Professor Edward Reddick pushed himself away from his desk and sighed. He glanced at the computer in front of him before switching it off and inspecting himself in the murky surface of the monitor. He stared like a transfixed basset hound at his bloodshot eyes. The sagging black bags beneath them seemed to drag them out of his pale face. He had a thin mouth, once balanced by a good measure of humour and kindness, but which now was a somber strike across his otherwise gentle face.
Edward yawned broadly and a small spray of spittle squirted out of his mouth. He sat up in his chair and arched his back, feeling it groan and complain under his tweed jacket. I shouldn’t be here, he thought. I need to get some sleep.
He wrinkled his nose, making up his mind, but just as he was about to stand there were three loud knocks on his office door.
“Come in,” he said. A fresh face poked its way into the room and grinned. “Ah, Bradley,” Edward exclaimed, swiveling his chair to face him, “you’re the first student I’ve seen so far, congratulations.”
Bradley maneuvered himself into the room, stepping over boxes full of papers, books and boxes of certificates and medals that glowed dully under the fluorescent lights. “It’s good to see you back sir, although it’s sooner than I thought you’d feel…” He ran his fingers through his nest of brown hair and glanced down at his battered Converses.
“Happy?” asked Edward.
“No, God no, not happy Sir. I wouldn’t expect ‘happy’ of you. ‘Able’, I would say.”
Edward scratched his patchy facial hair and looked at Bradley with his baleful eyes. “I’m absolutely fine, thank you Bradley.” His light Irish accent was eclipsed by the misery that pervaded his every syllable.
Bradley cast a nervous eye around his lecturer’s office. Faded Dali prints flaked off the walls and a sheet of dust that blanketed everything else in the room made the computer and phone on his desk seem to sparkle. “Well I was just in the library and wanted to see if the rumours were true,” Bradley said. He began to carefully back away over the boxes he had just navigated and placed his hand on the door handle before taking a breath and adding in a rush, “I was really sorry to hear, by the way.”
Edward coughed into his hand and muttered something unintelligible before wishing Bradley a good evening. Bradley left and Edward dragged himself back towards his desk with the reluctance of a teenager settling down to a detention. Edward’s eyelids were crashing together every few seconds and Bradley’s words were rolling across his blank computer screen. I was really sorry to hear…
Edward shook his head and gripped his jaw, opening and closing his mouth and staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t go home. It was the whole reason he was sat in his office so late, going over the same numbers that he’d ironed out weeks ago. If he went home he knew he wouldn’t sleep. He’d just keep going over it in his mind, playing it again and again like a sadistic highlight show.
He pulled the pillow that he used to make his office chair bearable from underneath himself and shook it before pushing his keyboard aside and laying his head on the cool linen. His eyelids immediately slammed shut, like the curtains coming down at the end of a Broadway musical, but behind Edward’s eyes the show was just starting.
Some time later, whether it was minutes or hours Edward couldn’t be sure, his daughter’s face swam into view. Her freckled nose wrinkled in a delightfully fervent impression of a squirrel before she walked around him and sat down in the back of the car. Edward gripped the steering wheel, his brain slipping effortlessly into the dream. Edward looked out the window but thick rain had turned the glass into a bubbling pane of liquid pitch.
Edward turned his head to his left. At his desk in his office his neck strained and a bubble of spit burst in the corner of his mouth. He desperately didn’t want to look at the passenger seat for he knew, all too well, who would be sitting there. Who was always sitting there.
Edward’s wife looked back at him and smiled her radiant smile. Her freckled nose wrinkled in the same way as his daughter’s and Edward’s heart seared. The window beside her was open and her hair whipped around her face, stretching behind her, almost tickling the owner of similarly long, flowing hair in the backseat.
Edward looked ahead, through the windshield, but all he could see was blackness. It was like the car was speeding through a tunnel and spinning through a vacuum all at once. There was no sound at all, except for an incessant popping. It caused him to wince in the car and in his office. The popping noise grew louder and more insistent and Edward’s wife began to drum her fingers on the dashboard and the darkness was pressing in on the car and he couldn’t stand it anymore.
He craned his neck to tell his daughter to shut-up and throw the gum out the window but before he could open his mouth they were flying. He couldn’t see the road outside revolving around the car, nor could he see the sky zipping past the skylight. He must have closed his eyes when it actually happened because he couldn’t remember what it had looked like at all. It was just the feeling. The lurch, deep in his stomach, of gravities loosened grip coupled with the sickening somersault of sadness that assaulted his senses.
He was screaming inside his head to wake up, begging himself to open his eyes, to lift his head, to cry out, but he couldn’t. He felt as if he was comprised entirely of sand. Wake up!
The rolling stopped. The dark was still pressing in on the car, splintering the windows in their frames. Edward lifted his head off the steering wheel and glanced at the web of cracks, wishing the glass would implode and tear him into a million pieces. But it didn’t. Edward looked at the empty passenger seat to his left, then at the deserted back seat. They were gone, and Edward, woke.