SEPIA

He shakes me. Like before, he shakes me. These are different hands. He shakes me.

And I come back into focus.

"What the fuck happened there?" he asks.

I don't want to answer him; I don't want him to ask. I don't want anything but for this haze to clear, for my head to stop spinning.

Everything just came out of the black and now it's yellowish, sepia under the lights on the motorway. The damp pavement is sepia. His white shirt is sepia. His hands are sepia. His face is sepia.

"Shit," he says, almost laughing, "Hard blow on you, ah? Sorry about that."

He lifts me up by my shoulders and guides me along back to the car, parked neatly on the hard shoulder. He straps me in too tight.

Starting the engine, starting mine again, he says, "So what happened?" Like he doesn't really care.

Or like, really, he already knows.

I decide to steady my breathing. Something I haven't done in ages. I breathe in. I breathe out. Yeah. Hard blow.

He tells me. "Your body was shaking like crazy..." Then he whips forwards to snag my nose. What?—"You're bleeding, fuck."

I jerk away from his hand and feel the wet warmth on my top lip. I wipe it away with my sleeve, staunch it with my knuckle. "I just had another dream," I say.

"Nah, that's not 'just' anything."

I want him to go away. "The boy."

"Tell me then."

I tell him.

Everything goes back to black.

 *         *        *

We're on the hard shoulder again, me squeezing my nose and my eyes tight shut, the fucking tears stinging and pouring out beyond my control. He's tense. Clenching his fists on his lap, he's steadying his own breathing and staring out of the windscreen at the rain sheeting down onto the glass. He does anything; he turns on the engine just to work the wipers.

When the rain keeps coming and tells us it's not going to stop, he tries to reach out to me. I strike, the snake now, all blood on my fingers and forming a tiny, cracked, red desert on my top lip. He stays back. He breathes and passes me tissues from the dashboard. I take them, and just sit with them on my lap. The blood's dripping.

"You had another one?"

"...Yeah."

He doesn't ask permission. "Tell me everything."

But it wears me out. It makes me blind, plunges me into blackness, remembering the last one. "Why should I?"

In his reflection in the window I see him smirk a cold, frosted smirk.  There's nothing behind that shit attempt at warmth. "It'll pay for the petrol."

I whip my head back round to him, the blood still coming. "Do you do this often?"

He makes to mop it up with one of the tissues from the packet that's slipped down between my legs. "Do what?"

"Harass the poor and drive the stupid nuts?" He doesn't answer, but his brow twitches. "'Cause that's what you're doing."

But only–"Ssh." He dabs at my face with the tissue. I don't flinch anymore.

Every time he touches me, it's too gentle. Like he's afraid he'll hurt me. He winces. He cringes. He stays away from the still-swollen, crimson split on the left side of my top lip. And he never, ever makes eye contact. He's broken that off. He's stopped doing that for the better.

He leans back and stuffs the bloody tissue into the pocket in the side of his door.

"Remember anything else?"

I wait.

"So... tell me what else you remember from the dreams."

I don't.

Suddenly he jumps at me, his hands on my arms, pushing me against the door of the car. Now he remakes the eye contact that he had lost for the better, his brow creased, pupils tiny beneath them, his lips all thin as he breathes and head-sweats like a psychopath. I would struggle. But I'm frozen.

"Tell me."

Frozen, but sweating with him. "Tell you what?!"

"The boy's name."

"Sheedy."

"And your name?"

"I don't know."

"Of course you fucking know!"

So much for gentle, he's digging his nails into my skin. I'm strapped in too tight.

"Kirby."

"Sheedy Kirby?"

I'm frowning, bewildered as a fawn trapped in the headlights. "What?!"

"Is your name Sheedy Kirby?"

Nothing happens.

He lets go, slowly. Slowly breathes out. Slowly leans back into his own seat, and though I think he's going to stay tense, he slumps, forehead almost touching the inside of the windscreen, feet not knowing what to do with themselves, wrists crossed over the steering wheel so I can see the bumps and the dents matching like a stupid wooden puzzle. He breathes out, a ragged sigh.

"Maybe I've got the wrong lad."

I don't know what to do at first. I've had plenty like him. I am him – from the outside an empty fucked-up shell, on the inside, God knows what, deranged, lunatic, mad. The haunted, fucked-up shell of a former bomb, one that came with little warning through a dirty, brown war-sky, destined to meet a bitter, bitter end after everything he had known blew over.

Fuck it. Why don't I just help this one fellow out?

"I'll tell you what I dreamt," I sigh.

His eyes open into the windscreen, but he doesn't look. I imagine his ears pricking, swivelling like animal radars.

"He was just a neglected kid, this Sheedy lad," I say. I wait for him, wanting him to dismiss it and decide it was worthless dream shite anyway. But he doesn't. And so I have to go on.

"His uncle had all this dosh from a dead gran, but he didn't spend it on him, he threw it away on drink and doxies. It's typical, really, the doxies are everywhere... It's typical I'd dream of them, isn't it..."

"No," he whispers, "Just carry on."

"He's 15 when he's kicked out. He only takes a couple of euros and a pocket knife and a four-leaf clover." I laugh and expect him to. He's quiet, wide-eyed, listening. "For luck, I suppose."

"What's luck to him?"

"A brothel."

He lets out a very long, cold breath, which fogs up the glass. "Let me guess..."

"What?"

Now he turns to me. And he looks me in the eye. "Your brothel. Your little backstreet kip in Tallaght, am I right?"

I nod... "Yeah."

"Yeah," he says, staring into me, "Don't you see... He's just like you."

I pause.

I see it.

"He is you, Sheedy."

Fuck.

"I told you, that's not just anything."

Fucking hell.

"That's not just dreaming."

Fucking...

"So who are you?"

...Black.

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