Isobel has mediocre dreams, which she confuses with the mediocrities of her real and waking life. She has not paid the gas bill. There is another leak in the laundry ceiling. Another piece of music to learn by Sunday.
She wakes irritable, and turns over to scowl at Ainslie who, in the dream, had not paid the gas bill, and who now sleeps as though dead and probably dreams of flying, or sex with French film stars.
This is somehow all her fault.
Before Ainslie, Isobel had vivid, elaborate dreams.
Of leading her grandfather’s ancient, split-hooved horse through the dark, up a mountain, to a pit in a forest to eat the snow from the faces of dead men. So that the cold might not wake them. So that they might never know of their death. Her long fingers pulling softly through the great bay’s tangled mane while it ate.
Of birds pecking at the skin of her wrists and her throat to uncover something, though she never did find out what because her sister was there saying Come on, come on, with her hands full of bright plastic, I’ve gone and made a killing on this woman in a hazelnut dress…
And of course, she dreamt of her teeth falling out. And of coins in the dirt and of her furniture being rearranged while she slept. But nothing to do with electricity bills or supermarkets. No endless days at work. She would sometimes dream about a leak in the ceiling, but the leak flooded the house to ankle-depth and somehow—Isobel was not sure, even in the dream—there were fish. Fish and seahorses and other tiny creatures which she is not sure exist outside of the dream. When she remembers the dream now she can still feel the gentle butt-butt of their snub noses against her bare feet as she drifted from room to room.
When she met Ainslie the several inches of water drained from Isobel’s dreams. She watches her sleeping lover’s face and asks aloud where it has all gone to, but Ainslie does not answer.
Isobel imagines that if she looks hard enough, she will find them—the tiny bones of the tiny fish and the seahorses dried in brittle hoops along the skirting boards and under the hallway rug.
She could take an empty glass jar and collect them, and she could keep the jar on the bedside table or high up on the mantle where Ainslie could see it, and understand it as proof of How Things Were Before I Loved You.
In sleep, Ainslie lies curled on her side with one arm flung out across the pillows, hand open as though to receive something—a coin or a snowflake, or a tiny bone.
Isobel leans over to place a kiss in the waiting palm and watches the fingers curl slightly to accept it. She tucks her knees up, presses her face between Ainslie’s shoulder blades. Matches the curve of her body. Then she goes back to the pilot light going out in the hot water system. Her train being cancelled. The A string on her cello refusing to stay in tune.