There was certainly something different about itmy cell phone, that is. It's color and shape were generally the same, but it seemed to have some new features to it that I'd never seen before. Apparently the device had a new option for direct connections or whatever that meant, and the speed-dial numbers had changed. For that reason, I found myself having a bit of trouble dialing voicemail to hear my new message.
After blundering through the menus for a solid minute or so, I finally connected to my inbox, and, with a sigh of relief, listened to the familiar voice announcing how many new messages I'd received. At least something was the same...
You have one new message. Saturday. 11:30 A.M.
The line was silent for a moment.
Hey Ashes! came a voice that stood out in every way it fathomable. Oversleeping again? The words were smooth and silky, the context impossible to accept. Call me back, OK? She ended the message in a playful tone. Was...this possible?
Another prank phone call.
Ashes! yelled a woman from downstairs. An pang of panic went up my spine as she began to climb my stairs. She couldn't see my room...my messy room. Except...it was clean.
Wait. The woman. It couldn't have been. But as she stood at the top of the steps, it was precisely the down-to-earth woman I had thought she was. With a glance at the cell phone in my hand and a look at the blush on my face, she smiled wryly and let out a small laugh. That girl still got you wrapped around her finger?
I didn't quite comprehend what she said until looking back on it a few minutes later.
Ms. Brown? I could feel myself redden, still in my pajamas, standing by my bed in the sunlit room. What are you doing here?
Without a word she stepped towards me until we were only a foot apart. She then slapped her hands together an inch from my nose, forcing me to flinch. Wake up, she said dryly, and with that, turned around and left the room.
Sila Brown, my friend's mom, had waltzed up to my bedroom, nearly slapped me in the face, and treated me as if I were her kid. I was in somewhat of a daze, barely hearing her car driving down the hill and off the property.
I admit that I was curious about the message on my phone, perhaps even moreso than the fact that my best friend's mom was acting as if she were my own. It didn't add up. Sience wasn't the kind of girl to be prank-calling people. And what had Ms. Brown said about that girl?
Tucker. I would call Tucker. He'd be somebody I could talk to. Somebody I could trust. Somebody who would look at this situation in an entirely new way.
He wasn't in the phone book in my mobile, but somebody else was.
I was hoping you'd call back soon, she said as she answered my call. Too lazy to get out of bed and pick up the phone when your girlfriend's calling?
This is a dream, I replied, mumbling half to myself and half to the figment of my imagination on the other side of the telephone. But...if this were a dream, I'd never know it was.
What are you talking about? responded the sweet voice of what was surely my subconsciousness.
I didn't respond to her question, but instead continued with my own rambling. It's as if...
I stopped for a long moment.
I quickly gained my composure. Wake up, I told myself. Have you ever had a dream where you still remember the real worldthe one you lived in? A dream where everything seems so wrong and all the strange things that should seem normal to you are not?
After a long pause, Sience replied, No. She drew in her breath. I...think I know what you mean. Seconds hung in the air full of the stale sound of silence. Maybe I should come over, she said at last, breaking the silence. I think you need somebody to talk to face to face.
It was my turn to hesitate. My turn to draw out the lull of silence. Okay, I finally responded.
I'll be over in a few minutes. And with that, she hung up the phone. I was left alone with only myself and my thoughts.
And there she was. Standing right there in front of me, just how I remembered her. I had imagined many times before her standing on my doorstep, smiling, looking into my eyes, and somehow, it was just the way I had imagined it. Every detail of the scene was...perfect.
Hey, she said, strength backing the word.
Hey, I replied softly, trying to act casual.
She step towards me.
Hey, she repeated, a step closer. Are you okay?
I could barely manage to force out the word, Yeah.
Her handher soft handbrushed against my cheek. I nearly flinched.
A sharp flash a pang of pain shot through my head.
You've been acting strange. Her voice had lost it's enthusiasm. She was...concerned. Look. I'm really worried about you. Ashes, you know how I feel about you. I just want you to get your feet back on solid ground. She put her hand on my shoulder. Would you be willing...to see somebody about it? Like...a shrink?
Was it real?
Was the girl of my dreams standing here, her hand on my shoulder, her eyes filled with concern, her intentions pure?
But what if it wasn't?
An answer. I needed an answer.
Yes, I said after a long, harrowing pause.
The first thing I really noticed in Dr. Randolf's office was the quote on the wall. Of course I had noticed and acknowledged the man with the childish eyes and the puffy white beard, but something about the quote really struck me. Perhaps it wast the situation. Perhaps it was something else.
Memory believes before knowing remembers.
It's a Faulkner quote, said the psychiatrist, following my stare. From A Light in August. Good book. Have you read it?
No, I replied vacantly.
I assume you've heard the quote somewhere before, he said cheerfully.
I don't believe I have.
Tell me, do you think you could come up with something so deep? I became aware that he was leaning forward, looking intently into my eyes. Do you think you could simply pluck something like that quote from your head?
No. Where was he going with this?
Then tell me this: how can you be living in a dream?
The question struck me by surprise. II...
Your dreams are collections of your memories and thoughts, mashed into a thirty to forty minute session. Dr. Randolf idly twisted the hair of his beard. You're either an amazing genius, he went on, leaning back in his seat, or you got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.
After I was silent for a few moments, he continued, Have you had any moments where you remembered something in this worldthe wold you see in front of yourather than the reality that is stuck in your head?
Yes, I immediately thought. Yes, I said, almost automatically.
What was it like? he asked, his smile bright, his eyes pure.
A flash, I said. Pain. A short shot of pain to my head. It was as if something else was speaking through me. Was that what had happened when Sience's hand had brushed my cheek? Was that sensation memories of this reality?
And when did it occur?
My mom had that quote hanging in her study, I said, suddenly understanding where Faulkner's words had come from.
I'm sorry, said the kind doctor. You're hour is up.
This is what it comes down to, Sience said to me. Somehow I'd ended up at her house, sitting next to her on the edge of her pink little bed. You've got an old life that you can still see in crystal clarity. You've got a new life that seems radically different to you.
She looked over at me.
Which one do you prefer?
I looked into her eyes for a long moment.
Do you understand how this feels? I asked her.
Not to know your past? she replied.
No.... I looked away from her. I had to. Accepting this as the truth feels like living a lie.
I sensed that Sience had looked away as well. Ashes. I don't want to lose you.
Minutes passed before she spoke again, her voice choked with tears. Please... Please don't leave me.
Time passed, and with every passing moment, my throat hurt more, and the thought of speaking became more and more unbearable.
It was she who spoke next. Isn't this what you wanted?
You were always out of my league, I replied, the words suddenly flowing freely from my mouth. I knew that, however much I wanted it, I could never have you. Do you see now what I mean by living a lie?
Don't you see how hard...no...unfair it is for me? Her head fell onto my shoulder. We've been great together. For nearly a year now! And one morning I wake up and because of your delusions everything I had is gone! Do you see how unfair it is for me!?
I was silent.
How can I let the pastmy past go? I answered. How can I throw away my life for a new one that happened to walk by?
Because, she replied leaning closer, in this worldthe real worldyou have me.
I looked at her and she looked back at me. I made my decision.
Ashes Pass never awoke from his coma.