Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Excerpt: Or Your Money Back

From Or Your Money Back. The POV is Seb, a dream who was brought to life and is now working for his creator.

I am beginning to learn the business of The Dream Doctor. Thaddeus says it’s a slow season for dream actualization, so there are fewer clients to admit. Even Gail the protester seems to realize this, and she spends more of her time in front of the shop talking on her cell phone than hoisting her sign and shouting at passers by. I tilt the blinds beside my desk sometimes when I get bored and watch her eat her lunch. Every day she brings an orange, and she peels it a bit at a time, biting into the exposed flesh like it’s an apple instead of breaking away the individual segments. It leaves a mess on the sidewalk for me to clean up, but asking her to bag it herself only results in an argument - according to Gail, if God grew it from the ground, it’s not littering. I’m not sure God is mentioned in the city littering laws, but she leans so close to my face when she argues with her eyes so wide that I’m a little afraid to confront her with the facts.

Because of the slow stream of clients, it’s easy for me to get in time for my routes. And the routes are where most of my learning occurs.

I learn that I am in the business of wants. No one needs what we are selling - not really. For some, like the boy in the middle of the map who asked for a six-foot tall tiger emperor, their commission from The Dream Doctor actively complicates their lives. This boy’s mother complains to me because her son’s tiger has declared the house his kingdom and demanded to make a throne room out of her craft room.

“Derek never plays with him anymore,” she tells me, rolling her eyes. “‘His royal majesty’ has made a mess of my scrapbooking supplies, and he used up most of my beads making himself a crown.”

I add her comments to her client page. “Would you mind if I spoke to the, uh, emperor myself?”

“Do what you want, but he doesn’t speak English,” she shrugs with a small huff. To herself, she adds, “Wish I’d thought to get the Fail Safe.”

I try to ask my predecessor’s questions to the massive tiger who’s seated on a throne of cardboard boxes in the craft room, but all I get in return is growls.

A man living in a squalid rental house near the park has an elderly woman with large sheer wings living on his back porch. The entire time I’m talking with him, she’s puttering around in the kitchen, baking cookies. There are piles of cookies scattered all across the countertops, cookies on the end tables in the living room, cookies stacked precariously on the banister leading upstairs, and cookie crumbs everywhere. The man eats three cookies while answering my survey questions, and his dream offers me one. It’s warm and gooey, a perfect blend of bittersweet chocolate and toffee.

“Does she cook anything else?” I ask.

“Why?” says the dreamer, as if I’ve asked something incredibly stupid. That’s when I notice the pizza boxes stashed under the kitchen table.

One older widow on the top right corner of the map has at least twelve dreams living in her house, all of them cats. As I sit in her parlor between a stack of old magazines as tall as myself and a collection of ceramic angels, trying not to make a face at the mildewy air, she introduces me to all of her cats by name. All of her dream-cats were once real cats she had - and, she informs me, all of her real cats are destined to one day be reborn via Thaddeus’s business, assuming she dreams about them. I can’t tell the difference between the real cats and the dream cats.

A young woman in an apartment complex near the shop has a pet hedgehog that rides in her shirt pocket, whispering directions to her when she gets lost. I think this is my favorite use of Dream Doctor technology - until, that is, her boyfriend points out to me that she could have bought a GPS device instead and wouldn’t need to feed it.

Yes, it’s definitely a business of want. Listening to the dreamers talk about their dreams fills me with wonder. How can one world contain so much want? I was content when I was a figment of Bella’s imagination - I wanted nothing, needed nothing. Now, I find myself eyeing everything appealing around me, trying it on for size in my mind: clothing in shop windows, apartments I visit, lives belonging to other people. I think of what Sky asked me about wanting someone other than Bella, though, and I still can’t imagine that.

But I am beginning to figure out something I do want, above and beyond the shop windows and casually tried-on lives. A calling, maybe, like he was talking about. I think…I think I want to help someone. And I think I know just the someone to start with.

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