"Are you sure you're right?"
"We both know what today is. There's no avoiding that."
"I know what today is, I'm just not sure it'll happen."
"What makes you so sure? Why is today any different?"
My wife. My faithful, confident and devoted wife, Claire. This is our eleventh year. Twenty times before we've had the same conversation. She never worries about herself though, only when it is my turn. She doesn't seem to cope well when other people are going through it.
Claire sat down on the sofa and curled her legs up. She ran her hand through her brown hair. She looked tired. I knelt down beside her.
"You know the beach?"
Claire looked at me.
"Not again," she said, "I thought they had stopped?"
"I've been having them for a few months."
Claire stood up and walked towards the window. She rested her hands around the back of her neck, her fingers intertwined. Not a good sign.
"Tell me about them," she said, her usual confident voice quiet, "I need to know."
There is a clock on the wall. Ten to eleven.
"There's time," she said, "I have to know."
This was never going to be an easy conversation. I had kept the truth from her for so long. I couldn't tell myself why I never told her. It seemed like the right thing to do. But now, with the time edging closer to midnight I wasn't so sure.
"How many have there been?" Claire asked.
"A dozen, at least."
"The same as before?"
What to say to her? Do I reassure her? Do I tell her the truth, or what she wants to hear? Are the two any different? I wonder why I brought it up but then I never could lie convincingly. She had to know.
"He's closer," I said, "Other than that they are mostly the same."
Claire turned and faced me. She took off her shawl and folded it in her arms.
"Is that why you think it'll be tonight?"
"You've had the dreams before," Claire said, the confident tone starting to return, "They've been in your head for years. So why tonight, why now?"
"I told you, Claire, he's closer. That has to mean something."
"It means nothing, Jim," Claire said, "Nothing. It doesn't mean you're going to die tonight. Or next year. Or in the next five years."
Five past eleven. Fifty five minutes.
"What happens in your dream," she said, "you said he is closer?"
"It's always the same to begin with," I said, the image forming in my head. "I'm on the beach. The sand is hot, the sun is bearing down. It makes the sand look white, like snow."
I'm there. I've left my home. I'm standing on the beach. My feet feel the warmth of the sand. The wind is roaring around me, grass on the dunes shake wildly. Whispering to each other secrets of what they have seen here. I can hear Claire's voice. She is with me, but I can't see her.
What can you see? Her voice rises above the wind, but it is soft, comforting.
I call her name, but still I am alone. There is no one else here. I call out her name again.
Tell me what you see.
I'm alone on the beach. There is no one else. I can see for miles. The wind is strong, stronger than it has been and the sun burns. It hurts so I close my eyes. It's too bright so I turn around.
Can you see him?
I see him. He seems so small. I can't hear what he is saying, the wind is too strong.
He's here. I'm not alone.
How far away is he?
He is close. He knows I am here, I can't hear him. He won't talk to me.
Won't or can't?
I don't know. I walk towards him, but that's when it ends. I get so close, I feel I can touch him and...
Startled I open my eyes and see Claire kneeling in front of me. I am on the chair, my hands gripping the arm rests. She has tears in her eyes.
"I was worried. So worried, what happened?"
I don't understand what she means. I was just thinking about the dream, telling her about it.
"You've been asleep for twenty minutes. I couldn't wake you."
I look over at the clock on the fireplace. It's almost half past eleven.
"There's no time Claire," I said, "It's going to be tonight isn't it?"
The panic in my voice was difficult to mask. Claire held my hand.
"You've had the dreams before," she said, "They come and go. That's all."
"They only started again after we lost Sean," I said, "I know you don't want to face it."
Claire stood up.
"Well, soon we will know," she snapped, "and then you are right. And I'm wrong. It'll be Sean all over again."
"Claire, I'm sorry, you know I didn't mean it like that."
"How could we lose him," Claire said, tears starting in her eyes, "Why did it happen to him? What did we do wrong?"
I put my arms around her, resting my hand on her hair, bringing her close to my chest.
"We had five years with him, Claire," I said, "And he was happy. Happier not knowing."
"Maybe if we had told him?"
"He was five. He wouldn't understand even if we had told him. He just thought he had two birthdays. We agreed it was the best way."
"My mother never accepted that we celebrated it," Claire said, her voice slightly muffled, "She said it was wrong."
I raised Claire's hand so I could look at her.
"You remember the last one?"
"He was happy. All the way to the end. We didn't do anything wrong. There is no right way to spend your last day."
"We weren't entirely blameless," Claire said.
"Don't," I said, "We've been through that. It was an accident. You know it was."
"Why do we have to know?" Claire said, "Every year we go through this."
"It's the way it is," I said, "I don't think we will ever understand why. It just is the way."
Claire broke contact and sat down on the chair. She brushed some dust off the armrest.
"You heard about that old couple?"
I nodded. I always kept up with that sort of news, especially around this time of year.
"It shouldn't have ended that way," Claire said, "It was cruel. Vindictive."
"Some people are," I said, "But I don't think they were. They were misguided. They were trying to take back control. It's one thing knowing when you are going to die; making it happen sooner is another."
"They both survived," Claire said. "The injuries, I read about it. It was awful."
I sat down beside her and took her hand.
"Don't think about it, Claire," I said, "It wasn't their time to go."
"But it's yours?"
"I think so," I said, "I don't know why. Maybe the dreams have nothing to do with it. But I can't shake the feeling."
I stole a look at the clock. Eleven fifty. Ten minutes of life remaining.
"I wish I could keep you," Claire said, tears flowing down her cheek, "I don't want to be on my own. Not after Sean."
"You won't be on your own," I said, "I'll always be a part of you. You never forgot Sean, you will never forget me."
"Why do we have to know," she said again, "Why only the date, not the year?"
"I don't know how it works," I said, "It is just that way. We just have to live with it, Claire."
"I can't," she said, "I can't go through it again. Please don't make go through it again."
Eleven fifty seven.
"Promise me you'll be fine," I said, "If it does happen, promise me that you will be okay."
Claire smiled, "How can I promise that?"
"Be honest with me," I said, "I trust you to do that."
"Is that your wish?"
"One last wish."
"I've always been honest with you Jim," Claire said, tears coming, "I don't know how I would live without you beside me."
"We don't have much time Claire," I said. I took my hand and rested it on her face, feeling her warmth. I close my eyes and kiss her gently. Claire, my beautiful wife. We wasted so much of our time. So many things we left unfinished.
I open my eyes and I'm on the beach. The wind has ceased the tall grass silent and stoic. The waves breaking on the shore are silent. The sand is warm, the air fresh; cool. I see him, closer than he has ever been. He raises his hand and waves at me. I smile and wave back, tears streaming down my face.
Silence. She is not here. I am alone, but he is here. I kneel down on the sand and open my arms. I call my son's name.
The little boy on the beach, someone who has only ever been in my mind for so long comes running towards me. His smile I remember, but his voice. I had forgotten what he had sounded like. How could that happen? All these dreams and he never spoke, the wind silencing him. But now I can hear him, calling for his father. The moment we embrace I hold onto him as tightly as I can, promising never to let him go again. I do not know what to say to him; to the son I lost so many years ago. I look at him, staring at his face. So much like his mother. Everything about him is as I remember.
"You remember this place?"
Sean shakes his head.
"We came here so many times," I said, running my hand through his short blond hair. "And we always had fun."
I held onto my son tight as I turned around and saw the dark grey sea crashing against the shore. The waves were threatening, angry as the white surf smashed into the sand. In my mind I can see Sean, running along the beach. Many years before now, but it looks the same. And in a moment he was gone. The unforgiving sea.
"We only turned our back for a minute," I said, holding Sean tight, "I'm so sorry. I didn't think."
Sean remains silent. He doesn't speak. He only looks at me.
"Say something. Anything, please."
Sean loosens himself from my grip and runs from me, heading towards the sea. I start running after him, shouting, screaming at him not to get to close to the water. Then I see her. Claire. On the beach, Sean running towards her. He hugs her closely, I watch from a distance.
It wasn't your time.
I hear her voice, just like before. Soft, soothing. Calm. I call her name but she and Sean turn away from me, walking further down the beach. I try and run to catch them but they seem forever out of reach.
I wake. The clock on the fireplace tells me it is five minutes past midnight.
"Claire," I say. "It wasn't my time."
Then I realise. My beautiful wife. For years she had told me her day was different to mine. I never thought it may have been the same. I can feel the warmth of her body against mine, but I know I will not be with her, at least for another year. In my mind I can picture my wife with our son on the beach knowing they are together. She is not alone, and neither is he. I can take comfort in that. I think of what she told me this evening. All of the things I did not realise. She knew her time was coming, and I missed it. Be honest with me, I asked her. One last wish. She didn't know how she would live without me beside her. She will never have to. She kept her promise.