Was it all a damn dream? Trench asked himself for the third time as he staggered through the dark. Winding his way around Morpheus’ rectangle towards the gleaning white bathroom, the forgotten middle-aged rock musician rubbed his eyes before flicking on the light. A sickening fluorescence filled the room as Trench turned the cold water tap on. He waved a hand under the spout to make sure the water was an appropriately cool temperature, then made a basin of water with his hands. The once modestly successful musician peeled the water across his face and back behind his ears into his tangled raven locks. He brought both hands down to clench the sides of the meticulously clean porcelain sink, looked his pale face in the mirror and asked himself out loud this time, “Was it all a dream?”
“What makes you think you’re not dreaming now?” the man in the mirror asked back.
Trench didn’t flinch. This seemed perfectly natural, someone in the mirror talking back to you. This wasn’t like in his younger days when he was hospitalized for schizophrenia or later when he did too many hallucinogens in order to feel like a legit rock star. The pastel face staring him dead in the eye was there alright, a reflection of sorts but not entirely; more like something of a phone call from your own alternate reality. Trench’s stubbled jaw strayed to one side as he considered the question about his question.
“This is the same bathroom I wake up to every day, man,” the washed up musician answered the reflection. “I wake in the same bed, look at the same clock, remember my entire life up until that moment.” This seemed perfectly obvious to Trench concerning reality.
The mirror image pressed his lips together for a moment and nodded. “Okay, then why are you asking yourself if the dream you just had was all a dream? Why didn’t you think it was a dream while you were dreaming it?”
Trench, in all his disheveled glory, was never much of a philosopher but this seemed like a very reasonable question. Wetting his dry lips with his tongue, he started to recall the dream.
“In the dream I felt like I was a little bit older than I am now, or at least much more experienced. I woke up in an entirely different apartment and even though it was a sweet pad, I knew that I was in the right place. Or at least I didn’t stop to think I was in the wrong place,” Trench explained to his interlocutor. “I knew I had to get ready for work – I’m a project manager at a tech company – and that I had to give a big presentation that day. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my date the night before with this girl I’ve never seen before in real life but who – in the dream – I’ve been in love with since high school. I remember us flirting through the years but never getting together until now. She made dinner at her place, I brought a bottle of wine. I was going to leave at some point, but she asked me to stay just a little longer. Then…God, I could feel her breath on my face, her skin on my skin, the pounding of her heart; it was so goddamn real.”
“So there was nothing unusual about what you felt except that the circumstances were different. Hmmm,” Other Trench reflected. The mirror image dropped his head in solidarity with the aged rocker. “I get that,” he continued. “It’s happened to me, too. What freaks me out is that when I have dreams like that, in the dream you’re having you can recall everything that has happened in your life up until that point, just like you remembering that you’ve been in love with this girl since high school that you don’t even know in this life.”
Trench blinked stoically at the man in the mirror who himself never seemed to blink. But inside Trench’s head, the song that had been lodged there since last night was violently shoved aside as the musician tried desperately to remember if he’d done any cocaine when he rolled at out bed. He tried to remember because the stuff Other Trench was saying was the kind of stuff you think about when you’re real clear on snow. Although he wish he had, Trench hadn’t done coke in years. He didn’t have the money.
“You do some blow this morning or something?” Trench asked somewhat jokingly towards the mirror.
“No, you know I don’t do that stuff,” came a reply from the other side. “I have a hypothesis, though.”
Ugh, he’s doing it again, Trench thought. “Am I gonna need coffee for this, man?”
“Nah,” Other Trench replied. Both men scratched their beard stubble but then Other Trench stopped following Trench’s every move. Instead he turned the hot water tap on and plugged the sink. He wet his hands, poured shaving cream into one palm and lathered up. He reached down and picked up a straight razor and began working his way from his neck towards his chin. Trench could hear the sandpapery scrape loud and clear.
“What I think,” Other Trench started as he dipped the foamy blade in the sink, “is what happens sometimes when we dream isn’t a dream at all but actually a glimpse of ourselves in an alternate universe. What else explains how we could remember such vivid histories while dreaming? We can’t just be making up an entire history of our lives up to that point, right?”
“C’mon, it’s too early for this. You know I don’t get it anyway,” Trench shook his head. He took his own straight razor and swished it in his own sink. He brought it up to his throat to remove the shadow from his neck. By the time he’d begun to slice the short hairs from his skin, he thought, yeah, actually he did kind of get it.
“Hey, I listen to your problems,” Trench’s reflection paused. “So return the favor and do me the courtesy of staring at me blankly while I bounce ideas off of you.”
“Shit, man, sorry,” Trench apologized. “I guess that does kind of make sense. It explains how we can have such strong feelings for people we don’t even know in real life,” the silver-selling artist considered upon recalling a key element of the morning story.
“You mean in our waking lives,” Other Trench corrected.
“Sure, sure. But what the hell would be the point of seeing my life in another universe? And, I mean, that’s never even minding the ‘how,” Trench said as he felt the razor blade make a small, superficial cut near his jawline. That’s the kind of thing that happened whenever he thought too much. It wasn’t that he was stupid; he just never applied himself in an intellectual sort of way, not like some people. He could barely walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. Other Trench was probably conversing about the nature of dreams while shaving while thinking about E=MC2.
“What would be the point? Hmmm, I don’t think there necessarily has to be a point,” Other Trench mulled. He ran his hand over his face to make sure he’d gotten every hair. When clean shaven, Other Trench looked five years younger than he was. Trench always looked older than he was, probably from spending too much time being on drugs and not enough time being successful.
“Lots of things in the universe don’t have a point,” Other Trench continued. “Things just happen. Maybe we’re tied to our other selves in other universes just like some particles are quantumly entangled. But in occasionally catching a glimpse of our other lives, maybe we can learn something.”
Trench grasped Other Trench’s basic premise up until the word ‘quantumly’ came up, which is how this usually went. “I don’t know, man. I don’t think I learned anything from that dream last night other than that guy’s got a much better life than I do. He’s probably got a better life than you, too.”
“It would stand to reason then,” Other Trench rinsed his face off, “that at least one of us somewhere is worse off than we are right now. So be happy about that.” He patted aftershave on his cheeks and squinted as the alcohol sank into his pores. “As far as you’re concerned, you should be so hard on yourself. You’ve got a lot of potential. There’s a lot of good material in your head still. Believe me, wouldn’t I know?” Other Trench chuckled to himself. “We just have to drag it out of you. If you can write another tune like Lethal Laetitia, you’ll be back on the top of the charts.”
“How’d you even know that was the song that was going to sell?” Trench asked shaking his head askew.
“There’s an algorithm for everything, even for predicting what songs will be successful,” Other Trench shrugged. “I’d give it to you, but you’d probably tell me it would compromise your artistic integrity. That, or you wouldn’t understand it.”
Trench thought about the small bit of glory he once knew, all the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Then he thought about where he was now, bartending until 2am five nights a week and watching other bands play three out of those five nights. He was jealous of hearing those other bands play their shitty music but still walk away with all the women. He was over artistic integrity. He put down his razor. Maybe it was time he learned something from Other Trench.
“Give it to me, the algorithm, I mean. If I don’t understand it, teach me. If I’m going to learn something from my other lives, I want to start now, right away,” Trench leaned towards the mirror intently.
“I don’t know,” Other Trench hesitated. “It’s complicated…”
“C’mon, Trench!” Trench whined. “It’s not like I’m asking you how you built this mirror.”
“How many times do I have to say it? It’s a portal, not a mirror,” corrected the ever-correcting Other Trench. “And I’ve got to get to the lab. I’m late as it is.” Other Trench started to turn away.
“Well, think about it, man. I’ll even write a song for your wife and you can tell her you wrote it, which would be kind of true anyway. Trench, c’mon!” Trench pleaded.
With his anniversary coming up and no clue as to what kind of gift he could get his wife, Other Trent quickly relented. He turned back towards his other self in some other universe. “Alright, fine, I’ll make that deal. We’ll start tomorrow morning. Do some coke when you wake up or whatever you have to do to pay attention, because this stuff isn’t easy.” Other Trent wagged a finger at himself or someone like himself. “You know, it’s a good thing we can’t pass stuff through the portal or else I’d ask for half your forthcoming royalties.”
“Oh, man, thanks. You’ll really be saving my ass. I’ll think of something else I can do for you, too, I swear.” Trench backed away from the portal satisfied, half his face still covered in foam.
“Don’t know what I’m going to learn from this,” Other Trench mumbled as he stepped out of view to turn on the shower.
Trench followed suit on his side of things. “What are you talking about? You finally learned to take advantage of your resources. Think about it, man, I can teach you guitar,” Trench said over the pitch of a torrent of water. “Alright! I’m pumped now. See you tomorrow morning. Same time as usual?”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Other Trench replied with a sigh from out of view. The sound of a shower curtain being pulled back and forth in one universe was oddly familiar in another universe only a sliver of a light year away.
All Rights Reserved © November 2016 John J Vinacci