“Wait a minute!”, he said, reaching far under the floorboards, groping past pumice-like nuggets of old, dried mortar and gritting his teeth against the plaster dust riding up his sleeve; “What’s this?”
After some moments he withdrew his arm from the hole left by the lifted boards, and pulled out a brightly-coloured wire. Actually it was more of a cable than a wire, and in the ‘true’ sense of the word that applies to knitting and nautical ropes; a cable of threads and strings twisted around each other. But overall it looked more electrical than nautical; the surface was smooth, like plastic insulation.
As we watched, we saw that it was glowing iridescently despite the dirt and the dust of decades. And the glowing was getting brighter. In some way that I find impossible to describe, it seemed almost as if the cable were relaxing, and finding the confidence to show its colours.
“Where does it go?”, I asked.
He pulled, cautiously, frowned, and then stuck his head back into the hole and rummaged. “A bloody long way!”, said his voice, muffled by the boards around his head and strained by the pressure of his not inconsiderable body weight that was currently being taken almost entirely by his chest.
He righted himself and sat up, adopting that pensive posture that people do when pausing briefly from physical work; one knee up, arm resting on it, hand gesturing.
“And there’s something weird in the distance where it disappears”
I asked him how he could see so far in the darkness of the void between the attic floor and the bedroom ceiling. He struggled to explain it for half a minute and then simply suggested that I should take a look for myself. Genius.
We swapped places in the limited space of the attic room. Cautiously, I put my head into the hole. I was about to ask for his torch when I realised that he hadn’t been using it, and then I saw why; the glow from the cable was lighting up the void clearly. It was breathtakingly beautiful, despite the fact that the light was playing across the detritus and rubble that you’d find under any attic floor.
I’ve never seen electrical cables, lumps of mortar, dust, rough wooden joists and plasterboard look so beautiful. It was as if the Aurora Borealis had visited all of the thunderstorms on the planet, recruited all of the rainbows, and taken them to party in a skip in a builders’ yard.
I followed the cable into the distance, and saw it disappear into a foggy shape. It was like a bubble of fog, in which the end of the cable split out to disappear into a flattened shape like the head of a mushroom. The bubble was floating slightly, as if it were supported within another structure.
I lifted my head out of the hole and looked over to where he was sat, waiting for me to draw the same conclusion that he had drawn only moments before; it’s like it disappears into a fucking placenta! That cable, that thing, is a damned umbilical cord!
I couldn’t form the question in my mind, let alone speak it. We simply sat in silence for what seemed like a few minutes and, at the same time, a fraction of a second.
I began to form the impression that I might be dreaming. I had no memory of why I was in an attic, or who this guy was sitting with me. Things became fuzzy for a minute, and then stitched themselves back together again as if nothing odd had happened and everything felt as if it made sense, despite the fact that it clearly did not.
The attic was gone. Instead, and without a hint of weirdness, I was alone in a space like an art gallery. A single, long, long hall surrounded me and the rainbow cable, which had now attached itself into my stomach and was sending its iridescent rainbow into and under my skin. The cable stretched away from me, just as it had in the attic, but now it floated away along the gallery hall into the far distance.
I looked at the walls, to see if I recognised any artwork. There was nothing famous here, but what there was, I surely did recognise. All along the walls were sculptures and paintings representing key moments from my life. In the far distance, I could just make out an image of me aged about nine, hunched over electronic components , soldering iron in my hand. I wasn’t smiling, but I knew beyond doubt that I was contented and happy. Closer to me were graduation photos, wedding photos, holidays I’d been on. There were zones that I could hardly make out, as the glow from the cable in these areas was so very dim as to be almost black. Where the cable was dim, it was also very thin; so thin that I feared that it looked so fragile that it might break. In other zones, where there were representations of parties, business trips, conflicts and anxious indecisiveness, the cable bloated up and shone so brightly that I could hardly see what going on in the chaos around it. There was danger here too; the bloated cable looked unnaturally active, and at risk of bursting.
The scene shifted again; now I knew for sure that I was dreaming. I was looking at me, looking at the cable in the gallery. I had been joined by a woman in a white coat, with a stethoscope around her neck. In her right hand, she held one of those arty-looking skulls with zones of the brain drawn on the surface. She stepped closer to me, said something, and put her left hand on my shoulder. I immediately burst into tears; I sobbed in the gallery, tears falling from my eyes like a computer animation lit by the rainbow coloured light from the cable. But again, I knew that I was crying happy tears; unicorn tears.
Those words repeated over and over as the scene faded away; “Unicorn tears” and another phrase “It’s a parasympathetic reaction, Alan; no need to worry!”
The dream stuck with me for months, and came back to me whenever I got stressed or anxious just going about my daily life. Each time, after the stress passed, I sensed that the gallery hall had lengthened, and another piece of artwork had been added. The cable had bulged again, but now, in some indefinable way, I knew that things would be better. The cable wouldn’t burst, and neither would it break. The gallery would keep growing, and the glow of the Aurora Borealis would guide me.
So I turned around in the corridor, and started looking ahead. I can’t tell you what I saw, but I can tell you that it’s beautiful beyond your wildest dreams.