© William Pryor 1978

All she could think was that she’d done nothing to deserve it. She had driven out of Exeter almost blind to the traffic, and by the time she had calmed down just a little she found she was on Dartmoor. She slowed down. Was it anything she had done? Had she provoked Roy in any way? No, there was no reason for thinking thathadn’t she bent over backwards to be broadminded about his ‘little friendships’?

As she coaxed her aging Mini down into third to negotiate a tight corner in the narrow Dartmoor lane, she suddenly felt glad she had found her way up there. The sense of space, the pretty yellow flowers of the gorse that coordinated so well with the purple of the heather, the feeling that there were no people around to interfere. She would go for a walk, even though she wasn’t dressed for it, a short lung-stretcher.

She knew very well that her mother, of whom she was very fond, would immediately react by saying that she was well rid of him, nasty brutish lout that he was. Her friend Lotty would say much the same thing. Of course they would be right in many ways, she could see that, but nothing could alter the fact that she had loved him these three years now, that Roy and Suzanne had become an institution with their friends. She desperately wanted to feel his loutish hairy arms round her again, but knew she must stick to the deal she had made with herself: that if things got so bad that she had to walk out again, it would be for the last time. She’d walked maybe five hundred yards from the car and suddenly noticed that her yellow chukka boots were getting rather muddy. She turned back. A gust of wind blew back her blonde hair; there was a tear just under her left eye.

It was September and would be dark in an hour or so. She had better be heading back for Exeter and the flat. Oh, she felt a sudden pang, what on earth will I do, how will I ever meet anyone else? He would probably be out raving with his new girlfriend by
now. The lane went down into a gully where a mist wisped its way around some sheep. Then it seemed to shrink as it jumped sharply away to the right. She had to change gear.

She only slowly noticed as she came through the series of bends that the sky had clouded over, that the light was going sooner than it should. There were a few stunted beech trees on this stretch of road and their wind-swept shapes, covered in moss and lichen, took on an outlandish, almost nightmarish, appearance. Not that Suzanne was scared, her mind was too occupied with her recent trauma, but she did notice something.

“It’s almost as though I’ve just driven into someone else’s bad dream,” she said out loud, so that she could hear it said. Not that there was any thunder and lightening, but she kept getting the impression that somethinga strange animal, even a personwas just out of sight behind that boulder or this wall or that tree.

Then, round the next bend, there was a man, standing right there in the lane, flapping his arms like, like a windmill. A strange man on Dartmoor in the twilight, heaven knows how far from the nearest houseshe should have been scared out of her wits.
Instead she struggled to slide back her window.

“What’s up?” she asked through the gap. He was tall with a slight stoop, had black hair cut in a rather unfortunate short back and sides, wore a crumpled tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, lumpy grey flannels and a pair of smart new walking boots. His trousers were wet and there were pieces of moss and waterweed sticking to his jacket. He leaned on the windscreen with the flat of his left hand as if trying to stop the car getting away. He panted. He seemed too dazed to answer her question.

“What’s wrong?” she asked again, this time through the slightly open door. He made visible efforts to gather himself.

“Oh sorry, well, actually, if the truth be known, I’m completely lost. Haven’t a clue where I am and I thought I should stick to this road since someone was bound to come along, and, well, here you are.”

“Yes? And?” asked Suzanne, not convinced at all and beginning to shut the car door again.

“Oh I am sorry. You must be thinking I’m an escaped convict from the prison or something. Well, please rest assured that I’m not. I’m Peter, Peter Oran,” he put out his hand for shaking, she accepted, “lecturer in Moral Sciences, that’s philosophy, at Cambridge University, Trinity College actually. At first I thought I was down in Devon on a holiday the first one I’ve had since I was an undergraduate, but…” A bitter blast of wind suddenly lifted his jacket round his neck at the same time as it blew Suzanne’s hair into the horizontal. They both hugged themselves and made shivering noises.

“Look,” said Suzanne, throwing all caution to the winds, “you’d better get into the car we’ll both freeze otherwise.” She leant over and opened the other door. He was just about to get in when he got his first good look at her shortish light pink silk skirt and chukka boots. He seemed to hesitate, as if he’d never been close to fashionable clothes before, as if they were something to fear. His eyes seemed to get stuck on her newly painted fingernails, as he lowered himself timidly into the passenger seat.

“Go on, you were saying what you were doing here on Dartmoor. I’ll drive towards Postbridge while you’re telling meif that’s OK with youit’s the only way the heater will work.” She glanced at him from under a lightly shadowed eyelid.

“That would be fineI believe I can get a bus from there.” He paused. “Yes, well, I thought I was in Devon on holidaythat is until I met Bertrand Russell in the foyer of the hotel and he said that I would be the youngest professor of philosophy Cambridge had ever known, but as he told me that he produced a long stick and started to hit me. Well, I had to get away. That’s when I found myself up here with these walking boots on. I could hear him coming, so I ran and I ran, but then I fell into a bog headfirst. Somehow I managed to drag myself free and found this road and then you came along. It’s the first time I’ve been rescued by an attractive lady in a Mini,” he made a furtive attempt to look at Suzanne’s knees as they sat in their soft silk skirt, “it’s the first time I’ve been rescued, come to that. But then, it’s not every day that one has such realistic dreams.” He grinned. She decided to play his game.

“No, I agree, it isn’t. But then Dartmoor has that effect on you, doesn’t it? I could have sworn I came up here to give myself a chance to thinkjust had a bit of a row with this friend of mine, you see. The bastard! Sorry, don’t want to burden you with my problems.” She sniffed back any tears. “It is a strange dream. Surely they don’t usually feel this real. I mean, this is my car and I am driving it. If I let go of the steering wheel we’d go straight into the ditch and that would hurt.”

“Ah yes, but the point is that you don’t let go of the steering wheel to find out. There’s no way you can prove this isn’t a dream. This is what they call a ‘clear dream’one in which one has clear knowledge that one is dreaming. Why don’t we just go with it?”

“Ah, but I don’t know youwe’ve only just met. I mean, you seem a nice enough guy, but if this is your dream then I am totally in the power of your unconscious and who knows what you might get up to. What matters is: whose dream is it? Am I dreaming you, are you dreaming me, or is something else dreaming both of us? It’s confusing.” Suzanne put a hand to her brow to stroke it. “Ah, this looks like Postbridge. Let’s see when the bus goes.” The timetable said there wasn’t another bus that day. They got back into the car without a word.

“Look, I hadn’t got anything planned. I could easily drive you to your hotel. I might even get to meet Bertrand Russell. Tell me where you are staying.” He told her, then protested:

“But you can’t possibly want to drive a boring old academic all that wayit must be twenty-five miles. Anyway, since this is my dreamRussell’s been dead ten years now, you knowI’ll have no problem transporting myself psychically back to the hotel.

“No, it would be a pleasureanyway, it’s the least you can do after dragging me and my car into your dreams.” He shrugged his shoulders and muttered his assent to her continuing to be his chauffeuse. It was more that Suzanne couldn’t face the prospect of an empty flat and the sure knowledge that Roy was out enjoying her company somewhere. This philosopher with his weird sense of humour and touching innocence was a lot better than nothing.

They had reached the Warren Inn on the way to Moretonhampstead before either of them spoke. The sun must have gone down, but there was still a residue of light to touch the smooth curves of the moor and just show some colour from the heather. The wisps of mist made for a melancholy. Suzanne had to keep her mind off what had happened with Roy.

“Tell me, what exactly do you do with your philosophy. I mean, what does it consist of, how do you do it?”

“Well, in a way, you’re doing it now, the way you’re puzzling away at the notion of philosophy. Basically it’s a discussion of any state of affairs about which one has a particular kind of puzzlement, one which one learns to call a philosophical puzzlement.”

“I see. No, hang on, I don’t see at all. Couldn’t you give me an example?”

“OK, let’s talk about this being a dream. All this, these sheep, the road. Hey, mind that bicycle,” they swerved round a lone cyclist with minimal lights, “it’s all just a series of imaginative experiences or events in a consciousness. Think for a moment how we use the word ‘dream’. We say things like ‘I dreamt I was a fish’. We mean that there was a time when we believed, albeit wrongly, that we were fishes. But the truth or verifiable correctness of such a statement has nothing to do with how real it feels. The main difference between dreaming and waking reality is that the latter not only includes and contains the former, but it also cancels the former, renders it ‘unreal’. There is no way within each reality to prove what it is you have to emerge from one to the other.”

“I’m sorry, you’re losing me again. I must say it sounds pretty dull stuff to be thinking all day. What good does it do? I refuse to believe I’m just a figment of some imagination. I’m driving this car and that’s that.”

“Yes, we are all keepers of our own realities, it’s just that…oh never mind, as you say, it’s pretty pointless stuff. What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh that’s pretty boring too. I’m a librarian at the University in Exeter. Funnily enough I have special care of the dream research archives.” She concentrated on the road ahead. Peter felt that she suddenly didn’t want to talk.

They had got through Moretonhampstead and were well on their way towards Bovey Tracy, down what must be one of the twistiest major roads in England. Peter knew where Suzanne’s mind was wandering when the driving allowed, but just couldn’t think of any way of broaching the subject. Eventually, such was the intensity of the silence, or rather, lack of conversation, that Peter just blurted out with the best ploy to hand:

“Was he an awful bastard?”

“What do you mean?” Suzanne knew very well what he was doing and was grateful, but couldn’t acknowledge the depth of her obsession too quickly.

“I can’t remember what you said his name wasyou knowyour friend.” Peter felt sure that there would be a tear welling in her eye, but just didn’t have the nerve to look, as he didn’t at her skirt. He was intruding already.

“Roy. He’s called Roy. And yes, I suppose by all accounts he’s a bastard. But it didn’t matter, not till this morning, when I had to admit that it did, does, oh dear, I’m talking the most awful double Dutch.”

“No, you’re not. I understand. What you’re saying is,” Peter paused to catch his breath. He was enjoying this lay therapist role, “that up till this morning, your emotional ties took precedence over his breaking the usually accepted codes of what one might call ‘decent behaviour’. You were prepared to put up with whatever it was he did or said for the sake of what we call ‘loving’ him.”

“Yes, it was something like that,” mumbled Suzanne, and then burst out: “he can be such an amazing guy if he wants to, and he’soh I’m sorry to bore you with all this, but I feel that you don’t mind?” She looked at him. Peter got excitedit was really close eyeball-to-eyeball contact.

“Of course I don’t mind. Anything I can do to help. Really.” They were approaching Bovey Tracy now, the rough granite walls taking on a weird look in the isolated mercury-vapour street lamps. “Well, if you’re quite sure you don’t mind. You see, he’s such an attractive bloke. Tough, he’s foreman on a building site, well-dressed, good dancer. All the girls were after him, and he stuck with three years, well, there were the occasional ‘distractions’, but they weren’t anything serious, not till he met Melinda.”

“Excuse me butting in, but isn’t it just a little bit odd for a University librarian…”

“Assistant librarian, you mean. And you needn’t go onyou were going to say something about a librarian going out with a labourer, weren’t you?”

“That’s very perceptive of you.”

“Not at all. People often remarked on it. What most people didn’t realise about Roy was that he was doing an Open University course. But, as I was saying, things were all right till he met Melinda. She is a second year student at the university. Bit of a raver…” Suzanne’s voice tailed off as she wandered into more painful reminiscence. They crossed the A30 dual carriageway in silence and drove, somewhat grimly, towards Newton Abbot. Just as they got within the range of Newton’s orange lamps, she spoke again:

“You know, I think it’s going to be all right. Talking to you, meeting you, listening to your strange ideas about dreamsit’s all had a great soothing effect.” She was thinking that the great thing with this guy, whom she would have second thoughts about going to the disco with, was how easy it was to just be with him with no complications about bed or heavy demanding relationships. She could drop him off at his hotel and that would be that.

It was very different inside Peter’s head, where there was mounting excitement. He had spent a considerable time in the delectable company of a fashionable and attractive lady. He was very taken with her and, while he could see there might be problems of culture shock if he tried to introduce her to his colleagues and friends (they were the same people), he was resolved to let nothing stand in his way. What way was that, he asked himself, demanding the same rigorous clarity that he needed in his philosophy. To have Suzanne as his girlfriend, his lover, his woman, his wife. Once he had admitted it, he could barely contain his excitement. What would have seemed totally impossible the week before now lay within his grasp.

And so they pulled up outside the hotel, both with positive and pleasant thoughts towards each other. The air was cold, the lights of the luxury hotel beckoning. Suzanne’s flat would be no less empty now. She accepted his invitation to supper and then to go on to a party being given by Bertrand Russell to celebrate Peter’s new professorship.

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