Runner up in the 2015 Henley Literary Festival 500 word flash fiction competition – had to share its title with a brand of Dragonfly tea!
If I tell Dave I can see a cowboy sat on the end of the bed, he’ll think I’m nuts. That’ll be the end of it. Another failed relationship. I thought the sleep therapy had worked. Six months now without a single night-terror, hallucination, or ghostly visitation from the motley bunch of characters who’ve haunted me for years. Juggling clowns, men in masks, storm-troopers under the bed. Even the grim reaper. I’ve seen them all. A cowboy is a first.
I close my eyes. If I clench them tight Billy the Kid should disappear just like that.
I can’t pinpoint when the nightmares started. There were no deaths in the family, no major traumatic events. It was just a gradual build-up of disturbed sleep. Rob couldn’t cope. It started with separate beds in separate rooms and ended in separate houses and divorce.
That’s when I sought help. I underwent investigation at a sleep clinic. Electrodes were strapped to my head to measure the delta-waves, tidal waves, or whatever it was that gate-crashed onto my subconscious at two o’clock every morning. I met a whole series of therapists, including one who said it was all to do with sex.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I told her.
I’ve just had sex. With Dave. For the first time.
I open one eye. The cowboy is still there in his wide-brimmed hat and checked shirt. Tight shut again. Count to ten, twenty.
My friend Cath was no help. ‘It’s not sex. It was Rob. You just need to meet a new man,’ she said.
I adopted a coping strategy. Office stress had to be locked into an imaginary filing cabinet. Milky bedtime drinks followed lukewarm baths. I took up yoga, embraced a stimulant-free diet of no dairy, no alcohol, no caffeine. Dating was impossible on that sort of regime.
Cath refused to take no for an answer. She started looking on-line. My protests of ‘I’m happy just as I am,’ fell on deaf ears.
And I was happy, but Dave makes me happier. Being with Dave is like pulling on a favourite sweater on a winter’s afternoon. He’s gregarious, I’m naturally reserved. We balance each other perfectly. I feel revitalised. In fact I think I love him.
Dave encourages me to try new things. I’ve taken up horse riding. We go to gigs. He plays guitar in a country and western band, The Green Gauchos.
Of course. How stupid of me. I force myself to take another peep. Cracks of daylight creep through the curtains. It’s just Dave, up already, getting dressed.
I snuggle back into the pillow. Breathe. Relax.
‘Morning gorgeous, how are you?’ Dave’s voice is full of tenderness.
‘Great,’ I tell him. ‘And you?’
‘Just perfect,’ he says.
His mouth is very close to my ear. I can feel his breath on my neck.
I open my eyes with a start. The cowboy at the end of the bed raises his hand in a salute. Then he disappears.
© Rosie Travers