“Good morning, Doctor. Lie down? I’d prefer to sit, if I may. Lying down makes me want to dream, and I—I dream enough already. That’s what John says, anyway.
“Yes, my brother, John. He lunched with you at the Albemarle Club last week, I believe. Yes, that’s him. Round spectacles and a top hat. He set up my appointment today. He thought you could help. You see, I’m to be married.
“Thank you. Lucy’s a lovely girl. I’m quite lucky, you know. Quite lucky. Most girls wouldn’t put up with the stuffed bear nonsense, but she takes it all in stride. She takes everything in stride. It’s wonderful. Even the dreams, if that’s what they are. She thinks they’re some sort of hold-over from the war. The bear too. I almost wish it was. Shell shock would be easier to explain, wouldn’t it?
“Oh no. I was too young to fight. I was twelve when the Armistice was signed. Father was in the home guard, of course, and John fought at the Somme. Came home with a medal, actually. I think he hasn’t the imagination to be afraid. That’s what makes him a good banker. That and the hat. It blends in there, you see. It looked out of place among the coonskins and feathers. That’s how I always see him. Hopelessly out of place. But I suppose he isn’t anymore. I am. Grey bank walls looming over the Thames don’t belong to the same world as those vibrant greens and blues. They can’t. John knows that, but I—well, that’s why I’m here I suppose.
“I’m sorry. I mustn’t waste your time. No, Doctor, I’m afraid my problem has nothing to do with the war. Although perhaps the news from Germany brings something of it back. Everyone wondering if there will be another conflict. I find myself wondering about something quite different—if there’s room for color beyond this grey city. Although perhaps the two are not entirely unrelated. We look for faith in times of trouble, don’t we?
“My sister never lost hers. She tells the stories to her son every night as dutifully as a nun counting her beads. With the same sense of gratified hope. John doesn’t like it when I visit her. I always dream afterwards.
“The dreams? Well, they’re not dreams, exactly. More like memories. At least that’s what they seem like. They’re fuzzier than dreams, but harder. More firm, if that makes any sense. And you can’t smell things in dreams, can you? The forest smelled like honeysuckle. And the ship like unwashed wool socks. It’s a wooden ship that creaks in the wind under shockingly bright rainbows that cross and arch across an indigo sky…
“No, I know rainbows can’t cross. But every time I think I have myself convinced, I look at Bear. He’s seen it too, you see. With those shoe-button eyes. That’s why I can’t entirely take John’s word that it’s not real.
“If I could just choose one way or the other, I think I’d be satisfied. I wouldn’t need this stuffed bit of nonsense. But here, in the hinterland of doubt, it’s good to have a friend. I haven’t really grown up either, you see. Not like him of course. I’ve been stunted by uncertainty, not dust. If I could have a sign—but I suppose those are rarely granted us. A missing thimble doesn’t really count unless you’ve faith already.
“But I can’t shake the feeling that one day he’ll come back. If he did, I wouldn’t have to doubt any more. I’d know. Although if I did know for sure, as a man I mean, what would I do? It would change my life, wouldn’t it? Or would it? Perhaps we accustom ourselves to miracles as easily as we’ve accustomed ourselves to the wireless. Wonder cannot be a permanent state, I think.
“I once read a book about a crazy old priest who had nightmares. About Christ coming down from the cross in a mad fit of glory. Angels, profits, the works. But the priest hated it, you see. No room for doubt. Well, I told you he was crazy. Although sometimes I wonder.
“The end of my time? Oh yes. Thank you very much, Doctor. I’m sure this will put John’s mind at ease. A prescription for laudanum? Well, if you think it would help. Send it to round to the apothecary near Sloane Square. Yes, I’ll pick it up myself. Just have it made it out to Michael Darling. D-A-R-L-I-N-G. That’s right. Good day, sir.”
Katie Mastin graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English literature. After a tour in the Peace Corps, she moved abroad with her husband and began writing. She has lived in Albania, Liberia, Russia, Washington DC, and currently Mexico City. You can find out more at Cabaum.com.