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CHARLES REALLY HADN’T made it hard for me to find his dream door: it had a life-size photograph of Charles himself printed on it. The photo showed him wearing a broad grin and a pristine white coat, with the words Charles Spencer, DDS on its breast pocket, and under that: The best dentist you can find for your teeth.
However, I wasn’t expecting the photo to burst into song when I touched the doorknob.
“Working hard to keep teeth clean!” it warbled with great ardor in a fine tenor voice, to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Startled, I looked around the corridor. Good heavens, couldn’t it turn the volume down? I already felt I was under observation, although there was no one in sight except for me and the photo of Charles, only doors stretching down the corridor as far as the eye could see. My own door was just around the next corner, and in fact, there was nothing I’d rather have done than run back there and call off this whole operation. My guilty conscience was almost killing me. This was kind of like reading someone’s secret diary, only much worse. And I’d had to commit theft to embark on it, although opinions might vary on whether or not that was as immoral as it sounded. Legally speaking, yes, it was theft, but the kind of fur-lined trapper’s cap with earflaps that I’d taken from Charles suited very few people indeed. Most anybody wearing one would look like an underexposed photo of a sheep, and Charles was no exception, so in that light, I’d even done him a favor. I only hoped no one would come into my room and see me lying in bed with that silly cap on. Because that was what I was really doing: lying in bed asleep. With a stolen trapper’s cap on my head. But I wasn’t dreaming anything nice; I was spying on someone. Someone who might well be in the process of breaking Lottie’s heart, and Lottie was the best creator of crazy hairstyles, baker of cookies, dog whisperer, and comforter of susceptible teenage girls in the world. And as no one had a softer heart than Lottie (who officially was our au pair, by the way), that absolutely mustn’t happen. So in this case, hopefully, the end justified the means. Didn’t it?
I sighed. Why did everything always have to be so complicated?
“I’m not doing this for me; I’m doing it for Lottie,” I said under my breath, just in case an invisible observer was listening in, and then I took a deep breath and pressed the door handle down.
“Now, now, no meddling!” The photo of Charles wagged its forefinger and broke into song again. “Working hard to keep teeth clean, front and back and…?”
“Er … in between?” I suggested.
“Perfectly correct! Even though it sounds much nicer if I sing it!” And as the door swung open, Charles went on warbling cheerfully. “If I brush for quite a while, I will have a happy smile!”
“I really can’t think what Lottie sees in you,” I murmured, slipping through the doorway, not without one last glance at the corridor. Still no one else in sight.
Luckily I didn’t find a dental practice waiting for me on the other side of the door, but a sunlit golf course. And Charles as well, in 3-D this time, wearing a pair of check pants and swinging a golf club. Greatly relieved that I hadn’t landed in some improper dream (according to studies, over 35 percent of dreams are about sex), I quickly adjusted my outfit to the scenario: polo shirt, linen pants, golf shoes, and—because I simply couldn’t resist it—a peaked cap. I strolled closer as casually as possible. The door to the corridor had closed gently behind me and now stood in the middle of the grass like a surreal work of art.
After landing, Charles’s ball went straight into the hole with a single elegant movement, and his companion, a man of his own age with strikingly good teeth, cursed softly.
“What do you say about that, then?” Charles turned to him with a triumphant smile on his lips. Then his eyes fell on me, and he smiled even more broadly. “Hi, little Liv. Did you see that? It was a hole in one. Which means I’ve won our match by a huge margin.”
“Wow, that’s great,” I said.
“Yup, it is, isn’t it?” Charles chuckled and put an arm around my shoulders. “Let me introduce you. The guy there looking so grim is Antony, my old friend from university. But don’t worry, he’s all right—he’s just not used to losing to me.”
“Too true.” Antony shook hands with me. “I’m the kind of friend who’s simply better at everything: I had better marks when we were training, I drive trendier cars, I run a more successful practice, and I’ve always had prettier girlfriends.” He laughed. “And unlike Charlie here, I still have all my hair.”
Ah, so it was that kind of dream. I felt even worse about having to disturb it.
As Antony ran the fingers of one hand through his luxuriant hair, the triumph disappeared from Charles’s face. “Some women find a man with a bald patch very attractive,” he murmured.
“Oh yes,” I quickly agreed. “Lottie, for instance.”
And my mom. After all, she was in love with Charles’s bald brother, Ernest. Although presumably in spite of his bald patch, not because of it.
“Who’s Lottie?” asked Antony, and I was just as interested in the answer as he was. Now we’d see if Charles was serious about Lottie.
At least he was smiling again when he said her name. “Lottie will—Hey, what’s that?” He had been interrupted by a high-pitched sound suddenly ringing out over the golf course.
Now, of all times! “It’s too early for the alarm clock,” I murmured, and when Antony added, “Sounds more like a smoke alarm to me,” I made for the door in a slight attack of panic. If Charles woke now, the whole dream would collapse, and I’d fall into a void, a very unpleasant experience that I wasn’t keen to repeat in a hurry. As the high note went on swelling, while cracks were already appearing in the sky, I sprinted back to the door and grasped the handle just as the ground threatened to give way beneath me. With one last stride, I was safely through the doorway and out in the corridor, closing the door behind me.
Done. But my mission had obviously failed. I still didn’t know how Charles really felt about Lottie. Even though he had smiled at the mention of her name.
The photo of Charles on his door struck up its tooth-brushing jingle again.
“Oh, shut up,” I snapped, and the photo of Charles fell silent, looking hurt. And then, in the sudden hush, I heard it: a familiar, unpleasant rustling only a few yards away. Although there was no one in sight and a sensible voice in my head told me that, after all, I was only dreaming, I couldn’t hold back my fear. The feeling was as nasty as that rustling sound. Without knowing exactly what I was doing or who I was running away from, I took to my heels.
Text copyright © 2014 by Kerstin Gier
Translation copyright © 2016 by Anthea Bell