It happened again.
I could tell by the mattress springs. I didn’t even have to open my eyes. Then came the smells. Wool and dust. A hint of cinnamon apple from a long extinguished candle. I knew it all immediately and couldn’t stave off the panic. I squeezed my eyes tight, praying sleep would take me once more.
The mattress groaned as she shifted next to me in her sleep. Please, don’t let her wake up. Her name was Sarah. The first time I switched, I had to look at a piece of mail for clues. Thank you, Discover Card. I know her, but her voice still sounds strange to me. I had expected it to trigger some kind of lingering familiarity, but dreams don’t carry sound.
I need to go back. This wasn’t mine. The face in the mirror would be me, but the woman and the children were his. How could they not know? They had to suspect something from my stumbling. I was never a good improviser. My eyelids were growing rosy from the morning sun. My hands balled into fists as I ground my face against the pillow.
This wasn’t like that movie. This wasn’t a dream. I knew that much. This was real. A kind of real, maybe, but not my real. I missed Tiff and Cooper and Julie. The times between were growing longer. What if I couldn’t get back?
It didn’t make any sense as I was in the same situation, but the thought of him in bed with Trish punched a hole in my gut. He had to have figured out what was going on too. It wasn’t like I could talk to him. He was stranded like me.
I heard another groan, Sarah, and felt smooth arms slide underneath my own, hugging my chest. “Morning,” she mumbled.
I was shaking. I felt tears in the corners of my eyes, but I still didn’t open them. I didn’t dare. Once I did, I was awake and then … and then I’d be stuck here. Again. Maybe for the last time.
“Morning,” I whispered back, hoping she didn’t hear the fear in my voice.
It was a voice she’d heard a million times. She had to know there were days her husband loved her and other days he didn’t. Trish would know. I never asked her. She wouldn’t believe me. But she’d have to know something was off.
It always started with the dream. Snapshots of another life. A beach. A blue house. A street with birch trees.
Sarah’s hand rubbed my chest and I knew she wouldn’t be going back to sleep. Neither would I. Frustrated, I squeezed her hand in greeting and got up to go to the bathroom. The face in the mirror was me. Sighing, I rubbed my eyes and checked the medicine cabinet.
Inside the pill bottle was the note I’d written last time. “You work at Slott and Stegman’s on Harris Ave. You don’t like ties. The car keys are in the bowl by the sink. Sarah. Maddie and Gracie.”
Did he have a note too, helping him through the motions? Was he as scared as I was? I folded the well-creased slip of paper and hid it amongst the painkillers once more.
“Hurry up,” Sarah said through the door. “I need to go too. Can you start pancakes?”
It must be Saturday. They always had pancakes on Saturday. I couldn’t fight the flare of panic. That meant more time at home.
“Sure,” I said, staring at the pill bottle. The panic brought something else too. I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it before.
Rummaging through the basket of reading material by the toilet, I found one of those subscription postcards that had fallen out of a magazine and a pencil. Sarah was waiting for me when I opened the door. She was pretty but she was no Trish.
I kissed her on the cheek and brushed by her before she could answer. Luckily she was preoccupied. I heard noises downstairs. Maddie and Gracie were probably up. The shower started. I let out the first sigh of relief I’d felt all morning and began scribbling on the postcard.
“Tom, my name is Brett, but you probably know that. Am I doing this or are you? Do you know why this is happening? How do we go back?”
I hesitated. What if he didn’t want this to end? No, I decided. Judging by how his family looked at him, Tom would be as scared as I was. He’d have to be.
Without giving it a second thought, I tucked the postcard under the pillow and went downstairs to make pancakes. The mix was in the Lazy Susan on the left.