What do you expect when you open the door in the morning? To see a familiar street, to see children racing up the pathways, dressed in school uniform. Sometimes you open it at the exact moment the postman is about to deliver your mail. In that instance it is common to regret wearing your baggiest tracksuit bottoms and a completely unflattering top. That is what I expected as I pulled the door towards me that morning. I did not expect this.
A mirror. Someone held up a mirror to scare me. Somehow they painted the slabs leading down the lawn on it. They found a way to superimpose the hedgerows which surround my garden on it, the large iron gate which keeps the world at bay. But its movements were not my own. It had my same chestnut-coloured hair, it curled in the same places just below the ears. It had my brown eyes, my annoyingly oversized upper-lip. It’s me. A better-dressed version of me.
“Don’t freak out,” it said, raising its hands. “I’m here to tell you something which you need to hear.”
“Me, freak, no,” I said. “I intend on doing something very rational,” I emphasised the ‘rational’ part with my foot as I aimed at the thing with full force and velocity.
It didn’t hesitate, it didn’t panic, it just calmly and swiftly lifted its hand and diverted my foot out of harm’s way.
“I did the same thing too Cassandra. When I stood where you are. I don’t want to fight you, and believe me, you don’t want to fight me. We need to talk. I haven’t got long before it pulls me back.” It used the same tone of voice I use when I’m trying to be gentle, but feeling stressed.
“So let’s fast-forward to the test shall we?” it told me. “I want you to think of a question, a question only you know the answer to. A secret that you’ve never told anybody else. Don’t say the question, just think it.”
I had always wanted to have one of these dreams where I’m lucid. They sounded like such fun. So I decided to play along.
“Okay, I’ve got one,” I said.
“Megan’s electric toothbrush,” it said, not missing a beat. “Now can we go indoors?”
I stepped back into the house and let her across the threshold. Either this was a very weird dream, or this girl was really me. That or a mind-reading alien with a visual cloning device, but I figured if they were that advanced, resistance was kinda futile anyway. We walked through the short hallway and went into the front-room. The TV was still on so I grabbed the remote and turned it off, placing the remote back down on my stack of half-read Companion Animal magazines. I had a feeling that I needed to sit down for this.
“Well,” I said. “What’s so important that you – or I – had to break the laws of physics?”
“Exactly what you think Cassandra,” she said.
“I die huh?”
Perhaps I should have been shocked at this revelation, but it all seemed so ridiculous. She conveyed our doom with such matter-of-fact seriousness that I began to doubt my own sanity for conjuring up such bizarre dreams for myself.
“So what do I do to keep my foot bucket-free then?” I asked.
“It’s simple enough Cassandra, do nothing. Don’t leave the house before tomorrow and the outcome will change.”
“Okay then, thanks for stopping by,” I said.
“There’s a catch though…”
Her tone shifted. Before it had a hint of urgency, now it had a weight to it. She stared down at the carpet as she spoke, her hands began to awkwardly rub together. I started to worry, I knew that look in her eyes. I went from incredulous to nervous in mere seconds. She cleared her throat and continued.
“… I died doing something. There was a man, he was in danger and I saved him,” she said.
“No problem,” I said with some relief. “Just tell me who he is, and I can save him without getting all corpsified.”
“I don’t know his name,” she said.
I got up from the chair I was sat in and walked over to the window. The gate had just opened and the postman had started to walk down my lawn stepping carefully onto the middle of each slab. I stood and watched his approach, folding my arms.
“Where did it happen?” I asked. I waited a few seconds but no reply came. The postman was looking at me now. He smiled as he fumbled through a stack of letters, before averting his gaze down to the addresses on the front. I turned around to face my doppelgänger.
She was gone.
Fantastic, I thought, that’s the most helpful use of time-travel ever devised. She couldn’t have come with a powerpoint presentation, crudely drawn comic-book or something. No, I have to get the cryptic crossword version of myself. Fine, dream-weirdness over. Can I please wake up now?
I sat back down, ignoring the pile of post which had just fallen through the letterbox. Why would I tell myself this? Did she want me to not save the guy? Did she regret giving her own life for someone else?
There’s an entire area of psychology called altruism which is devoted to this very question. You read lots of stories about people saving the lives of others, putting their own at risk, but how often do they get twenty-four hours notice. How do you begin to make an informed choice about something like this. If I at least had his name I could find out if he’s somebody worth saving. Quick visit to Facebook, see if his profile picture is captioned “welcome to the gun show,” and I can happily put my feet up for the evening. All I had was a abstract notion of one life versus my own.
You go to school, college, and university thinking that you’re going to do something important. Change the world and all that. This was my way to make an impact, yeah, but why now? Is it selfish to consider twenty-six as too young to die? What if Mr. Boddy is that age too?
I sat for hours trying to see it from every single angle. At one stage I even broke out a pro and con list. I phoned my mum, my dad and my little sister Megan to… something. I don’t know what I wanted from them: a reason to live, a chance to say goodbye. I suppose I got both out of each phone call. I didn’t tell them any of this. I had no desire to be carted off to the nuthouse just yet.
The afternoon ticked away and the evening drew in. I still felt numb, unsure. This is far too heavy for a child to take. I shouldn’t have this burden on me. Why did I do this to myself? Why put myself through all this agony? I started to pace around the room, I needed some air more than anything, the house was suffocating. I walked over to the front-door, kicking aside the pile of post which still lay there. My hand rested on the handle. This was probably it, the point of no return. I was starting to wish that this had been a split-second decision. I’d like to think that in that case I’d make the right choice. My hand was still paralysed. I stared at the door and started to map the grain pattern in my mind.
“What the hell!” I shouted kicking the door, it hit its target this time.
“All I wanted was a normal day off work,” I said to no one in particular. “A normal day…”
My voice dissipated into nothing and I walked to the stairs behind me and sat down on the second step, staring at the door still. I flattened my skirt over my knees and rested my chin on them, still just staring.
“It’s too much,” I said, tears beginning to form. “No one could expect me to do this.”
I stood up and climbed up the stairs and went into my bedroom. I fell down face-forwards and screamed into the quilt. I was so tired. I was sorry for him, I truly was, but I can’t give up on everything I’ve worked for, I can’t do it to all the people I love. I had to think about them. My eyes closed and I started to picture him getting run over, getting stabbed, falling in the river. Every part of me pushed for me to run downstairs, out in to the street and to do what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t. I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to wipe the day into the past.
I woke up. It felt like years later but it was still dark out. The guilt had hardened into a resolve to live the best life I could, to make every second count. To do something truly worthwhile.
There was a creak from the corner of the room. It all went black.
“Shh. Don’t fight,” a male voice said with calm resolve as my limbs flailed around helplessly.
I felt something sharp start to scratch down my arm, there was something over my face. I couldn’t breathe. I think somebody wanted to test me.
I think I failed.