12+ I'm in the middle of a dream, though it might be nearer the beginning or end. Who can tell with dreams? I'm on a rocket, and the final countdown's begun. "10, 9, 8 ..." Then I look down at myself strapped in the seat and see I'm wearing pyjamas.
"It's only a dream," I reassure myself.
As a kid, I dreamed I wore pyjamas to school but didn't realise until the teacher called me to the front of the class. And now middle-aged, I often dream I'm on a bus, and my stop's next, but when I glance down, I'm not wearing pyjamas — I'm stark naked!
How did I board the bus? And why did the ground crew strap me into a rocket in my pyjamas? "7, 6, 5 ..."
Sometimes in lucid dreams, I soar thermals like an eagle, arms outstretched, without wings. Other times I play guitar like Eric Clapton. But when I stare down to memorise the riffs, I can't see my fingers.
Then there's the dream of standing on stage in a packed auditorium, and I've forgotten my speech. "Just improvise," the TEDx director hisses. And now, though I know I'm dreaming, I've got to improvise launching a rocket in my pyjamas. "4, 3, 2 ..."
I scan the instrument panel for a button to push or a plug to pull from a socket to abort the countdown and end the dream. But it's a blur of dials, LEDs and toggle switches.
Ahem, I've also dreamed of an old flame. We were swimming in clear warm waters off a tropical beach when she ducked beneath a wave. I dived after her, and she reached out to me. But instead of surfacing, we embraced and kissed, suspended and enveloped in a pocket of air. And when I woke in bed beside my wife, gasping for breath, I was wracked with guilt.
The launch countdown is dragging on. "1 ..." But then, as I said, time's hard to comprehend in dreams. And reality.
It's almost two years since my wife died. We had our ups and downs, but we raised three kids and were looking forward to retirement and being grandparents. And then she fell ill. I stopped dreaming during her long battle with cancer. But shortly after she died, my wife visited me in a dream that felt more real than that tropical beach with the old flame.
She was wearing the locket with our wedding photos I gave her the day after the doctor informed us there would be no retirement together. "Face your fears," she told me, "don't hide yourself away, and get on with life."
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My wife often returns to me in dreams with comforting words of support. And I know she'd want me to pilot this rocket, wearing pyjamas or in the buff. So, let's finish the countdown, "0, lift off!"
I wake with a start, still in my pyjamas, lying in the middle of the bed. I'm alone, but not in my dreams.
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
I wrote My Dreams for the Australian Writer's Centre's Furious Fiction writing challenge in June 2023. The brief for the 500-word short story was:
- It had to begin in the MIDDLE of something
- And include the words LOCKET, POCKET, ROCKET and SOCKET (or longer variations retaining the original spelling).
I set my story in the middle of a dream. And although I've never dreamed of a rocket launch, I drew on some of my dreams for the story. For instance, at school in my pyjamas, on a bus in the buff, soaring like an eagle, playing guitar like a legend, forgetting my lines on-stage, and perhaps, once or twice, dreaming of an old girlfriend.
However, as with all my fiction, while I draw on elements of autofiction and a true sentence here and there, most of it is pure imagination. As I mentioned, I've never launched a rocket or made a TEDx speech. And my wife is still alive.
But I have dreamed of being visited by departed relatives and even a dear old dog. That doggy dream felt so real I could feel his coarse hair on my fingers when I reached down to pat him. And I found it comforting to touch and see him again.
If you enjoyed this story, you might like a Tall And True blog post on how I turned one of my dreams into a microfiction story, Microfiction Dream (June 2018).
N.B. Listen to My Dreams on the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast.
Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.