You’re not going to like this, she says, at all. In fact, you might flip. But there’s a fair chance that you’re not real.
I bite my lip, which is my typical response to anything that I find more than a little of a stretch. Her name is Katrina, and she’s been coming here for the past six or seven weeks. Most of the time, she’s quiet. Hushed, even. The only sound out of her is just the pages in the pop culture magazines she flips while she waits on me to call her name. She must be the only one who reads those magazines. I’d been thinking for years of cancelling the subscriptions, considering how everything has gone digital these days.
Well? She asks, her eyes screwing up in quizzical fashion.
I—I respectfully disagree, I reply. These words are just what comes to my mind as soon as I realize she expects me to somehow rationalize her belief. I clear my throat before saying, I’m pretty sure I would know if I wasn’t real. You know what Descartes said. All about thinking and therefore being.
Yeah, except that doesn’t matter. How many other people have I seen here in this waiting room, reading the magazines, watching that damn guppy in that damn fish bowl, and making depressions in the chair fabric all this time?
I’m not you, so how would I know?
The answer’s zero.
I’m the only one who ever goes here.
So there’s a couple of possibilities. Either you’ve made this place just for me, just to get my taxes analyzed and fixed and frauded—
That’s not a real word—
–but that wouldn’t make much sense, would it? To spend all that money for only one customer, and it’s not like I pay you much.
I feel the distinct urge to ask her to leave pass through my mind. But then the pages and pages of customer service protocol that I’ve read in my time replace those instincts, and I tell myself that no matter how strange Katrina’s beliefs may be, there’s nothing in them that will harm her business with me.
Or else, she says, a malignant glint in her eyes, you’re not real. This place isn’t real. Those shitty magazines aren’t real. That guppy isn’t real. This is all just me trying to soothe myself. Going to you, because you’re the only person I think I can trust.
I don’t think this place warrants any paranoia, but I keep my mouth clamped.
So this is just a big fantasy of mine, she says, and as soon as I walk out of here, it will all go poof.
Poof, I repeat. Not because I like the word, but because it sounds too real when she says it.
She walks over the doorway leading out to the hallway. The door is shut. Not locked shut, though, and she swings it open.
You really want to disappear? She asks.
I—I really don’t know what to tell you, I say. I like my life, and something tells me that nothing’s going to happen to it when you walk out.
She raises a foot.
I don’t bat an eye. Go ahead and leave, I say. Just be sure to call or email me so we can reschedule a new session.
Katrina falters, or maybe I just wish I saw her faltering. Now she’s the one biting her lip.
But then her foot goes out the door, and the rest of her follows.
I look at her. I wait for a reaction. She’s going to apologize for those antics. Or else she’ll reveal what’s really going on with her after a dramatic fall to the floor with tears flash-flooding out of her eyes.
My ears feel like they’re screaming, the way they search for the slightest word out of her. All I can hear is my breath getting shorter and more desperate.
Then Katrina smiles. “Ha!” she says.
So she’s joking. This was all a prank—
Right before she turns and leaves (I guess no sincere apologies are in order, after all): “I knew I was right.”