“That was weird.”
Dani looked around at me but didn’t stop, so I picked up my step to keep pace with her. “I - uh… You ever see the Matrix?”
“That old movie with John Wick in it?” Jesus, I always forget how young she is.
“Yeah,” I said sarcastically, “that old movie with John Wick in it.” Taking a look over my shoulder I added, “Did you see it?”
“Yeah,” she said. “We watched in your birthday.”
“Right. You said Switch looked like your ex girlfriend.” There it is again. This time I stop and point it out to her. “I think the Agents must’ve changed something.”
“I keep having déjà vu. Look at that cat.”
“Yeah,” she knelt down to pet the thing, cooing at it, “he’s such a pretty little boy, isn’t he.” The cat looked at her outstretched hand, hissed at her once, then kind of fell forward against her so she was petting it.
“Not the point,” I said, looking back down the street behind us. “We’ve passed that same cat a half-dozen already.”
Dani stood up and looked back the way we came. “I don’t - so? Maybe these people like cats.”
“No,” I said. “Same cat, same collar, sitting on the same step, cleaning the same paw.”
She laughed it off and started back down the street. “You’re a weirdo, Dave.”
I mean. It was weird; but what can you do about it? Now that I’m standing here with nothing but my thoughts, trying to find some kind of solace in memories and daydreams, I should have kicked that stupid cat right square in its face.
I’m sorry. I don’t actually want to kick a cat. If I’d accidentally stepped on its tail I’d have felt bad for hours.
I didn’t see the cat again for the rest of our walk. When we got back to the campus, before we turned toward her dorm, she spun around to face me head on, sighing.
“We’re gonna’ have to break up.” She said it casually, like she might’ve just suggested we stay in for dinner.
This had been coming for awhile now. They’ll tell you in the locker room, the limit for dating someone younger than you is half your age plus seven; and we were stretching the limits on that. We really didn’t have much in common other than music and foosball and… you know - that other thing. The signs had been there for weeks.
I knew she was going to end it, but there’s a difference between knowing something is going to happen and then feeling it in your soul when she rips the bandaid off.
There really was no sense in arguing, no pride in pleading, but I asked, “what brought this on?”
She shoved her hands in her front pockets the way she does, shoulders tight and arms straight. My dad used to get mad at me for crossing my arms when I talk to him. He said it felt like I was trying to put a barrier up between us. Same thing.
“C’mon, Dave,” she said. “We both knew this was a temporary thing. I’m surprised you put up with me for a whole year.” There’s that damn wry smile again. Even when she’s tearing your heart out, it sticks in you and infects your face. You have to match it.
No. That’s not fair. She’s not tearing up anything. She’s right. I kind of nod my head and give her half a shrug.
“You want to come by tomorrow and get your stuff?”
“I think I’ve got most of it,” she said. When the hell did she do that? “I never really left much. The bathroom stuff’s all duplicates, you can keep that; and you can call me if you find anything else. I’m not cliche enough to say we can still be friends; but we don’t have to ignore each other.”
“Yeah,” I reached for a hug, and she took it. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a breakup go this smoothly.”
She gave me a hard squeeze. “I’ll see you around, probably.” I don’t know if I would have preferred a goodbye kiss or not. Sometimes I really miss the feel of her lips and I wish she’d kissed me. Most of the time, I think the hug was the right amount of farewell.
I watched her walk away before turning down the street and heading for the bar. I’m glad it was a recent memory. I can see it clearly. Only the part where she’s walking away though. Her tight jeans and that bounce in her step.
A week or so later, I was downtown and I needed to catch the bus. I waited at the bus stop for about ten minutes, and when I got on the bus and sat down, I had the strangest thought.
I own a car. That wasn’t the strange bit. My car is in the garage because I did something to my brake shoes or something - I don’t know. I’ve never been good with anything like that. I know where the gas goes, and I know where the oil goes, and I know the name of my favorite mechanic. It’s Mike. He prefers “Mikey” and he likes to drink Craft Beer.
No, the strange thought was this:
I can sit in the driver’s seat of my car, and I can lean across the passenger seat and touch the door. Each door is only about 5 or 6 inches thick. My car travels down the road and takes up most of the lane, right?
So how can I be sitting here on this bus, with an empty seat beside me, an isle I can comfortably walk down, and two more seats on the other side, in a bus that takes up the same space on the road?
If this was a simulation, it might make sense. In a video game, everywhere you go is an instance, and one instance can be inside the other even if its too big, really, because it’s not really inside. It’s just math.
I’m sure there was a logical explanation; but I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I knew that I was carrying a repository of all human knowledge on a device in my pocket. I could pull out my phone and look it up in under a minute; but something kept stopping me. I just didn’t want to put my hand in my pocket and fish out my phone. I think I just didn’t want to know the answer.
The bus stopped at 4th Street and I got off. That stupid cat was on a nearby trash can. Still cleaning that same paw. The house behind it was dull, gray, and hollow. It looked like an impressionist’s painting of a house. Must’ve been the rain in my eyes.
But it wasn’t raining. I blinked a bit and house snapped back into focus. Just a normal house with yellow paneling and brown shuttered windows. Kind of bland, sure; but nothing weird. The cat ran off down the street, and I turned my feet in the opposite direction to go home.
My cell rang about half a block up. It was Mom. I thought about ignoring it, listening to the voice mail later. I could her back after I’d gotten a few shots of scotch in me; but my thumb just kind of slid up the screen of its own volition.
“Hi Mom,” I said, trying to sound cheery. “What-“
“David,” she said. Damn. It was serious. I could hear in her voice she’d been crying. “You need to come home. It’s your father.”
“Alright,” I said. “I’m on my way.” She asked me to hurry, and told me she loves me, and turned back toward the bus stop, but the bus stop wasn’t there.
I didn’t think I’d walked that far. I turned back toward the house, but I had that rain in my eyes again. The road and all the little houses and the cars - everything it was all…
Loading. It was all loading in. There was something wrong with the graphics card or…
Damn it. Why won’t it…
Give me a second. I keep freezing. I’m going to wait on it, see if it’ll buffer.
Okay. So it’s a memory problem. Or a connection issue. Or something.
The Matrix is broken. I’m stuck here on the road home because
I can’t go home or go back
Is anyone monitoring the simulation?
How long have I been here?