Sheena and I were good friends at school, but we lost touch. I hadn’t seen her for about ten years when one day I went into a bookshop and there she was behind the counter. She was reading, looking slightly bored. Her hair was longer than ever. I watched her for a while, excited with the sensation of observing unobserved, and wondering whether I should slip out again or say something before she realised I was standing there. Just then she shifted from one foot to the other, and I spoke.
She lit up with a big smile when I said I was pleased to see her. At once I was genuinely glad that we had met again. We chatted for a while, then a customer came to the counter. Reluctantly, I said I should go back to work.
“Is that near here?” Sheena asked. I said yes, although it wasn’t all that close.
“Come back tomorrow around 11, and we can have a coffee,” Sheena suggested.
So I did, and now we get together for coffee once or twice a week. We have wonderful, free-ranging conversations unencumbered by any shared responsibilities. I’d like to ask Sheena to come over on the weekend, but I can’t imagine her talking to Karen, and I don’t want to meet her boyfriend.
The last time I saw her, she asked me if something was wrong.
“Not really. It’s kind of sad,” I said — not meaning really sad, just silly in a pathetic sort of way, as you might say when watching your father dancing.
“Well, last night I was home planning our renovations, and I started walking around the house wondering how we could make more space. I opened a door and suddenly thought, ‘Of course, we could use this gallery’. I was looking at the empty gallery — you could call it an enclosed veranda — that runs along the side of the house. It’s totally run-down and neglected — there are vines growing down through the ceiling — but it’s charming, with lovely woodwork under crusty old paint. ‘How stupid of me to forget about this,’ I thought, and I had this incredible charge of mixed emotion. I felt sad to have neglected the gallery all this time, but hugely excited to have the opportunity to make it right. There are doors from the gallery into every room of the house. I’ve always wanted more than one way of walking through the house, and it turns out I had that option all the time.”
Sheena looks confused. I explain.
“There is no gallery. I was dreaming. It felt completely real. I woke up feeling brilliant, and I actually got out of bed and went towards the gallery before I realised that there’s nothing on the other side of Alexander’s bedroom but a shitty little concrete path and a fence.”
“Oh. That’s terrible,” Sheena said, but she was smiling.
“It is terrible,” I decided to insist, playing it for laughs. “Not only is there no gallery, there’s no space to put a gallery even if I spent a gazillion bucks. I’m devastated.”
“I didn’t realise you were so short of space.”
“We’re not. Not really.” I knew that Sheena lived in Darlinghurst, in a flat that sounded like it would fit in our kitchen.
“So what do you think it means?” Sheena asked me.
“I don’t know. Dreams never make a lot of sense when you tell them.”
“That’s because whatever happens in a dream stands for something else.”
“Right. So, what do you think it means?”
“Oh, I know what it means,” Sheena said confidently.
But she wouldn’t tell me.
© 2018 Craig Bingham
Read something similar:
Party trick [fiction]
Read something different:
How many million dollars would you pay a CEO each year? [opinion]
Give this to Terry [fiction]