Brenda’s Story: (Hypnagogia Ch.3)

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

As I walked past the makeshift greengrocers perched in front of one of the empty units, she appeared around the mall’s only corner.

My friend Brenda asked if I’d ever written a story about her. I recalled this chapter of my novel Hypnagogia, with fondness.

As I stretched out in the tiny single bed and fatigue overcame me, I turned onto my left side blocking that ear and therefore, all sound. My right ear was useless following an episode of meningitis ten years previously. The warm cosy silence was soon replaced by the echo of a hard open space, absent of soft materials to absorb the sound. My shoes made a self conscious squeak on the shiny surface with every step. In my hypnagogic state, I immediately recognised the familiar sounds that accompanied a visit to our local mall. My body tensed with anticipation, in its transitional mode. As the dream took over the bright lights of the Park View Centre burst into my subconsciousness. To say that it was a mall would be like comparing the neighbourhood cat to a lioness on the Serengeti. After all, it was a single “L” shaped covered walkway linking the two main roads of our small town.

The centre had been opened to great fanfare ten years previously, boasting some high-end retailers. Long since closed, these shops had been replaced by bargain stores and those selling everything for the mobile phone user and vaper. As I walked past the makeshift greengrocers perched in front of one of the empty units, she appeared around the mall’s only corner. My heart raced at seeing her again and this time in the contemporary attire I had witnessed in reality. Gone was the Arab dress of 146 BC to be replaced by cutting edge 21st century fashion. Her jeans were the perfect skinny fit with rips in the knees and her parka was buttoned up to her chin. The dazzling pink and white converse made her look like she was walking on air. Her jet black locks bounced as she danced up the mall towards me. Her features opened into a dazzling smile on spotting me and her dark eyes gleamed like fresh dates.

I braced myself for the inevitable as she set off up the walkway like an Olympic long jumper. As she landed on my chest I thanked God that she was a bantam weight. Any heavier and she would have had me into the fruit and vegetable display. Having said that, I felt the extra ten kilos compared to the waif from Carthage and the pleasant fullness of her chest. Close up, her cheeks were flushed and full, the red complementing her faint tan.

“That was tough,” she whispered into my ear, “six months with a bunch of nomadic Numidians, you’ll find out soon, you were there too.” Her beautiful Arabic intonation returned in all its glory.

As she stood down and I surveyed her perfect form. The winning smile, the moka eyes, the fuchsia lips and that hair! I placed both hands on her cheeks and cupped her face, lifting it carefully so that her eyes met mine.

“Don’t ever do that to me again,” I rasped, a lump rising in my throat. Her exquisite features swam in a sea of tears as I remembered the emaciated child from North Africa.

“This is going to be just as tough,” she purred, “let’s get a coffee. I want you to meet someone.” With that, she took my hand in her tiny grip and pulled me towards the coffee shop in the centre of the mall.

The cafe, as usual, was populated with those either waiting for God or, otherwise, the Post Office to open. It was a sea of beige clothing and blue rinse hairdos with the odd flat cap thrown in. She tugged me to a table that seemed to be already taken. The occupant was a single woman, in a wheelchair, of indeterminate age. The ravages of her obviously serious illness, made it difficult to estimate her years.

“This is Brenda,” my companion introduced, giving the woman my name in return. “She has Multiple Sclerosis.” The smile she gave the stricken woman was like nothing I had ever witnessed before as she placed her own hand on that of the woman, which was distorted and swollen. Brenda looked up sideways, her neck severely hampered by the disease. On seeing my companion, her face seemed to relax and the features lost their painful distortion.

“Oh hello pet it’s you. Is this your fella? Would he like a coffee?” Her sentences came in short sharp breaths, her speech slurred like a drunken man. This brought stares and whispered comments from the other customers. I glared at the four octogenarian widows at the next table and they lowered their heads in unison with the synchronised clink of coffee cups.

My companion, by contrast, never took her eyes off Brenda, her smile somehow surpassing the previous one.

“That would be very nice Brenda, we’ll both have a double espresso, no sugar,” she responded. Brenda deftly reversed the electric wheelchair away from the table and up to the counter, with a flick of the tiny joystick. In motion she was transformed from the twisted form in the stationary chair to a graceful dancer, negotiating the tables with skill. I took my chance while we were alone.

“How on earth did you get out of that hell hole?”

“You know we don’t speak about previous encounters, I’ve already said enough,” she snapped, her soft features hardening.

“But that was your home, they were your people.” I struggled to get the words out as the horrific images of Carthage returned.

“It is history, it had to happen. You’ll see much worse at the hands of the Israelis and the French,”  she hissed and somehow I knew she meant it. Changing the subject, her expression melted again and a deep sadness overcame her exquisite features.

“I am sorry to hear about your wife.” Her large eyes magnified by the meniscus of tears brimming in them. She blinked and they burst from her long black lashes, running down her full flawless cheeks onto her parka. They stood on the green fabric like pearls for a second before being absorbed into the green material turning it a darker shade. I was mesmerised by their watery journey with equal sadness.

Brenda returned to the table with a tray on her lap. She was a fiercely independent individual despite her ailments.

“Now Jasmine, did you say two espressos, no sugar? My memory isn’t what it was,” she enquired as the girl relieved her of the tray, nodding. Her name was new to me as we had never been on name terms in my dreams, another first. Brenda had pronounced it as in the English version of the white spring flower, beginning with a “J” as in John. Many other new things would become apparent over the following months. Immediately aware of the puzzled look on my face, my companion leaned forward, brushing my ear with her lips.

“Yasmin, pleased to meet you,” she whispered, shooting me another disarming smile. The single Arabic word, spoken in the native tongue, sent shivers down the back of my neck and the bitter taste of adrenaline rose from behind my tongue. Brand new but so familiar-so right-of course it was her name!

“We shall have this then make a start, OK Brenda?” The girl reassured the older woman. As we sat and sipped the bitter brew, Yasmin’s face was a picture of displeasure as the foul liquid passed her lips. Her taste in coffee was impeccable as was her understated taste in everything. She must have been struggling to down this truly horrid concoction. I was taken back to the cafes and markets of Fez and the Medina of Tunis where the coffee was thick, black and without the hint of bitterness.

Finally, as we downed the last of the vile liquid, Yasmin turned to Brenda.

“Now is the time.” As the words were uttered, a strange transformation began to take place in the stricken female. Starting with her neck as it began to straighten, lifting her head perfectly level. Then her face began to change as years were taken off it like pages from a book. The mouth, once drooping to the left and constantly dribbling saliva, turned up in a symmetrical smile. Even her eyes lost that glazed, misty look and became as clear as my beautiful companion’s. Following several energetic shakes of her head, my attention was turned to the gnarled claws that were her hands. The fingers straightened and seemed to lengthen into long, delicate digits, before gripping the arms of the chair. The next action had me floored as the woman pushed herself to a standing position, grabbed the tray and marched to the counter.

“Thank you”, she said as loud and clear as the Queen on Christmas Day. My shock was nothing compared to that of the crowd of ancient crones in the shop. Cups and plates were sent flying.

My own sense of shock turned into something more sinister as an electrifying shock shot up my spine. As I began to slump forward in my chair, Yasmin and her newly revived companion caught me swiftly and moved me deftly onto the vacant wheelchair. My head was forced down by an invisible force so that my chin dug into my chest in searing agony that eclipsed the back pain. The fingers of my right hand twisted into an involuntary fist of excruciating cramp as the joints swelled up like sausages in a frying pan. Sight was stolen from my right eye replaced with a green mist and tunnel vision developed in the left one. My view of the world resembled that through the crack in a door.

The final phenomenon, although not painful, was the worst of all as I felt the warm sensation spread down the front of my trousers and into my shoes. My surviving sense of smell became aware of the odour of fresh urine and I put two and two together with a feeling of horror. Meanwhile, the two female companions linked arms and skipped out of the cafe. My world became constricted to a terrible prison of suffering and embarrassment. Grabbing the tiny joystick in my swollen hand, I attempted to move the chair. The numbness in my fingers prevented any subtle movement and I was projected, at speed, into the table of the four old witches, sending them and their broken crockery sprawling to the floor. The next jerk sent me careering backwards into three more tables of beige clad onlookers and into the mall beyond. As I engaged my tiny crack of sight on the departing females, Yasmin turned and gave her disarming smile. I just managed to hear her above the clatter of tables, chairs and crockery.

“See you in the Left Luggage Room,” and with that she blew me a kiss.

The scene in the mall gradually changed so that I was viewing it from above. My crippled form below was spinning in circles in the middle of the mall, sending shoppers running for cover. Eventually the vision faded and I was sitting bolt upright in bed. The relief at the lack of pain and numbness was palpable as I stretched and turned my neck and flexed my fingers. I immediately put my hands down the front of my pyjamas, dry, thank God. My lingering hypnogogic memory was of Yasmin and her rejuvenated companion waltzing into the distance. However, I was gripped by her last words, Left Luggage Room. I had an appointment with friends, at the bar of the same name, that very evening.

2 Comments

  1. Kenneth Childs

    Must admit I googled Hypnagogia after reading the story. Talk about a nightmare.

    Reply
    • brian

      Written three years ago during lockdown. Chapter three of the novel of the same name. One day I’ll get around to finishing it Ken.

      Reply

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