A tune hums in the background, simultaneously familiar and unknown, effortlessly mixing with the soft sound of rainfall that muffles the background cacophony that is a typical Friday night in Toronto. Paul sits comfortably on his mid-century-modern fabric couch, his first piece of real “adult” furniture, eyes closed and legs crossed, his mind flowing like a winding river, pausing at each bend to consider it’s significance. Perched amongst the clouds in his small one-bedroom condo, there is a sort of community in the shared desire of being alone. The long chain of introspective thought is suddenly broken by a familiar vibration and a brightening screen. The notification draws his attention, a conversation with a friend, a coworker, a lover. He picks up his phone to read the latest message, just banter tonight, a bend in a different sort of river.
He’s downed a cup of magical tea this evening, the golden tops are having their profound effect. Thoughts linger and then vanish, some more important than others but for no discernible reason. This is the beauty of the trip, at once lost and found amongst a symphony of thoughts, each proceeding to their own rhythm, apart from, but still part of, a unified whole. As Paul stares out past his balcony, a notification illuminates and demands his attention once again. A picture, but really more of an invitation. Distance is more a matter of comfort than it is of kilometers in this modern age. Much easier to flirt on a screen from the couch than it would be to put the effort into making himself look presentable and taking the relatively short trip to her house. Distance is relative, as much in the mind as it is in the physical world.
Another ephemeral thought passes through his mind before a reminder from his digital assistant brings him back to the present moment. Laundry, one hour in the wash, thirty minutes in the dryer, a week before it's put away. Another routine chore in a life that has become very much the same. Paul had such dreams when he was young, or at least he liked to think so, really those dreams were of getting to just where he is now; a successful thirty-something, living out prescribed formula for a “good” life. Own your home, drive a nice car, do what you love, take the occasional trip overseas, get married and have kids. That last part might still be eluding him but it’s easily justified and reasoned away in his mind, just a product of the current social reality, people are getting married later in life, he’s got plenty of time.
A knock at the door suddenly breaks the silence but only just, so soft one would be forgiven for not hearing it at all, and at first he thinks to himself that he must have been mistaken, he’s not expecting anyone after all. A second knock, only slightly louder than the first. Paul gets up slowly, body stiff from not having moved more than what is required to bring a glass of water from the coffee table to his lips. A third knock comes just as he is about to look through the peephole. A young woman with short hair dyed a pale greyish white that could easily blend in against the colour, or lack thereof, found adorning his walls.
A dilemma presents itself, she is rather cute but equally unexpected and uninvited.
“Are you ok, how can I help you?”
A knock in reply, fainter this time, resembling more a reflex more than a deliberate action.
“Hello? Why are you knocking at my door?”
A final faint knock comes just before the mysterious girl collapses against the door.
Panic sets it. Is she ok, who is she, why is she at his door and why has she suddenly collapsed. What if one of his neighbours were to step out now, what would they think? What to do! Just think for a moment he tells himself. Right now she is outside and there has been no physical contact, he can prove that he had nothing to do with whatever it is that's going on with her. This whole situation is very easy to explain as it currently stands, he simply never opened his door.
What if she is sick, maybe she’s having a stroke, she might need medical attention, if he does nothing would he be held responsible?
Paul unlocks the door and prys it open slowly, half expecting this to be some sort of prank his younger sister and one of her friends is playing on him. Nothing but stillness enters from the hallway, apart from the motionless body of this woman it's just the usual sounds and smells coming in from the neighbours, some light electronic music from next door, the smell of Mrs. Patel’s delicious curried rice, nothing out of the ordinary minus the body lying motionless in front of his doorway.
She is still breathing, though a little laboured by the looks of it. Maybe she’s just sleepwalking, a new neighbour from another floor that somehow found her way to his door. Had it not been rather early for someone to be asleep in the first place, not even past 10pm, he might have entertained this explanation a bit longer before moving onto another more plausible scenario but his mind's senses quickly sharpened to the sound of a dog scratching against a door coming from the other side of his floor, the jingling of metal resonating through the hallway as it’s owner attaches the leash. No time left to deliberate, Paul picks up the motionless body of the young woman with white hair, letting the door close behind him as he proceeds to lay her down in the bedroom. He then diverts briefly to the living room in search of his phone, quickly found in its usual hiding place stuck between the couch pillows, before returning to the bedroom to check on the status of his unexpected guest. No change. The only way out of his mess without getting implicated any further is to just call emergency services, give them the full story and let them handle it from here.
Just as Paul is about to press dial on the display he feels a soft hand pull against his arm, it’s the woman, eyes still closed, but her intentions are clear, she is trying to prevent him from completing the call.
“Please, no, no one can know that I’m here” she utters softly before falling out of consciousness again.
Like something out of one of the books Paul so regularly consumes, his life has suddenly taken a turn into the extremely unordinary and most decidedly not routine.
Paul closes his eyes and wishes so very dearly that upon opening them this will all have been a psychedelic-fueled dream, albeit a very strange one, but nonetheless just a dream. Reality intrudes in the form of a young woman with hair the colour of the sky on a bright but overcast day, still very much lying in his bed, breathing now very gently, in an almost childlike sleep. In the same moment, it also occurs to him that his once dream-like high vapourized almost as suddenly as this girl appeared. This is very much reality and she is very much a part of it.
Time has a way of stretching out in moments of extreme distress, or at least our perception of it. To be even more precise, it's really our memory that does the stretching when recalling these moments. Tricky business the mind, we can only recall our past in our memories but our memories are so seldom accurate. Perhaps this is why most of us feel a slight discomfort when watching a recording of an important event in which we are present. Our imperfect memory, at odds with the clinical accuracy of the modern digital era. We would like to live in our constructed fantasy just a little bit longer before it’s rewritten by the mere act of viewing the perfectly rendered retelling of events. Alas, we very quickly accept this much more accurate version of reality, albeit only captured in two-dimensions, viewed from the camera’s perspective, and lacking the rich details only the other senses can provide. It’s not a great stretch of the mind to wonder whether we are ultimately doing ourselves a disservice recording all of our precious moments in such an unforgiving medium. I mention all this so that you have some context for when Paul looks up to his distastefully oversized wall clock and remarks that he can’t believe it’s only been 15 minutes since he was happily melting away on his couch, deep in the random procession of thoughts on offer from his psychedelic fueled trip. Time, or rather his memory of it, has been thoroughly stretched.
Upon conferring with his inner self, Paul decides the following; firstly, he feels very sure that the young woman is not in any immediate mortal danger. Secondly, he does not feel any direct or imminent threat from this young woman or her presence in his space, and finally, going to sleep before 11pm on a Friday is totally acceptable this evening given the circumstances. A good night's rest, or as good a rest as can be had sleeping on the couch, will give way to a morning full of reasonable explanation. These were the last thoughts Paul would string together before dozing off into a deep slumber reserved only for the truly exhausted, skipping right past tired restlessness and into a trance-like stillness. In what seems to have been just the blink of an eye Paul is suddenly awake, his mind hyper aware of the total stillness around him, his body still catching up, sluggish and still very exhausted.
A strained glance of his unassisted eyes towards the already bemoaned wall clock hints at the time being either 4:15 or 3:20, hard to tell without his glasses but of little consequence as to which it is exactly. The remedy to this unsolicited stir in the middle of the night is a glass of water and a trip to the bathroom. On this night that trip passes by his bedroom, the door still open, seemingly just as he left it. However in a twist that seems rather appropriate given the circumstances of everything that has transpired this night, his guest, the young woman, is missing. Feelings of both concern and relief wash over Paul as he continues on the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, he remarks to himself silently how enjoyable the feeling of completely emptying his bladder is, washes his hands, and then returns to the couch where he immediately falls back asleep. This is a problem for tomorrow.
The dawn light shines through the half drawn curtains, near useless in their present state. The stiffness in his neck a physical reminder as to why he avoids such sleeping arrangements. Walking over to the bedroom, the bed is made in the usual way, which is to say it’s passable but likely would not hold up to close scrutiny. Still no young woman, but there is a pile of folded laundry ready to be put away, which ironically is quite possibly the strangest thing that’s happened in the past twelve hours, both because Paul has no memory of any such folding, and because the folding is actually done. Maybe that tea was a little more magical this time around, some combination of hallucination and dream state that constructed the events of the previous evening.
The door, if she was real and if she left in the middle of the night the door would be unlocked. Paul makes his way over to verify his hypothesis only to be confronted by the electronic lock installed many years ago. The smart lock features a, until just now, very handy auto-locking mechanism that ensures the door will lock itself five minutes after being unlocked, thus being of no help in deducing the correct version of events from the previous evening.
In this moment Paul is reminded of one of his favourite problem-solving principles, Occam's razor, confronted with two possible explanations for a given situation, the simpler one is most likely to be correct. That was some great tea. With this mystery seemingly solved, perhaps he can squeeze a couple more hours of sleep from the morning. Paul slides beneath his cool covers, turns over on to his stomach and falls asleep almost instantly, oblivious to the now unfolded laundry strewn across his bedroom floor after being violently cast from atop his comforter.