Water cuts through the rising steam. My tea bag flips and flops like a fish on land. The little sand timer, four minutes draining away, a gift from…Who? My—no, not mom. I…I don’t remember. An office party I think, no. Something at work though. A gift exchange—white elephant I think. The sand is drained. Two sugar cubes, plop-plop. Although they don’t look much like cubes. The white ones do, but I never liked those. Too perfect. I use these rough cut ones. More like little lumps than cubes.
Long night. Must have been. Can’t remember what I did. Head feels fuzzy, full of fluff. Don’t remember drinking. Let’s see, how did I get here, right here. Let’s go back. I…Well I came downstairs. I must have because I’m in my kitchen. But I can’t remember doing that. Okay, now hang on. I remember making tea. Putting the kettle…No the kettle was already in my hand. It whistled, right? It must have. Of course, the water was steaming. Why can’t I remember anything before…Now hang on, hang on.
The room spins. Colors swirl like a child’s finger painting. Then it isn’t just colors, but the walls bending, flowing like molten wax. My counters, the table, the chair I’m in—when did I sit?—all melting. All drawn down, down, down. Pulled inward. All is in a vacuum. I’m not falling, there’s no where to fall. Everything hangs, suspended, yet pulled down, down, down towards a point of light the width of a pixel. A single pinprick in the black-on-black canvas of night.
From that point rise whispers. An ancient promise.
“Hey," George taps my arm. “You alright?”
I’m in the break-room, the electric kettle gurgling, stream wafting from its spout. When did I get here? The first thing I think to do is look at my hand. Even before I do I know it won’t be right, I can feel it. Not physically—although that doesn’t feel right either—but inside. It isn’t whole. And when I look through the hole in my palm my feeling is confirmed. “I’m alright.” I tell George.
“Finish up your tea, or whatever you’re making,” points at the kettle. “We’re talking about the Miller proposal.”
“Your water’s boiling.”
“Thanks.” I say and George turns to go, pauses a second. “Oh, I almost forgot. You left this on my desk.” He sets a sand timer on the counter.
My hand looks like one of those pictures of a hurricane taken from space. I look through the eye, see the timer, move my hand, see the kettle, my mug, the box of loose tea.
I take a sip, set my tumbler on the park bench. A small gathering of birds start at the movement, but return to eating the crust of bread they’ve pulled from a nearby garbage can. I hear whispers. Promises, threats, curses, cries, pleas, anything to get my attention. I take the lid off my mug and tendrils of steam rise, wrap around my face, and pull me in.
Drowning is awful, drowning in near-boiling tea is worse. I swim to the surface, drag myself onto the beach, and spit. Crawling things fall from my mouth, wriggle their way into the sand. I lay there, my skin is mush. Birds come and pick at me, eat flaps of tissue, peck at exposed muscle.
I turn in my bed, cough, wake and gag. Sheets twisted around my throat cut my air off, I claw myself free. Take long, deep, breaths. What the hell? Look at my hand, see my room’s door. Blink and try again. Now I see my hand, whole. Close my fingers, open them. No hole.
Downstairs the water in my kettle is boiling. Did I put it…But then why am I still in bed? I already know this is a dream, but what I don’t know is who the dreamer is. Me, here, in my room, or the one downstairs standing in front of a cup of tea?