SOMETHING happened during Bill’s flight from Boston to Vancouver. Everything had been normal so far on the PanAm flight, with the other passengers and the weather and all. Except for a distant storm front over the Atlantic Ocean. But they would not get anywhere near the Atlantic Ocean, so he wasn’t concerned. And neither was the captain, who wished everybody a pleasant flight.
Bill had fallen asleep at some point, but that wasn’t unusual for him while flying. He kept dozing off if he had to sit in an airplane seat for more than an hour. This was no exception. He was woken by a sound. It hadn’t come from one of the other passengers, he assumed. Hardly half the seats were taken and nobody was sitting in his row. Actually, when he wanted to see any of the other passengers, he had to get up. Which he did, going to the bathroom.
Why did they call it a bathroom? Not on an airplane, they didn’t, he assumed. Why was it called a restroom? Why had there to be names for things and places that didn’t fit? Most bathrooms didn’t have a bath in it, only a toilet. Most restrooms were hardly suited for resting. Why did they call black people African-Americans, and why didn’t they call white people European-Americans? This sort of things bothered Bill.
During the flight, he had no-one to talk to. The flight attendants seemed to avoid him. I’m a bore, he thought, and they sense it.
But the flight went well. He passed customs and immigration at Vancouver without a problem. Without a glitch.Things went sideways on the way home.
He didn’t recognize the interior of the car.
He was sure it was his car. He had parked it six days earlier on the North Parking lot of Vancouver airport. The key had been in his jacket pocket all the time. It was his car. It had been his car for several years now.
Except he didn’t recognize the dashboard, the instruments, the seats.
He stopped by a roadside diner.
He had been here before. With Mary, on the way back from New York last year. He had been here earlier, with what’s-her-name, Amy, three years before that. He couldn’t remember from where they had come. That trip had been a disaster. His relationship with Amy had been a disaster.
He had been here before. This particular diner.
But it was different now. He recognized the building, but it was different anyway. He had no idea why.
He got out of the car. It was another car. Clearly not his. He had simply taken the wrong car from the parking lot. This was a Camry. He didn’t own a Camry. He would never dream of buying or driving a Camry. He owned a Volvo XC60. Black. This car was green. And it was the wrong make. He had walked out in the parking lot and taken the wrong car.
Although this was impossible. His key would not open this Camry. He looked at the key fob in his hand. It was one of those electronic things, that opened car doors from a distance. It had the Toyota sigil on it. It wasn’t his.
And now this diner. He had been here before. He was vaguely familiar with it. Had eaten here, on the way home.
But it was different now. He could not put a finger on it why. Perhaps a new proprietor had redecorated it. Put up a new sign. Painted it. That’s why it looked almost familiar.
But that didn’t explain the Camry.
He took his cell phone from his pocket and searched for Mary. Her name wasn’t in the register. Had he forgotten to include her? No, he had called her often enough these last two years, after she moved in with him. He knew her name was on his phone. Except that it wasn’t. Not her first name, not her family name.
And he didn’t know her number. He no longer kept people’s numbers in mind, as the phone did that.
Cell phones just don’t drop people’s names.
He had considered eating something in the diner. He wasn’t going to, now. Things were too weird.
But what was he going to do? Return home, to Mary, and explain the Camry? He could not explain the Camry. He would have to return to the airport and look for the Volvo. But his key was not for the Volvo. So he wouldn’t be able to open the car, even if he found it.
Somebody had switched his key and had stolen the Volvo, leaving him with this crappy green Camry.
But then why had he walked to this car and driven it all the way towards this diner, only now to realize something was wrong? Why had he walked up to the Camry in the first place?
He had heard about people losing their mind and going astray in a world they no longer could comprehend.
Except that his mind was clear. Perhaps he had been confused, earlier, about the car, but even than the whole thing didn’t make sense.
He was standing there in the parking lot of the diner, with people walking by and cars driving on and off, and he was contemplating his own sanity.
There had been a glitch at some point.
Maybe it had been the sound.
The sound that woke him on the plane.
He now remembered what that sound was. It was a voice. The voice of a woman. A voice he recognized.
It had been Amy’s voice. The girl he had known before Mary. It had been her voice he heard on the plane, waking him. Calling him, by his name.
No, he was not going to eat here. The place was too weird. Something out of a Stephen King book. Things would be waiting for him inside. Things far worse than anything out of a Stephen King book.
Would he drive on then? Homewards, like? Or the place he called home.
He realized he had no choice. So he drove home. Through familiar streets, which was a relief. Through his familiar neighbourhood. With the houses he recognized and the familiar cars on the driveways. And some of the kids he had seen before. Kids who lived in the neighbourhood. Except for the Camry, things seemed all right.
But his key did not fit in the lock of the front door. It was his front door, his house all right. Familiar. Except for the bushes to the right, which weren’t there anymore. Had Mary decided to get rid of the bushes, while he was away?
He could not open the door. So he rang. Whatever the reason for his key not fitting, he was not going to stay outside. He was tired, and he was concerned about what was happening to him, and he also felt slightly dizzy.
Mary opened the door. She frowned. Of course she did. He stood there, key in hand, and he had pressed the bell.
But then the strangest thing happened. He was seeing Mary, but he realized the women standing before him was Amy. As if the two women occupied the same physical space. As if they even occupied the same body.
He tried to remain calm. He was probably going through some episode or something, like his mind was playing tricks on him. Tricks. His mind. He was seeing things that weren’t there. He was remembering things that weren’t true. His life story was all messed up. Mary. Amy. The car. The diner.
Amy/Mary looked at him. “Lost your key again, honey?”
Had he lost his key before? When was that? He couldn’t remember.
She stepped back. “Get in. You look like you could use a good night’s sleep.”
Had he not slept the night before, in the hotel in Boston? The flight had been a short one, not long enough to mess with his sleep pattern. He had dozed off on the plane, however. Had he? Yes, he usually did. Flights were boring.
He entered the house.
It was not his house.
He did not have a record collection. Vinyl, for God’s sake. He did not have an old-fashioned stereo with a turntable. He had an iPod and a B&O. He downloaded his music. Legally. And the tv in the corner was not his either. This was a smaller model. Mary had wanted a large set, and he had bought her one, last December. And where were the books? The bookcase was empty, but for framed pictures and little glass things he did not recognize.
This must be Amy/Mary’s doing. Or his mind was on the fritz.
Alzheimer’s, perhaps. The onset of. Or a brain tumour. So many things can creep up on you.
“What’s wrong, honey?” she asked. “You really seem confused. How was LA?”
He turned towards her. He hadn’t been to LA. Not in several years. His company no longer did any business in LA. Mary knew that. Amy/Mary seemed to think otherwise.
And then he noticed Amy/Mary seemed to have aged. She looked older than he remembered her. He was thirty-two, she was two years his junior. This woman still looked youthful, but she no longer was thirty. More lines, more grey. Still the same body, more or les, but…
He stepped back.
“I’ll prepare you something to eat. You’re hungry, I guess,” she said, as if food would be the only solution to his problem. Whatever that was.
And while she entered the kitchen, she said: “Your dad will be home in a moment.”
He needed to let that sink in.
His dad would be home in a moment.
Why would his dad come here, and why did Amy/Mary use that particular phrase? As if his dad lived here?
His dad had been dead for six years.
He would not be coming home anywhere.
And he had never lived in this house either.
Amy/Mary was busy in the kitchen. She called: “Leave your stuff in the hall. I’ll pick it up later and put the dirty linen in the machine.”
He would. She would.
He sat down in the unfamiliar couch.
The front door opened.
Amy/Mary came out of the kitchen. “Dad’s here,” she announced. She walked into the hall and said: “Hi, Bill, how was your day, honey?”
“All right,” a male voice said.
Bill got up.
He felt dizzy.
A man stepped into the living room.
Bill recognized the man at once.
It was Bill.
“Hi, son,” the man said.
Bill. Not his father. Or actually, yes, in a sense this man would be his father. The man was the Bill he himself would be, in twenty years. A man with an almost-grown up son — a son who had just returned from a trip to LA and had driven his ancient Camry from the airport.
He was that man.
He was both men, but not at the same instant.
And he, Bill junior, confused, and somewhat terrified, could only say: “Hi, dad.”