A Dream Of Consciousness
The writer read through the words on the sheet of paper he had just pulled from his typewriter. He scanned through them slowly, holding the sheet in one hand, while rubbing at the two-day stubble on his chin with the other. He crumpled the sheet into an uneven ball, and tossed it casually behind him. It missed a black, wire-mesh wastepaper basket by about ten inches, and came to rest among a number of similarly scrunched sheets.
He pushed his white plastic chair backwards, away from the desk, and stood up, looking around his bedsit as he did so. A tired old bed, wobbly wooden desk, cracked sink and overloaded bookshelf were his only companions. He dropped down onto the bed, lay back on the blue and green cover and stared up at the yellow and brown ceiling.
“Waking up in a hospital, without knowing how he got there?” he mumbled to himself. “What is wrong with me? How cliched is that? God, I need a drink.”
He sat up, and swung his feet to the floor. He ran long thin fingers through receding, black hair, stood up and headed for the door. He hesitated with his hand on the door handle, turned halfway towards open, as he spotted an envelope sticking out from under his door. He let go of the handle and went down onto one knee, so he could pick up the envelope. He studied it, turning it around in his hands. One side held his typed address and the other side was blank. The stamp was local and the postmark unreadable. There were no clues to be gained from the outside, so he quickly ripped it open, sliding one long thumbnail under the sealed flap. He found a single sheet of paper inside, with a single sentence typed on one side.
Does the writer write the story, or does the story write the writer?
He was about to crumple the sheet of paper up and throw it away, when a thought occurred to him. He picked up one of his previous crumplings, and compared it to the mysterious message. The typeface was exactly the same. Its author had used a typewriter of the same model as his. Or had used his own typewriter. He dropped the message to the floor, without crumpling it. He watched as it swang back and forth through the air, before slowly settling onto the threadbare carpet. He stepped warily over it, back towards his desk and the typewriter. He sat down on the plastic chair, and fed a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter, rolling it round to the typing position with a well-practiced motion.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, opened them, and started to type.
The writer slouched back in his ergonomic computer chair, and read back through the words on the monitor, batting his mouse back and forth between finger and thumb as he read. He dragged a highlight over the words with his mouse, and hit the delete key. The screen instantly returned to its previous blankness.
He wheeled his chair backwards, with a light push, away from his desk, and stood up, looking around the office as he did so. His colleagues were busily tapping away at their own computers, or talking in hurried voices on the phone, acting as though he didn’t exist.
“Garbage. Complete and utter garbage,” he muttered to himself, shaking his head. “Who’s going to care about some sad git in a crappy bedsit? God, I need a drink.”
He was about to leave his desk, and the office, when he heard a gentle pinging sound from his PC, alerting him that a new email message had arrived. He stood frozen for a brief moment, torn between a desire to read the new message and a need to get out of the office. The moment stretched, then snapped and he found himself sitting down in his chair, and clicking on the icon to open up his email.
He found a single new email. It was marked urgent, but the sender line was blank, so he was unable to tell whom it had come from. He opened it up and read the one line message it contained.
Do you write what you are, or are you only what you write?
He blinked at the message, rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand as he read it again. He clicked a couple of buttons to reveal the header information, showing where the message had come from. But there was nothing there. That could only happen if the message had been typed on his own PC, but that wasn’t possible. Was it?
He deleted the message, closed his email program and opened his word processor. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, opened them and started to type.
The writer sat up straight, and read through the words scribbled on diary page. He pulled at the sheet, ripping it from the spiral binding, and tossed it carelessly into the air, watching as it floated gently down towards the calm blue sea far below.
He slid along the wooden bench and stood up, slipping his well-chewed biro into a pocket, looking around the picnic area as he did so. He glanced at the handful of identical tables and benches on the grass, before turning to look out over the cliff and the sea below. A seagull floated idly on the air, a little way above and off to one side, and he could hear the soft whisper of the sea, on the rocks far below.
“This is not working,“ he said conversationally to the gull. “I don’t know a thing about computers, how am I supposed to write about someone who’s using them? God, I need a drink.”
He watched as the gull flapped slowly away then turned away from the cliff edge and walked slowly towards his car. He stopped when he was halfway there, glancing back over his shoulder. There had been something on the beach, near the base of the cliff. He had seen it out of the corner of one eye as he turned, but it had only registered after he’d taken a few steps. He walked back to the edge of the cliff and looked down into the salty wind that scurried up from the sea. There, at the edge of the sea, someone had drawn large words into the damp sand. They formed a single sentence.
Are you writing your diary, or is your diary writing you?
The sea slid out across the sentence, as he read it for a second time, erasing the meaning, leaving behind only half formed letters and ancient patterns. The sentence could only have been written in the last thirty seconds or so, but there was nobody on the beach in either direction. He stood, watching as the sentence slowly melted back into sand, under the gentle caress of the sea, before turning and walking back to the table and the wooden bench. He sat down, slid along the bench and opened his diary. He pulled his biro from his pocket, chewed carefully on the end for a short moment, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, opened them and started to write.
The writer tried to sit up, thinking back through the memory of the dream in his head. He dismissed the memory, shuffling it to a back corner of his mind to be ignored and lost.
He tried to sit up again, but realised that he was lying under tightly tucked sheets, and somehow didn’t have the leverage needed to get free. He looked round the room he found himself in. He was greeted by off-white walls, fluorescent lighting, a blank wooden door hiding the world beyond, complicated looking medical equipment, and a window facing out into a grey sky.
“Where am I? What’s going on,” he muttered to himself, while searching through his memories. All he could find was the image from his dream.
“A picnic spot on a cliff by the sea? What’s that got to do with anything, what does it mean? God, I need a drink.”
He pulled really hard and managed to free one arm, then the other. He started to push at the bedsheet that held him, and eventually managed to free himself. Beneath the bedsheet he wore a simple hospital gown, barely reaching his knees. He swung his feet to the ground and stood up, moving slowly in case of any weakness. He stood for a brief moment, then realised that he felt fine and strong. He ran his eyes and hands carefully over his body, trying to ascertain why he was in a hospital. He found no signs of injury or operation and felt as healthy as he had ever done. He stepped towards the single wooden door, reaching for the round metal handle. He hesitated, with one hand on the handle, before opening it and turned round to glance at the end of the bed, and the medical clipboard that hung there. He stepped back to the bed, lifted up the clipboard and found that it held an otherwise blank sheet of paper with a single sentence scribbled on it.
Is the dream dreaming the dreamer, or is the dreamer dreaming the dream?
He read the sentence a number of times, then dropped the clipboard back onto the end of the bed. He looked over his shoulder at the door and rubbed one hand over his face. He looked back at the bed and found himself climbing back into it without even realising he’d moved. He pulled the sheets back up over himself, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and returned to his dream.