by Andy Houstoun
A knock at my bedroom door startles me. Greg, one of my housemates, pokes his head in. “Would you do me a favour? I need someone to come on a double-date.”
“Who’s it with?”
“Susie and her mate from the art class. She’s supposed to be hot.”
“Is she blonde?”
Greg shakes his head. “Man, what is it with you and blondes?”
If I tell him the truth, he won’t believe me. Not many people would. There’s a good reason for it though. It all goes back to my last day of school.
I was talking to my classmate, Haruki, on the walk home. Approaching the top of Bleak Hill, about a quarter of a mile from my house, sunlight spilled across the road and a warm breeze carried the scent of Yoshino cherries.
Haruki kicked a battered Coke can across the street. “I can’t believe this is our last day.”
I pulled the straps of my backpack tighter. “I know, it’s a real anti-climax. I guess things will be different from now on though.”
And then it happened. The road before me swayed, my head throbbed, and the houses rotated around me. My pace slackened, and Haruki turned to look at me. “Are you all right?”
I squatted on the pavement and closed my eyes. When I opened them I was in a kitchen. There was a wooden table, and on it, a greeting card. It was black with the words: ‘Happy 20th Anniversary’.
I turned my head and examined the rest of the room. A woman bent down to take a dish from an oven. The smell of roast lamb wafted over. A strand of blonde hair fell over her face, and her eyes met mine. Beautiful, dark blue eyes.
A white mist closed in around me, and I was back, squatting on the pavement. The spring breeze brushed my face, and birds called to one another from the surrounding trees.
Haruki’s face came into view with furrowed eyebrows. “Dan?”
“I was in a house with a woman and…it was so real.”
If that had been the only time it occurred, it might not have had such an impact on me. I would have put it down to a wild imagination and the stress of exams or sleep-deprivation, but a few weeks after I started university, a similar thing happened.
I shared a house with three guys in a rough part of the city where the rent was cheap. Coming home one evening, as I pushed open the door, I felt dizzy, like I’d stood up too fast. I went to my room, sat on the bed, and closed my eyes. When I opened them, I was standing in an unfamiliar hallway. Just as before, I had no idea where I was, although felt strangely at home.
Light shone through a frosted glass transom. A patterned Minton tile floor led to a staircase on my right, two wooden doors on my left, and another at the end of the hall. A peaceful ambience soothed me: the smell of polished wood and steady tick-tock of an antique clock.
I stepped through the nearest doorway into a living room. A blue sofa stood against one wall across from a fireplace with a Victorian brass register and marble surround. Shelves of books filled each side: Picasso, Nancy Spero, Art at the Turn of the 21st Century.
A photograph leaned against the wall on the windowsill. It was the blonde woman. She looked younger though. Stunning. Her hair pulled behind her head, one strand hanging over her face, and a slight shadow under her cheekbones. She wore a khaki vest and a circular pendant hung from a black string around her neck. A child rested on her hip, maybe two years old with a finger in his mouth, looking towards the camera with oval blue eyes.
I put the photo back.
“Dan? Are you okay?” a feminine voice with a slight Irish lilt called from the hall.
I hesitantly stepped back to the doorway and looked up the stairs.
“Are you coming?” she asked.
A white haze closed in, and I was back on my bed in my student room. I took a deep breath; sweat beaded on my brow. I had no idea what was going on.
Fearing the story would be the target for merriment, I didn’t speak to anyone about it. There was no one I trusted enough. So, despite being disturbed and also intrigued, I carried on as normal and settled into a routine of breakfast, lectures, lunch in the canteen, and research in the library.
In April, I was strolling home through Aston Park. It was the kind of day where you’re not sure if you need an umbrella; the dampness in the air bringing out the scent of the earth. An uncomfortable pressure pounded in my head. Sunlight broke through leaves swaying above me, flickering orange and white.
I blinked, and a silhouette of the blonde woman moved before me, daylight shining through leaded windows behind her. We were in a living room with white walls and wooden floorboards.
I smelled the fresh pine of a Christmas tree and had a bauble in my hand ready to place on a branch.
“Do you remember this?” She smiled and held up a wooden model house with snow painted on its roof.
I looked at it hanging from her fingertips, and then at her face. I held her gaze, dark blue with flecks of brown and grey, full lips curved down at the corners with a confident charm. Her forehead creased. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I smiled, and then a mist moved in around me, and I was back, walking through the park.
Greg holds his hand up like he’s about to launch into an operatic song. “Come on man. She might be blonde. Whatever. It’ll be a craic.”
“When is it?”
“I’ve got a test tomorrow.”
“Come on Dan. I’m desperate. Susie won’t come unless I bring someone else.”
I smile at the hopelessness in his voice. “Okay, I’ll come.”
“Awesome. We need to leave at nine. Be ready by then, yeah?”
My heart starts to pound. Could it be the woman from my strange visions? Does she even exist?
After the dreamlike experiences, I went to the university library to research what it might be. I found a book in the Medical Section called ‘Conditions That Are As Bizarre As They Are Fascinating’. Inside, I discovered Chrono-Lapse Syndrome. A rare genetic disorder. It causes the afflicted to jump through time at unpredictable moments and remain there, sometimes for just a few seconds, sometimes for hours. I became convinced I had the condition.
I started looking out for the blonde woman in real time. Every day, I scanned the faces of people on the city streets of Birmingham or in bars when I was out with friends. Always wondering when, or if, we would meet.
Two months later, I was sitting at my bedroom desk, revising for an end-of-term test. A table lamp lit a pile of books in front of me. The light began to dazzle me, and I felt that same light-headed sensation. The familiar haze closed in, and when I regained my vision, green and rusty coloured hills stretched before me, with a narrow dirt track leading to the sea.
Overhead, seagulls cried from a cloudless sky. I breathed in the clean, salty air. The woman stood on a small wooden bridge two hundred meters away. The wind blew her pale green dress around her thighs.
I shouted: “Hey, Blondie!”
She looked my direction, then skipped away towards the beach. I followed.
Waves crashed into rocks, and fine spray drifted through the air.
“Come on!” she shouted over the roar of the sea, beckoning me to a rock she stood against.
I stepped across the stones and sat next to her.
She held a camera out and pointed it towards us. She grinned. “What a beautiful honeymoon.” The shutter clicked, and the bright light of my table lamp reappeared. My university notes came back into focus. I shook my head, wishing I could return. Blondie mesmerized me. I couldn’t entertain the idea of being with anyone else.
At 9: 45, Greg and I step off the bus onto one of the busy streets of Birmingham. Groups of young people pass by, shouting and laughing loudly under the drizzly autumn sky.
“This way!” Greg beckons. Bright lights from streetlamps reflect off wet pavements. Doormen with their arms folded, stand outside venues with thumping dance music.
“Susie!” Greg approaches two girls standing outside a pub entrance. One holds an umbrella over their heads, and the other stands shivering, with her hands in her back pockets.
“Dan!” Greg motions with his hand. “This is Susie and…?” He looks at his date.
Susie raises the umbrella, revealing more of her friend. Red lipstick, warm brown eyes, dark curly hair. My shoulders sag. “Hi.” I try to force a sincere smile.
Red and yellow lights behind them flash to the music, reflecting on the pub wall. My head throbs, and the white mist closes in.
I’m lying in a bed, naked, with Blondie next to me. Her head rests on me, hair spilt across my chest. Sunlight streams in through a gap in the curtains, illuminating specks of dust in the air. I have no idea where I am, but I don’t care. I breathe in the scent of Blondie’s skin and place my hand on her shoulder. I’m convinced I’ll meet her soon.
Written by Andy Houstoun.
A pound coin
I scroll through the song choices of the old jukebox, and punch 624. A seven inch of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ moves into position.
The tonearm slides across and there’s a CRACKLE as the needle
A melancholy guitar chord erupts from the speakers. The familiar steady rhythm and haunting vocals begin, stirring my gut.
I’m in The Angel on New Year’s Eve, a pub Siobhán and I frequented in the early nineties. It’s a lonely place to be by myself. I go back to my seat, undo the top button of my shirt, remove my Anglican clerical collar and place it on the table.
I’m twenty again.
The place hasn’t changed. It still has the same decor: oak beams, lead windows, black walls with torn posters of The Charlatans and The Stone Roses, the smell of ale and
I glance at the door and imagine Siobhán walking in. It’s been eight years since I’ve seen her.
As ‘Purple Rain’ plays on, I take out a photo of her. There’s a white fold line across the middle of the picture but it’s the only one I have. It’s from her student house in Leeds. Her eyes, wild and dark, stare back. Her skin is unblemished with naturally pink cheeks. Blonde, cropped hair hangs long at the front, blunt cut to her jaw-line on one side. I place the photo on the table next to my dog collar.
Out the window, snowflakes
and disintegrate on the glass
before my eyes can catch them,
and I’m lost in memories of her again.
Sitting outside the tent, a short distance from here, under the cloudless blue sky, we took in the endless moors and breathed the sweet summer air.
‘Purple Rain’ came on the battered stereo I had brought along. Siobhán pulled me to my feet and we danced, close. She looked into my eyes. “When you hear this song, think of me.”
I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I was scared she’d turn me down. Instead, I asked, “Do you think we’ll still be together when we’re in our thirties?”
“Maybe,” she smiled, amused at my question.
And then, to ensure we didn’t lose contact, I came up with this ridiculous idea: “Let’s meet back here on New Year’s Eve in the year 2000, no matter what. At midnight.”
“Okay.” She smiled again.
A glance at my watch tells me it’s ten past twelve. I place my collar and photo in my pocket and step outside into the cold night air.
There’s no sign of her. It’s stopped snowing and the wind has died down. I pull my coat collar tight around my neck and look towards the hills where Siobhán and I camped.
A warm tear