A Couple of Hours

“I had a dream last night.”

“What kind of dream?”

“I was standing in front of the darkest corridor dressed in a white silk nightgown. My hair were let down and my arms hung lifeless on both sides. I couldn’t remember my name or who I was. I had no idea where I was or where I was coming from. I am not even sure there was anything to remember. It almost felt like… like I didn’t care. I was just standing there, my gaze fixated on the corridor. I tried looking behind me, but my head was unable to turn. I tried moving my hands, but they just stood there like a pair of inert pendulums. I lowered my eyes and saw I was barefooted. I tested my legs with no luck. I just stood there. Alone, confused, without any makeup on.”

“No makeup. That must have been scary.”

“A nightmare.”

“Is there more? Dis moi.

“Your French is getting better. Stop… Stop messing with my hair. You know I do not like that… Stop, please…”

(Incomprehensible whisper)

“I do. You know I do. Umm… The corridor was long and made of stone. At least I think it was stone. I am not really good with materials. It reminded me of those stone tunnels we used to cross in Prague; Do you remember? Like that little dark alley I kissed you for the fist time. Oh, don’t blush. It doesn’t suit you. On either side of the corridor there were metal doors like… I don’t know. I am not sure. Like prison doors. Black prison doors with those little barred windows. Dozens of doors on each side. White doors on the left side and black on the right. I was still standing there, motionless. A moment later — a moment that seemed like an eternity — I felt something propelling me forward. I still had no control over my legs and yet they moved. First the left, then the right. Small, unsure steps. Forced steps. And I was kept being pushed and my legs kept going forward. One little step at a time. I was unable to control myself. I had no idea who I was or why I was there and still I kept being pushed forward.”

“What about the doors?”

“You were always the impatient one. Do you remember that first day? You were so nervous. A stranger in a strange land. I took you to the Eiffel Tower and you kept talking about Big Ben. A Frenchwoman and an Englishman. Do you miss London?”

“No.”

“What do you miss?”

“Toi.

“Not again.”

“Why not?”

“There is more to the dream. There was something that was missing from the corridor…”

Gabrielle…”

“There was something missing from the corridor. I think it was…time. I could not feel the time passing. I could not feel anything. Not my legs moving forward, not any kind of gentle breeze touching my face. I wasn’t sure if I was blinking at all. I kept going and going and going until I reached the first door. The invisible wall behind me stopped its advance and I froze in place, limbs hanging, eyes gazing, mind drifting. And then a huge clock appeared hanging from the ceiling at the end of the corridor. A huge round wooden clock with strange carvings. Like those archaic clocks you see in horror movies and history flicks. Those damn annoying ticking clocks, only this wasn’t ticking. I stood there staring at it. A clock frozen in time. It seems ironic, yet I could feel no irony at all. And then it started ticking.”

“Like the ticking of an old grandfather clock?”

“Louder, denser. And with the first tick the invisible wall behind me starting moving again and with it my legs. I passed past the first white door and I took a look inside through the barred window. A school room. It was a science room, I think. I could see the equations and the triangles and the multiplication board. And the children. Oh mon dieu, les enfants. Ces petits enfants. They looked so happy. They wore those big smiles you only see on television and they giggled and they raised their hands. One step more and I could see their teacher. Young, beautiful, content. Happy? Yes, happy and yet — so distant. Like a mirage she stood there. And I felt like I was looking in the mirror. A distorted, annoying mirror. A lying mirror. Have you ever looked at your face on a lying mirror? We all have one in our homes. It is the mirror you use every time you get ready to face another mundane day. You have no idea what I am talking about, do you? Another step and another step and another step. I tried turning back, but I had no power over my legs. It was too late. I attempted a last glimpse, but my head felt stiffer, almost rigid. I felt a hole in my chest and the clock started ticking louder. And then I did feel something. I tasted salt and my lips knew I was crying.”

“This is… you never…”

“And never going to.”

“But there is always t”

(-ime…) “The door was long behind me when my legs brought me a few steps from the first black door; I suddenly stopped. The clock stopped. My tears stopped. Everything stopped. And with a mighty thrust the door was forced open by a locomotive of clothing racks that broke the crosswise wall and kept going and going like a bullet train passing before my eyes. White shirts, grey skirts, black high heels, mirrors, and all kinds of expensive cosmetics. Thousands and thousands of them. As I was staring at the rack, a part of myself fled my body. Like those lucid dreaming sketches you see in the articles. Something inside me left my form, and it was smiling a smile I have seen before. A smile of incoming success. A smile of… lust. You know how it’s like. It’s always that way isn’t it? The promises and the possibilities. Those false possibilities. We all fell for that, didn’t we?”

“We did.”

“And now?”

“There is more to the corridor.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“When my lucid projection returned from the rack I was already dressed. My white nightgown was gone and my unruly hair was tied up to a very professional work bun. The rack disappeared and the clock started ticking again… And then I started moving tow…”

“What’s wrong? What’s with the awkward stare?”

“This is getting tiring. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I thought I did. I don’t anymore. You mock me.”

“I don’t. You mock yourself.”

“You know nothing.”

“I know enough.”

“Prove it to me. I dare you. Prove it…”

“The clock started ticking again. And you started moving towards the second white door…”

“John. Stop.”

“One forced step at a time. Left, right, left right. Like some puppet, you felt the strings leading the way and time slowly passing by.”

“Stop. Don’t do this. I don’t want to hear.”

“The clock and your legs didn’t stop for the second white door. You kept going forward and caught a glimpse inside the bars. What was it this time? Chile? I am sure it was Chile. You always smile when you mention Chile. Oh, the glory of what you could have done. There were the endless landscapes and mountains. The plateau green mixed with the snowy white and the sky blue drowned by the evening red. Some say that on these mountains on a clear night you can talk with the universe. With whom do you talk every day, Gabrielle?”

“You are a bastard. Damn you, you sweet sweet bastard…”

“But the ticking got louder and louder and Chile was gone. Left behind like so many white doors. How many have you seen?”

“Too many.”

“Dressed and frustrated you were pushed to the second black door. And everything stopped. Again. Because that is what happens when you stop, Gabrielle. This is what happens when you stop on the wrong door. He came out of that door. I am sure of it. He and that damned proposal of his and your little shiny Paris apartment.”

“…”

“And the next door were the kids. And the next that awful country house. That despicable prison. I know what you saw in that dream, Gabrielle. Because it’s not a dream. It never was and you can’t do anything to wake from that nightmare.”

“Let me finish at least. If we are doing this, you need to let me finish. I passed many doors and…”

“No, you don’t have to do this. I know what you are trying to say. I will get my coat.”

“You are a fool. Such a fool. I walked by so many doors, John. Stop fighting it. Just hold me. And let me finish.”

“But…”

“I walked by a lot of doors. Black and white. And, yes, the clock kept ticking and, yes, you probably can guess each and every door. Except for one. Except for that last one. The closer I moved to the clock, the clearer I could see what was behind it. A cliff. A cliff to God knows where. A pretty boring symbolism, right? A cliff at the end of the time…”

“It’s not boring.”

“And the clock kept ticking and the hours kept passing. By the time I passed the first door it already pointed at one. By Chile it was three. I am not sure if the numbers meant anything but… As the clock reached eleven I was feeling depressed and content at the same time. Have you ever felt that way, John? Disappointed, yet relaxed in some obscure and twisted way? No, not content. Maybe… defeated? There was one last door before the cliff. One last white door. But this one was different. My legs stopped, John. My legs stopped and the clock stopped and the door opened.”

“But… I thought that…”

“Inside was a clock. A different kind of clock. A big shiny white clock that felt like it belonged on a wall in heaven. Most of the numbers were missing, except for three.”

“17:00…”

“18:00…”

“19:00…”

“Inside the room I wore no clothes; I had no skin; no face and no thoughts; no husband, no kids; inside the room I was everything I ever wanted to be — and more. I never wanted for the clock to tick, but it did. And as it started I knew all I had were two hours.”

“We don’t have to.”

“Yes we do. We have to. It is that inevitable end that gives meaning to what matters the most. We are mortal, John. We can’t escape our destiny. Everything has to end. If not now, then at some point. And think of the people we might hurt if it doesn’t. We don’t have the right. We don’t… And that beautiful, serene clock kept ticking and when it reached 19 my eyes filled with a bright white light. I found myself in the beginning: White nightgown, memory erased, everything frozen. But this time there was something different. There was…. There was….”

Gabrielle…”

“There was you. And I knew that every regret, every wrong decision, every white and black door brought me to you. I regret nothing. A thousand dark corridors couldn’t stop me from getting to you. Even if this cinq-a-sept is all we’ll ever have.”

Je t’ aime.”

“Toujours.”

Cinq-a-sept (SANK-a-SETT) French
The post-work period set aside for illicit love
THE END

What do you call a writer who doesn’t write?

What do you call a painter who doesn’t paint?

What do you call a boogie-wooger who knows it’s in him, but he doesn’t boogie-woogie?

“There is a Word for That” is a desperate try to boogie-woogie my way out of self-doubt. I will write one random story/week, based on a word taken from Andrew Taylor’s “The Greeks had a Word for it”.

This is the my third story.

  1. “The Magnificent Garlic Balls”
  2. A Portuguese Autumn Afternoon