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A Dream Can Be A Dangerous Thing – Part II of IV: Reality (#24)

In Stories Volume 2 on September 24, 2012 at 10:53 am

R5

 

“There must… be more…”

 

 

R6

 

The cold sterility of the doctor’s office reminded Trina of so many clichés that she grew increasingly uncertain whether she was dreaming or awake. Pop’s presence in the corner of her eye laid those questions to rest even as she tried not to look at him.

“I know you’re annoyed, Trin, but this is part of what you signed on for. I could never let you do this if there was no medical review. It’s not the story, it’s your safety, which is a part of the story, I suppose.” Pop pulled a steno pad from the jacket that hung wrinkled and worn looking from his broad shoulders, scribbling down a reminder to have Brandon write-up his notes on the doctor’s office experience. Trina turned to meet him eye-to-eye for the first time since they’d come in together.

“It’s not the exam, it’s your gunning for a reason to demand the pills back. It’s your lack of trust in what I’m doing.”

“You’ve copped to taking more than necessary or required. I gave you nine pills. That was for nine days. We’re on, what, the fifth day? You should have five left but you’ve only got four. This article’s about addiction and my reporter’s taking excessive amounts of a drug and hiding it from her editor.”

“I’m not hiding anything, Pop.”

“You ducked Brandon the other day. And now I’m to believe that you were legitimately sick yesterday? And you just didn’t call anyone? And didn’t answer your phone? Trin, it’s fine, you don’t need to hide anything. This was the notion we were operating under and the thing we were trying to discover. But now that we’ve reached this point, I can’t in good conscious allow you to keep going with it.”

There was a knock on the door and Doctor Richmond entered the room, clipboard in hand; the reporters in Pop and Trina tried to make out the small font on the page but neither could make out the words that mattered.

“Alright, Trin, Pop. I’m happy to report that there’s no actual indication of addiction. Nothing chemical, nothing neurological, nothing at all. But we expected that – you’ve been on these sleeping pills for,” Richmond glanced down at the clipboard he had been tapping his knuckle against, “four nights now and you’ve taken five pills. I don’t like that you’re taking more than the prescribed dosage and I have to recommend that you stop that.

“The most apt comparison I can think of would be an overeater. An overeater comprehends that continuing to eat is a bad thing with negative consequences, but chooses to do so anyway. Compared to a food addict, or any other addict, whose biology has literally changed and cannot stop doing the addictive action. Just as overeating can be a symptom of an eating disorder or something larger, your proclivity towards these pills could possibly be a symptom of some other disorder but that’s not something I’m going to be able to suss out right here today.” Richmond paused, catching Pop’s concern and reception before falling on Trin’s defiant and redemptive eyes.

“And that’s it, Doc?”  Trin tripped off the examination table where her legs had been dangling over the edge like when she was a child, her black boots knocking occasionally against the metal.

“Well… I suppose, beyond my recommendation that you kick the pills and… ”

“Thanks, Doc. I’m still on the story and I’ve got research to do, Pop, but I’ll check in later. Oh, and don’t send Brandon to skulk around my apartment building. He smells like farts and I can detect it from upstairs.”

“Trina!”

 

 

R7

 

The blinds were down and though all of the clocks had been turned off, radiant bursts of sunlight breaking through the edges of the windows betrayed the general time of day. Trin sat at her desk, that minimalist slab of stained black wood, absent any drawers, simply a stand that held a slew of stacked notebooks, a laptop, a pen jar, and now, an increasingly slighter number of purple pills, already released from their blister packs.

Pop doesn’t know what he’s talking about, she thought. Times like this she had a tendency to even hate his name. Pop. Just because Phil’s nickname is Pop doesn’t mean he gets to be a father figure. She tried to recall how many times she’d been this mad at him. She decided on three. Ironic, as there were three pills sitting quietly upon the dark wood in front of her.

Trin stood up and walked over to the couch where she flopped down, fumbled for the remotes on the coffee table, and switched on another daytime atrocity. It was hard for her to say who she was trying to make a point for. I don’t need the pills, I don’t even care about the pills, they’re just fun, she thought. Comparisons weren’t coming quickly but she knew it was the kind of thing that everyone had in one way or another. Runners, she finally settled on, choose to run in order to transport themselves into this world where they’re athletes, racing from battles to deliver news of victory or chasing down gazelles for food. Fiction readers regularly put themselves into fantastic worlds purely for enjoyment or entertainment. What’s so different about sleeping pills that take me into a fantasy world where everything is right, everything comes easier, everything is beautiful? Trin lifted her head and looked over the back of the couch towards her desk. They were still there, safe.

She shut off the television – the inanity overwhelming and killing off her brain cells. Trin lay there, staring upwards, losing herself in the popcorn ceiling above. She had awoken, she thought, only a few hours ago but it was difficult to discern. A measure of fatigue permeated her body and mind, the clocks were gone (she’d even taped over that corner of her laptop screen), the blinds closed. But the sun had been pushing around the blinds when she awoke and it remained still. Tired but it had only been a few hours. The pills remained on the desk; there was no need to look. She sat up and looked.

Trin leaned over to the coffee table and pulled two unread copies of The Atlantic and an untouched yet dog-eared copy of White Noise. She tried one, then the other, then the other, each holding her attention for a few seconds less than the previous. Glossy page 87 of the May Atlantic stuck to her finger where it lay over Trin’s waist. She thought about the pills, told herself she didn’t need them, told herself she didn’t even want them. Hindsight’s making the dreams seem better, she lied to herself. Eyes on the ceiling, a tiny streak of light crossed from one side to the other; there were so many hours left in the day before she’d be tired enough to sleep on her own. The act was so fraught now though, so much like sleep the night before Christmas when she was a child, Trin wasn’t even certain she’d be able to sleep on her own. It’s so far away, she thought. No other assignments to fill the day, no desire to call friends, no desire to be outside. One day would become an eternity but she had to prove something to herself and to Pop.

Anyway, she thought, there’re only three left. Trina walked back to the desk to verify they were still there. Holding each one in her hand, one at a time, and flopping it around her palm like a slightly flattened glass bead, she began to wonder if by holding one tightly in her fist, she could warm the solidified gel and liquid of the pill and then begin to absorb the chemicals through her skin. A bit of sleepy osmosis. Trin sat down in the Ikea kitchen table chair that she used as a desk chair, lined up all three pills, and stared at them for a few minutes. “One, two, three,” she said aloud. “This is over in three days time anyway.”

Swiftly, she grabbed one purple pill with her right hand, cupped it, and then squeezed it tightly on the inside of her fist as she made her way past the clothes and papers on the floor to her small bedroom. She easily slid between the ruffled sheets of the unmade bed, kicking her legs through doubled-over curves and comforters necessary in the heavily air-conditioned apartment. Trin squeezed her hand tightly, sometimes loosening the grip to create a hole into which she would breathe warm air. Time and time again she checked but no change, no discernable shift in the pill’s state of matter. Every time she shifted her hand around and moved the pill across her skin, she hoped to feel some measure of slickness, some smear, but she met with nothing at all.

Trina’s knuckles groaned when she opened her palm an hour later to find the pill still fully intact. Her first thought was of failure but the second made her reconsider. What if, she thought, it doesn’t break down to a proper liquid but the friction over my hand allows for miniscule flecks to come off on my skin, to diffuse right into my hands. Such tiny little shavings would be able to do that. And what if I’m not noticing it yet as the amounts are so small, but I’ll feel a little something later? And if that’s the truth, then the potency of the pill is compromised and when I need it to finish my reports (at the proper time, Pops), it’ll be weakened. Shit, I’ve backed myself into a corner. It was an accident, but my experiment means that now I’ll just have to take the pill in order to maintain consistency and consistent dosing.

A tiny smile broke as she swallowed the pill.

 

 

R8

 

“I smelled his farts. Well, I don’t know if Brandon was actually farting but he just carries this scent of fart.”

“You know, I don’t smell it at all.”

“Maybe that means you fart too much yourself, Pop.”

“Really great to have you back. You’ve heard the news, I’m sure. Fle’s been pulled off the market. Institutions with a little more prestige than Spyglass did their own clinical investigations and found essentially the same thing that you’re finding.”

“Does that make this whole exercise useless?”

“No way are we letting this go! Everyone else took the cold, scientific, big-budget angle; we’re the only ones I know of, or at least the biggest, that took the personal and experimental. Your story’ll be the one that people relate to, that they understand. People love an addiction-meets-redemption story. We’ll need it pretty fast. You can have it on my desk by tomorrow?”

“It’ll be tight. I didn’t keep the best notes. Bit of a haze a lot of the past few days, but I remember the dreams clearly and I can compare certain notes with Brandon to make sure I’m not fabricating anything, at least for when I was letting him around me.”

“Good, good. And to clarify – you told me you took seven pills, so you’ve gotten rid of the remaining two?

“They’ve been pulled, Pop, it’s not like they’re a viable temptation anymore. But either way, yes, I got rid of the last two this morning. Flushed them, only way to ensure I wouldn’t go hunting through the trash.”

“You know I’m sorry about the way things got tense. That wasn’t my intention.”

“I appreciate your intentions. Now let me go work on this – I’ll get most done today and finish the ending tonight.”

She hated lying to him – he really was looking out for her but that didn’t mean he knew what was right. Not all the time and not for her. He was a boss and nothing else. The finite amount of pills gave Trin an immovable schedule to work off of but she still felt as if she needed to dictate and manage herself and her situation on her own terms.

Trina stood in the far stall of the women’s bathroom on the second floor of the office building the newspaper was housed in. The last two pills sat in her right palm, open towards the ceiling, each one staring into one of her eyes. She bent over and held her left hand in front of the sensor at the back of the toilet. After a few seconds, a light clicked on, she moved her hand away, and the toilet commenced flushing. Trin dropped one of the purple pills into the toilet and watched it crack upon the porcelain and then swirl briefly, a purple bolt of lightening, before suction and gravity pulled it out of sight forever.

The other pill she put back into her pocket. She needed to end things on her own terms. She needed to find a way to say goodbye.

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A Dream Can Be A Dangerous Thing – Part I: Reality (#24)

In Stories Volume 2 on September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm

R1

 

Five hairy fingers the shape and size of sausages came down on Trina’s desk in a swift and surprisingly gentle motion. They sprung back up again in an instant, leaving behind a sheen of residual perspiration and eight blister packs, each filled with a shiny purple pill the length and width of her pinkie nail.

“What is this, Pop?” She didn’t turn to address her editor, instead picking up the packs and taking a closer look at the pills. FLE was stamped in tiny white letters in the center of each pill. “What is Fle?”

“Jesus, Trin, you want me to fire you? What kind of reporter are you, getting your news from me?”

“Give me this one.”

“You should already have this one. Fle’s the big new sleeping pill on the market.”

“Oh, right, Fle. Why is it called Fle?”

“Means ‘sleep.’”

“Latin, huh?”

“Latin was already taken, this is something else that I don’t know and you should.”

“And why is this on my desk?”

“Because you’re writing a piece on it.”

“I’m what?”

“If you were present for a few more story meetings, you’d know this.”

“I’m at every story meeting I’m made aware of.”

“You’re physically in the room but you’re not present half the time. You’re falling asleep. And why are you falling asleep, Trin?”

“Like I’ve told you a hundred times, I have insomnia.” The realization came quickly. “Oh.”

“Exactly. You’re the perfect person to try these out and give us a little opinion piece. Some people have been complaining that they give these intense dreams. Unsure-of-what’s-reality-and-what’s-a-dream intense. FDA cleared them but there’s a concern about them becoming addictive. Not through the chemicals, but through the addiction to a more interesting, some might say better, world.”

“That doesn’t sound safe at all – why should I try these?”

“Look, we’ve got you covered here, we know what you’ll be doing, and you know what you’re potentially up against. For the public good, someone responsible, respectable, objective, and aware of the possibilities needs to check this out. Why did you become a reporter?”

“It’s easy and I’m not particularly good at anything else?”

“Pretend you did it for the good of the populace. To help out your fellow man.”

“Fellow woman.”

“Just try the pills and see if there’s a story, okay?”

 

“Oh, come on.” Drink in hand, Trina read the online directions for the purple pills as the clock ticked past 10pm. Her shoeless feet were up on her desk as she leaned back in the chair with the lumbar support that was supposed to be good for her young back but made her feel like she carried sixty-seven years in her spine. The comforts of home, she thought. The first guidelines instructed her to avoid alcohol for four hours before taking the pill. “That’s gotta be them just covering their asses.” The second told her to set aside at least eight hours for sleep, preferably ten. “Well if I skip the ‘no alcohol’ thing, I should be okay.” She looked around her lonely living room and wondered if she talked to herself too much.

Reaching into her messenger bag, she pulled one of the purple pills from an interior pocket. Her thumbnail wavered and then broke through the foil, the pill falling softly into her palm. Abandoning all restrictions, Trin swallowed the pill and washed it down the remaining gin in her glass.

 

 

R2

 

“So how was it? How did you sleep? Did you dream? This is Brandon, by the way, the intern; have you met? He’ll be shadowing you for this project, keeping tabs and making sure nothing too bad happens to you.” Pop paced in front of Trina’s desk, scribbling notes on a clipboard while she settled in.

“Too bad?”

“Got your attention. Now talk to me. I was worried. You’re late, you know.”

“I know. I got a full night’s sleep, eight and a half hours of solid, deep sleep. Pop, I haven’t slept like that in ages.”

“And did you dream?”

“So vivid, so lifelike. When I woke up, I had to figure out what was real and what wasn’t.”

“Shit. What did you dream about?”

“A guy, I dreamt about a guy.”

“A sex dream? There’s a story in that.” Salacious as it may have been, Pop’s voice betrayed disappoint that it wasn’t something bigger.

“Not a sex dream, Pop, just a dream about a guy. Meeting him. It’s hard to pin it all down now but I remember being carried through city streets, like being caught in a river, but the entire time I was looking for him. I knew he was there, knew he was somewhere on those same city streets, it was just a matter of finding him.”

“And you found him.”

“Yeah, I found him and he was wonderful. He was almost like a composite of all the guys I’ve dated before, all their good qualities bundled together into one guy.”

“What about all the guys that were complete assholes?”

“Even they had their moments.”

“So you had the dream, met the guy, what else?”

“There is no what else. The entire dream was this sequence so far as I can recall. Me being me and these pills doing whatever they do doesn’t change the nature of dreams being difficult to recall.”

“And you’re keeping a notepad by your bed?”

“I’m not that green.”

“You’re green to reporting on Sleep World. Get your details down, share it all with Brandon, and then get back to whatever else you’re working on. You’re aware of your other work, right?” Trin ignored him as began pulling notebooks of various colors from her messenger bag.

“Pop,” Brandon chimed in as Pop began walking away, “what do you need me to do when we’re done?”

“Can you task him, Trin?”

“Got it.”

 

An hour later, Brandon finished taking down everything that Trin was recounting and putting into her notebooks as well. The details of her dream, what time she went to sleep, what time she woke up, her sleep history prior to this investigation, her dream history, the details of all the ex-boyfriends that the dream man seemed to be composed of. Trina helped Brandon fulfill his destiny as an intern and sent him for coffee. Once he was gone, she leaned back in the faded black office chair she’d wheeled in off the street since the paper was so cheap. Her feet up on the small desk, she read through everything she’d written down, sort of amazed that the dream had lived up to the hype.

She had awoken refreshed and rejuvenated in a way that she hadn’t felt in years. The deepest sleep and the most restful slumber, and yet the most vivid, enticing dreams that no matter how well she had slept, left her longing to return to the light blue bed sheets that looked so comfortable in the rays of the rising sun. Showering, dressing, drinking the coffee that she needed on any given day in order to function, Trin had constantly been fighting the low level desire to crawl back into bed. It wasn’t anything approaching addiction – I’m here, aren’t I, she thought – but there was an allure to this dream world.

When Brandon walked back into the newsroom with two cups of coffee from Roasted Nut two blocks away, he found Trina completely lost in a daydream at her desk, feet up, head back, eyes glassy. He called her name twice before she shook it off and looked at him in a stupor.

 

 

R3

 

“Why are we at Woolly Rink in the middle of summer?” Trina and Brandon walked the perimeter of the ice skating rink, searching for something that neither one of them could articulate. The rink was maintained but desolate as July closed. There wasn’t even a security guard to tell them to buzz off.

“It wasn’t the middle of summer in my dream, it was the dead of winter, though the whole thing seemed to be jumping around time. I don’t know what the connection’s supposed to be, or if there even is a connection, but this is as good a way to find out as any.” When Trina reported to Pop the location jumping of the previous night’s dream, he’d sent Trina and Brandon to find each place and figure their connections. He was intent on knowing why they featured so prominently in the dreams that built a second reality.

“So what exactly is it we’re looking for?” Brandon was using his $400 loafers to tamp down the bushes and weeds that hugged this one desolate corner outside the rink that hadn’t been fully maintained.

“I don’t know. Just keep your eyes open for anything that stands out.”

“We stand out,” he muttered, “traipsing around like burglars casing a joint in broad daylight.”

“You know, we could call off Pop’s scavenger hunt and I could go home and just drop again to see where the dream takes me. That’s the Interstate plan while we’re stuck out here on country roads.” Pop had expressly tasked him with being hyperaware of how she talked about the pills, whether or not she was consistent in her feelings towards them, how often she brought them up, and, most importantly, whether or not she looked for excuses to break away, to go home, to be able take another of the purple pills. Brandon’s right foot hovered in the air, ready to stamp down more problem weeds.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Then stop whining, okay?”

Stop whining, stop whining, stop whining. The words hung in Trin’s mind as she traveled back three years to a snowy night at Woolly Rink. She had been on a date. Pierce, who had seemed like such a great guy, someone Trin had hoped would last. She was back to the night when they’d gone ice-skating at her suggestion. Her father had taken her ice-skating every weekend as a girl. It meant something for Trina to invite someone to that special place.

But the whining had begun the moment he laced up. ‘These skates are too tight,’ ‘It’s cold out here,’ ‘This is really hard and my butt’s starting to hurt,’ ‘When can we go, Trin,’ ‘When can we go, Trin?’ The night had been pregnant with importance for her, for them, until Pierce became someone she’d never seen him be. A child, a person caring only about himself, someone that Trin couldn’t imagine being with. She’d snapped.

“Stop whining! Stop whining!”

“I’m sorry, Trin, I’m sorry.” Brandon’s eyes were wide at her outburst; Trin’s too. His eyelids slowly dropped though while hers fluttered as the hurdles fell away and she understood the locations. She waved Brandon back and out of the weeds, back towards the path out of the park that would take them to the subway. He wondered if she was feeling the pull of the pills, if she needed them for the breakthrough, or if she’d really thought of something.

“These amazing dream dates are all from places where I was supposed to have amazing dates that turned out shitty. One guy who couldn’t stop whining about his ice skates, a dance club where the guy turned out to be a not so closeted bigot, and the boardwalk.”

“What happened at the boardwalk?” They’d reached the exit of the park and, feeling uncertain about letting Trina leave on her own, Brandon hailed a cab to carry them back to the newsroom together. She carried wistfulness in her eyes, a sad daydreamy look that ferried her back and forth between the past and present.

“The boardwalk was a date where… I expected a proposal. We never went out there together but I loved the ocean air, the saltiness, the smell of the sand. The boardwalk itself wasn’t anything special but he knew that the water was. And we never went there until… we did. It was his idea, I thought it meant something, I thought he was taking me there because he loved me and wanted to do this amazing thing in a place that meant the world to me.

“He ended things instead. Said he couldn’t maintain the relationship, couldn’t compete with both of our jobs, couldn’t see us together forever. He took me there because I loved it so much. He imagined it would deaden the shock.”

“So the dream was creating an ideal world, righting the wrongs done in reality?” Trina looked over at Brandon, from one side of the backseat to the other. She took in the scene around them, only now becoming aware of their being in a cab. For the past fifteen minutes she’d been pulled between the world surrounding her and the one being built, or perhaps reconstructed, she thought, within her mind. Brandon, the grimy pleather and plastic of the cab, the remembrance of those things she’d chosen to forget.

It wasn’t much to speak of.

 

 

R4

 

“Just once more… there’s time enough… to see…”