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Fiction

He was quite beside himself

Yes, he was now inside a sewer but at least he had his train fare again. He had little experience of sewers but this one felt softer and warmer than expected. Nervously he squeezed the hand clutching the coin. Still there! He was so happy he was quite beside himself and, deciding to risk opening his eyes, was surprised to find that this was literally true.

His whole life, he suffered from the same debilitating dream. The minutiae varied but never the theme. He would be trying to do something or get somewhere but everything he did took him further from it. He would wake anxious and exhausted and, as often as not, stay that way the whole day. 

In this dream he was trying to get home. He had the exact train fare and was outside the station 20 minutes before departure. Perhaps this made him careless because, as he checked his fare one last time, a £2 coin slipped between his fingers. It rolled along the ground and with the improbably precise logic of dreams dropped through the bars of a grate. 

He thought he could see it so, enduring great pain, he forced his hand through the bars until it was almost in reach. Immediately a gentle flow of sewage took it inches away. He managed to pry up the grate, oblivious to the stares of unhelpful strangers. Lying face down in the gutter he reached his arm down into the sewer. Every time he reached for the coin he seemed to knock it an inch further away. With one final effort he reached out, grabbed the coin and fell head first into the sewer.

Yes, he was now inside a sewer but at least he had his train fare again. He had little experience of sewers but this one felt softer and warmer than expected. Nervously he squeezed the hand clutching the coin. Still there! He was so happy he was quite beside himself and, deciding to risk opening his eyes, was surprised to find that this was literally true. 

He was not lying in a sewer, he was lying on a bed. Set into the ceiling was a hatch door that he recognised as the one to his loft. Conclusion: he was in his own bed. Good.

The hatch was open; not so good. The updated conclusion was that he had fallen from the loft onto the bed. Well, it was better than falling into a sewer. But disturbingly, propped up onto his left arm just as he would, was another he. Other he was looking down at him with precisely the patronising expression he’d been trying to stop using because so many people had told him they found it patronising and now he understood why.

There is no social etiquette for a duplicate of yourself falling through a hole in the ceiling and landing on the bed beside you. Some time passed. It was starting to get a little awkward, actually. If one of them had thought of it earlier, they might have screamed, “what the hell!” but that moment was of the past. Feeling that the conversational onus lay on him as the host, other he began.

“Why were you in the loft?”

Instinctively they both felt that, whilst important, it only came about a third of the way down the list of questions that needed to be asked here. But it was a start.

“I wasn’t in the loft. I was in the street, looking down into a sewer, but I leaned in too far and fell.”

“Couldn’t you see that it was my room below?”

“No. One of the features of sewers, I imagine. Little in the way of mood lighting.”

They both nodded.

“Why were you looking in the sewer?” He related the story and showed him Exhibit A, the £2 coin. Other he inspected it thoughtfully.

“I thought you were pigeons.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that and said so.

“Nesting. They get into the loft and nest. They make a racket. No surprise, some of them are the size of spaniels. I thought you were pigeons until you opened the loft and landed on the bed.”

“Why are you in bed?”

“It’s Saturday morning. I am having a lie-in.”

“It’s Saturday morning for me too, or will be when I wake up.”

“Are you dreaming now?” asked other he.

“I don’t know,” he responded truthfully. This was a worrying thought. “Am I?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“Are you real or a dream?” Other he considered this for a moment. 

“I think I’m real but logically I am bound to say that. Even if I’m just a character in your dream it won’t feel that way to me and I won’t be able to tell. Here’s a thing; are you real, or are you part of my Saturday morning lie-in dream?” 

“Well of course I’m real!”

“Aren’t you bound to say that if you’re a character in my dream?”

“I don’t know…”

“Think about it. I’m in bed. Next thing I know, an exact facsimile of me falls through a hole in my ceiling and lands on the bed next to me. Doesn’t seem probable, does it?” 

“Well it’s no less probable than my dream scenario. How do I know that you’re not just another illogical dream obstruction designed to stop me from getting home?” 

“Well, you are home; this is our bedroom.” There was a pause, but there isn’t an adjective that describes the awkward pause in conversation that results from meeting yourself in a metaphysical dream, so it passed undescribed.

“Do you mind if I use the bathroom?”

“Sure! Feels like it may be your bathroom anyway. It’s across the hall, but then you knew that!” 

He heard other he making coffee downstairs. He went down.

“Decaf coffee, oat milk, no sugar.”

“Just the way we like it.”

They spent their day together like reunited twin siblings. As the clock drifted towards midnight, there was a conversation about sleeping arrangements. There was only one bed and it belonged to both of them, so they agreed to share. 

In the morning, there was only one body in the bed.

That was the weirdest dream ever, he thought as he stared at the hatch. I ought to write it down. Maybe make a short story out of it.

Across the hall, the toilet flushed.

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