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Dreamscapes Two
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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Archives

Chris Castle
Ryan sat in the strip club trying to look any other place but at the dancers. It was bad enough that he had ended up in such a dive, that his oldest friend, Steve, was drunk beyond all recognition and that he didn’t drink anymore. Or that all the other men were either spoiling for a fight or haggling over prices but to just to top it off, he really needed the bathroom.


It was bad enough in a bar, but where in the name of Christ were the gents in a place like this? He looked around wanly before walking up to the barman, who as an added bonus, had frosted on him when he explained to them that he wanted a cola without any spirits. He asked for directions and got a single finger, fortunately pointing to the back end of the club and not up in his face.

He came out, still wiping his wet hands on his trousers; ironically for such a place, they didn’t seem that big on tissues. Ryan went looking for his group. Just as he realised he’d dabbed a perfect wet patch over and around his groin, he saw Steve waving to some poor girl and beckoning her over. He looked into the mirror and saw the girl as she wandered over and felt his stomach drop to the soles of his boots. As she reached our for his friend, Ryan neatly swerved to his left, the exit and out the door. He heard a faint cheer as he left, Steve mistakenly thinking he was heading off for a private show. As the air rushed over him, he drew put his hands onto his knees and puffed out. It wasn’t until he started walking home and the wind started biting that he realised he’d left his jacket back at the pit.

By the time he’d come back and showered, Ryan had come no closer to deciding what to do. He sat looking out of his small apartment to the city and sipped his coffee. As he finished, Ryan tallied up the dates; he had been teaching in the area for five years, so that made his student, Martha, the one who he’d seen reflected in the mirror, twenty-two. So, she was an adult and grown woman who had made her own choices. A part of him said to leave it at that. As he told himself he didn’t need a cigarette, Ryan realised he wouldn’t be able to leave it alone. Instead, he hoped he wouldn’t screw up too bad.
The summer meant the neighbourhood was quiet and anyone with cash had left for vacation. Ryan washed his cup and took a look around his small, poky apartment before fishing his keys out of the bowl. He doubled locked it and on the way down the stairs and idly wondered what would be worth stealing out of his place. It was something when the lock cost more than the contents. The vendor waved him over and he picked up a paper and a coffee. The old guy had been on the corner forever and seemed to know everything.
“Earl, you know what time strip clubs open?” Ryan waited to see if the guy’s eyes would go wide and was as disappointed as he was not surprised to see him shrug, same as always.
“Guess if a fella’s got an itch, there ain’t no time he can’t scratch it.” The old man went back to his coffee and nodded once, sending Ryan on his way. Sometimes, he wished Earl could be president.

As he rode the bus to the area, Ryan thought about Martha and what a great student she had been. He knew something of a boyfriend but nothing more than gossip. It wasn’t his place to know any better. Sometimes he thought about his students, how good it was to hear teenage lies and how simple they were in comparison to calculated, adult untruths. Ryan wondered when each of them crossed the bridge from one place to the other and if we ever knew there was never any coming back once we crashed over the line.
“Hello?” he called out, as he made his way to the bar. Unfortunately the same big barman came out from the freezer and looked him over.
“You handing out bibles?” he said.
“I left my coat here last night,” Ryan replied. The place looked strange without the girls, everything too shiny and stacked full of vinyl. It looked as if a huge old 45. record had been smeared over the floor. “I had to leave in a hurry.”
“I saw,” the man replied, turning the tea towel inside the glass, making it more smudged. The tattoos were hard to make out; the blank ink was only a shade darker than his skin. Ryan thought he saw a star, maybe.
“The lights gave me a headache,” he replied, pointing to the overhead bulbs and the disco balls, none of which had been turned on yet.
“Sure they did. The lost and found is back here,” he said jerking a massive thumb behind to the left of the freezer. “Knock yourself out.”

Ryan found his own jacket in amongst the piles of others about twenty minutes later. He was amazed by the amount of good stuff, designer labels and such that had been left behind and for a second he thought about switching it before dropping the idea. It dawned on him that some of the stuff these guys were leaving behind would cost him a month to buy. In amongst the piles he saw a few women’s coats and wondered why he felt surprised.
“You found it okay?” the barman said, stepping in the doorway and immediately filling it.
“Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff in here,” Ryan said, pointing at the piles on the floor and wondering why the place didn’t have any coat-hangers.
“Rich people don’t need good memories, I guess,” he said and a smile almost crept over his mouth. “Or warm shoulders. Your friends had a high time here, last night. They might have left a few things here, too. You want to call them and check?”
“They weren’t my friends, not really; just the one guy, the one wearing the white shirt. The rest of them…” he trailed off and watched the other man nod.
“You didn’t strike me as a yuppie,” he said. He paused, looked at Ryan and his battered jacket and then to the rest of the pile. “That’s a compliment, by the way.”
“Appreciate it,” Ryan said and then swallowed hard. “Look, there’s no way I can say this without sounding like a weirdo so I’m just going to say it, okay?” The man nodded almost imperceptibly and Ryan wondered how many times he had heard a variation on the riff he was about to spin. Despite that, he cleared his throat.
“Okay, the girl who went over to my friend, with the long black hair…she was my old student. I teach up the way, at St. Nick’s. I…want to know if she’s alright.” He looked over and saw no change in the man.
“You think if she’s working here she’s in trouble?” His eyes didn’t waver and Ryan wondered if instead of coming across as a pervert he’d actually offended the man’s working life.
“Hey, no-I don’t know, I just want to know she’s okay, that’s all.” He fished into his pocket and gave out a card, his number on the back of the school print. “I mean, a guy wouldn’t hand out a card with the school on the front, right? That would be too weird, right?”
“I’ve seen stranger,” the man replied, taking the card. “How old are you? You look young for a teacher.”
“I’m thirty-five. I just look younger,” he said smiling. Nothing changed in the man’s face. “How old are you?” and blushed at just how dumb he sounded.
“Twenty-seven,” he said. “But I look older. I’ll pass on the card, Boy Scout. No promises, okay?” He took a second to look at the card.
“Well, I appreciate you’re time and your help.” He watched as the huge man rolled to one side, freeing up the doorway.
“Pleasure’s all mine, Boy Scout,” he said as Ryan walked back to the floor, nodding and throwing out a wink. A girl drifted onto the stage and he wanted to get away before the routine started. As he reached the door, he saw the handle was hanging off the hinges and almost falling. The music kicked in and he walked out into the light, just as two middle-aged men barged by, their bodies thick with booze and their wallets already open.
For the rest of the morning Ryan busied himself with all the things broke people did when they were out of a job for the summer. First, he went to the local coffee shop, then to the library and then walked the park until he was thirsty enough to stop. He took a call from Steve who croaked about the night before and the few good memories he had of it and then went back to the apartment. On the way he bought a melon from the local stand and shot the breeze with the woman whose son was in his class. On the shutters of an abandoned shop he noticed some fresh graffiti and took a weird sense of pride to see the spelling was correct.

Ryan was looking over the books for the coming term when the phone rang. When he picked up there was a delay of a few seconds where all he could hear was her breathing. Something in him told him until she was ready to speak. Her voice was quiet and shaky, the way it was before she stepped inside the exam hall all that time ago. She spoke of a place that he knew and hung-up as soon as the time was agreed. The dial tone sung out and he put the phone down, at once noticing how the stress and the anger had made the pitch of her voice deeper and a million miles from the girl he once knew. 

Ryan sat on the bench waiting for her and watched the people in the park. Once or twice a student would pass by on a bike and would wave without stopping and he would wave back, summing up the teacher-student relationship in a flash. By the time she walked up from the far gate, he both recognised his old student’s face and saw a stranger in the purposeful way she carried herself. He began to stand but she waved him down and sat next to him, taking control of the situation. In those few seconds the classrooms of the school seemed like faraway, harmless places, back.
“I didn’t see you at the club,” she said without any introduction. Ryan looked away from her, seeing how uncomfortable she felt and glanced out to the flowers, resting his elbows on his knees.
“It was my best friend’s bachelor party. I saw you walking over and left.” He thought about looking back and made himself stay as he was. It was a loaded statement and he wasn’t sure how she would take it.
“And now?” she said, the steel in her voice holding.
“I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay, that’s all, Martha,” he said, turning round to face her. She had been looking at him but now he found her, she looked away immediately.
“You think I need help. You think I need saving, is that it?” He saw the red bloom in her cheeks and it reminded him of how angry she would get during the debates in class. Now the anger made her seem older and more tired; before, it had made her look like somebody who might just be able to live forever.
“I don’t know what to think. I just want to know you’re okay. If you need my help, maybe I could…I thought you’d be taking my job by now, to be honest, Martha.” He reared up and came level with her. She didn’t shy away but she moved back imperceptibly, almost flinching. Straight away, he edged back, giving her space.
“I know what I’m doing,” she said and kept her eye on him, unblinking. She nodded as an afterthought, as if confirming it as much to herself as to him. Ryan copied the gesture and held her stare.
“If you’re fine, fine. If you wanted a change of scene, I could maybe get something going for you in the school. Maybe.” She looked at him, trying to find some imaginary angle and for a second he wondered just how badly someone had treated her in the years since she had left his class.
“And what do you want?” she said, and for a moment he couldn’t be sure if her voice was quiet or just flat with resignation. For a second he could see her thinking about arching closer to him, perhaps brushing his knee and he backed up, looking at her coldly for a second, as he drew up his hands, palm up.
“I just want you to be okay, Martha, that’s all.” She looked stunned go for a second and then something else, a sort of relief that seemed to fill her up, bringing something like life back to her eyes. For a while neither of them spoke and Ryan looked back out to the park, trying to decide if he wanted to know nothing at all or everything.
“Who are you trying to help?” she said finally, patting her purse; a gesture he knew meant she was readying to leave. “You or me?”
“I don’t know,” he said, smiling. It was a smile that felt tired now, as if he understood as many things went wrong as they did go right. He saw it mirrored in her mouth and felt a sudden sadness that she was so much younger than him, yet seemed to already know the same sorts of truth. “Maybe both of us.”
“Maybe, maybe,” she said quietly and sprung out of the shade and into the sun. For a second he lost track of her and then she came back into his sight. She was walking towards the near gate and looked for all the world as if she was walking directly into the sun. After a few seconds she was gone; and if he raced after her, what good would it do?

Ryan looked back to the bench, the plaque she had covered with her body glinting in the sunlight. He cupped his hand and read the inscription, something his mother would always do when they walked in a park. As he read the words out loud, he tried to decide if he had helped at all or just brought a new sort of shame onto a young girl he had once cared for. He got up wanting to walk until the sun set and turned the whole place a deep-set, perfect orange.
Ryan walked back in the darkness and looked up to the stars; he was always amazed at how few people took the time to admire the sights right above them. The moon was full and blazing as he reached his apartment. It was hot even though it was late and people drifted around, as if going home was some sort of trap; maybe it was. He reached his place and walked inside, cracking the windows and heading straight to the kitchen. As he pulled the melon from the fridge he thought about his best friend and if he was still hung-over. He marvelled that it was nearly three years to the day since he’d last drunk and how little he missed it. After a while he flipped on the radio and listened to whatever he could find.

As he took his seat by the window, he looked back to his busted apartment, the walls with no photos and wondered abut what she had said. These moments of doubt, of the loneliness Martha had alluded to, came to him some nights but they didn’t scare him; it was just something he thought about, as much as he did the text books in-front of him or the newspaper by the bed. It was nothing, really, compared to what others had to live through, what Martha was going through right now, most likely. If the lonely can’t help the lost, then what hope was there? Outside a car alarm went off and was only shut down when the cat-calls from the other floors got too bad.

Ryan looked up to the stars and thought about the girl. He locked his hands together and under the stars he prayed she would be alright and that someone, anyone, would save her from herself. By the time he was done, his palms were greasy and the moon had rolled on and the evening had become night. He went on sitting there, thinking about her and knew he would be that way until dawn and maybe longer. As he clasped his hands back together, he caught the scent of the melon and a cool snap of the starred breezes. It made him smile, then and he thought if it was enough for him, maybe it could be enough for others, too. He closed his eyes back up, hoping that tomorrow his phone would ring and that somehow the girl he once knew could be drawn a little closer to safety by the light of the new day.
© Chris Castle September 2011
Chris Castle

My pa came home on the last day of summer, without fanfare, without so much as a banner ganging over our house. It made sense, I guess, seeing how he left without so much as a word; fair and level almost.
Chris Castle

today was different... It was as if Laurie wanted to speak and he wanted to listen but something was holding it all back 
Something in the neighbourhood
Chris Castle

We all sat in the dusk on Bobby’s porch that looked out onto the neighbourhood. Above us was the sunset but we didn’t acknowledge that. Instead, all we talked about was the killer, the next victim and the neighbourhood.

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