(Written by P. Herlihy.
First displayed as part of the Rochester Literature Festival 2013
'Other Worlds Other Voices' exhibition.
All rights reserved.)
Simultaneity (a sort of stereo dreaming)
What happens if someone, somewhere, thinks exactly the same thing as you at exactly the same time? Does the thought, the little electrical impulse fired between your neurons, remain singular? Or is it a plurality, a connected event, a moment shared between to strangers? Can the exact same thought exist in two places at the same time? And then what happens if it is not a thought, not a moment but a whole dream which occurs to two people, simultaneously.
A sort of stereo dreaming.
And you are right, it was my thought exactly, you couldn't possibly know if someone was dreaming the same thing as you at the same time because you are asleep. And memory is a most unreliable of snapshot. What you remember when you wake up, if you remember anything at all is immediately airbrushed by your waking consciousness. The landscape of reality, of the here and now is a very different landscape to the one inhabited by our dreams.
I should introduce myself. My name is Caitlin. I am of medium height, have long brown hair that I normally pull up into a ponytail and almost green eyes. I am an average build and am double jointed at the thumbs, you know, where you can bend your thumb back to touch your arm? I am a working, single, thirty-something and I am writing this in the hope someone will recognise me. Not the people who already know me, not my family or friends. Not work colleagues or the regulars on the bus to work. Not my Facebook friends or Twitter followers. But the person who might just recognise me from my dreams because he's been dreaming them too.
So, here goes. I am going to write out some of my dreams, the ones where I am convinced somewhere, someone, simultaneously is dreaming them too. And I know they are often just fragments of dreams. Little more than the frail, dust-tattered wings of moths caught in the full glare of daylight. A shadow of those moments shared, distorted through the prism of the cold, hard light of waking hours.
But I've tried everything else I can think of. Attended dream seminars, consulted sleep therapists, read quantum physics theories, talked to psychics, mediums, doctors, tried hypnotherapy, regression, progression... at the end of the day, all I am left with is my dream diary. A pile of battered spiral-bound reporters notebooks in which I jot down all I can remember from the night before. They sit on the bedside table each night waiting for the next instalment. A year's worth of writing. Moments of simultaneity.
The dream where I realise there is someone else there
I am walking up steps. It is not a place I recognise but I am trying to catch up to someone ahead of me. He turns and sees me and I sense him smiling as he waits. And I wake up.
It's not much of a dream but it is the moment when I realised we were there together and that this other person was not a figment of my imagination, not a construct of my subconscious but someone else, somewhere else, dreaming the same thing as me. And he realises it too. It is a moment of recognition.
Did you know that steps in dreams signify progress, at least walking up stairs signifies progress. Don't worry I'm not going to analyse every dream for you. That's not the the point of this exercise. But it seemed a very positive point at which to start, to be able to say this is where we first met.
I try and dream the same dream over the next few nights, try and get back to that same point. Try to reach those steps again. It doesn't work. I spend the nights having a recurring dream. It is vague and brooding, ominous. Oppressive. The weight of the air before a storm pressing down on my temples. I wake in a cold sweat. Glad it was just a dream.
And it is a very clear distinction. There are dreams and then there are dreams. Those moments I share with the other dreamer are actual, time related events. They occur only once and at the same time but not necessarily from the same viewpoint.
The dream on a beach
You are here, I know it. But, before I turn to find you, I want to drink in this glorious place, a paradise of white sand edged with a glittering, gently rolling sea. The exact colour of old aquamarines. The sea stretches towards a thin silvery heat haze vaporising into a summer sky and under my feet, the damp sand is firm. Sand to write my name in.
I know you are near and I turn. At first I can't see you and then, there, up on the small bluff, looking out to sea. Your gaze is distant, searching the horizon. I turn back to the sea but there are no ships, no sign of anything. What are you looking for?
I reach down and write my name in the sand and then watch as the tide slowly claims it, smoothing it out. By the time I realise you are standing at my side, my name is lost to the waves, running up and dragging back a clean slate for you. You reach down and write your name. And here we are, together on a perfect beach. I look down to read your name but the seventh wave has arrived at the beach, knocking me from my feet and I land with a sudden jolt awake in my bed. Awake again.
I looked for that beach on the internet. Paradise, white sands, cool blue sea, the shape of the bluff. There are a lot of beaches on this planet but none of them are that particular one. I get a bit obsessed by it and discuss work colleagues' holiday destinations ad nauseam until I overhear Tom asking Maisie why I don't just book a freakin' holiday and give them all a break. I book a holiday but not ton a beach. I book a holiday in a small cottage in Kent, up in the North Downs, tucked away in a wooded valley where I can walk and think in peace. Where I can try and figure out what is going on. On the last night of the holiday I dream again and this time we are dancing.
The dream where we dance
The ballroom is huge, a gorgeous shimmering hall of light. Along one side are a set of repeating french windows surrounded by gilt wooden panelling. On the opposite wall a suite of mirrors echo them. High above us, suspended from the ceiling, chandeliers are blazing with light, filling the room with a crystal clarity. The floor is old, wooden, polished, worn smooth by the passage of feet over over time. One, two, three, one, two, three. The age worn rhythm of ballroom dancing. There is no music. Perhaps we don't need it. Perhaps we are dancing to different tunes. You are taller than me and warmer, I can feel the heat of you, the weight of your arm encircling me. We are a sweet waltz together.
My work begins to suffer and I am put on a probationary period. My annual review reads like a bad school report. I am jittery, tired, anxious. I have spent all my energies on trying to find answers without knowing the right question to ask. Who are you? Where are you? Why is this happening? And I tell my boss to shove his three-month targets where the sun doesn't shine. It seemed like the right thing to yell at the time after he told me I was falling apart and should see a doctor. I visit the doctor. She gives me a week's worth of sleeping tablets telling me I am suffering with nervous exhaustion. I dream of nothing for a week. I sleep the sleep of an insomniac drowned in a synthetic numbness. She's right. I do feel better. Clearer about it all. After all, they are just dreams.
Work stretches into long, numb days of not caring or wanting to be there. I try and keep my mouth shut and my head down. The probationary period ends and at least I still have a job to go to. I also need some new notebooks.
The dream in a spaceship
The curve of the planet slides below us out of view as the three moons rise on the screen in front of us, two silver, one red, bathed in the light of the distant binary sun. The cockpit of the craft is in darkness, only the greenish glow of the thoughtfind link fills the air. We are suspended above the planet like a hoverfly above a flower. There is nothing but space. Nothing but us. As the spaceship dives back towards the planet I can hear you laughing in my mind as the screen fills with the dizzying fall and the adrenalin rush hits me full force, making me leap out of bed, instantly awake!
I looked up binary sun, three moons on the internet and finally, at last, maybe a tangible link. He's a Star Wars fan. I am not. He dreams about Star Wars? It makes me smile to think of it. A glimpse inside his mind. A clue to his personality. There is something reassuringly ordinary about the thought of him being a bit of a geek. Kind of cute. I sleep better for the thought. My doctor's progress reports soothe my boss and I attend a sleep clinic. I am now an expert in sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, biorhythms, sleep posture and bedtime routines.
I try and reconnect to my life. To find meaning in the routine of targets and meetings. I start reading around the subjects of dreams and attend seminars by mediums. One medium gets in touch with my Great-Grandad. He has a message for me. The money is under the rockery. I do go and check at his old address, just in case. Where his old terrace once stood is now a multi-storey car park, all traces of his life there erased under a pile of concrete and exhaust fumes.
And so the year progresses to autumn, notepads filling with dreams, weekends spent tracking down any detail, any lead I can ascertain from scant notes. My bedside table fills with books on quantum physics and brain function. My days at work are spent pretending to be fine and cheery. Maybe too fine, too cheery, if you could be bothered to look closely enough but who looks closely at anything these days. And then, after 365 days, the dreams stop.
The last dream
We are lying, side by side, on the top of a hill. Above us a skylark is singing, its voice scraping the high, blue sky clean of clouds. Our fingers are interlinked and the ground is warm and sweet smelling underneath us. A summer field. I can hear bees close to my ears, busy with the clover. I am content.
It hits me in a moment, a great revelation of knowing suddenly, I am content, lying there with you next to me. Whatever these dreams are, whatever they mean. I am, without doubt, content, here, now, in this place, in this moment we are sharing. Thank you for this moment. Thank you for these dreams.
Writing out dreams in a diary and actually publishing it are two very different things. The pile of rejection letters from publishers made me almost give up but, in the end, I self-published, it's easy really, if you can manage a blog and know your way round a keyboard. But, anyhow, here I am now. Holding in my hands a copy of my book. I advertise it online and, every now and then, someone buys a copy. They hold those fragments of my dreams up to the light of their solid reality and probably decide I am just another snake oil seller. But there is the slimmest of chances, someone, somewhere, will recognise those dreams, recognise me, a moment of perfect certainty and find me. That's my hopeful waking dream anyhow. I stare at the title for a moment. Maybe it was better to be doing something rather than nothing. At least the book is something.
Five Years Later...
The phone call is in the middle of the night. Well, at three am to be precise. I am jolted out of my deep, dreamless sleep by its insistent sound. The voice at the other end is unfamiliar. I reach for the bedside table light and knock a notebook onto the floor. Old habits die hard. It takes me a minute or two to work out what is being said.
'..so I thought if we are able to meet up, we could discuss our findings with you. We shall be publishing our data next month in the journals but naturally wanted to go through it with you first. I am catching the morning flight tomorrow and so could meet up in London the following day...'
'Er, yes, yes... um, what findings?'
'We've been working on a radio astronomy research project looking for extra-terrestial life, and the quadrant we have been monitoring has delivered some very interesting signals. Are you familiar with frequency modulation? Well, we developed a cypher code to unlock the frequency-shift keying of the signal and found..., well, look I don't want to discuss this over the phone. But if I forward the details of our hotel to you perhaps we could meet?'
'Um, sure... You've got my email?'
'Yes, yes, from your book.'
'You've read my book?' For a moment my heart lurches.
'Well, no... but I found it on an internet search and, well, I'll send you the details.'
The hotel is in central London, a safe, bland blend of chrome and glass and stripped wood. The coffee lounge is empty save for the two radio astronomers quietly sipping cups of coffee in a corner. After introductions and ordering a small, skinny latte, I smile at them and ask,
'So, what is it you wanted to discuss with me? Is it about my book?'
'We received a radio signal from a quadrant of space that seemed different to the normal background signals we process. My colleague and I set about writing a complex cypher that unlocked the frequency modulation and revealed a message within the signal. The signal come from a binary star system and took about five years to reach Earth ...'
My brain makes a connection, somewhere a memory jogged. I published my book about five years ago. Has it really been that long?
'The long and short of it is, we translated the signal into language and it reads...Well, it reads this.'
The scientist hands over a piece of paper on which is typed a sentence.
'You mean this is from... this is an alien message?'
'There is no doubt, this message did not emanate from our own planet or any of our technology in space. So yes, this is what we call a first contact.'
I stare at it blankly still trying to fathom why two Australian radio astronomers would travel halfway round the globe to speak to me if they had proof of life beyond our solar system. The words shift and jumble on the page and I can barely read them, they fracture and run in front of me. I am dimly aware of a voice nearby asking if I am OK and of being offered a paper napkin to wipe away my tears.
I am crying and laughing at what I am reading but, after the shock of it, I am crying in a wave of relief and sadness, reading over and over again the sentence. Trying to make sense of it. The words on the paper finally fall into place and I read:
Simultaneity (a sort of stereo dreaming)