I started walking towards the book store that one that’s in the strip mall and there she was, sitting with her back against the front of the store. They’ve made it look like stone but it’s just sheets of prefabricated concrete that goes up like a jigsaw puzzle without any challenge. For a second I thought she might be homeless or deranged but the closer I got to her the more I realized that I knew this woman. I was an odd sensation; literally, the closer I got to her the more I knew her. Finally I bent down on one knee and I was going to ask her if she was okay but I said, “Are you okay, baby?” And she looked at me and said, “How in the fuck could I be?”
I knew things had gone horribly, horribly, wrong but I had no idea, really, who she was, or what had happened.
There was an overweight woman in the parking lot that was standing beside her car, throwing up and gasping. She was making this weird noise as if she were coming apart inside and each time she heaved the noise got worse. The woman sitting with her back to the wall put her hand on my leg and said, “That’s him,” and she started crying. I sat down beside her and she moved away, not a foot but just enough to keep some space. “Don’t do this to him,” she said.
I watched as the women in the parking lot tried to catch her breath and I wondered if I should call 9-1-1, but something wasn’t right. The sky wasn’t the same color it should have been and the air felt different. “As long as we’re not touching I think we’re okay,” said the woman sitting next to me, “but that’s just a theory. He told me we had to keep from touching one another and things would sort themselves out. He doesn’t have any fucking idea what he’s talking about. He never does. I mean, come on, how in the hell would he know, look at him.” She pointed at the woman in the parking lot who had gone down to all four and was trying to hide her head in her hands.
“Who is that?” I asked and I didn’t even know who I was. My hands were the hands of a stranger and I stood up and walked over to the window of the book store and didn’t recognize myself. I was different, totally different. There wasn’t anything I recognized as me. I went back over to the woman and asked again, “Who is that?”
“That’s my husband,” she said and she started crying. “What happens if one of us died here? Will that stop this?”
“What’s happening to us? Who are you? Who am I?” I sat down again and watched the large woman coming apart in the parking lot. People were beginning to notice here. There was a man on a cell phone who was trying to help her.
“Who gives a shit who you are?” the woman’s voice rose through the tears and I wondered if she felt as insane as I did. “I have two kids. Where in the hell are they?”
“I…I…I don’t know who you are or who your kids are, do I?” This was all I could say. I felt a connection to her, I felt as if I cared about her and she cared about me, but I had no idea who she was or who I was or how we got here.
“Do you remember the last time we were together?” She asked and as soon as the words left her lips I had this vision of being with her, both of us nude, but it wasn’t this woman and it wasn’t who I was at this moment. It was me, as I remembered me, and it was…not her.
“Yeah, something happened.” I did remember things but it was like seeing cards tossed out of the window of a car ahead of me in the dark. I couldn’t see details or anything like that at all. I just knew something had happened. “We were running, we went into a building then, and then, and there was, a light, some sort of light, and we fell.” I stopped talking and felt very sick. This wasn’t my life. This was something entirely different. “How did this happen? Do you know?”
She was crying again and just shook her head. She took her hands and ran them through her hair, pulling it hard. I had no idea what to do. The sound of an ambulance siren cut through the air. I stood up and looked around. A small crowd was forming around the woman in the parking lot. A half dozen people or so was watching her lie on the ground and heave. Animal sounds were coming from her now, like a wounded creature that knew the end was near.
“Get up, let’s get away from here.” I told her and I didn’t really want her to come with me but to my surprise she stood up.
“And go where?” she asked.
“I have no idea.” I looked in my pockets and found the keys to a vehicle of some sort, maybe a truck. I checked and found I had a wallet. The driver’s license had a photo on it that looked like the person who looked back at me from the window. There was an address on it. “Let’s just start moving and maybe something will shift us back to where we were and who we were.” That sounded good. Motion was better than non-motion. Something was better than nothing. “Okay?”
“Okay” she allowed me to put my hand on her arm and I realized that I had no idea which direction to go.
“I came from this direction so let’s go where I came from.” We started walking back into the parking lot but this led us to where the paramedics were trying to load the woman onto a gurney. She thrashed and moaned and then started screaming as she saw us. “Don’t touch! Don’t touch! Don’t touch!” she screamed.
We walked past her and neither of us looked. I could hear her heavy rasping breath in the air and her palm smashing into the pavement. I knew this was not her. This wasn’t her body. I knew she was someone else but so was I. I took out the keys and hit the button on the fob and a red truck’s lights flashed and there were two beeps. I hit it again to open the passenger side door and the woman allowed me to guide her into the truck and she let me put the seat belt on her. I got in and looked at her.
“What do I call you?’ I asked. “Look,” I dug out my wallet, “I think my name is Steve, okay, what do I call you?”
Before she could answer there was a high keening noise as if the siren had gotten stuck and was overloading itself.
“Look!” she said and where the ambulance was there was a white spot of light, too bright to be seen easily and even when I shut my eyes they still hurt.
“I think I’m blind,” she said.
But it didn’t matter. The light got brighter and brighter until even with my eyes closed it hurt like hell. I screamed.
And then I woke up.