When Henry woke up that spring morning, he realised at once there was something wrong with his head. Not that he had a headache or that the shape of his head was any different from what it should be. No, still the same almost oval feel under his fingers that he was used to. Still the same flurry of hair at the back and nothing on the top. But where thoughts – or the lack of them, as he was never at his best in the mornings – normally resided, there was instead something very different.
He could see branches. They weren’t real, but they criss-crossed his mind as if he’d woken up in the middle of a forest. Everywhere he looked, there they were. Not being a tree man, he could not tell the type – oak or ash, willow or pine – but he could see a variety of shapes and patterns to them. This led him to believe that there was more than simply one sort of tree.
Cautiously – he was after all a cautious man by nature – he slid sideways until his feet met the thin carpet of his bedroom floor. Then he sat up. With each slow movement, the branches in his mind’s eye swayed as if touched by an unfelt breeze. He blinked. They were indeed rather beautiful. Their twisted lines contrasted starkly with the spaces between them that were mostly filled with a shimmer of white. Like a mist before the sun disperses it or the light curtain that occasionally divides a theatre audience from the stage when something mysterious is about to happen. Through that whiteness, he could see the familiar shapes of his existence: the red dining chair he used as a bedside table; a rail of work shirts in a wardrobe he’d never got round to finishing; the half-length carved mirror he’d bought from an auction many years ago because it was cheap.
Odd that: how the pictures in his mind were somehow holding the realities of his life in their place. He’d never experienced that before. He’d always been able to keep his dreams and most secret fantasies separate from his life in the world. Why should they suddenly collide now? As he washed, shaved and dressed himself – slowly as the branches meant he had to continue to take care as he moved about – he thought about what had happened yesterday and whether anything strange had taken place that could explain this phenomenon now. But he could think of nothing ...