A Memory

It was one of those fitful, sweaty, sleepless nights punctuated by continuing episodes of the same unsettling dream.

Someone who had never been to my house before was with me in the kitchen. We were preparing packed lunches for the Class of ’74. My classmates were in a double-decker bus outside, waiting for me to finish packing their weird combinations – Helga: jam and ham; Sylvana: tomatoes and mustard; Monica: hazelnut spread and bell peppers…

We had been invited to spend the day on a “new” island of the Maltese archipelago that had arisen from the sea. At the time, I had been reading Jingo of the Discworld series, which, as aficionados would know, mentions Leshp. Just for the record, Leshp is usually submerged under the Circle Sea, and its position is exactly halfway between Ankh-Morpork and Al Khali (the capital of Klatch, so this gives it a strategic position – not unlike Malta, in fact.

But I digress.

The Island, as yet unnamed, obviously had no shops. So each of the girls/women on the bus had given us a strip of paper with their preferences – and we had enough stuff on the table to cater for all tastes.

She looked at my kitchen clock (I don’t have one) and she said “Look at the time! You must leave, or they’ll go without you. I’ll clean up and leave the key with your neighbour Ozera (it means “Helper” in Hebrew… but I don’t have a neighbour with that name).

The alarm clock reminded me it was time to crawl out of bed and face the day, and by the time I had a shower and came back from shopping, I had all but forgotten this dream.

It was the first – and only – time that I bought a box of spinach to clean, blanch, bag and freeze.

In mid operation, the phone rang. It was a mutual friend of someone who was in hospital. The latter had mentioned my name in passing, in connection with an incident that had happened many years before. This had involved both of us, and for some reason, the caller thought I ought to know – since the last time we had been in the same gathering, this person had frostily ignored me.

One of those huge, red, alarm-bell buttons went off in my brain. I dropped everything, put on a fresh t-shirt and a clean pair of jeans, and stopping long enough to pick up a bottle of water from the fridge and grab bag some fruit from the bowl so I wouldn’t have to waste time at the canteen, ran out of the house. I didn’t even bother to wait for the bus to take me halfway to hospital – I ran hell for leather and made it to hospital in seventeen minutes flat.

Her eyes widened perceptible when she saw me, and she raised one eyebrow. I told her I had dreamt of her – and launched into the details.

For some reason, she thought the story was hilarious – tears rolled down her cheeks as she laughed, and her husband told me, out of the corner of his mouth that it was the first time she had shown any emotion whatsoever since she had been taken to hospital.

I shivered. And just before I left, I scribbled down my phone number on a clean tissue, telling her to call me whenever she wanted me to visit again. I decided to walk home… more slowly this time.

As I was turning my key in the lock, the phone rang again. My knees turned to jelly because, somehow, I knew what the call would be about. The woman I’d just visited had died, with a smile on her face, five minutes previously, and I was the first one outside the family circle to be told the sad news.

This is for you, my friend.

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