"The Dream" is a short story describing a crossroads in a young woman's life.
It was like a dream. There was no possible other way to explain it. She was in the bathroom, hovered over the sink. The walls were the only things that seemed even in the vaguest bit familiar. Everything else was a blur, including her reflection in the large, mounted mirror that hung over the sink. She closed her eyes again, and splashed cold water onto her face, having endured yet another hard day. It was close to midnight, or more than likely, past it. She had been going to bed later and later, and on occasion, not at all. On the nights that she couldn’t sleep, she’d force herself to remain awake – by way of coffee overdoses and plenty of candy. She’d read, watch television, play games online, do whatever she could do to avoid going to sleep. The nightmares were back, and they were taking one hell of a toll on her.
Tonight, though, she was tired. VERY tired. Her reflection certainly proved it. The bags hung below her bloodshot eyes, her hair was mussed, stringy and greasy, her clothes hung on her like they would a skeleton. She looked like shit, and she knew it. She cupped her hand underneath the running water once again, and splashed her face one last time. Then, rubbing her eyes with one hand, she reached for a towel with the other. She dried her face, reached for her toothbrush, and applied a small amount of toothpaste onto the bristles. She looked into the mirror again, about to brush her teeth, when suddenly, her heart jumped into her throat.
The reflection. It was different. VERY different.
It was her. Only…it didn’t look like she did. No, this…this HAD to be an illusion of some sort. She had seen herself not too long ago, and the reflection staring back at her was NOT the way she looked, not currently, anyway.
“What the f…” She took a step backwards.
Her reflection smiled. Yes, it was her. It had to be. She had the same face. Only in the mirror, her face was…what? Glowing? Her complexion was its usual olive-toned color, her nose was freckled, and her lips and cheeks were pink. The clothes she had on, Tracey didn’t even own. White pants, a pastel pink sleeveless shirt. And…oh, my GOD. She was thin. She wasn’t too thin, of course, but just right. Her boobs were perfect…everything about her was perfect. But how could that be? She hadn’t looked good in a very long time. She didn’t think she ever had looked that good.
“Who the fuck are you?” She demanded, her voice coming out in a hoarse whisper. The reflection smiled even wider.
“I’m you.” She said gently.
“Bullshit.” Tracey took another step backwards. “I’m not wearing those clothes. I never have, and I never will. I hate fucking pink. What the fuck do you think you’re trying to pull?”
The reflection said nothing. She only shrugged. Tracey’s heart was racing, even more so now than before. What the hell was going ON? The room seemed to be spinning, and she had to steady herself by putting both hands onto the sink.
“Okay.” She spoke into the mirror. “Let me try this again. Who are you?”
“I’m you.” The reflection replied, still so calm. Why was Tracey the only one who was freaking out? These things happened only in scary fucking movies, not in reality. “I’m Tracey.”
“No, you’re not.” She exclaimed. “You can’t be. I’M Tracey.”
“So am I.”
“No.” She shook her head. “You can’t be. It’s impossible. There can’t be two of us.”
“No, you’re right about that.” The reflection spoke slowly. “There can only be one of us.”
“Yeah, so you have to leave.” Tracey tossed her toothbrush aside and glared at her reflection in the mirror. “Sorry about that.”
With that, she opened the bathroom door, turned her back, and walked out. Stepping into the hallway, she could see that this was different, too. What the hell was happening? The house…it wasn’t her house. It was bigger. It was cleaner. Where the laundry area used to be, right next to the bathroom, there was a polished wooden table, holding a huge vase with pretty fucking flowers.
“Oh, my God.” She moaned. “What is happening? I’ve gone crazy, haven’t I?”
“MOMMY!” A little boy was running towards her. It was her son Sam, of course. But he had on clothes that she had never seen before, and wasn’t dressed in the pajamas she had put on him not too long ago.
“Sam?” She reached for him, but he ran right past her. In fact, she had to step out of the way to avoid being run over. Confused, she followed him down the flight of stairs that was also non-existent in the house she was used to living in. “Sam! What are you doing? Where are you going?”
Her son ignored her. He waited by the front door, which swung open. And there she was, again. The other her…the same one from the bathroom mirror. She was still in those fucking, god-awful clothes that she’d never normally wear. Her hair was wavy and fell in layers around her shoulders. God, she was so pretty. It made her sick, though, to see herself so…happy? Maybe because it was like looking at one big, fat lie.
“Hi, sweetie!” The other her bent, arms outstretched. Sam ran into her arms and hugged her. She covered his cheeks with kisses and he giggled, gleefully. WHAT? What was this all about? Why was this other version of her all that her son could see? She was furious. How dare that…thing…steal her baby’s love?
“Where are Uncle Tony and Aunt Lisa?” Sam asked, as soon as they separated.
The other her stood up, and stepped aside. Then, in walked her childhood friend Tony, who had cleaned up his hair since they last saw one another, long ago, in their hometown. It was short now, and back to its normal color. Behind him came the love of his life, Lisa, who also looked much older and much more different than she had during their last visit.
“Tony!” She screamed. She raced over to the front door, where they were standing, and spoke directly to his face. “Tony. Thank GOD. The weirdest thing is happening to me right now…”
But Tony wasn’t looking at her. He was smiling down at Sam, who was trying to climb up his leg. She tried touching him, but even that went un-noticed, almost as if her hand passed right through his shoulder. She gasped and turned to Lisa, who was waiting her turn for Sam’s hugs and kisses.
“Lisa?” She whispered into her friend’s face. “Lisa? You can see me, can’t you, Lisa?”
Lisa said nothing. It almost appeared that she COULD see her, but she had actually been looking for something else.
“Where’s your man, Tracey?” She was talking to her…the illusion, that was.
“What? What the fuck are you talking about?” She screamed into Lisa’s face, but she was unaffected. “Lisa? Lisa…pay attention to me! I don’t have a man…”
“He’s probably in the kitchen, preparing yet another culinary delight of his.” The other Tracey answered Lisa’s question. “He’s dying to meet you two. Come on, let’s get the introductions over with.”
“You.” She’d had enough. She couldn’t remember a time where she had been so mad, before. She sighed and she approached her other version. “You’re playing games, aren’t you? I don’t appreciate this…”
Her happy self didn’t seem to hear her. She led Tony and Lisa, who had finally had the opportunity to scoop Sam up into her arms, into the kitchen. She watched, open mouthed, as her reflection disappeared into the next room, more than likely, the kitchen, and her friends followed. They had no idea that she was there. None, whatsoever. She felt as if she were ready to cry. Still, she followed “herself,” Tony and Lisa and Sam into the kitchen.
If the rest of the house had been clean, then this certainly took the cake. It was done all in white, and she had to admit, it matched the illusion of herself that she was watching in such disbelief. There was a huge dining table, and it was already set. There was a pleasant aroma in the air, and she could see that it was coming from a huge pot that lay on top of the stove. There was a man there, too. He stood over the pot, wooden spoon in hand.
“Honey, they’re here…” Her illusion approached him, and gave him a playful smack in the rear end. He turned, and laughed.
“Oh, shit.” She was disgusted with “herself.” “What the hell are you doing, going around and slapping people’s asses? I knew it…you’re not me…you can’t be me…”
But the scene that unfolded next made her physically sick. It truly made her wish that she would wake up from whatever horrible nightmare this was supposed to be…
“How was your flight?” He held out his hand to Tony, who shook it.
“It was all right. Just glad to be here, finally.” He said, “This is my girlfriend, Lisa.”
“Hi, Lisa.” He shook her hand too. “Tracey’s told me so much about you both.”
“I don’t even know who the fuck you are and what you’re doing here!” She screamed at him, now. But like it had been with Lisa, he didn’t hear her. He instead looked right through her, almost as if she were a ghost. “Who ARE you? Why am I pinching your ass?”
“Everything smells delicious.” Lisa was smiling at the other her. “You are so lucky, Tracey. You’ve really turned your life around.”
“I did what I had to do.” The other her said, “But I couldn’t have done it without you and Tony.”
“We’re happy that we could have been there.” Lisa was hugging her other self, now.
She watched everything, her heart breaking more and more as she observed. Apparently, she was LIVING with this guy that knew his way around a kitchen…or at least, her illusion was. His name was Matt. He had adopted her son, and Sam called him “Daddy.” Every now and then, Matt would lean across the huge table, and he and she – that is, her other self, would engage in some serious lip lock. Tony and Lisa would say “Aww” in unison, and Sam would close his eyes and say, “Eww!” The illusion was definitely in love.
It was too much for her to handle at one point. She slowly turned and went back upstairs, and into the bathroom from where she had come from.
“What’s happening to me?” She asked, out loud.
“Don’t be afraid.” Her illusion was already there, and was staring back at her through the mirror. “You don’t have to be, you know.”
“Oh, but I am.” She moaned. “My friends don’t know me anymore, I’m practically having sex with some guy named Matt on the fucking dinner table and…and my son loves you more than he does me! How can you tell me not to be afraid? I’m fucking terrified!”
“No, no.” The reflection gave her a warm smile. “Sam loves you very, very much.”
“Not from what I’ve just seen.” She sighed. “He loves you. He doesn’t even see me!”
“And I told you, Tracey…I’m YOU.”
“So, what is this, the fucking future?” She exclaimed. “I don’t know what the hell kind of a game you’re playing…but that’s not going to happen.”
“It can.” Her illusion was patient. “But like I said before, only one of us can exist.”
“And I told you that you had to leave, didn’t I?” She retorted, “Give me back my filthy house, my life, my SON! You can go ahead and take your floral arrangements and your perfect, spotless carpets!”
“I haven’t taken anything from you.” The reflection remained without frustration, which only made her feel worse. “But you do have to make a choice.”
Having heard more than enough at this point, she threw open the bathroom door again, and blinked. The house that she was familiar with lay before her. Tony and Lisa were no longer there. Sam was in the next room, fast asleep.
“I don’t understand what just happened.”
“You will.” Her reflection smiled. “Did you like what you saw, Tracey?”
“What do you mean?” She growled. “NO, I don’t like it! I don’t live in that stupid, white house, I don’t have a serious relationship, and Tony and Lisa are in Brooklyn! It was a dream. A stupid dream…”
“It can be that way, if you desire.” The illusion said, “If you choose for it to be that way.”
“Fuck you.” She cursed into the mirror. “Fuck…you.”
“I’ve shown you what your desires are, Tracey. Your innermost desires.”
“I don’t love this guy…Matt.” She wrinkled her nose. Perhaps she didn’t love him, and she certainly didn’t mean what she said next. But god damn it, she was angry. “He’s ugly, he’s stupid, and he’s probably abusive.”
“No, actually, he’s a good man.” The illusion smiled. “He takes very good care of me, and of my son, Sam.”
“Sam’s not your son.” She screamed at the mirror again. “He’s MINE! How dare you!”
“All right,” the reflection shrugged. “You’ve made your choice, then?”
“Fuck OFF.” She shouted at the mirror.
Her reflection seemed hurt. She watched as the illusion reached down, and then produced a shiny, black handgun. Tracey gasped, as she watched the illusion load the gun.
“Wait.” She couldn’t take her eyes off of it. “What are you doing with that?”
“It’s quite simple.” The illusion told her, “Only one of us can go on living.”
“What…can’t you just disappear?” She felt her heart begin to race again.
“That’s not possible.” The illusion showed no fear at all. How could that be? Tracey was shaking, just at the mere sight of the little black gun. “I’m alive, just like you are.”
“But…how can you be?” She shook her head, “I’m alive too, aren’t I?”
“Yes.” The illusion slammed the chamber shut. “The life I’ve shown you is the life that you’re capable of having. The life you’ve been living is the one that you’ve always known…”
“What’s your point?”
“There can’t very well be two of us, Tracey.” The illusion went on, “The life you’ve just seen has yet to happen. In most lifetimes, people reach a crossroads, and this is yours.”
“Yes.” She went on, “You see, you can go on living the way you have been…in squalor and poverty, forever carrying the burden of your past on your heart. It’s too much for you, and it’s too much for Sam. Your friends are suffering by it too, because Tracey, whether you like it or not, they see you in pain and it hurts them. But you know, if you’re comfortable with that, you can go on with it. Or…you can change things.”
“How?” She had to admit, looking happy might do her a world of good. The illusion looked great, too. Healthy. No worries. No burdens. No problems. She had turned over a new leaf. “You know, you don’t know anything about me…”
“Oh, yes, I do.” The illusion nodded sadly. “That was me, Tracey. Years ago, when you used to talk to yourself…that was me, sweetheart.”
“Stop talking to me as if I were a child!” She exclaimed. “I’m an adult now.”
“You are, physically.” The reflection said, “But mentally and emotionally, you haven’t had your childhood, yet. But all of that can change.”
“I want you out of my face!” She screamed at the mirror. “You’re scaring me!”
The illusion sighed. Then, she brought the gun to her temple, finger rested onto the trigger.
“As you wish.”
“No!” Tracey gasped. She didn’t like this at all, but she still didn’t want to watch anyone kill themselves. Certainly not someone who looked like her! “No, no…wait…what are you doing?”
“You’ve chosen to remain in the lifestyle that you’re familiar with. I represent the change that can be…and you’ve rejected that change.”
“So you’re going to blow your brains out all over the bathroom?” She shook her head, “Maybe you’re not as happy as you looked before.”
“I was miserable too, Tracey.” The illusion kept the gun pointed at her own head. “I changed. I took control of my life. I got help for my issues. I forced myself to become healthy. But only one of us can leave this bathroom tonight. It can be you – in my shoes…or me…in yours. We’re the same person, Tracey, so it’s a toss-up, either way.”
She looked down at herself. Her clothes were dirty, loose and filthy. The illusion’s clothes looked perfect on her. Like a Barbie doll’s would. They fit, just right. Her own eyes were bloodshot and the illusion’s were sparkling hazel gems. She was pale, probably more so than she had been a while earlier, because of the scenes she had just seen unfold before, while the reflection’s skin looked healthy and vibrant. She shivered, watching as almost as if it were magically, a black handgun identical to the one that the illusion held against her head, appeared on the sink.
“I don’t believe this…”
“You’ve seen what can happen.” The illusion told her, “You’ve seen how genuinely happy that you and Sam are capable of being. You’ve seen what good it does your friends to see you in such good shape. You have seen how much a man is capable of really, and honestly, loving you. Do you really want to kill that?”
“No…” She began to sob. “I don’t.”
“Good.” The illusion brought the gun down from her head and rested it onto the porcelain sink. “I didn’t think you would.”
“What about my son?” She asked.
“He’s going to be just fine. I’ll take care of him…and so will Matt.”
“Matt.” The man who was supposed to eventually become her husband, or boyfriend, or whatever the hell he was.
“Yes. You’ll be there.” The illusion smiled. “You won’t miss anything.”
She wiped a tear from her eye before reaching for the black handgun that was now on her side of the mirror. She studied it, first, her fingers stroking the cold, smooth surface. Feeling a temporary pang of fear, she quickly turned and opened the bathroom door again. But this time, instead of the old hallway, she saw a brick wall. The house she lived in was gone. Sam was gone. Everything she had known or could recognize now was gone.
She returned her gaze to the mirror. The illusion was gone, and it was almost as if she were watching a film reel. First, she saw her sisters and brother. They were happy, too. They all had special people in their lives, and were experiencing love. Tony and Lisa were snuggled close together on the pull-out sofa that had been in the center of the living room of her “imagined” house. Together, they were going through what looked like a memory book. They were smiling, and she knew that they would always be close, even if they weren’t together some time in the future. Then, she saw herself…and Matt. They were walking along a grassy knoll, with Sam bouncing alongside the two of them. Matt was a playful guy, and she watched as he tackled her son onto the grass. Sam laughed, probably the hardest she had ever seen him laugh. As for her – the smile never left her face. She was laughing at her son’s and Matt’s playful wrestling bout, and seconds later, she, herself, was joining them in the pile.
She turned again. The brick wall was now closer. It was almost as if the room itself had shrunk. Surprisingly enough, she felt calm. Almost as if she, by watching everyone that she loved live in happy times, had turned off any negative feeling that she was capable of having.
“I’m sorry…” There was no one in the room with her, of course. But still, she knew whom she was apologizing to. Right there, in front of her, in the mirror, she saw herself. Only, it wasn’t the pretty illusion anymore. It was her, the way she looked now. Tired eyes, pale skin, and baggy clothes. And next to her sorry ass reflection, there was another version of her. A little girl, dressed in a little orange and yellow sundress. She knew that it was her, too, at maybe six or seven years old. She brought the gun to her head; all the while the brick wall began to move again, closing her within the shrinking bathroom. “I’m sorry, little girl. I choose strength.”
Then, she pulled the trigger.
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