When I was a boy, aged about ten, I had a dream which I have never been able to forget. On one of the family holidays in Cornwall I had this dream:
My brother and I were away from home on holiday in the caravan. The dream was set at the campsite where there was a fast river filled with fish. In the dream my brother and I went fishing in the river. It was daytime and we both stood on the riverbank with our fishing rods. Suddenly my brother started to struggle. He had caught a huge fish, it seemed, and the rod was bending so much that he couldn’t keep his balance. He was tugged into the water and floundered in the fast river. There was a heavy current and he couldn’t keep afloat. I watched with horror and didn’t know what to do.
Suddenly I felt myself being tugged towards the river too. It was some strange force. Before I knew it, I was pulled into the raging river. We both floundered in the water trying to stay afloat. I looked across to my brother and watched as he sank. Before I knew it his head had sunk underwater and he was gone. I felt so powerless. But before I could do anything I felt a tugging from beneath and I began to drown too. I was being pulled down into the river and I couldn’t stay afloat. Then it was just my head being pulled under the water. As one final act I looked up, gasping for breath.
And I saw the sky darkened above me. I saw power cables over the water. And perched on top of the power cables was a giant boot. And climbing around the boot were evil imps, I knew at once that they were evil. They were watching and enjoying seeing us drown. Laughing. And then I went under too.
My dreams and nightmares are often Kafkaesque – but this was among the first of those and had always stuck in my mind. Last winter, when my brother lost his use of language and the understanding of the language of others, I would sometimes think back to this dream as it seemed so pertinent.
In exasperation, I rewrote the boot nightmare – the nightmare which was haunting me – as I felt I was living it. I even prayed it through in the hope that I could bring a new version to pass. I wrote the following…
My brother and I are away from home on holiday in the caravan. We are at a campsite. There is a river filled with fish and we decide to go fishing. It is daytime and we both stand on the riverbank with our fishing rods. Suddenly my brother starts to struggle. I think he has caught a huge fish; the rod is bending so much that he can’t keep his balance. He is tugged into the water and is floundering in the fast river. There is a heavy current and he can’t keep afloat.
I watch with horror and don’t know what to do.
Suddenly I feel a force tugging me towards the river too. But although it looks as if something is pulling the rod, it is some invisible power which is like the most powerful magnet in the world. It is a force stronger than myself.
Before I know it, I am pulled into the raging river too. We are both struggling in the water trying to stay afloat. Trying to stay alive.
But the force has stopped and at this point nothing is tugging me under…yet. I remember what people have said. I am a strong swimmer. I know that my brother is a strong swimmer too, but it is as if that force is now tugging him under.
I swim to him and cannot understand what he is saying but I see in his eyes that he needs help. Using my strength, I reach under his chin and try to push his body upwards so that he is kept afloat at least. But the force is still tugging at him and I am not strong enough to save him that way.
I look upwards, at a loss. Above us I see power cables over the water. And perched on top of the power cables is a giant boot. It is ridiculous. A huge boot, resting on power cables, like something out of a fairy tale. Except to me, it is like something from the end of 1984 and we are to be crushed under the boot forever. The sky is dark now. Most ridiculous of all are the evil imps clambering over the boot and wires. They are laughing and pointing at us. I know that they are connected to the force.
In desperation I call out to God for help.
And we both go under at the same time.
The evil imps laugh in total victory.
Now we are both underwater. I am the first to realise that we can still breathe there… and it feels… safe. The surface of the river is like a shield against the force and the imps. There is life in the river.
I shake my brother a little and he opens his eyes, finally taking a breath. He can breathe too.
We swim underwater for a while, both surprised and happy that we are not drowning at all. That some more powerful force has saved us. On the river bed, among the weed, we find some gold treasure and swim to it, filling our pockets with diamonds and gold and pearls and sapphires and rubies and emeralds.
Looking upwards, the imps are still there. But they are no longer laughing. Now they are angry. The hatred can be felt. Suddenly, out of the river burst two angels. Water sprays our faces and we are again surprised at their appearance. They are bright white and full of dignity and power. They fly up to the boot and slaughter the imps quickly with golden swords. The boot remains on the cables but there is not an imp in sight. All of the imps have been destroyed and one of the angels makes a sign in the air, a swirl, destroying the force and the leaders of the imps in one moment.
Then the angels return to us. We have both survived and our pockets are full of treasure. The boot remains as evidence of what happened. Perhaps we will go back for the rest of the treasure when we have recovered from the ordeal. The angels disappear but we know that they will protect us until we are both old and full of years and will have to return to the final river, both of us believing that we will be able to breathe when we go under.
The prayers and re-writing didn’t work. And I cannot prove that we will be able to breathe when we go under. I wasn’t able to write or pray my brother free of cancer and death.
I don’t want this entry to sound sad, it’s just what happened.
And the river flows on.