in your dreams

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
inspired by the true story of a british man who went to palestine to take photos and to help.

Submitted: January 27, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 27, 2016



In Your Dreams.


Once upon a thousand years, and sadly even yesterday, a man sits alone. He sits and he waits. Uncertain which way to turn. Not knowing which way is still open to him, if any.

To his right lies sand, the heat of the desert, reaching down to the sea. Waves which should cool merely rush and rage, filling the air with the sound of anger. Along the top of the beach a row of beach huts, pink and green and sky blue, watch the tide carefully and wait. Men in camouflage, their faces hidden, check their lists while balancing guns. In front of each is a queue, faces strangely ready for what will come. The guards take the first in the queue and lead them to a beach hut. The woman bent over her baby to the sky blue hut with its name painted over the door – Marjorie. The young boy behind to the green hut three doors along - Edith. They go in, the door is closed behind them.

To his left lies the smell of spring. Snow white flowers on blackthorn hedges resting quietly on dry stone walls. Narrow lanes lead past cottages in white and pink, a promise of roses, the scent of safety.

He tries to move towards the lane, the gate with a view of grazing Friesians. His muscles will not answer his call, will not even let him stand.

A child walks slowly towards him, dark eyes squinting from the brightness of the beach, each step slipping deeper into soft sand.

What are you doing sitting on that wall? the boy asks.

And only now does he realise that he is in fact quite a long way from the ground, sitting on concrete, a long and meandering wall. He watches as it disappears off into the distance. He removes a newspaper clipping slowly from his shirt pocket and waves it at the boy. I have your story here, he says.

Can you see my father from up there? the boy asks. I often think I see him here, just briefly, but when I approach he is gone. As a child he would take me to the holy wall. I wonder if he still goes there. Can you see? He would put his arm around me to protect me. Even as we worked our plot, tending the small plants with water and manure from our donkey, they shot at us. My father ran to me, put his arm around me, pulled me further out of range. 

The settlement sat on top of the hill, strong white walls, black metal gates. They watched us as we worked, watched  Pinknose, our donkey, carrying water, carrying crops, carrying me. The best times were when my cousin came with us to help. He brought his donkey Blacknose with him and we would race. All around the edge of our patch, a rectangle race track.

Watch the plants, my father shouted, don’t cut the corners. My cousin could bend forwards and grab hold of my donkey’s tail, pull hard to slow him up and then dodge swiftly out of the way as Pinknose kicked out at him. But only on three sides of the track. Along the top stretch we held our breath. The track was centimetres from the line. If we crossed the line we were in range of the settlement. They’re only air rifles, my cousin complained now and again and he held up a clenched fist to the settlers as we passed. But he never crossed the line.

We had to abandon a third of our plot because it fell within range. To begin with my father would come in the dark of night and plant seedlings in that section, his stomach pressed flat against the soil, his face and hands covered. Sometimes he harvested the olives from our trees.

Then my mother said he must stop. I watched my father’s face as the olives dropped and rotted on the ground.

One night I went out there, when I knew the olives were ready. There was too much moon. It danced in Pinknose’s spiky mane and whiskers, made his eyes bright. There were lights on at the top of the hill. I tied Pinknose to a tree in the safe part of our land. I crept along the ground, keeping my nose to the earth, my heart fit to burst as I crossed the line. Then I stuck close to the trees, my face touching the bark as I picked. I pleaded with my heart to be quiet. Then I heard a sound. I clung to my branch. There it was again. Footsteps on baked soil. And close. I dare not move. I closed my eyes and thought of my mother’s despair.

Silence. The rows of trees like shaggy pompoms on trunks hung with black diamonds waited quietly. I breathed hard against the bark. It came again and then there was Pinknose, clapping his lips together as he often did. The hollow drumming sound floated gently up the hill. I crept back onto the earth and slid back across the line. By the time I reached Pinknose the noise had stopped. Someone sat beside his head and stroked his bottom lip. I had never seen this boy before. Pinknose liked him. He stroked one side of his neck and I stroked the other. Between us a donkey’s mane standing straight up to the sky, refusing to flow.  He talked to Pinknose, but so quietly that I could not make out his words. Then he left, walking slowly past our olive trees and on up the hill towards the lights.

The man tries to smile but is exhausted by the effort. Let me listen to your music, the boy says. The man removes his tiny earphones and leans down towards the boy. The boy reaches and reaches but it is too far. Finally he jumps and falls back into the sand unsuccessful. He looks up at the wall, his hand raised to his forehead, shielding his dark eyes from the glare.

Now tell me your story, he says.

I wish I could, comes the reply.

You are not from my country, says the boy. Why are you here? Why didn’t you stay where you were safe?

I came because I thought there might be something I could do, the man says and then repeats it to himself in what may be disbelief. I thought there might be something I could do. We all did.

The first thing I remember is the gentle blue of the sky seen through young beech leaves, not yet completely unfurled. And the smell of the green, too new to imagine. There is a photograph. It shows a reflection, clouds and leaves and sky above and below. And another of our beach hut, painted eggshell blue, its name carved proudly into the wood above the door – Elsie.  Mr. Calhoon, the head teacher, holds them up for the whole school to see. I stand nervously beside him inspecting the mud on my trainers. A picture can tell us so much, he is saying, it can make us feel things, put us in the shoes of others and this young man has an obvious talent for capturing a moment.

The last thing I remember is gunshot in a land where soldiers use homes for target practice. A pink wall spattered with holes, bullets revealing the concrete beneath. A white ballastrade along the length of a shady balcony cracked and sloping. A child appears on the roof, following his father. The black water tanks stand on four metal legs up there. Water spurts from two holes in the one on the right. Bullseye. An easy target. The father begins the task of patching them up, again.

Go down. Go quickly, he shouts to his son, it is not safe. Go help your mother.

The child turns and runs as a shot rings out. The father lays flat against the scorching concrete. He will wait until dark.

When the sun has left the women light the candles. Three extended families gather in the largest room. The children glance regularly at the television in the corner. The eldest remember when the power stayed on for hours and they were allowed to sit quietly at their mothers feet watching images from their troubled land. They watched as the machines moved in and bulldozed homes, watched as people from other lands, an international brigade, stood together with them and tried to stop them.  They still hope for cartoons, a Mickey Mouse elastoplast to make everything better.

In the corner two boys squat beside a small table pressing small sticks into the soft wax as it melts around the wick.

How long have we had candles, asks the eldest of no one in particular.

About a year, answers the younger brother.

No, no, they’ve been around much longer than that, says the first.

Yes, I mean a million years.

Only a million?

A million, trillion, gazillion, ….…..

That’s enough now, says their mother, it’s time for bed. Go and clean your teeth.

You first, says the older brother, youngest goes up first.

His brother lights his last stick in the flame, then drowns it quickly in the pool of wax, before an adult can see. He climbs slowly on all fours up the stairs. Once free of his brother’s gaze he stands upright and goes into the bathroom. He bends over the sink, toothbrush in his hand. The bullet comes straight through the misted glass without cracking it. It leaves a small round hole in the glass and a trickle of blood on the boy’s throat.

Are you that boy? the man asks from high on his wall.

I don’t know, the boy answers, maybe. Why don’t you check?

The man remembers the newspaper clipping, frowns as he scans. No, he says, you were not in a bathroom. You were out on the street with the world watching. Your father put his arm across you as protection, but the soldier’s wrote the end of your story anyway. They are waiting for you now.

Just then it begins to snow. The boy looks about him confused and frightened. A guard walks up the beach towards him. There is a shout. The guard points at the boy and then at the huts.

The boy turns to the man on the wall.

Will you come with me? he asks more with his eyes than his voice. They will come for you too, they have already tried, almost succeeded as you pulled those children to safety. And now they wait while you fight them in your sleep. They are waiting to write the end of your story.

The man looks up at the blanket of white floating silently down in pieces, miraculously coming together, making a whole as it lands. He glances back at the safety of hedgerows in blossom and the strength returns to his limbs. He turns himself round and climbs down the wall, surprised at the number of footholds he finds. At the foot of the wall ice, like rows of miniature termite mounds, crunches underfoot. Come on, he says to the boy, I’ll show you what we can do with this. He bends down and scoops handfuls of snow, teaches the boy how to press it between his hands into a ball. He aims and fires.

No one is sure about what happens next. Some say the man teaches enough people how to make snowballs that they are able to fight the guards and drive them off the beach. Some say he teaches everyone to build snowmen, bending low and rolling swathes of snow slowly around that first well-shaped snowball. A strip of sand appears as the ball is rolled down the beach until it is so big they can roll it no further. The guards watch in amazement, then when the man starts another ball for the head they leave their posts and move closer. Slowly the doors of the huts begin to open, shy faces peer out at the whiteness, curiosity conquers fear. The woman with the baby is the first to come right out onto the porch and when nothing is said others rush out from their pastel prisons and throw themselves into the snow.

The boy helps the man roll the second ball until it is big enough for the head. They find shells by the seashore for the eyes, some driftwood for the nose and a row of shining pebbles for the smile. Together they try to lift the head onto the body but it is too big. They can feel the coldness gliding between their fingers, too slippery to hold.

Help, shouts the boy and the guard nearest to them drops his gun and holds the bottom of the head in his arms. Others join in and soon the head has been raised onto the body. The guard makes sure it is straight and replaces a pebble that has fallen from the smile.

Tomorrow and in a thousand years, says the man to the boy, our story will be told. We will not be alone.


© Copyright 2020 J.C.Birch. All rights reserved.

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