Spotlight On: James David Ward
Hello and welcome to the latest instalment of Spotlight On. Today, I will be turning the spotlight on James D. Ward, a close and valued friend of mine, but also a fantastic writer. He writes in all sorts of genres and styles, from poetry to prose, from playwriting to other sets of things beginning with ‘p’. When he isn’t busy doing that he can be found treading the boards as an actor and puppeteer, or sitting with a slight frown as he tries to make the actors do what he wants (i.e. he directs). If he has any time in between doing all these things you can find him over on his website and on Twitter.
Today I have the privilege of hosting one of his excellent short stories – Dreams. If you have any questions for James, please leave a comment at the bottom!
I always used to sleep soundly. A solid, restful eight hours every night. Like clockwork. I could always close my eyes at around half past ten, drop off almost instantly, and wake up at some point around seven in the morning. I never dreamed, though.
Then, when I got to university, my sleeping patterns changed. I went to bed later, much later, and started waking up on alarms, and occasionally other people’s schedules. Still, any time I lost I always made up for in naps by the end of the week. I still slept solidly and soundly, even when guests came around. I still never dreamed.
I can hardly describe her as the girl of my dreams. As I have said, I had never had one before I met her, and even allowing for that she was different from what I thought I wanted. I like talkative women, but she never stopped – mile-a-minute, never pausing for breath talking, mostly about the most mundane, everyday things. She particularly liked talking about her dreams. She dreamt most nights, and she dreamt about everything. She dreamt wildly and weirdly, about her friends and family and the people she saw on TV during the day. She dreamt in sci-fi and rom-com, documentary and fantasy, black and white and Technicolor, and every dream was important to her. Her dream diary was filled with wild car rides and odd lunches, and she put post-it notes on the pages of what she considered her most significant dreams. For example, the first time she dreamt about me.
“Don’t you see what it means, though?” The chat window highlighted the new message, and I typed my response.
“No, sorry. I don’t see why they would mean anything.” I sent the response across, then refreshed BBC News.
A ding. “Of course they mean things. What was your last dream about?”
“I’ve never had a dream.” I typed the response, looked at it in the text box for a minute, and then sent it anyway.
“WHAT? How have you never had a dream?” The chat window soon filled with incredulous messages, and I made my apologies. I had always wanted to have a dream, to see what it was like, but it’s not as if I had any control over the matter.
The conversation moved on to other topics, until eventually she declared that she was going to bed. She sent one final message across as her sign-off for the night. “May you have all the dreams,” it read. I closed the chat window, shut the computer down, and eventually went to sleep.
I was at high school again. My classmates were whispering, staring out of the window. I tried to find out what they were looking at, but I couldn’t move past the desks. Every time I moved one out of the way, there was another one in front of me, and another, and another. I thought that I should try walking around, but I was compelled to methodically move the desks, one by one. I heard a voice behind me, my sister. She was wearing a Christmas jumper and talking to my old roommate from uni by the back wall. I lost interest in the window and walked towards them. They were talking about the weather, how it was raining, how it wasn’t raining earlier but then it started and isn’t that strange and I talked to them, I told them about the weather report, how sunny it was, but they weren’t listening to me so I sat down on an armchair and looked across the room. There was a man who I didn’t quite recognise, who was pacing and worrying about the wrapping paper all over the floor. I told him it was all in the bin liner, which I picked up and brought outside. My sister followed me with an umbrella, holding it over my head as I lifted the bin lid. The street must have been in a small town somewhere, nowhere I knew, but there was a car parked on the curb. Someone stepped out, but I couldn’t tell who it was, I kept walking around them but their face was always looking another direction, and I ducked and I dived and I tried to hold them still but I couldn’t grab onto them, nor could I get past the car door, and I looked in the direction of my sister and I woke up.
She wasn’t online the next day, but I texted her what I could remember about it later in the afternoon. She’s always fascinated by dreams, ever since she was a little girl. She told me about all the theories about dreaming, and why we do it. Perhaps it’s our brains working through problems, trying to find a solution to issues we were having while awake, and puzzling through them in an unconscious abstract manner. Maybe it’s not as direct as that, and we’re simply working through our emotions (which are really just chemicals), and as the emotions (chemicals) run through our systems people and places we associate with them pop up in our heads, and dreaming is the brain ordering them. Maybe they reveal deep psychological problems, or our ambitions, or things we never knew we were capable of.
She told me that this was why they interested her, because everyone has them, and they can be so vivid and difficult and strange, yet no-one can properly explain why. I think she felt like I was missing out. I can sort of understand that. Dreams never meant that much to me, but then again I’ve always had them, so I’m in the club as it were. I’ve never made a particular effort to remember them the next day, and I’ve never hoped for them when I go to bed. Now, though, I can’t help but think about them.
The next night I was in a city. It wasn’t a real city, London, Paris, Milan, not one I had visited or seen on TV or travelled around in a video game. But it felt familiar, as if I’d dreamed in it before. I knew the street I was walking on, the shops I was seeing, and that as I turned around the corner I would see the interchange. I was walking along casually, alone, taking it in, but I knew I had somewhere to be. I turned into a city block, walked down it, then up another, sure of where I was going yet both familiar and unfamiliar with where I was. I made it to the restaurant I was heading towards, but I didn’t go in or order anything. Some old school friends came up to me then, who were with me the whole time, and we chatted about nothing, as we always did. Then I found myself on the outskirts of the city, where there were fields, a bus or coach station, and one incredibly long curving road heading towards the city, which I felt was behind me. There was a coach waiting at the station, which I was on, which moved ever so slowly around the bend of the road, and ever so slowly towards the city. There were people I knew on the coach, but no-one I cared to talk to. I rested my head against the coach window. I saw myself doing this. When I was back on the streets of the city, I headed to the bus stop, a different one. I had the feeling that I’d promised my family I would come home, and the time I’d promised was approaching, so I headed to the bus stop. It was right on the corner, in front of a skyscraper, all silver windows as far as the eye could see. I became wrapped up in a conversation with a girl I knew a while back, but not well, who had just got off the previous red double-decker bus. It was getting darker, and the bus was getting later, and I was worried. The girl waved her goodbyes, and walked away, while I checked the bus timetable and paced the pavement. It was getting darker and darker, and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Finally a bus pulled up, but I didn’t know whether it was the right one. I looked up at the driver.
The alarm woke me up. I rolled out of bed, walked over to it. I had to put it further and further away from the bed in order to get me out of it, to wake me up a bit. My sleeping pattern had unravelled in the last few months, ever since I met her. I couldn’t get to sleep at night, and I found it harder and harder to wake up. I turned the alarm off, brought it back to bed with me, rolled over and fell asleep again. I dreamt again, about a turkey (or was it an ostrich?) that had pinned me to the ground, beak clamped to my forearm, and, later, about her, jumping, laughing, clapping and happy to see me because we had to dance together, along with two of my other female friends, who presumably also had partners. It was the first time I had dreamt about her.
When I eventually woke up again, I posted about my second dream of the night, made a joke out of it. But there was something I couldn’t quite shake about it. I felt so powerless, and my dreams had become so much bigger and stranger, and I couldn’t let go of them once I had woken up. I neglected my work for the day, ignored my friends, ate cereal out of the box, and starting reading through all these articles about dreams and sleep patterns and so on. I found this article on lucid dreaming, about how you can go about controlling your dreams, and I resolved to try it out that night.
Sleep finally came. I was on a roundabout, which had a tall war memorial on it, and was crossing the road with a massive backpack, a hiker’s gear sort of thing. I then found myself in a club, on a stage, a band was playing. I didn’t have an instrument, so I had put my backpack in the wings and was trying to stand behind the keyboard player, stage right. A singer from a famous band I knew came on the stage, but he looked more like an aggressive boy that I knew from primary school grown up than the musician. The band launched into one of his songs, but he seemed to be having trouble remembering all the words. He reached the chorus, and stuck the microphone in front of my mouth. For whatever reason, I sang the harmony part, as I thought that would be more helpful. The musician had stopped singing, and gave me a dirty look. Suddenly the gig had finished, and people, friends I knew, had started piling onto the stage and through the exit, which was directly behind the stage. People were congratulating me as they passed, and I tried to appear grateful. I wanted to get out, but there were too many people.
I woke up annoyed. I hadn’t had a lucid dream, and each of them was more powerful than the last. I was feeling more and more trapped. I stubbed my toe on the door as I went for a shower, which hurt like hell, and did nothing to improve my mood. The shower was scalding hot. I came back to my room, and closed the door, which had turned transparent, so I hung a few more coats on it. I was already wearing underwear, so I dressed in the rest of my clothing. When I left the house it was still night, but by the time I had reached the library five minutes away it had turned noon. It was a blazing hot day, with crowds swarming the beach, so I took off my woolly hat, scarf and winter coat, and walked towards the stairs which led under the library into the basement. I paused, and checked the time. It was 10.37 in the morning, and it was bitterly cold. There was no beach, but concrete, and luckily no swarming crowds. I put the coat back on.
The problems got worse as the nights passed. Every night, I was trapped in stranger and stranger dreams, and when I woke up I continued to dream for longer and longer as I tried to be awake. I visited the doctor, but ran out when she turned into my year five teacher wearing her dress back-to-front. I stayed away from my friends out of embarrassment. The only person I thought I could tell was her, but she was never online. I couldn’t even find her name in my phone. Whatever it was.
Eventually, I dreamed all day and all night, asleep and awake. I dreamt that the walls of my room were jelly, and that my parents were serving it at a party. I dreamt that my fingers were fish that swam away when I wriggled them. I dreamt that I was a story, that I was a collection of sentences, on a page a screen a mind and I prayed, prayed for the final full stop.