seas of the past time … cheating the wind. The last stamp went in perfectly - there seemed to be a dome, too far back for a cockpit, he thought. Was this some consolation prize for it not being his favourite cathedral? He knew next to nothing about Fokkers, to know it wasn’t one. Or that the dome was a gun turret. He knew too little to know that he would be wrong, *whatever* he decided. That’s the way dreams are built up. With bricks that seem to fit, until they topple down.
The relentless droning above his head, he did not notice, despite being fully awake by now. The noise was too obvious. He had met it too often in his dreams, teasing the eardrums with barely heard undergrunts of vibration. In real life, it was there and not there at one and the same time.
Crossing the wall of the mind he heard the bomblatch slip...
Dell woke, not with a start, but an ending. The bedroom’s walls ware shimmeringly lit with a city ablaze. The mirror threw back the red shadows like shunting ghosts. Dell stared wild-eyed at the image of self staring wild-eyed at its replica. Raising the sharpened claw to the cheek, Dell scored, as the bomb missed.