Enid stares at me from the hospital bed with a wide and fixed expression, like an old Morris Minor up on the ramp. There are two other cars come to visit her in the rehabilitation unit: me, a battered old Toyota, well-maintained but worried about the next MOT, and the unit GP, an old Volvo people wagon, boxy, unkempt, a little clumsy, perhaps, but still good for a few thousand miles.
‘Tell me more about the man you saw this morning,’ says the doctor, leaning forward in his chair. ‘The man from the CIA’
Enid isn’t the most obvious recruitment target for the Central Intelligence Agency, but then you’d have to think they’re probably a little underrepresented in the eighty year old, retired bookkeeper demographic. Still, Enid’s taking it well. She waggles her mirrors and begins.
‘It was early in the morning,’ she says, folding her hands in her lap and giving her shoulders a settling shrug, ‘… about half past five, I should think. I heard someone cough, and I thought That’s odd. And when I sat up, there he was, standing at the foot of the bed, staring down at me.’
‘What did he look like?’
‘Oh – about forty, I should think. Pleasant chap. Short blond hair. Wearing a sports jacket but no tie. Smart casual, I suppose you’d say. And he stared at me a good long while, and then he said: Enid? You’re not who you think you are.’
‘How extraordinary! And he was from the CIA?’
‘Yes. He said they wanted to recruit me for a mission. I said I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be much good to you like this. I’m really not up to any mission. And he said You’re on our list. And I said Well, I can’t help that. I’ve just had a pacemaker fitted.’
The doctor smiles, nods, writes something down.
‘It’s happened a few times before,’ she says.
‘No. Last time I woke up in a Burka. There was an enormous man with a big black beard, and he pointed at me and said I had to go to the mosque. And I told him I didn’t want to go, because – well – I wouldn’t know what to do. And he said I’d soon pick it up.’
‘So it’s all about identity?’ says the doctor. ‘Fascinating!’
‘I don’t know about that,’ says Enid. ‘I’d sooner just wake up and have a cup of tea like normal people.’
‘And this has only been happening since the operation?’
‘Do you think that’s what’s caused it?’ she says.
‘Possibly,’ says the doctor. ‘I think we need to take some blood and check for a few things. So – do you get any kind of warning before you see these people? Any strange smells, funny sensations? Sounds? Odd visual effects?’
She shakes her head.
‘Do your limbs feel heavy or frozen?’
‘No. I’m sitting up talking to them just like I’m talking to you now. I get a little frightened.’
‘But you don’t feel unwell in any way?’
‘Hmm’ says the doctor.
‘It’s not always people who talk, though. The time before that it was an alien.’
‘I don’t know about that. He wasn’t very friendly. Pacing up and down. When I asked him what he wanted he picked me up and threw me in the cheeseplant.’
‘Well! That’s aliens for you! Look – Enid – I’ll leave you with my colleague here who’s very kindly agreed to take some blood, and we’ll have a look at that and see if there’s anything causing these hallucinations. They may just be lucid dreams, of course. You’ve been through a lot recently and you’ve had a disrupted routine and everything else. But we ought to rule out organic causes first. Okay? Lovely to see you.’
And he leaves.
‘Do you think I’ve lost my marbles?’ says Enid as I get my kit out.
‘No! Not at all. I think like the doctor says, you’ve got a lot on your plate.’
She stares at the toast cooling on the table beside her.
‘I don’t fancy much,’ she says, then turns her attention back to me.
‘I don’t bleed,’ she says, brightening. ‘Everyone struggles. There’s only one person who can get it – a girl who works at the surgery. Ever so nice, she is. Lovely teeth. She chats away a mile a minute, and the next thing you know she’s waving a tube in your face. I said to her, I said you’re a vampire, you are. And she said yes, and that’s why I like my job so much.’
We chat about the whole lucid dream thing whilst I tap around for anything vaguely resembling a vein. She’s right. It’s Slim Pickens and that’s a fact.
‘I’ve had a couple in the past,’ I tell her. ‘Dreams where I’ve woken up in the middle of it all and thought: This is a dream. And I knew if I concentrated hard enough I could make things happen. There was this one time, I’d gone to America and I was due to fly home that morning. Well I woke up in the dream, and I was standing on a wide prairie plain. So I thought I’d see what I could make come over the horizon. I concentrated as hard as I could, and I tried to summon one of those old western coach and horses – you know – like you see in the films. And then I could get in and see where it took me.’
‘Oh yes. That would be nice.’
‘But it never came. Instead there was this tiny figure running towards me with its arms outstretched. A woman, in ceremonial robes, Japanese robes, all flapping out behind her. And when she got a bit closer I could see it was my mum, and she had this expression on her face, like she was shouting out and trying to warn me. And I got so scared I turned around and woke myself up. And I was so freaked I rang the airline to change my ticket, because I thought maybe she was trying to tell me the plane was going to crash. Sorry – that vein disappeared when I went in.’
‘They do that. They can hear you coming.’
‘So later on I thought I’d better ring the airline again to check the new arrangements, and they told me they had no record of my previous call.’
‘Did you catch your plane?’
‘Yeah.. It was fine.’
She reaches out and takes a desultory bite of her toast and chews it without much relish. I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed with my story, too. It sounded like a straightforward dream. The mystery of it had rubbed off over time; now it just seemed like the kind of thing you might get with jet lag.
‘I wonder what your mum was trying to tell you?’ she says, looking for the positive.
‘Who knows? I asked her about it later and she said she hadn’t had any premonitions. There we go! You have got blood after all…’
‘Yes. Well. Everyone struggles,’ she says.