Sunday, 4 November 2012

Feathers and Down

(Feathers and Down - The Cardigans)

Niall kept having the same dream, over and over. It happened so often that he would wake up in his bed, and have to think for a moment before he could decide whether it was a memory or just a dream. Sometimes his mum would scold him in the morning and tell him to stop daydreaming, and he would get on and eat his Readybrek when he all wanted to do was tell her that he knew he could fly.

For a while, the dream was just the same. He was on the landing, at the top of the steep stairs that led straight down to the hall, with its black and white squared floor. The TV was on in the front room, and he could hear the quiet rumble of his dad’s voice. Niall stood at the top of the stairs, looking down. There were sixteen steps, he knew that off by heart. He took a breath, and then jumped forward, into the air, and then the air caught him, and he didn’t fall, like he did when he came off his scooter. The air caught him, and he floated down, down to the bottom of the stairs, riding the air like a feather. Then the ground met him softly, and he landed.

It all changed when he first saw the angel. The mass itself used to bore him, because he didn’t understand much of it, and didn’t like it when the people chanted things all together because they didn’t seem like separate people any more. They became one thing. They went to mass twice a week, sometimes more if there was a Holy Day of Obligation. He called it a hobbledey-gobbledey day, and his mum told him never to say that in front of the priest. The mass bored him, and the air was thick with incense and terrible powdery perfume from old ladies, so he spent his time looking at the pictures of the stations of the cross, at the stained glass, at the tortured figure hung on the giant cross, blood coming from hands and feet and side and forehead. The church rose up high over the altar, and one Good Friday he looked up there and saw the face of an angel, like an enormous plaque hung high on the wall. I don’t remember that, he thought, and then the angel moved its eyes and looked down at him, just at him. No-one else seemed to notice. The angel looked kind, but sad at the same time, as if it knew too many bad things. They looked at each other for a while, but then Niall looked around to check to see if anyone else was watching, and when he looked back the angel had gone.

That night, he had the dream again. It was different though, this time, because this time he understood how he floated down the stairs. When he jumped, the angel was there, and it held him softly, as light as you would hold a dandelion’s puffball, and it held him that way all the way down, only letting go when he was safe on the floor.

When he woke in the morning, Niall walked to the top of the stairs. The TV was on, and he could his dad’s voice rumbling quietly over the top of it. It was Saturday, so he had been allowed to sleep in. He took a breath, and felt the angel beside him. Saw the angel beside him. When he was older, he could not quite remember which. A soft golden light was filtering in through the window by the front door, and he could see dust, drifting slowly in the sun. He took another breath, and jumped. He hit the stairs about a third of the way down and then bounced, hit them again, banged his elbow on the door, and then he was lying at the bottom of the stairs on the cold tiles and he had winded himself and could not take a breath. His mum and dad were out in a second, fussing round him, while he opened his mouth and his eyes wide, terrified that he wouldn’t be able to breathe again.

But he did, after a few moments of panic.

When he could speak, he told his mum and dad that he had slipped on the top step, and fallen. Although he had a few bruises, he hadn’t broken anything. Something inside him never felt quite the same way again. Even when he was grown up, he could still remember everything about it. And sometimes he stood at the top of a flight of stairs, he would remember floating, floating. 

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