By Mark Burrow
Dreaming about mum. Walking along a country lane. We saw plump birds appear from the tall grass and scuttle across the road. They had brown feathers, speckled black, and jade green necks. I asked mum why they didn’t fly. “They’re pheasants,” she said. “You eat them.”
I didn’t want to eat a living creature. That felt like a cruel and senseless thing to do. The birds hopped onto the berm of sun-bleached grass and then into the gloom of a wood filled with long thin pine trees. Sweat dripped down my forehead and into my eyes, making them sting. We kept on walking along the lane. It was a hot afternoon and I was thirsty. There was the sound of crickets chirping in the grass. They got louder and I wanted to cover my ears. Except I had to wee and was using a hand to squeeze my crotch.
“Stop playing with yourself,” mum said.
I needed to go. I was desperate. I knew that if I weed against a pine tree then a terrible thing would happen. Mum walked faster than me. I couldn’t keep up. We passed a thatched cottage and there was smoke curling out of a chimney. I wondered why someone was burning a wood fire on a blistering summer’s day. I asked mum if we could stop by the cottage and use their toilet. She didn’t hear me because of the noise of the crickets.
A gust of warm wind blew along the lane, stirring up clouds of dust. I walked as quickly as I could, squeezing myself, trying to hold in the pee, feeling my bladder about to pop. Mum didn’t turn around. She stared ahead, walking straight, handbag hanging off her shoulder and brown hair tied into a bun. The crickets were loud. I wanted to turn back. I didn’t know where we were heading. I couldn’t turn around though as I was clueless as to where we had come from.
I was grateful for the breeze. I started to hear an engine mixed in with the crickets. I wondered if I should stop and wee at the side of the lane. Mum wasn’t looking over her shoulder. I checked behind me to see if anyone was around. I then scanned the fields on either side and was sad to see a blue tractor heading towards us, towing a wheeled metal contraption. I called out to mum. I asked her to wait for me. The tractor was noisier than the crickets. It was getting closer by the second. Rolling towards us. I had to wee. I felt a squirt come out and wet my pants. I didn’t know what to do. I looked at the tractor and saw water spray out of the thin bars it was pulling across the grass. I thought that the farmer must be watering the field. He was driving quickly and came parallel to the barbed wire fence that separated his field from the narrow lane. I looked at the cabin and realised I recognised the driver. It was uncle Brian. Only he shouldn’t be behind the wheel after his ban for drink driving. I called out to mum. She couldn’t hear me. The water from the rattling bars started to spray over me and I caught a sickening turd filled whiff that made me gag. The liquid was some kind of fertilizer. I started to retch at the smell, covering my eyes and mouth, crying out to mum, feeling the release and shame of warm wee soaking through my jeans and trickling down my legs.
I woke up and it was dark. I was on the top bunk in my cell. I’d wet myself in my sleep again but it was only a tiny bit. I had that trippy, confused sense of still feeling as if I was in the dream, like my brain was stretched over different times and places. I slipped off my wet pants, tucking them under the pillow. I patted the sheets and there was a small patch of dampness. I’d woken up just in time. Gradually feeling more together and with it, I sat up and realised there was still an awful raw turd stink in the cell. I touched my bum to make sure I hadn’t shat myself. I then noticed there was a small light in the corner and a voice was talking low. I couldn’t quite make out what was being said, but it sounded like, “Cancer, where are you? I know you’re there. Come out cancer, you’re in here somewhere. Show yourself…”
It had to be my cellmate, Tom. I whispered out his name. There was no reply. I pulled on a pair of joggers and jumped off the top bunk, trying not to breathe in. I saw that he was kneeling on the floor, naked. He held a torch in one hand and was shining the light into a brown turd that he held in his other hand, examining it closely, squeezing it apart and mumbling to himself. I gagged twice and then said, “Tom, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
He kept squeezing the turd and breaking it apart, staring into it.
“Looking for cancer,” he said.
“Blood in the stools, that’s the sign. That’s what you have to watch for.”
“Flush it down the fucking toilet, mate, and wash your hands. It’s rank in here.”
“Gotta check.” He dropped what he could of the turd into the toilet.
“Now can you flush it and wash your fucking hands?”
He pulled a fresh lump out of the toilet water.
“No way.” I went and pushed the emergency buzzer for the Guard.
Tom didn’t pay any attention. He was on a mission to find blood. I stood in the far corner and pushed a pillow against my face to stifle the smell. He wasn’t right in the head. Killing his step-father was the least of his problems and everyone knew it, except for the doctors and experts. The Guard eventually arrived and unlocked the door. I was ordered to stand in the hallway and wait. Tom flicked and chucked his turds at the Guard and smeared whatever he could in brown. It took two of them to cart Tom off, screaming and shouting about bowel cancer.
It woke up the other lads, who bawled, hollered and cheered… as… per… usual.
The cell they put me in was clean and tidy. There was a kettle, tea bags and UHT milk so I made a cuppa and stood by the window, watching the black of night fade from the sky. I hoped the Guard didn’t find my wet pants under my pillow. I didn’t know why I was wetting the bed. I sipped the tea and thought about how life was fucking weird. Alarms would be going off in towns and cities across the country, waking up normal people to go about their normal lives. I wondered about mum. She liked to have a lie-in. I remembered that about her. “I’m not a morning person,” she used to say.
I guessed she was asleep in a warm cosy bed in her house in the countryside.
I doubted I ever lived in her dreams like she lived in mine.