“No one in this dreary cafeteria knows I dream of being a horse mid-Spring. No one knows my glorious neigh-and-gallop through sweeping vistas and picturesque sunflower fields. Everyone knows I vanish inside of a temperamental Walkman while I consume tapioca and file documents. They know the metal that swirls and shovels cassava between my perpetual chapped lips. The tape hiss and pop of a slanted Walkman window.”
My therapist Lira lowers her glasses and massages the bridge of her nose. Why would anyone dream of horses let alone being one? It's adorable if you're a kid but the adulthood of it all leads Lira to pace in a square around her office.
“You're a horse?” She pauses and lies supine on her couch.
“In my dream,” I beam in spite of her incoming wince. “My dreams, plural, sorry.”
“Don't be, Thomas.”
Her harried expression reads otherwise. There is beyond a twinge of doubt scrawled across that thin smile. I'm positive she didn't dedicate more than two decades of her career to endure a pathetic man's horse fantasy.
“Your dreams are… unique.”
I hate to burst out of the room at full flailing speed but I need a head-start before the inevitable happens. Before I tear my clothes away to express my shame and embarrass myself further. Before I'm tackled by security and a half-moon pill is forced down my throat. Lira and her skepticism are ants in the distance but my shirt is half-torn at the edge of a spiraling hallway.
Security tackles me and I fall unconscious to my snapping ribs. At least I'm a gorgeous horse again. A horse staring at another on the horizon.
Can't be much of a horse in a retention center. Strange to dream of leaping fences and riding across plains in a place that helps your memory. But one resident twice the intelligence of the entire center has a fried brain and it's perfect to be a horse while she suffers permanent memory loss.
I- I gallop around goopy sloppy joe and laughter and fights in different hallways. Who cares if the mop hair is gone? I wanna be the proudest horse in the whole center.
“You don't get paid to screw around, Steph,” a guard grunts and wiggles himself through the doorway in a heavy exhale, “Clean something already.”
I don't get paid at all. Residents don't get paid except for that spineless sap who files crap all day. Bet he doesn't have the charisma to dream about being a horse. And his horse would be surrounded by flies if he dreamed about being one.
Memories are tested at the top of every month. Gotta remember cleaning areas and products from my not-fried brain. Rattling off everything as if ammonia and grimy bathroom tiles dance around the back and front of my head. Testers watch me from behind clipboards as if my head should be examined and send me away.
I gallop away and bump into the file sap. Shoves loads of apologies in my face. His spine doesn't straighten up.
“You couldn't dream of horses,” I frown and scan his name tag, “Thomas.”
“But I do…”
Gotta get away from him. Don't wanna catch his spinelessness. Weird that he dreams of horses too though. Wonder if he was the horse gazing at me last night.
“I met a resident who dreams of horses like me.”
Lira nods as if she's inebriated. I want to assure her that it's okay if she doesn't believe the dreams or my chance meeting with Steph. But I don't want to introduce a blatant lie at my expense.
She sets the clipboard away from us for a change and cleans her glasses.
“Who's this special resident you met earlier?” She checks for slight imperfections and sets them down beside the clipboard.
“You-you’re wearing contacts. You only disc- you only discuss serious matters with your contacts,” I stammer into my shirt.
“Many of the other residents complain about you muttering along to horse videos.
Lira retracts a maternal hand with wounded eyes. Someone put her up to this and that someone could be herself. Why doesn't she tell me my horse dreams could jeopardize her legitimacy as a therapist? How selfish can she be?
“Don't sprint out of here and strip yourself naked like last time, Thomas. You embarrass yourself more than you do me. Now please stop obsessing over these horse fantasies.”
I quiver on the couch. She is parroting someone else's words. Am I the only other person who appreciates a luscious mane? Dragging hooves in the grass?
“Who’s the resident, Thomas?”
“She's no one.”
“She’s the only other person in the retention center who dreams about horses. I can discover her without you.”
I relent and blurt out “Steph” and Lira pulls up her information in a compact mirror-adjacent communicator. A hologram of Steph appears and a display of her strengths, fears, dislikes, and weaknesses springs up. Then the horse dream commences and two horses frolic around parallel plains like androids existing on different ends of a futuristic metropolis.
“That's us, Lira,” I shrink my eyes and shut my slacked jaw in a scramble toward the hologram.
Lira studies the Steph hologram’s mannerisms and walk cycle and body composition like a stalker.
“Same time tomorrow, Thomas,” she waves me out of her office without eye contact.
I swear if I bump into that over-glorified file cabinet one more time…
“Can I speak to you, Steph?” He comes up breathless and no less spineless.
“Go file stuff.”
Found the same damn horse staring from behind some invisible fence. Eating hay or whatever. But I couldn't tear my eyes away from him either.
“Wait,” I tap his shoulder on his way in the opposite direction.
“Why do we dream of horses?”
“Freedom and change and leadership. There's more if…”
Security guards stumble over to our left side. Young and ancient age range. All of them large enough to lift heavy weights but too much to manage the narrow doorways.
“Come on, sap.”
Grip his hand and bolt down the hallway. Uninterrupted beeline until a therapist blocks our path with a wall of security flesh. Sap grows wide-eyed at her. She grows teary-eyed at him.
“My name is Thomaaaaaas!”
“Who’s the therapist?”
Yank him down a hallway that grows narrower farther it stretches. No guard fits as expected. Center requires large security guards for the position. All thanks to a copy of the employee handbook a resident snuck me once.
“Her name is-”
“Thomas, this is for your own safety. You are both too dangerous for the retention center,” she grunts as she shimmies down the hallway after us, “Your horse memories along with any other fantastical ones have to be eradicated.”
“Lira, let us gallop free.”
Burst out of the hallway and reach a solid brick wall and a vent above us. Sap- Thomas is thin enough to slide through the hallway but not tiny to journey through the vents. Lira- I guess that's the name Thomas yelled during the chase- corners us with a rifle. Vents could be my calling and his end.
“This is a horse tranquilizer except it's modified to extract your dreams too,” she shakes in enough tears to fill half a glass.
Cocks the rifle and wobbles it toward us. One of us loses the dreams while the other reaches the end of the vent.
“Steph, you can make the jump-”
Lira shoots him point blank range and collapses over him in tears. Thomas curls up into fetal position and drool yo-yoing down the side of his mouth. I leap into the vent and escape. Guilt be damned.