Sometimes the fall is long, with enough time enough to see the world streaking around me. Sometimes it’s short, like I’ve stepped off a kerb that was deeper than I expected, the gutter dipping down so that I have to throw my arms out for balance. But the one thing I can be sure of is that the landing is always soft, soft and strange. There are two equal lives we live, and who can say which is the real one?
I dreamt today, and on the way down I took a long time without falling far.
I was walking down a wide street that was flanked on either side by houses as thin and flimsy as tissue. Each time I took a step the bitumen bounced and shimmered as if the ground underneath me was unreliable, as if it was just waiting to form itself into something new. I was careful not to dawdle too long, in case the tar decided to reach out and drag me under by the ankles.
The sky was a bottomless pool of oil and the stars were dropped pebbles. The more I looked between the undulating road and the rippling sky, the more I couldn’t tell which was which. I forced my eyes to travel on the straight and I walked without letting my feet settle for too long. I walked for what seemed like hours. The ground was sticky. The houses never changed and neither did the road. The sheer length of my journey charged it with purpose; I began to feel as if I was making a great sacrifice, that I had to be travelling towards something important. My only purpose was to keep moving in one direction.
I only saw one person on this road. She came from nowhere; that is to say, she formed herself out of a single droplet balancing on the rim of the horizon. I can’t say if she made herself out of the tar or not, but she was dark all over and sparkling with light at the same time, as if she had rolled in a tray of crushed diamonds. Her hair was made of fire; it licked the air and crackled around her shoulders like a cape of flame.
She swayed as she walked, swayed in a way that only women can. I was afraid but I couldn’t stop walking. I could only hope that the fire meant passion and not anger. I concentrated on keeping my steps constant. If I kept moving at the same pace, then she might mistake me for a less interesting object, like a stray tree taking a stroll in the night.
As the woman of fire drew closer I saw that she wasn’t alone. Moving close to her side was a dog so large it had to be some sort of wolf. It had sharp ears and was covered all over in thick glossy hair made from midnight strands of sky; fur so luxurious and dark you couldn’t look at it for too long, or you would lose yourself in it. The woman had her hand buried in the wolf’s fur, curled deep in the ruff around his neck.
They turned their faces to me as they passed, the woman and the dog. The dog gave me that look that only dogs can, a liquid look filled to the brim with sorrow and understanding. I could see his teeth, sleek and ivory-white, the points just escaping from his mouth.
There was a call in the night, hollow and reverberating. Somewhere ahead. I almost stumbled but I kept my eyes forward. I moved on, the road rippling under my feet.