I don’t sleep anymore. I toss and turn while turf-smoke blows across the hills. Sometimes in the middle of the night I listen to the tiny movements of the clock on the wall. Other times I look out of the windows at the grassy tracks the colour of mackerel winding their way past the stone walls. I rattle the lid of my pipe and fill it with tobacco and the sweet smell obscures everything. I take out my pen, I start to write about Laura.
   What I wrote last night:
      I first met Laura at the heritage museum. I was dozing over The Nature Lover’s Gazette when I looked up and saw a young woman wearing a red straw hat with a long plait of dark hair draped over her shoulder. Her face had the appearance of someone from the sea, slightly windswept and salty. The museum was almost closing. It was an odd time to visit. She stepped forward clutching the hand of a small boy. He was about six years old and soon he started to kick at the front door.
       ‘The museum’s almost closing,’ I said.
        She looked perplexed, foreign – as if museums were supermarkets.
        ‘We’ve come a long way,’ she said.
 I gestured to her to come in.
          ‘What brings you to Inishbofin?’ I said.
          ‘My ancestors came from County Galway,’ she said.
She appeared more relaxed and had an easy smile like a bird’s wing unfolding.
      ‘You’d better hurry if you want to see the exhibits,’ I said.
I watched Laura’s long slender back and the swing of her hips in that red summer dress as she walked around the museum. Before I locked up, she came back up to my desk and said:
         ‘You’re Dr James O’Flaherty aren’t you? I read your book, Pieces of Consciousness.’
      ‘Long out of print,’ I said.
After thirty years diagnosing sleep disorders and a commemorative gold pocket watch for Outstanding Work in Lucid Dreaming, I now spent my time pottering around as a part-time curator and amateur naturalist on the island.
       ‘What you said about the dreaming was really interesting,’ she said.
I’d speculated that some experiences were outside a scientific viewpoint.
     ‘I’m retired,’ I said.
     ‘I sleepwalk,’ she said, ‘all the time.’
As she had come so far, I wrote down my address on an old business card and handed it to her.
    What I wrote this morning:
        The next day, as was my habit, early on a Saturday I went to the grocers to buy milk and the Irish Times. Sometimes I took Cheri, my sleek Afghan hound, with me. I’m not much of a cook, the fridge is usually empty. Although I couldn’t afford it, I preferred to spend my nights dining out watching the waitresses pour wine. That Saturday I remember stepping outside just as my neighbour opened her shutters; this was followed by a rattle of kitchen pots. As I walked down the road I bumped into Doctor Snook. He had the Irish Times rolled under his arm.
     ‘How’s the ulcer?’ he said.
     ‘I ignore it.’
     ‘Drop by my surgery, for a checkup sometime,’ he said and walked on.
I wouldn’t dream of it. I’ve never felt healthier in my life. In the store two tourists packed tins of tuna into their green backpacks, the Swiss flag was sewn on the zip pocket. The man opened a Lonely Planet Guide. Were they planning a visit to the museum? I hoped not. I took my milk and left in a hurry.
     ‘Grumpy old bugger,’ the store-owner muttered. Or did I imagine it?
What I wrote after lunch:
     I bought my house three years ago: small, unimposing, with electricity recently installed; it wasn’t a place to see anyone. Laura turned up wearing a black coat and a pair of stilettos. I watched her stroll across the gravel drive, holding her son’s hand.
     ‘I didn’t realize you’d bring Ben,’ I said taking her coat.
      ‘He’s a good boy.’
      I led her into the study frequented by my dog and lingering smells of pipe smoke.
     ‘What a wonderful view of the harbor,’ she said.
Ben crouched down and from his pocket took out a dark caterpillar that humped lazily across his fingers. Spotting the Dictaphone, Laura halted by my desk:
      ‘Please don’t record my session.’
Her hands rolled into a tight ball. My memory has always been poor. Despite numerous awards I wasn’t a good therapist. Not only that but I liked the tapes. Their exactness, the fact I could replay them as much as I wanted. I’d never had a patient object to the tapes before but to reassure Laura I took out my notebook.
      ‘People, do strange things when they sleepwalk, don’t they?’ she said sitting down.
     I sensed she was waiting to lay her thoughts down and leave them peacefully like someone sleeping at a lake. I started to pity her, as I do all women. But my experience with women is limited and not of the romantic kind. In fact my life has featured only strings of female patients, research students and flitting waitresses.
     I preferred to think about Laura at the door of the museum. She was different from any woman I’ve ever met.
      ‘How long have you been sleepwalking?’ I said.
      ‘Have you ever felt really angry?’ she said.
  I shook my head and started to fumble with my fountain pen. It left a series of blotches over the paper and in the end I put it down on the desk.
 ‘Last year my husband slept with my sister,’ she said.
Ben looked up at the mention of his father. Laura fiddled in her handbag for cigarettes. I saw the Marlboro packet bobbing around in her bag and her fingers almost gasped it. Immediately I started looking for matches. But she changed her mind and pulled out her purse instead.
     ‘Just a sordid little affair at the yacht club. I shouldn’t have come.’
Laura took out a roll of notes from her purse and hardly looked at me. She pushed her chair back, stood up and extended her hand to her son. I felt foolish waiting with her coat over my arm.
What I wrote this evening:
     At 4am, I awoke suddenly. Cheri lay long and thin at the foot of my bed. I glanced out of the window. There was nothing but the darkness of overhanging leaves. A half-moon dozed in the sky leaving crooked shadows. Then I saw Laura walking on the beach. The moonlight hit her white dress, illuminating it like a lantern. Clear, so clear. But what was she doing near those rocks? Had she no sense?
     I put on a jumper and some trousers. From the drawer I pulled out my torch. Cheri stood waiting at the door for me to go. I opened the gate and walked down the stony path with Cheri at my side. The air was heavy with insects, biting and copulating. Everywhere, smells of dust, night flowers and the scurrying odors carried by animals.
     Only a weak beam came from my torch and I almost slipped on knots of seaweed on the beach.
     ‘Hello there,’ I called but Laura didn’t answer.
     Cheri wagged her tail, she knew who it was. Laura’s eyes were closed. Her hands outstretched, as if trying to catch the wind between her fingers. I have never seen a woman so close to nature, so undressed, so elemental. I sat on some driftwood, and observed her as she went further into the water, guided by something unknown. I expected she was in transition from one sleep phase to another. My pulse quickened. My heart rang out: a huge bell under its rib-cage.
     I took off my shoes and rolled up my trousers, I wanted to sleepwalk too. I walked to the water’s edge. Then I closed my eyes to try and experience her dream, unscientific, of course, and in fact I saw nothing but a soft black the colour of seal skin. Eventually I opened up my eyes.
     I meant to lead Laura out of the water. She was somewhere on the rim of consciousness. But my fingers moved over her hip and on to the top of her inner thighs. I slid my fingers up and down the silk of her dress. The ocean cast up its scents like secrets.
     ‘It’s you doctor, isn’t it?’ she said opening her eyes.
The cool night air dipped deeply into my lungs. A look of agitation spread across her face and so I led her out of the water and we stood at the edge of the sea. Her eyes scanned the beach. It was empty apart from Cheri pulling a stick across the sand. The waves crept lightly around our feet, absorbing us slowly.
      ‘Were you dreaming?’ I said.
She paused,
      ‘My sister drowned in a boating accident. I often dream about it.’
I wanted to say something, but slowly she turned to go:
      ‘I need to check on Ben, we’re catching the ferry back tomorrow,’ she said.
      ‘So early?’
      ‘But I’ll come back again sometime, I’ll look you up then,’ she said and touched my arm. She walked over the sand towards her cottage like a woman passing from this world to the next. I watched until she disappeared inside her cottage where there was an oil lamp lit on the window-sill.
Eventually I picked up my walking stick and headed home. Cheri trotted at my side. Despite the late hour I felt light and fully awake.
What I wrote five minutes ago:
     Although Laura never returned to Inishbofin, in my mind I often walk to the edge of the sea and gaze out. A low wind is blowing over it, making soft ripples like a silent language, I once heard. Then time passed. To the right is Laura’s cottage with locked windows. The house looks emptier than before. There isn’t a child’s bicycle, or a vase of flowers, no sandy footprints lead up to the front door. But in my mind there is always a lamp lit, it flickers and blows out.

Naomi Richards

Naomi Richards was born in the UK. She has taught English in Japan and now works in Auckland. In 2011 she graduated from Auckland University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing. Since then her short stories have appeared in New Zealand literary magazines such as takahe and in brief (in three different issues) and on Radio New Zealand. She works as a teacher of English as a foreign language. Occasionally she also runs creative writing workshops for young people. At present she is working on a novel and a collection of short stories. Naomi can be reached at

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