Tag Archives: yegwriting

Coupland

They pulled me out and all I could think about was my wife. The sweat dripping down my face burned my eyes and I could feel my sticking along my forehead. But I didn’t remember having hair. I had just shaved my head. My hairline was receding so my wife convinced me to shave it all off, saying a bald man looked better than a balding man. Her words convincing me to shave my head and the first time she helped me with the razor cleaning off what was left of my hair gripped my mind as I pushed the rogue strands of hair away from my face.

“Coupland,” I heard a man say. “Coupland, are you with us?”

“His brain’s still submerged,” a woman’s voice said. “We pulled him out too fast.”

Everything was a blur. Like the sun was pulled out of the sky and sitting in front of my face. A glaring light blared into my eyes and it took a few moments before I could make out any shapes.

“Coupland,” the man’s voice repeated. “Coupland, focus on my voice, Coupland.”

“Who’s Coupland?” I mustered enough focus and strength to grit out between my teeth.

“You’re Coupland,” the man’s voice continued. “Coupland Wilson. That’s your name. Is that familiar to you?”

The name was ringing something in my mind. But I was also trying to hold onto the image of my wife. It was slipping. I was losing some of her features. I couldn’t remember her eye colour.

“Where’s my wife?” it was becoming easier to speak.

“Coupland, you don’t have a wife,” the man’s voice said.

“Yes, I do!” I shouted back. “We’ve been married for thirty years! We have two kids together and a grandchild on the way!”

“What’s your wife’s name?” the man’s voice asked.

I didn’t have an answer. My wife’s name, my kids’ names, even the names we were considering for our first grandchild. Or was it our second? It was all slipping. Like waking from a vivid dream and trying to remember all the small details. I was losing more and more of her every second.

My eyes adjusted to the light and I focused in on the two people standing in the room with me. One man and one woman. The man was balding but let the salt and pepper hair on the sides grow out a little. I immediately thought about my hair but couldn’t remember if I let it grow out or kept it shaved. The woman was older, maybe in her 40s, but at that point I could have sworn I was in my sixties. She was holding a clipboard. I recognized them both.

“His pupils are dilating properly,” she shined a bright light into my eyes. “He’s focussing as well. I think he’s finally fully out of submersion.”

“Coupland,” the man knelt down beside where I sitting. “Do you know where you are?”

The name came to me fast, like every important name I was losing was being replaced with the names of what I wanted to forget. “Delton Rec Labs,” I answered.

“That’s right,” the man said. I remembered his name. Michael Gartner. He was the salesperson who sold me the package. I looked to the woman and she busily scribbled notes on her clipboard. I remembered her name too. Doctor Vanessa Taryn. We were introduced just before I went in. She was the staff neurologist. She was there to make sure I came back to reality okay.

“Okay, Coupland,” Gartner continued. “Try to stand up and walk. There is a physician here if you can’t feel your legs. That’s quite common. You’ve been submerged for a while.”

“How long?” I asked.

“Just over…” Gartner’s voice trailed off as he looked at the screens hovering above me. “Three hours.”

Three hours. That’s how much time I actually spent with her. It felt like a lifetime. Dating, living together, marriage, kids growing up, her parents dying, my parents dying. I think she got sick too. Cancer was it? I remember sitting at the hospital with her. Holding her hand. I remember holding her and crying when the doctor told us she was better. I don’t remember what the doctor looked like. All I can pull from my memory is a white lab coat. Three hours. That’s all I actually had with her.

“Not the longest we’ve ever had,” Gartner smiled. “But, we’re hoping the longest without any long-term side-effects.”

Side effects. That’s how I was able to get this package. Virtual vacations were usually reserved for the exceptionally rich. I was far from any kind of wealth. But they offered free vacations for anyone willing to risk being an experiment. They could only improve and enhance the services with human subjects. Rats and dogs didn’t exactly react to the stimuli the same way humans did.

The more that came back to me, the less I wanted any of it and the more I wanted to go back to my wife.

Gartner and Dr. Taryn unhooked all of the medical readout instruments that were strapped to me and I stood up, losing my balance at first and falling to my knees. After a couple more tries, I was able to stand on my feet and I was slowly led out of the room and into another room with a single table and two chairs, one on either side.

Dr. Taryn ran through some questions with me about my life. While she spoke, I remembered filling out a questionnaire with all of the same questions. All questions about my life, where I live, who my parents were. It was all back and I could answer the questions, but some took me a while to find the answer. I had to dig through my memory, figure out what was real and what I was remembering from the vacation. A lot of it was muddling together. The more we talked, the easier it was to place what was real and what wasn’t. But there were definite moments when my real life and my virtual life became indistinguishable.

Because the experiment was a success, they gave me an honorarium. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough that I didn’t have to worry about hustling for a few weeks. I looked around the streets outside of Delton Rec Labs and tried to remember which way was my apartment. I remembered it was a short walk and I recognized a few of the alleys I would sell pills near. After about twenty minutes of wandering, I found my building. It was dark out and one of storefront windows in the building reflected back at me. I didn’t recognize my reflection at first, the dark hair hanging along my forehead, the stubble all around my face, even my eyes looked weird to me. I thought they were blue. But they looked more green to me in that reflection.

There were a lot of cards in my wallet, but the only one I wanted was my keycard to get into the building. I sorted through the credit cards, gym membership card, buyers club cards for the grocery store and IKEA and GameStop, and I found the keycard into the building. It was behind my employee ID. I worked at Delton Rec Lab. That must have been how I heard they needed test subjects. Probably posted over the urinals at the office. This is where the confusion really hit. If I worked at Delton Rec Labs, why was I selling pills?

The answer came when I got into my apartment. They forgot to warn me about the nausea. I got through the front door and instinctively ran to the bathroom, where I didn’t even make it to the toilet before I was throwing up. Most of it got into the sink and I checked the cabinet behind the mirror to see if I had anything that would help this feeling that the room was spinning and my stomach was turning itself inside out. I found nine prescription bottles. Each one was for something different: diazepam, thorazine, fluvoxamine, trazodone, lorazepam, nizatidine, cimetidine, Percocet, and morphine. There was no way I could be taking all of these. I wondered which I was selling.

After cleaning up the bathroom, I wandered around the apartment, remembering where I left everything. I didn’t have a TV, but I thought I did. Most people didn’t own TVs anymore, so I don’t know why I thought I would have had one. Maybe me in the vacation simulation had a TV. I checked out the fridge only to find bottles of beer, a Chinese food takeout box that smelled awful, and some moldy pizza. I felt like I didn’t usually let my fridge, or any part of my apartment, get this bad. Could I have been submerged a little longer than they were letting on? My coffee table had a thick layer of dust, my closet didn’t have a lot of clothes in it, I didn’t even notice a toothbrush when I was in the bathroom.

My pocket vibrated and I pulled out my phone. The call display said Sofia. I couldn’t remember if I knew anyone named Sofia. “Hello?” I answered the phone.

“Are you done playing lab rat?” a shrill voice came over phone.

“Yeah,” I answered. “Sorry, who is this?”

“The fuck?” her voice climbed high. “Did using that virtual vacation shit fuck with your brain? It’s Sofia. You’re fucking girlfriend,” she annunciated slowly. “Where are you?”

“My apartment?” I answered.

“What the fuck are you doing there?” she spat out fast enough that it could have been one word. “You haven’t been there in weeks. Your stash run dry?”

“Yeah,” I played, trying to understand what was going on. It didn’t take long to surmise she meant my pill stash. I guess I just used this place to store my overstock. “Just grabbing a couple of refills.”

“Can you grab some extra thorazine and Percocet?” she asked. “I got some eager buyers.”

Wandering again through the streets, I slowly pieced together which way was Sofia’s apartment. It wasn’t too far from my apartment, but the neighbourhood seemed drastically different. The Delton Rec Labs and my apartment building was in a downtown, urbanized area. There were tall buildings all around and neon lights glowing and LED screens blaring out advertisements for deodorant and tampons and condoms. But those few blocks to Sofia’s apartment was like crossing into a whole other continent. I felt unsafe and it worried me. My memories slowly recollected and I knew I had been here hundreds of times and that I slept more often here than I did at my own place. This time, though, was different. The broken out windows and boarded up doors along the buildings spray-painted with bright coloured tags looked completely foreign to me. The smell of human waste in the alleyways and sounds of snoring and groaning homeless only added to my unease. I thought that I wanted to be anywhere else in the world at that moment.

Sofia’s apartment had thicker layers of dust on all her surfaces than my apartment did. There were empty bottles on the dining room table and all along the kitchen countertops. A baseball bat leaned next to the front door. A thick stench of smoke and body odour hung all around. “What took you so long?” she said as I came in through the doorway.

“Had some problems remembering how to get here,” I said.

“That shit really fucked with your brain, didn’t it?” she continued. “You make more money selling pills than you do working at that place. I don’t know why you don’t just quit, stop playing lab rat for those fucks, and hustle full time. It’s easy.”

I immediately felt repulsed by her. It wasn’t her looks, she was pretty. Her attitude, her aura, her energy, all that new-agey bullshit I never thought I would trust is what bothered me. As more memories and moments flooded back to me, I realized I was less her boyfriend and more her supplier. I had been realizing that, even before I submerged. Maybe that’s why I volunteered. A chance to get away from all of it, even if only for three hours.

“I can’t quit,” I said. “I quit, I lose my benefits, which means we lose our stash. And I don’t think either of us wants to start paying the pharmacist for these pills. Cuts into that profit margin.”

She popped open a yellow bottle and popped a couple of pills and swallowed them dry. “Right,” she said after she finished swallowing. “Definitely need that. It’s too bad. We could fuck all day and hustle all night.”

“Right, romantic,” I said, reaching into my pocket and handing her the pills she asked for.

“What the fuck’s gotten into you?” she took the bottles. “If I suggested that yesterday, or fuck, even this morning, you would have been all over that and trying to rip my clothes off.”

A sudden urge to ask something I had never asked anyone before suddenly came over me. “Do you want to go to the beach?”

“The beach? Are you fucking kidding?” she chuckled. “There’s no beaches around here. I can’t even name where there is a single beach. Who the fuck are you? Are you still fucking dreaming or something?”

No beaches. Somewhere in me, I could still smell the salt water in the air, feel the sun on my bare arms, hear waves running up along the shore. Had I never actually been to the beach before? I looked outside the window and watched the neon lights flicker against the grey sky and wet concrete. These signs never turned off. All night the glow of advertisements breaking through the window, waking people up to enticement of cheap sex, bad food, and useless junk that would be collecting dust or at the bottom of a landfill in just a few days. I didn’t want any of this. I wanted the beach.

My phone rang and I saw the name Gartner on the call display. “Hey, Coupland,” Gartner began. “We noticed some very interesting things on your brain scan and we’d like you to come back for some further experiments. I know this is sudden and unexpected, but we can schedule these tests whenever works best for you.”

I took another look around the apartment, at Sofia, the pills in her hands, I played with the bottle of pills still in my pocket. “How about right now?” I asked.

“Are you sure?” Gartner replied. “I mean, this is highly irregular. Typically we need a week between submersions. But your scans are showing no long term defects or hazards, so we won’t say no so long as you’re sure.”

“Completely sure,” I said, hanging up the phone. I reached into my pocket and threw Sofia my keys and the other bottle of pills. “It’s all yours,” I said. “I don’t want this anymore.”

“You’re breaking up with me?” her eyes didn’t show sadness. They showed anger. We had no emotional connection. I was her hook up. She was my physical outlet. I didn’t like that anymore. I didn’t want that.

“Something like that,” I said, walking to the door. “Take whatever you want from the apartment.”

“What, you’re abandoning it?”

“I guess so,” the truth was, I didn’t want her finding me after this. Whatever would come after my next submersion, I wanted to make sure I didn’t go back to this life. It showed me something. I could be something else. I may have once wanted this kind of life and revelled in it, but something awoke and I knew I needed to find something else.

“So you’ll just live in your fantasy world forever now?”

“Yeah,” I said, walking through the doorway. “Something like that.”

I took a brief physical before sitting back into the chair. The same medical monitoring devices were hooked up to me. I thought that maybe the last time I did this, I would have been nervous. But this time, I was relaxed. I was excited. I was happy.

“So, are we uploading the same program file for my submersion?” I asked.

Gartner smiled. “I was hoping you would ask that,” he said. “There was no program in your submersion. We didn’t simulate or implant anything. That’s what the real experiment was. We wanted to see what would happen if we stimulated your own mind to create what should have been your vacation. In your case, from what it sounded like, you created a whole new life for yourself. That was especially interesting to us. We had never seen that before. Everything you experienced was from your own mind.”

I open my eyes and we’re lying on a beach. The warm sand under my back and scrunched between my toes tells me it’s morning. We fell asleep here. I sit up and watch the water for a moment. Its calm and the waves are slow. The smell of salt water fills the warm air and the sun is beaming down on us.

She rustles a bit and opens here eyes and the peer directly at me. She smiles and I smile back, and we both yawn, stretching our arms still sticky with sweat and caked with sand.

“I can’t believe we slept here all night,” she says. And she’s perfect. Everything about her is absolutely perfect.

“Are you even real?” I ask. “How can someone so… perfect, be real?”

Her eyebrow raises and she chuckles. “What’s that supposed to mean? You think you’re dreaming? Or I’m a figment of your imagination?”

“No…” I trail off, staring at the water again. “I don’t know. Just a weird feeling I guess.”

I lie back down and she rests beside me. Her head nestles in her favourite spot, right where my arm meets my shoulder. “Reassure me this isn’t a dream,” I say. “What’s your name?”

She sits up and looks at me. “What?” she’s smiling. It’s like she never isn’t smiling and I never want her to stop smiling. “You are so weird sometimes.”

“Just humour me,” I continue. “Tell me your name.”

She leans in and kisses me on the check. And, into my ear, she gently whispers her name.

 

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Garrison and the Pub

He patted the old red brick wall, as if someone on the other side might hear and open a secret door that no one else can see. “I swear, it was right here,” Garrison said as he stepped back and looked all around at the aged building, looking like he’s taking stock of every brick. “There was a door here, and it opened to a stairwell. There were maybe a dozen steps and at the bottom of those stairs, that’s where it was.”

“The pub,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “The one where you swear you saw an elf?”

“Are you sure it wasn’t…” Tillie hesitated to finish her thought. “It wasn’t just a little person?”

Garrison looked back to my girlfriend. He rubbed the stubble on his face and used his hand to comb back his dark, greasy hair that grew long enough to cover most of his forehead. “Little person?” he questioned. “You’re thinking of Santa’s elves. Elves are actually tall and slender.”

“You mean Tolkien elves,” I interjected. Garrison and I both loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We met in an English lit class and we worked on a group project studying the Tolkien mythology in the context of the 1960s. Through that project, I got the sense that he liked Tolkien a lot more than I did. And maybe took it a bit too seriously. “Remember, there’s plenty of European mythology with elves who were tiny.”

“Yeah, I know!” Garrison barked. “But I’m not talking about those elves. I’m talking about sharp blue eyes, pale skin, and pointed ears.”

“Okay, so you think you saw Elrond at a pub last night,” I continued. The building we were standing in front of was maybe four stories tall and quite old. I couldn’t tell quite how old, but all the buildings around Camden looked like they might have started pretty old but had some work done for the tourists. There were plenty of pubs around Camden, so it didn’t surprise any of us when Garrison told us we had to find this one cool spot he visited the night before. But when he dragged me and Tillie into the alleyway where he swore the door to the pub was, I had to question how much he drank last night.

“It wasn’t Elrond,” Garrison said. “More like Arwen, and I need to find her again.”

It had been a long time since Garrison met a girl he liked. Tillie and I were starting to think maybe he was asexual. We met plenty of people while at Camden University who came out as gay, bisexual, and asexual. It was never a big deal to any of us and Garrison always seemed quite curious about these other orientations. Maybe it was just to explore his options.

University was tough on him. It should have been the best, party-fuelled years of his life. Instead, he spent most of the parties drunkenly embarrassing himself trying to talk with pretty well any girl who hadn’t already rejected him. Being his flatmate wasn’t easy through those years. There were a few times I was certain he killed himself in the bathroom. He would lock himself in all night throwing up whatever he drank and smoked and dropped and snorted. No substance was off limits for Garrison and I was certain his heart would give out at any time. When he tried telling us he met an elf at a basement pub in the Camden party district, I thought his mind gave out before his heart did.

“Okay, let’s say this pub exists,” Tillie began in her completely wonderful rational sort of way. She was good at talking to Garrison, especially while he was on edge. I always told her she missed her calling as a social worker. But I also knew she was living her passion designing the kinds of buildings that give cities their skyline shape. “We should retrace your steps, make sure this is actually where you found the door.”

“I know this is where I found the door,” Garrison said. “I remember walking out of the same door and stopping for a shawarma at the counter right across the street.”

Garrison pointed to the falafel takeout counter. We walked out of the alleyway and jogged across the street to the closed eatery. Tillie pressed her face against the glass door to look inside. I stared up at the grey sky. It was another cloudy day. I missed the regular sun this time of year back home in the Okanagan. Garrison and I both moved back after we finished our degrees at Camden, the same degrees we could have got at UBC, but decided we wanted to add a worldly adventure to our formal education. That’s where I met Tillie and she moved back to Canada with me, though we made regularly pilgrimages across the pond to visit her family and stop in at our old favourite watering holes.

“This place does keep late night hours,” Tillie said as she moved away from the glass door. “Do you have a receipt from your late night snack?”

Garrison reached into his khaki pockets and then into his windbreaker’s pockets. He pulled out a single, small piece of paper and looked down at it. “I think this is it,” he said. “I paid cash, so all I have is a till receipt showing I paid six pounds. No time or address.”

“The register inside does look old,” Tillie said. She looked down either side of the block. “And you’re sure you had to go through an alleyway to get to this pub?”

“Absolutely,” he answered. “Maybe I just can’t see it because it’s daylight. I need to come back at night to find this place.”

Tillie wrapped her blue cardigan tighter to herself as a cold wind blew by. She kicked some of the street water off of her brown boots and looked over to me. “Shall we pub crawl tonight?”

It was after dark when we finally left the hotel to retrace Garrison’s steps. He hung out in our hotel room the whole time and even ordered room service for us all. Despite having his own room just next door, he didn’t want to leave us. I guess he didn’t want to be alone.

The streets of Camden were as busy as I always remembered them. My finishing school didn’t slow down the party scene and plenty of college-aged kids were still out, drinking until they were slurring their words and walking like they can feel the world around them spinning.

Garrison was taking long swigs from his mickey of whisky as he marched us to his first stop from the night before. As we moved through the night before’s stops, Garrison started blending more with the young college crowd roaming the streets. His walk turned to a shuffle and a stumble. His words made less sense and he needed to repeat everything at least twice. I hadn’t taken a single drink that whole night. I grew past that, started to find it boring and pointless. Garrison was still right in it. This discrepancy between us didn’t dawn on me until we walked through those streets together.

“I don’t fucking get it,” Garrison mumbled, staring again at the blank brick wall. “It was here. We walked exactly what I walked last night. I retraced all of my steps. The fucking shawarma place is even open. Where the fuck did it go?”

“Maybe it’s time we accepted that the pub doesn’t exist,” I said. “Maybe you stumbled into somewhere else and you don’t remember. I don’t doubt that you met someone last night –”

“Yes you do!” Garrison shoved me. “You do fucking doubt it. You doubt everything with me. I don’t even know why you hang out with me still. Why you bring me on these fucking trips, just to rub in my face you have someone else now you get to travel and do cool shit with. And I have fucking no one. I’m not your fucking charity case! I don’t need you to bring me along to shit because you feel sorry for me!”

“I never said I felt sorry for you!” I screamed at him, my fists clenched.

“You don’t need to say it,” he spat back. “Everything about you says that. Well fuck you! I don’t need it. I’ll find this fucking place on my own!”

Garrison walked off. A light drizzle came down and I could feel water dripping through my hair and down my forehead. Tillie hugged me and said, “Why don’t you head back. I’ll keep an eye on him. He didn’t mean what he said. He just needs to blow off some steam.”

“You heard what he said,” I pointed to him. “He doesn’t want us around.”

“He doesn’t want you around,” she stressed. “You know I can talk to him better than anyone else. He’ll open up to me. I’ll get him to calm down, we’ll come back to the hotel, crash, and find some breakfast in the morning and it will be like nothing has changed.”

“I think that’s the problem,” I quipped. “He hasn’t changed.”

“Despite your composed outer exterior, you haven’t changed much either,” Tillie quipped back. “You’re still condescending, conceded, arrogant –”

“Then why are you with me?” I asked, maybe a little too harshly.

“Because,” she looked up at me. “Because despite all your flaws, you’re a good person with a good heart. And I get to see that every time you’re with Garrison. He’s your best friend. And you need him, and he needs you, just like I need you. I’m going to talk him down over a pint and in the morning, things will be fine. I promise.”

I kissed her the way I hoped to kiss her on our wedding day and walked back to the hotel. With my wet clothes still stuck to my body, I fell into the bed and instantly asleep.

The daylight through the window woke me and I saw Tillie sitting on a chair, staring out the window. It was the first bit of sunshine we had seen since we landed and she watched it the way I’ve seen old people sit by the lake and watch the waves crash in and out. She looked to me and smiled.

“So, where are we going for breakfast,” I asked.

“I have something to tell you,” she began. “It was about last night.”

“What is it?” I sat back down on the bed, worried something terrible happened to her or to Garrison. “What happened? Is everyone ok?”

“Everyone’s fine,” she smiled. “You won’t believe it, but, we found it. We found the pub.”

She told me how talking over a single pint suddenly turned into talking over many pints and shots. She couldn’t even remember which pub they were at, but they fell out and decided to try and find the door one last time. And there it was. Exactly where Garrison said it was.

Just like Garrison’s story, there was a stairwell, maybe a dozen stairs, and a basement bar. Tillie went on about all the strange people at this bar and how she had never seen any people who looked like that before. She described small men with large hairy feet, hooded figures with bows and quivers of arrows strapped to their backs, armoured men with swords hilted at their sides, and beautiful pale people who were tall, thin, and had pointed ears.

I started to assume that she had even more to drink last night than she had let on and maybe even someone slipped something into her drink. But she insisted she saw all of these things, ripped right from the books Garrison and I studied in university and Garrison continued to obsess over after we finished school. She even said she saw the elf girl.

Tillie’s account was that Garrison had wandered off once they were in the pub and as she stumbled around for a bit trying to catch up, she finally found him in the corner of the bar, talking to the beautiful woman. But not just casually talking, but instantly talking passionately with her. Like they had been talking for hours by the time Tillie found them. He was leaning in, his hands on the table illustrating a story. She had her hand on her check, and she was giggling and mesmerized by every one of Garrison’s words. Tillie had never seen Garrison talk to anyone like that before, let alone a woman who he was obviously drawn to.

“Where is he now?” I asked. “Did he come back last night?”

“When I was ready to leave, I asked him what he wanted to do,” Tillie explained. “He smiled and he said he was going to stay a while. I’d never seen him smile like that before. I think he was actually truly happy.”

He didn’t come back to the hotel. He didn’t make it to the flight back to the Okanagan. He wasn’t there when I proposed to Tillie or on our wedding day. He was gone. My best friend was gone and for a while, it bothered me. Tillie was right, I did need him. But as time wore on, I realized that despite needing him, I would be ok. I had my memories with him. I could always recount a story of one of our drunken nights together running around the streets of Camden. I thought I was being a bad friend at first by leaving him behind. But, the way Tillie told the story, leaving him behind was the best thing I could have done. What he found in that pub made him truly happy and there was nothing more in the world that I ever could have wanted for my friend Garrison.

 

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