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‘Nellie, that’s disgusting.’ I jerk my head off the pillow as a guff of foul air hits my nostrils. ‘What on earth have you eaten?’
Nellie, whose face is about four inches from mine, opens one eye. She glares at me then lets out a cross little fart. The eye closes, there’s another guff and a bubble of drool slithers from the side of her mouth.
I sigh. It’s pointless trying to reason with Nellie so instead I haul myself out of bed and stumble across the room towards the kitchen. My feet and fingers are freezing and my toes have turned that mortuary blue you see on television corpses. In fact they’re so bad this morning that for a sleepy split-second I wonder if maybe I died during the night. Maybe I’m just a ghostly shadow drifting back and forth from bedroom to kitchen, trapped for eternity between a gaseous bedmate and last night’s pile of dirty plates.
The kitchen floor isn’t helping – it’s gravestone cold. I shuffle towards the fridge and feel something sticky underfoot. The bin, which is usually under the sink, is lying on its side with a selection of half-gnawed pizza boxes and shredded crisp packets spilling from its open mouth.
Nellie, I think.
I pick up the rubbish and lay out Nellie’s breakfast in her bowl on the sideboard. Then I flick open the child’s safety catch on the fridge and reach inside for the milk. My eyes blink to adjust to the light that shines from behind the out-of-date sausages, and it’s only now that I remember my dream. Although it wasn’t really a dream, it was more of a mini film, whose images were brighter and more vivid than anything I’ve seen before:
In it, I was sitting alone in a cinema on a red velvet seat. It was dark but I could make out the thick crimson curtains drawn across the screen in front of me. From the projectionist’s booth behind my chair came the whirring and clicking of film reels being changed.
I jumped at the sound of the voice and twisted round to see a familiar figure standing behind the shaft of light streaming from the booth.
‘Victor!’ I said, both elated and astonished to see him.
Victor smiled from his elevated position and pointed towards the screen. Seconds later I heard the soft muffle of the curtains drawing apart. When I turned back, I saw that the screen was blank, except for one bright red feather in the top right-hand corner. There was something mesmerising about the feather and I watched it float downwards, gently swirling back and forth as though blown by an unseen breeze.
The moment it touched the bottom of the screen I awoke.
I close the fridge door and try to shake from my head the image of Victor high in the projectionist’s booth. Why is he still hanging around the edges of my mind, sliding unbidden into my dreams at night? It’s been over two years now, why can’t he just leave me alone?
Nellie is still asleep when I carry in her breakfast so I waft the bowl past her nose to coax her from her morning coma. She opens both eyes and rearranges her mouth into something resembling a grin.
‘Nellie, have you been in the bin?’ I say.
Nellie looks at me as if I’ve suggested she’s eaten the television.
‘Yes, you,’ I say. ‘No breakfast till you come clean.’