The Night Choir
On still nights, the bells of the dragon-crowned City Hall invade my dreams. The bells chime during the day as well, but it is in the deep night, often at that point in a dream when my sensible quest has turned futile, when I hear the sonorous tones, calling me up through layers of sleep to drowsiness and half-waking hallucinations into reality. I turn over, burying my head under my pillow, hiding from the wakeful world, but the green-lit face of my clock radio summons my eyes to attention.
It is then, in the littoral sands between the shreds of dreams still on my eyelids and the heavy weight of my duvet, when my ears tune themselves to a lower, fainter pitch and I hear the choir.
Only those people whose dreams bring them to the edge of rational thought but do not quite transform into nightmares are able to hear the choir. Long before that alabaster dragon bellowed flame and song atop the dome of City Hall, eons before the peregrines built their nest in the clock tower, and long before the walls and gates were built to hide and guard this city, many songs were sung on the banks of this river. Tenor voices sang the currents that led the salmon upstream to the weir. Bass voices resounded from the storm-seized logs floating down under the bridge. Gulls screeched like ill-tuned sopranos. The winds from the west always sang alto.
The choirmaster tries to hide from the rough words that sweep across this city. But on still nights he creeps out of his hiding places beneath the camellias in the arboretum or in the rabbit holes in the fields east of the river, or deep inside the culverts of the lost river Canna. On windless nights, under a thin slice of moon, he takes shape, holding his willow wand, gathering his array of voices, tracing out a diamond pattern in the damp dark air.
And if, between the shards of your dreams, you ever hear the bells of City Hall, I say to you,
Pay attention to other notes above and below the pealing bells.
Hear the harmony of river, wind, and gulls.
If you listen hard enough, you’ll hear the salmon jumping.
If your dreams have frightened you past all reason, you may hear the dragon roar.
Frances Hay is a writer based in Cardiff who is also a Professor Emerita in the School of
Psychology at Cardiff University. She grew up in the United States and moved to the UK in
1985. She holds a PhD in psychology from the University of North Carolina and an MPhil in
creative writing from the University of South Wales. Her novel The Night Fogs, which
combines Welsh legends with a dystopian story about modern Cardiff, was published by
Holland House Books in 2018. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines and
story collections, including The Lampeter Review, Persimmon Tree, damselfly press, Café
Aphra, and Fudoki Magazine, as well as in Secondary Characters, a collection showcasing
work by members of the Welsh Short Story Network.