Sam had that weird series of dreams again. He did not fly or swim in great rivers, he did not discover hidden rooms in places he once lived, he did not open doors to rooms full of long dead relatives silently watching television ,eating pie. Those dreams were the regular passengers of most nights. He dreamed he checked his email, he hung out on Facebook, he lurked Twitter and its snow of things and bots, he did his taxes, he checked the weather in cities he would never visit. The weird thing is it really felt real this time, mundane and in real time, that little fireworks flourish of tasks completed too.
Sam went out to eat to see almost car crashes, to see almost arguments, to see the odd person almost skip out on a check but last minute have conscience or a reminder, to see almost rains as well. Sam felt at 35 that he had been a passenger in his own life, not the driver, not reactive to the road whatever that metaphor peeled to its pale, bare skeleton would be.
Why do people ride roller coasters? Isn’t it death adjacent with a seat belt? Why do people see scary movies? Isn’t it to face death and fear and be able to laugh at it even after a jump scare with licorice and popcorn by your side? Isn’t this really living? As much as becoming a great scientist? The ride past failures on the way in school? Sam ate a bit of pancake thinking of how just maybe he could live , really live now somehow.
Sam had gone to college. Sam had gone to graduate school. Sam had jobs. Sam had even been in love once. Sam held his mother’s hand as she flat-lined. Sam once drank 15 beers at a party and was for a moment the chaos maker, the squall in a room but then he threw up on a sleeping cat and passed out in an alley next to a box of rotting tomatoes.
Sam sat at the corner booth and watched as he did a few times a week ,math almost become disaster. He sat with his beloved whole grain and nut pancakes and iced coffee and watched it swirl in the streets, through the outdoor patio and into the bowels of the old restaurant. It was a flood as though of El Nino storm flash flood running from parking lot past his table, rapids and froth rushing around the street corner with trash bins floating like absurd boats in a storm. It was sunny of course as this year’s el nino was a drought with a few short rains, Sam saw the flood of almosts, he saw math as the waters.
A White Mercedes sped into a left turn nearly being hit hard by an old pick up truck as Sam added more syrup to his pancake; the collision would have been brutal but missed by a few feet. Sam slid a pad of butter across his pancake. A man at the next table had a dog beside him that was let in as a service dog. He fed the older poodle bits of bacon and hash browns. The man’s popped collar seemed 3 feet up his neck ,near covering his ears and white hair. The man’s perma-scowl had been pointed for a good 20 min at his wife for apparently no other reason than to aim some inner bitterness at something. Sam felt bad for the woman as he bit into his pancake. The man had already made a waiter cry, lied to 3 people on his cell phone, cursed at a child in a stroller , wished death on a bird near the table and given death stares to two kind strangers just asking for directions.
Sam saw the driver’s face as their rushed turn just made some near miss like so many other turns in a hurry, it was blank with glasses, no emotion whatsoever. He only saw the truck driver’s hair as it headed west, horn raging still ,vestigal tail of sound past a mini mall and its parking lot and away. The high clouds coming in on the edge of another dying cold front were what some called “Mare’s Tails” and the high tiny fragile looking clouds rained ice crystals to no one. They looked a bit more like thin horse shoe crabs to Sam as he sipped his iced coffee.
This day was Sam’s 36th birthday. This fact did not matter. It was another day sitting close to the edge of chaos, of being seat belted in by a wall and window while cars almost crashed, sitting near an exit with the slight possibility of a robbery or someone dining and ditching near by. I don’t want to die. It isn’t that. I just don’t want the opposite any more. Sam took a big gulp of his iced coffee as the popped collar man fed his dog and glared at him with utter malice for no apparent reason.
That man has murder eyes. He has been mean in all directions since he sat down. That is not a service dog. He just wants his dog here. Sam took a bite of his pancake and began calculating the flow charts and possible variant paths of causality possible with that man not paying or picking a fight with someone at another table.
“ What in the world are you staring at?” the man shouted at Sam.
“Uh ..oh..sorry..nothing…really..” Sam said softly looking off at a car about to do a risky u turn.
“You look at me again and I am going to ..” the man trailed off..face red. His wife grabbing his hand.
The man’s face was as his red as his loud, collar popped shirt. Sam watched the car doing a u-turn hesitate then pull in front of a large delivery truck whose driver was clearly texting. Sam leaned forward. This was going to be close.
Sam failed at math in high school. He tried to love it now. He got degrees in Art running as far from the catastrophic burning dirigible that was his math career in grades 10 through 12. His parents wanted him to be like his much older brother. He was a math whiz. He won an award. He got into M.I.T. He also died in a plane crash on a break from his second college year. The engine just failed they said.
“Again. What. Are. You. Staring. At. ?” the bulbous mean man yelled , breaking his wife’s kind grasp.
Sam saw the space between them almost form a third car of the damage to come to metal and glass, saw chaos alive, molten, raw, and he was not just a passenger in his life, he was here, the car could jump the curb, easy, the truck could plow straight through , he could help, he could pull the mean man from a random end. His brother died from high in the sky when Sam was a little boy. Something in his parents never came back after that day. Sam had held his mother’s hand as she was dying and she had muttered her brother’s name several times as though it was his fingers, his forever stronger grip even after all those years. Sam accepted it as her love, her brain flailing away, his lot in life.
I am the curator of my dead brother’s life , even now. I hold his things in boxes and my dad still looks for his glimmers in me as I age and nothing new breaks from me. Master’s degree and a few publications and dad sees his ghost in me when he smiles, sees me clear when he does not.
“What. Are. YOU. STARING. AT. “ The man was livid, hands shaking, face contorting.
“ YOU.” Sam lied in a voice deep with errant rage he usually hid deep away, enraged at the narcissistic assumption that the man was the center of another’s life.
Sam watched the truck approach the car as the car’s driver saw their mistake. The math was molten now, raw ore , magma, and calculus; this was going to be close.
A waiter came by
“Hey, you ok bro?. Need some more water?” asked the young bearded man.
“Oh. Uh , yeah..sure..thanks man” Sam said in his best practiced dude voice for such interactions.
“Cool. On it’s way. Bringing some more butter for ya too my good man” the waiter said walking away.
Sam looked back at the street and the cars had both stopped and were waving at each other now. The moment was over. The next 20 min almost no cars even came down the two streets and the crowd thinned. Even the mean man eventually just left with his dog. His wife had left earlier, her tires biting as she left fast and mad. Sam checked his phone.
I did check my email. I did spend 3 hours on Facebook. Oh my god. I did my taxes. It has not been a series of dreams? How? Why?
He saw a text. It was the bill. He had to pay 300 dollars for the neural web server usage. He remembered that he had signed up for a trial and forgot about it. This was no sci fi. This was no magic. He was one of 400,000 users the bill said. You are not original it said to Sam. Your dream time is so dull you did your taxes. He felt the odd sensation of a raw, rare fear come to be dull and a new emergent routine.
At least those cars almost crashed, at least I chose to sit near the corner where they could. I could have saved someone this time. I could have been that person today.