It is not yet light, and somewhere behind me, someone is laughing. They’re probably not laughing at me, but it feels like it. I do the last thing you should do when you’re trying to pretend something doesn’t bother you…I turn around, and look at what’s bothering me.
The laughing man meets my eyes…perhaps that’s pity I see in his, or he’s mocking me…or he’s trying to pretend I don’t bother him. I don’t know, but it’s making me very confused. The man laughs harder when he sees I don’t understand, and I suddenly feel very young and stupid and like he knows everything I should know, and realise, and he finds my naivety very funny. He laughs harder and harder then, louder, throwing his head back in superiority, until all his features melt together and he seems to dry out before my eyes, the power of his laughter exploding him into a choking cloud of sand. Even though I feel sick at the thought of it, and I deliberately don’t inhale, the sand somehow fills my eyes and my throat and I can’t breathe…and still, he is laughing at me, through the molecules and grains he has become, and his laughter penetrates, becoming a heavy part of me.
Barely awake, I stretch out my hand under the covers, searching for Joe, for the comfort and warmth of him. Needing, after such awful humiliation, to feel close and wanted, but he isn’t there. The bed beside me is cold, and I don’t look at the clock. Joe doesn’t sleep well, he will have gone outside so as not to disturb me. The laughter from my dream rings in my ears and I feel small and silly, and tearful…I almost get up to look for Joe, but it would be selfish of me. He likes to walk when he can’t sleep, be alone with his thoughts, and it turns out, as I move my head on to the corner of his pillow, that just his scent, and my memory of our early night, is enough to comfort me. I wipe my nightmare away with my tears and I go back to sleep.
This morning, as I make the bed, I brush the sand from the sheets at Joe’s side, onto the silvered boards of our bedroom floor. Pushing open the glass doors to the terrace, I pad out through them in my bare feet, wearing one of Joe’s shirts. He must have come out here for air last night whilst I slept; my own feet are instantly gritty.
It’s fresh and warm outside this morning. I feel the early sun on my bare legs and the skin of my forearms, and I smile…and I feel like the luckiest woman alive. The scent of the sea and the noise of waves crashing on the beach envelopes me, and the coastal morning warmth caresses my skin like last night’s kisses. The breeze billows the curtains, and my hair, like tender fingers. Licking the salt from my lips, I wrap my arms around myself to hold on to this feeling. If I had a cup of coffee right now, with far too much milk in it, there couldn’t be a more perfect moment.
The paper-boy goes past, trudging through the sand in board shorts and a vest. He is pushing his bike through the remnants of a smouldering beach fire, not quite out, and tosses the paper through the terrace railings, at my feet. I breathe the acrid, spent cinders and heated tyres, as I look down at its headline: SANDMAN STRIKES AGAIN.
My dream flashes back to me for the briefest of moments and I push it aside. My day is too beautiful already, to spoil with bad news about recent, local misfortunes. Though half my heart wonders which family is grieving their daughter today, and which dune she was found buried in this time.
With Joe left for work already, I throw open all the doors and windows to the sea air and let the perfect day seep into the bones of the house. I make that cup of coffee in the kitchen and pick up the paper from the terrace, placing it on the breakfast table on my way to the shower. The advertisement will be in it today - I have a concert on Saturday, and my piano bids me practice through the open doorway of my studio as I pass.
I pin my hair up, towel wrapped around me, and dry in the sea breeze as I eat breakfast…listening hard on my iPod to the notes in the piece I am finding most difficult to play. I flick through the paper, distracted by a notice for a weekend wedding fayre, and by my heart, and I look for my ad.
They tell you, when you’re a child, about the Sand Man. He brings your bad dreams, your nightmares; he sprinkles sand in your ear while you peacefully sleep, and he shatters your rest with unpleasant things. They tell you he’s the reason, to go quickly to sleep when your parents kiss you ‘good night’. Or at least to close your eyes, and keep them that way. You cannot look at the Sand Man, they say…if you see him coming, you die in your sleep.
I never do hear him coming above the music, but I see the Sand Man, as he covers my mouth and pushes me deftly, to the ground. He sits astride my body, huge and heavy, pinning my limbs, and I cannot move or fight. The Sand Man stuffs a rag into my mouth and slides a transparent bag over my head, and I wonder, if passing out will feel like sleep, before I die. And my dream comes back to me again, as the Sand Man is laughing at the fear in my eyes…and at the flickering recognition… You see, I know who the Sand Man is, and he was laughing all the time.