I can see the barest outline of the sidewalk, and that is all. Just the hint of a line. A suggestion as to a course ahead. I hold my hands in front of me like a blind man, and keep walking.
I have no idea where I am or where I was going.
Time is skipping.
The world has come loose, somehow.
And there is fog everywhere.
I think I’m going to work, but I can’t see a single part of the sprawling three-story complex I know is only two-hundred feet away. I’m not even completely sure it’s there. Because I’m not completely sure I’m here.
I’m definitely not dreaming.
Not this time.
Except maybe I am?
It’s happened a couple of times lately where I haven’t been able to tell the difference. I think. I’m pretty sure the only reason I can’t tell the difference is because it’s not as frightening to me as it should be. I’m not sleeping and my dreams are starting to feel a lot like being awake. But not this time because…
The glowing red fangs of the clock this morning that said it was time to get up! That meant the sleeping nightmares were over and it was time for the waking nightmares to start. I remember folding laundry. I remember brushing my teeth while not looking at my reflection. I remember the blades not being in my shaving kit… because… because I threw them out! That’s right. I threw them out but I keep checking to make sure they’re not there.
I shake my head and keep walking. The important thing is that I woke up and I’m not dreaming. Definitely not dreaming.
Just have to think through it.
Fog happens this time of year. In the Spring. It is the Spring because it has been thirty-six days. That means this is April. In the Spring, this close to the canal, there’s always plenty of groundwater. The fog is caused by an increase in the carrying capacity of the air and a pressure inversion. It’s a cloud on the ground. That’s all.
I’m not dreaming.
This is real.
I force myself to walk one foot on the sidewalk, one on the street. Teeter totter. Teeter totter. These shoes are like walking on air. I’m glad I bought them. I’ve never had running shoes before. Not expensive ones, like this. But I wish I didn’t have them on right now. It’s disorienting to not feel the ground in the fog.
Footsteps in the fog.
I catch my breath.
My whole body flushes with endorphins.
I knew it.
This is how I would have done it in a story. Me, lost in the fog. Her, reaching out toward me. Neither of us knowing the other one is reaching out toward the other and waiting. Fog is wonderful for metaphors. Yes, this is exactly how I would have done it. And who cares whether I’m dreaming or not so long as those footsteps are hers.
I ready my arms to wrap around her in a giant hug to lift her into the air. To spin her around and laugh. I ready my body to feel hers pressed against mine. My lips to kiss the top of her head as I whisper to her over and over again how much I’ve missed her. How I will never ever let her go now that I know she actually loves me. Yes, she’s here. Right there.
Footsteps right behind me.
“You don’t how much I’ve missed–” I say, choking on the words.
“Well, it looks we’ve both lost our spouses.”
She’s an old lady. In running clothes. Except she’s also her for a moment. Everyone is her for at least a couple of seconds. Until they’re not her. It’s like being on fire and someone is trying to put it out with an ice pick. Every day a thousand times.
“Of course,” I say.
I don’t know why I say it. I don’t know why she said that. It doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t care.
She runs off until she disappears back into the fog.
I walk on.
Teeter totter. Teeter totter.
I’m at work, in my desk, trying to keep busy when I realize I have no idea whether or not the old woman was real. I quietly excuse myself to the bathroom.
And I vomit.
She was wearing running clothes.
I don’t know what colors, though.
Didn’t I imagine this once before? Or didn’t this happen once before? Like last year?
I can’t remember.
She looked like an old lady.
But I couldn’t draw her.
Oh God, what’s happening to me?
Can this all be made right? She’s going to come back, isn’t she? Eventually?
No, I’m afraid not. You don’t get any happy endings. I don’t know why. You’re not the kind of person who is ever going to get anything except by hard work. But you do get one thing.
What could it be, that it could ever hope to make up for not having her? What could possibly make up for this? I can’t imagine such a thing.
Me. You get to be me.
“Are you okay?” someone asks.
“No complaints. You?” I say.