This short story was runner up in the 2015 Henley Literary Festival 500 word flash fiction competition, judged by Jo Jo Moyes and Helen Lederer. All entries had to share their titles 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