This short story was written and submitted by @katjangs.
It was a lovely evening when Deidre had decided that she had just about enough. Enough of what exactly, she didn’t know.
She dragged a puff of her newly-bought cigarette pack and exhaled. It felt cool, refreshing but she still needed to get a hang of that sharp and bitter aftertaste from the tobacco. Not one to smoke, she impulsively bought it on the way home from work. Another painful day, this time excruciatingly so that it possessed her to get something – anything – to distract herself from the pain. It was a phase, she thought, but as the years progressed, it got lots worse.
It was difficult to concentrate these days, she cannot remember details or make decisions for the life of her. And she was always tired. And she felt worthless, helpless, pessimistic. The interest and passion she once had in her work and hobbies had vanished into thin air, and what resided within her was just a deep, deep sadness. She often thought about death before, feeling as if sleep was the closest to it. Sleep – something that was hard to come by these days as well. She loved to sleep, it was an escape from everything. Everything that was empty, everything that was sad. Everything she saw looked grey.
“Are you coming out with us tonight?” cheerful colleague Amy asked, popping her head into the cubicle, clad in a grey suit.
“No, no, I don’t think so,” she shook her head with a sad smile, “You guys carry on.”
“Oh, no,” Erica huffed and shot her a concerned look. She stood there for long moments before drawing closer to Deidre. “You know, you’re looking pale and … weary these days. Is everything all right?”
Deidre brought her suddenly-heavy eyes to gaze at Amy.
“Everything is alright.”
It was a dismissive tone, and Amy got the hint. She turned to walk away with an awkward smile on her face.
“I just haven’t been sleeping well,” Deidre called out softly, voice dripping with apology and guilt. “Thanks for asking, though.”
Amy nodded and left her alone.
And I don’t want to be in this world. Where is salvation?
“I can’t sleep anymore,” Deidre said monotonously as she gazed up at the nondescript grey ceiling of Dr. Nora’s office. “My mind just … it’s too noisy. And something hurts, everything hurts. I need to sleep. Desperately. Give me something to help me sleep.”
“Are you sad?” asked Dr. Nora.
I don’t want to be in this world. Salvation, where are you?
Deidre glared the small grey cylindrical container that was housing her prescribed sleeping pills. She had tried many remedies for curing sleeplessness, and this was probably the only thing she hadn’t tried yet.
Popping one into her mouth, she hoped for sleep. In the darkest corner of her mind, she hoped she would never wake up. All she saw before she shut her eyes were grey.
Come quickly, salvation.
She woke up to white.
That was odd, her room was never this bright in the morning. She moved to a sitting position and found that she was not even in her room. She was in a massive room – walls of pure white, white feathery curtains were billowing about from the wind coming from outside the balcony.
This was definitely not her room. Her room was grey – grey curtains, grey pillows, grey bed and it was small. This room was huge, with one lone bed situated smack dab in the middle of it, the balcony next to it.
Soft breeze caressed her face and she got out of the bed, finding that she was wearing a white nightgown. It was a passing moment, because the source of the breeze was calling her. She walked towards the balcony, and gasped.
Blue. Pure blue.
This was a house in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a beautiful, breathtaking, blue ocean.
She smiled and thought: this world, she wanted to be part of.
“Hello,” a voice called out from behind her. Soft, melodious and smooth like honey.
Turning around, her eyes locked on a figure currently standing a doorway at the end. Deidre frowned slightly and said nothing. The figure pushed itself from the wall and started advancing towards her. It was a he, she noted, as he approached. He was in all-white.
They were face to face, and his dark eyes and lopsided smile made her worry less.
“Hello, Deidre,” he said, and held out his hand.
“Hi,” she reached out and captured his hand, and he brought it up to his lips and kissed her knuckles gently.
“Am I dead?” Deidre blurted.
“Of course not. Why ever would you think that?” he laughed, like a musical instrument. He released her hand and walked to a cabinet that materialized out of nowhere. “You’re asleep.”
“So this is a dream, then?”
He nodded and poured two drinks – red and vibrant, like wine. Walking over to Deidre, he handed her a glass and she drank without qualms. It tasted like nothing. Of course, this was a dream.
“This is a lovely dream,” she said, as she finished her glass of liquid nothing.
“Is it? I knew you would like it,” he sent her a cheeky smile.
“Wait, what? This is my dream, and my brain conjures all of this, right?” Deidre asked, puzzled.
“No, this time it didn’t. This is all me,” he said and sat on a chair that Deidre hadn’t realized materialized out of nowhere, again. A matching one was positioned right opposite the one he was perched on.
“Who are you?” she sat, after he looked at the chair pointedly.
It was never really established who he really was or what he was doing in her dream, but it ended as soon as he planted a kiss on her cheek before saying, “See you tomorrow.”
After what felt like hours upon hours of conversing with him, her eyes fluttered open to familiar grey, her grey ceiling.
She was back to reality, and that was a strange dream.
They spoke a lot – about emptiness, about the meaning of living a half-life, about salvation. At one point, she spoke of death being her salvation, maybe, and the man paled considerably.
“No, you mustn’t,” he said firmly.
“Why not? I have nothing to live for, not really,” she pressed back, feeling stalwartly the need to defend her choices and opinions.
“You do,” he said quietly.
His dark, soulful eyes met hers for a brief moment and he sighed heavily.
“Just hang on for a bit. It’s coming for you. Just a little longer.”
Deidre scoffed and rolled her eyes as he refilled her glass of nothing.
The day passed like no other, but instead of the usual pain that haunted her every step and every breath, all she felt was curiosity. What had that dream been all about? She was not one to believe in divine intervention or messages from above. Or maybe, she had once believed in all that, but the salvation she had often prayed for never came, not in any shape nor form.
She was tired at the end of the day, and popped a sleeping pill into her mouth before jumping into bed.
“Ah, there you are.”
Her eyes opened and she was in the same bed, gazing up at the same white ceiling. She looked towards her right, where he was sitting at a vibrant, yellow armchair. All white and barefoot, again.
“Is it even normal to have recurring dreams?” Deidre questioned as she got out of the bed.
“I’m not sure,” he grinned.
She smiled back, and he poured her a glass of nothing, this time green in colour. And they talked and talked.
“You still haven’t told me who you are and what is happening,” she whispered, eyes shut as she felt slight strokes and caresses across her jaw and hair.
She was resting on his lap, all peace and quiet in the atmosphere.
He paused his ministrations, and she was about to protest before the fleeting touches returned. “If I told you, this would have to end,” he said in a soothing tone.
“Then it doesn’t matter. I quite like being here, I want to stay here forever.”
He was quiet, but the touches never stopped.
She was becoming more and more enchanted by sleep.
What was so elusive was now incredibly easy to achieve.
She could hardly remember what was done during the day, her thoughts consumed by sleep and what it brought her to.
“How was your day? What did you do?” he asked, as they were both lying upon vivacious orange pillows in the balcony, the setting was an evening full of stars instead of the usual bright, sunny morning.
Deidre stopped sipping her glass of nothing and frowned.
“I … I don’t quite remember now,” she said. And then she grinned, “Whatever it is, it wasn’t worth remembering anyway. It’s much better in here.”
He returned her smile, but it was only half-hearted.
“How are you? Are you eating well?” he asked.
They were now intimate, they shared touches and caresses and were practically soul mates.
“Yes, I am eating well,” she whispered as she relished in his arms wound tightly and warmly around her in the great white bed.
“Well, what did you eat today?”
Deidre was quiet.
“Let’s not talk about that. Tell me a story,” she eventually answered.
She thought life was getting better, but every time she woke up, she felt that great pain attack her chest over and over, relentlessly until she thought nothing of ending it.
Meals were no longer a necessity, all she wanted to do was pop that pill into her mouth and sleep. At least something nice would meet her on the other end.
“I’m worried for you,” Amy whispered one day, clad in her usual grey suit.
Deidre looked up from her grey computer screen and peered up at her colleague. She could feel her eye bags if not see it in the mirror during lunch breaks.
“Why?” Deidre asked.
“Dre … You need to see someone. You need help.”
God, she hated it when she called her that. She hated everything at the moment. Nothing could placate her. Only sleep would do it.
“What do you mean?” she asked, gazing at her computer screen again. Grey, grey, grey.
“You look … sick … please, Dre, please talk to me.”
Deidre was distracted, staring at the grey screensaver on her screen. What did Amy just say? Did it matter, and did it require an answer?
“Dre? Dre …” Amy called her a couple of times, but Deidre shut her out. Amy eventually folded and left her cubicle.
“You’re not taking proper care of yourself,” was the first thing she heard as the familiar ceiling came into view.
“What colour is the drink today?” she said, voice a little scratchy and worse for wear, for some odd reason.
“You’re neglecting yourself.”
“Of course I’m not,” she retorted.
“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?” he asked firmly, a tight frown on his face.
“Don’t worry, it won’t be for long,” she added.
“And what does that mean?”
She wasn’t sure how to answer.
“Don’t tell me … you’re not planning to … ?” he asked, finally getting out of that energetic plum armchair.
Kill myself? Yes.
“What happens if I do?” she asked. “Then I get to stay here with you forever, right?”
“No, no, no, no!” he roared and the entire house shook and visibly darkened. “This is not the way it is supposed to be!”
“Maybe it is,” she said, eyes unfocused as she looked at the deep blue sea outside, “I really have no reason to stay in … in the other life, if that’s what you’d call it. My place is here.”
“No, it’s not, Deidre. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then tell me!” she shouted, all of a sudden. Her voice echoed throughout the empty house, the sound of her own voice repeating over and over.
“Please, please wait a little longer. Don’t do it. Please,” he begged, standing in front of her.
With no hesitance, he leaned in towards her and planted a soft and feathery kiss that pained her even in this state of dream.
“Please,” he said. “Please, Deidre …”
Deidre … Deidre …
Deidre? Can you hear me?
Oh thank goodness. Doctor! Doctor! She’s awake!
It was difficult to open her eyes. She felt enormously heavy. It felt as if something was … she didn’t … she couldn’t …
Oh my God, we’re losing her! Doctor, doctor! ANYBODY? PLEASE HELP US! Deidre!
She woke up to black.
Darkness. She was in a dark abyss, she was sure. There was nothing.
No white house with white halls and curtains, no blue ocean, and definitely no him.
This was it.
She curled up into herself and shut her eyes.
“You didn’t listen.”
His voice startled her, and she immediately scrambled to get up.
“You’re here,” she said quietly.
“Not for long,” his voice echoed.
“What do you mean?”
There were sounds of footsteps.
“Don’t you remember what happened?”
She thought hard.
“You kissed me,” she answered.
“And then you woke up to reality, and tried to kill yourself.”
“What? I did? I don’t remember …”
More silence and then he suddenly materialised in front of her, a body of light that illuminated the abyss only slightly.
“Why am I here?” she asked. “When you said I tried, did I succeed?”
“You almost did,” he said, eyes heavy with sorrow.
Deidre smiled sadly at his face and stroked his chin.
“Were you the angel of Death then, preparing me for my eventual demise?” she laughed slightly.
“No, not quite.”
The air was pregnant with stillness as he brought her closer to him, caressing her cheeks and lips.
“I know now. You’re an angel. You’re my salvation.”
He laughed and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“I’m better than that, just you see,” he kissed her forehead.
She felt a strange pull across her stomach, and she knew something was about to happen. She hugged him tight and a stray tear escaped down her cheek. She felt it stronger, she was being pulled apart from him as she struggled to cling to him.
“No, no, please –“ she sobbed. “I don’t want to leave – I want to be with you!”
He said nothing as she was slowly pulled by some mighty, unknown force – away and away from him –
“One day, we will meet again,” he said.
“You’re my soul mate, and you are not going to die.”
The first thing she did when she came to was acknowledge the fact that she felt terrible. It felt as if she got hit by a truck, and that her head was about to explode.
Familiar faces surrounded her – family, friends – all with matching expressions of concern etched on their faces.
“Oh thank god,” her father exclaimed, near tears.
And then she visibly blanched. A nurse nearby seemed to understand what this meant, and she immediately handed Deidre a bucket. Within a few seconds, she was retching the contents of her stomach into it.
“This is normal,” said the nurse to her family, “Her system is still trying to clean out the excess sleeping pills.”
Deidre paused. Now she remembered. She tried to kill herself last night, swallowing one too many sleeping pills. It would have been slow and painless, but it her body was much more relentless than she gave it credit for.
“You tried to kill yourself,” Amy said softly.
Deidre nodded, “I figured that much by now.”
Things started to get slightly better.
She often thought about him, and what he said. She often dreamt about anything but him.
One day, we will meet again.
It was just another working day, another lunch break. Things didn’t seem grey now, there were slight colours here and there. Things started to have meaning.
She gazed past the parks – the muted greens and discoloured browns … not in their finest form of colour to her. The streets were still grey, the sky greyer.
Just as she was about to scan the other side of the street, someone bumped into her.
“Oh, excuse me,” said the person without looking at her, as he rushed forward to cross the street.
She was thunderstruck. He was – in full colour. No hints of grey. Deep blue suit, red tie, black shoes and hair that shone under the sun.
Among the mass of grey and subdued colours, he stood out – that moving figure that was striding towards the other side.
One day, we will meet again.
Without thinking, she rushed forward, running after her this burst of lovely, vibrant colour. Not caring about who she bumped into, she muttered “sorry, so sorry” over and over.
She just needed to –
She grabbed his arm and he turned around. Taking off a white earphone from his ear, he sent her a puzzled look.
It was him.
“You –“ she began.
“Pardon?” he asked, those dark, familiar eyes flashed with confusion, and he took the other earphone off.
“Me,” he nodded, “Do I know you?”
He was right.
This was reality. The one she knew in her dreams was not necessarily the same person in this world. He knew her well in those dreams, but he didn’t have an inkling as to who she really was here.
She was almost scared, she didn’t know this him, and she didn’t know whether she could open her mind and heart to possibilities. He might not be as welcoming, or as kind or as caring – hell, they might not even end up being friends, but …
She was tired of dreaming, tired of sleeping. She wanted to be awake, she wanted to live. And it would all start now. Standing straight, she cleared her throat and held out her hand.
“Hi. My name is Deidre.”
His eyes flickered down to her hand and back to her face. He took his right hand from his pocket and reached out to grab hers.
Salvation in Hebrew.
“Would you … mind tea or coffee sometime?”
This wasn’t a dream that she was going to wake up from, this was all reality. And this time, she was prepared.
*Hosea is Salvation in Hebrew, whereas Deidre is a Celtic name which means ‘sorrowful, melancholy’
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