That night Jessica was discharged from the hospital and was able to enjoy sleeping in her own bed. She was still avoiding being responsible, so she had not called her boss or the bank yet. She had not spoken to the police since they came to interview her in the hospital. She was of course curious about all of those things, but she was enjoying having a great excuse to escape the stress she had been under for so long. She knew it could not last forever and determined that she would resume being responsible in the morning.
In the meantime Jessica curled up on the bed surrounded with every pillow she owned. She felt a bit antsy, even excited, but she couldn’t really tell what it was about. She was enjoying the comfort so much that she was having a hard time sleeping and decided to read a book. She picked up the one on the top of her ‘someday’ stack, Gulliver’s Travels. She had hardly started the first page before her eyelids fell shut.
Soon Jessica was walking behind Rodney as they tried to find something for her to eat. After walking in silence for a few moments, Rodney slowed down and gestured to the right. Here we are. This place should have some ‘cheap’ food for you. When Jessica looked where he indicated, she saw a storefront. Out front were fruits and vegetables of all sorts. The sign over the door just said “GROCERY”, no brand. no logo. As they walked in Rodney took an apple from the bin and took a bite. Jessica was a little perplexed, but figured he knew the owner or something. Jessica directed herself towards a sign showing “Snacks”.
During the time they were in the store Jessica felt more relaxed than she normally did while shopping. She could not quite figure out why. Maybe the people around her were calmer. They certainly were, but was that what was making her experience so different? She felt that there was something missing. Something that normally made her a little tense. When she turned down the aisle for the snacks she saw a tremendous variety of beautifully packaged sweets, crackers, and other goodies. She was at a loss of what to choose. Normally she would just buy a candy bar and tell Rodney that would be the most help to her blood sugar levels. But here she was not sure what was what. Nothing had the familiar brand names she was used to. It all looked like it was packaged by hand, none of the bright gaudy attention grabbing slogans everywhere. Each wrap was so perfect and so uniform that it had to have been done by machine.
Finally Jessica settled on a bundle of what looked like shortbread cookies with a raspberry cream in the center. They were wrapped in a sheer lavender light plastic like a cheap tablecloth done up with a light blue bow at the top. Once she took it, she told Rodney that was all she needed and looked to find the register.
“Is that all you want?” Rodney asked her.
“Yes, this should be plenty to get me back on track.” Jessica was realizing that she had no idea how much the cookies cost and was considering going back to check when she noticed that nothing on the shelves she was passing had prices. Rodney walked straight out the door, while Jessica hesitated inside. She could not see a cash register anywhere but did not know what the consequences were for stealing in Dallas.
Rodney turned around, “What’s the hold-up?”
Jessica could not think of an answer that did not make her sound like a loon, so she took a deep breath and stepped out of the store. She half expected Rodney to start running away from the store as fast as he could, but he just meandered to a bench right outside in the long park they had been walking through. Jessica followed and sat silently on the bench next to him. Jessica was catching on to something, and wanted to contemplate it for a few minutes before saying anything out loud.
After a few minutes of munching on his apple while Jessica nibbled distractedly at her cookies, Rodney said “You know, these apples are not as good as the ones that grow on this tree right here.”
Jessica turned up from staring at her hands and looked at the tree they were sitting underneath. She did not know her botany, but her grandparents had an apple tree when she was younger, and it looked similar. “What you just walk to school and grab a snack right off the tree?”
Rodney looked at her puzzled. “Yeah. Is that odd?”
Jessica turned away from him. “A little.” She paused to take a breath. “I’m not quite sure how to say this.” She slowed as she carefully chose the right words. “This place seems so real, when I am here. But– at home I know,” She paused as she turned to look at Rodney, “that it is all a dream.”
Rodney laughed out loud. Jessica was not sure what she was expecting him to do, but certainly not that. Rodney caught his breath enough to say, “I am glad that you are enjoying your time with me, but I would not think of myself as a dream. I’m normally not a hit with the ladies.”
Jessica went bright red. “No-that’s not what I– I mean you’re nice and all–but—-” Words failed her all at once.
“I knew that couldn’t be what you meant.” Jessica could not help but think he sounded a little disappointed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–” Jessica trailed off a bit. “I mean a real dream, like right now I am lying in bed at home asleep, and this is all going on inside my head.”
Rodney looked her straight in the eyes to figure out if she was serious. “Well that is news to me, I have been living here for years. Is this some sort of brain in a vat philosophy thing?”
“No really, but if you want to think of it that way, okay. In the real world I just got released from the hospital after a traumatizing robbery at the place where I work. I slept for several days because I have been working too much. The time that I met you at the diner was the first time I was ever in this town. Before the episode in the classroom earlier, I had never been there. The real reason I was acting weird and losing consciousness was because the doctors at the hospital were trying to wake me up.”
Rodney stared at Jessica for a moment as she braced herself for his response. “You are not kidding are you?”
“Nope.” I kind of wish I was. This seems like such a nice place.”
They both sat in silence for several minutes. Rodney staring straight ahead from his place on the bench, while Jessica tried to piece together everything that she was feeling.
Finally she broke the silence. “So I guess that explains how you think of money. To me it is the thing that brings the most stress in life. It only makes sense that in my dream world it wouldn’t exist. But just like most things in dreamland, a world without money could not really function.”
Rodney took several moments before he spoke. “I know that you believe this story you are telling me, but I can’t. This is my world. I really live here. I do not think that I am just a figment of your imagination. I don’t want to tell you that you are crazy, but that’s what it seems like to me.” Jessica’s heart broke. She knew that would be the result when she brought it up. She just thought that since it was just a dream it wouldn’t hurt so much. Rodney went on, “In this world, there is no money, and it does work. I would try to tell you how, but I don’t really understand the point of money, so I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
Jessica could see that Rodney was hurt by what she had said. “I wish I could know how you are feeling, I know this must be difficult to accept. Would it help if I told you about my world? If it won’t help I won’t do it. We can just go on like we never had this conversation.”
“But we did. I think that it might help me, but you will have to excuse me for thinking of that as your dream world, not this. Maybe we are really living in two separate worlds and when you sleep is when you come to visit.”
Jessica did not really think that was the way it worked, but if that would make Rodney feel better, she would go with it. “That’s okay. I think that in your position I would ask nothing less.” Jessica was a bit confused. From what she had been told about lucid dreaming, once you realized it was a dream, you could control everything in it. But maybe she just had to practice.