By Tobias S. Buckell

Richard dreams of a gorgeous woman. She is sketched out like those figures on black and white posters: a few long fluid lines that suggest so much more than points in space, but the full body of a woman. When her hand brushes his skin it is a faint gesture. He shivers.

She often whispers things in his ear, and they tickle his earlobes. In his half-awake dreams he makes love to the lines of this woman. Richard wakes up with a snort. He's been snoring again. The apartment's clammy air pushes against his chest, the windows are closed. It's raining outside, pattering steadily against the dust-streaked panes. He swings his legs over the side of the bed and they hang in the air for a second. Cordelia murmurs something and shifts. Her pale, flabby thighs stick out from under the rolled up blanket. She's drooling on the pillow.

When Richard stands up his feet smush something.


He looks down at the mahogany-colored, crunched cockroach. Making a face, he drags his heel on the carpet to wipe it off. The living room looms up at him, lit by the rain-dappled streetlamps through the windows.  Half-empty beer cans line the coffee table, the broken leg propped by a never used encyclopedia: X-Y.

Richard runs the calcium-crusted tap, waving his hand underneath and waiting for the water to turn cold. He opens a bottle of aspirin and rummages for a glass. They're all piled in the sink,dirty, so he cups his  hands underneath. The water drains through his fingers as he lifts them up. He's left with half a swallow, just enough to wash a pair of pills down.  The floor creaks when he steps back into the bedroom. He pauses to push up a sheet of wallpaper and pin it back onto the wall. The pin doesn't stick; Richard pushes until his thumb breaks through the rotted sidewall.

He stares at the hole for a second, then shakes his head. Cordelia turns the other way when he stumbles back into the bed.
Richard tries to reclaim part of the blanket, then gives up. Richard stares at the large water stain on the ceiling, the brown edges and water drops getting ready to fall into the buckets sitting around the room. Sleep steals slowly over him again. He waits for the woman to reappear. And soon she does, brushing his hands and kissing his palm.

Richard blinks his eyes and sees the water stain again. He can hear the soft skittering of thousands of tiny legs in the walls. As his
head lolls to the side, the brown floor stirs and retreats back into the wall. The headache that woke him throbs. His mouth is full of cotton.  Richard falls back asleep anyway. The brown-eyed woman carefully reaches for him again, kisses his fingers, and runs her hands up his arm. She nibbles his earlobes.

They kiss his whole body and make love.

Copyright ©  2002 Tobias Buckell

Tobias has published in SF-Age, Analog, and in various anthologies including Nalo Hopkinson's Caribbean Fabulist Anthology 'Whispers From The Cotton Tree Root' and WOTF XVI. He is a Campbell award nominee.

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