Fiction – “Theft of Dreams” by Tim Ford
When they were born, people were keen to find similarities.
“He’s got her nose!”
“She’s got the same hair!”
“They both have the same eyes!”
But truth be told, they were not the kind of twins that looked the same. For starters, he was a he and she was a she. Still, he and she were “they” and “we” and behaved like they meant it. He got hurt and she cried. She spoke in riddles and he understood. He knew her locker combination and she knew his email password. She got kissed in third grade and he could taste the sensation.
He dreamt, and she saw.
“We’re very proud,” the old man puffed. “To honour a writer of great distinction today. A woman who surely needs no introduction… Gloria Alexander!”
The auditorium reverberated with the polite applause of the cultured and their backers. Gloria stood up from her table before the stage, her black velvet dress shimmering, and strode with confident steps to the podium. The beefy old fellow who had introduced her was red in the face from the exertion of delivering his speech and looked like he was going to give himself a heart attack from clapping his arthritic hands.
Victor had a low opinion to begin with when it came to critics, but the old man was a special case. How many weeks ago had that same old man, puffing at his computer (no, he was too old for one of those, maybe he had a typewriter – no still too old, maybe a chisel and hammer), delivered a scathing review of Victor’s There Stands a House in Millarville? Yet here he was, clasping hands with Victor’s flesh and blood as if he could brush over the awkwardness like so much bothersome ink. Bastard.
Gloria, meanwhile, was glowing. Victor found it in himself to clap as well, charitably. Hell, it was charity that he was willingly granting his presence to the proceeding at large. All of these people, throwing themselves at his sister’s feet to administer the sweet pedicure of artistic incest. It was enough to make him vomit. On the other hand, she looked so happy.
The award was oversized in her tiny hands. Victor imagined his own hands, by now grown much larger than Gloria’s, around the sculpted glass trophy. If the award was large for her, it would have probably fit perfectly into the curve of his grip.
“Thank you,” Gloria said. “Where else to begin, but thank you. To be picked out of a group of such amazingly talented authors… Lucas Kane, Hardeep Singh, Lucy Parson, Lucy!” Gloria waved down into the audience. Victor craned his neck in the direction of his sister’s gaze, to see Lucy Parson (he presumed), puffy-eyed and flushed, waving back.
“I cannot begin to tell you all,” Gloria continued. “How honoured I am. This is very humbling, very exhilarating. And I owe so many people so much.”
Victor leaned back in his chair and waited.
“First off, I have to thank the National Writers’ Association, for their generous support of my book. Secondly, my publicist, my agent, Norma. My parents, and of course Victor, my twin brother.”
Here a great tide of applause went up, and Victor reluctantly acknowledged it with a half bow.
“Victor, of course, hasn’t had a very easy time of it lately,” Gloria said, and Victor thought to himself Here it comes… “But he has always been there for me, helping my writing while honing his own. And I know there will come a day when we trade places, Victor, and you’ll be up here and I’ll get to be thanked by you.”
The audience loved it. The big sister (by two minutes) propping up her brother and, better yet, encouraging him to (yes!) try, try again. Jolly good show. Victor waited for the applause to go up again and for focus to divert back to Gloria. His twin looked away from him for an instant and he was out the door, already pulling his smokes out from his jacket pocket.
Their parents were insistent that they make other friends, but they had each other and didn’t want anyone else. When they were separated, they were silent and sullen, stoic and resistant to any outside influence. Their teachers complained of their lack of involvement, until the breaking point was reached and their parents made efforts to place them in the same classes. There were girls teams and boys teams, and they refused them both in favour of co-ed.
“We” they always said.
We are going to the park. We want to watch TV. Even, on one strange occasion, we have a tummy ache.
Then little by little, without any warning, it began to fade. They continued to be around each other at all times, held hands, spoke in their own language, but bit by bit something deeper and older than either of them pulled them apart.
It was a small thing, to everyone else.
He started a journal.
She asked to see it.
He said no.
Victor exhaled a long stream of smoke into the cool night air surrounding the convention centre. The street was empty in either direction. Off in the distance, he could hear the traffic of the city all around. For the moment, though, the only source of human activity in the immediate vicinity was right behind him, back where Gloria was reaping glory.
A door opened and shut behind him. Victor didn’t bother turning. He already knew Gloria was standing there, black dress flickering in the light wind.
“It’s cold out here,” she said, coming up to stand beside him.
“Not bad,” he answered. “Kind of that awkward period, halfway between one and another.”
She nodded. “Why are you out here all alone, Victor?”
“Too hot in there. Too noisy.”
“You can’t fool me.”
Victor snorted. He knew that. They both knew it. No fooling each other, not ever. “Can’t stand most of those people,” he said.
Gloria smiled. “Goddamned Pritchard.”
“Gave you the award.”
“Wrote that review about you.”
They both fell silent a while. Then, Gloria said, “There’s more.”
Victor flicked his cigarette into the night.
“It’s not Pritchard. Not the people. It’s me. What’s going on, Victor?”
Victor didn’t answer. Gloria relented and headed for the door. His voice stopped her just as she placed her hand on the handle. “Did you ever sneak a peak at my journal, Gloria?”
Gloria turned back in confusion. “What?”
“My journal. You know I used to keep one.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well. Tonight you won an award. And I’m happy for you, I really am. But at the same time, there’s this damn little part of me, a sneaky, nasty little part that can’t help thinking ‘that could’ve been mine, that should’ve been mine.’ Now don’t get mad-” he added quickly, seeing Gloria tense up. “I think jealousy’s understandable. But…it’s more than that. See, I had…this thing. This thing I wrote down once. And your story, well…it just…” He trailed off.
“What?” Gloria demanded. “What?”
“It’s exactly like what I’d written down, that’s what!” He blurted. “So you tell me, Gloria, because ever since I first read your damn book, it’s been on my mind! Did you look? All those years ago, and you took this long to print it up? Did you read my journal?”
Gloria was silent. Victor stared at her, and in that instant of exchanged posture the twins appeared as alike as the faces of Janus.
He looked into her.
She looked back out.
He knew. She never read it.
“I never read it,” she said, and he knew it was the truth. “Goodbye, Victor. Mom and dad are going. I think you’d better leave too.”
She went inside.
He watched her back, then took out his car keys and headed for the parking lot.
The dream was of a woman in solitude. She had tried to kill herself. Everyone knew it: her friends, her family, her coworkers. He was an observer of it all, a distant ghost drifting as the consciousness does in the land of slumber. Disconnected from the story yet inextricably tied to it, he followed her.
She was heartbroken. Everyone around her acted now as if she was made of fine china. The attention she had so coveted was now hers, but not in the form she had desired.
He woke up.
He took out his journal, and he wrote it down.
Victor was having a nightmare. As soon as he got home, he went straight to his bed and collapsed in exhaustion, fully clothed and stinking of tobacco.
In his nightmare, he stood in an empty street at night. There was a conspicuous absence of streetlights, and the shoulder dropped sharply off into a dense wood. He turned and turned in slow circles on the centre line of the asphalt, casting about for some definition.
His ears found it; a point of focus. Coming from behind him, the sound of a distant engine. Then came a terrible shriek of brakes being applied in a failed attempt to halt a suicidal progress. The sound of shattering glass, twisting metal and punctured life resounded in the hollow dreamscape of Victor’s mind.
Above it all, he thought he could hear Gloria’s voice, calling his name. Again and again, in a desperate siren call: “Victor, Victor….”
He woke up with a sheen of sweat on his brow.
“Gloria,” he said to his empty apartment. Victor fumbled for his phone, and tried her cell, with no answer. He tried his parents, and they told him that she must be asleep by then, given the time. He tried her agent, who told him that Gloria had indeed left the convention but had since contacted no one to reassure them of her safe arrival.
Two minutes later, Victor was on the road.
She had it in her head that he was keeping things from her. It all stemmed from the journal, now a growing worry of scribbles and diagrams replete with poems and dream symbols. He never let her look at it, and she was beginning to resent him for it.
The he of the we was acting alone.
She responded in kind by trying all the more to be connected to him, but a wall had been thrown up in defiance of their shared space. Intentionally or not, he had severed them.
From then on, it became a contest. She would bring home a friend. He would see a movie. She would find a special place to be alone. He would let her go there without comment.
He dreamt of the woman, and the town.
“How did you find her, Mr. Alexander?”
Victor eyed the man in his white coat suspiciously. He didn’t appreciate the line of questioning, and answered with a half-truth. “I know my sister better than anyone. There was this place we used to go to, as kids. I figured she’d gone there. Just a feeling, that’s all. Luck.”
The man of science seemed satisfied with that response. He nodded to himself and made some pointless marks on his clipboard.
“Can I see my sister now?” Victor said.
“Of course.” The doctor led Victor through the hospital to the recovery ward. “Before I do show you to her though, Mr. Alexander…you have to understand, the damage to her legs is extensive. She may end up living in a wheelchair her whole life. Or she could be up and doing jumping jacks this time next week. These things are very hard to predict.”
Victor nodded stupidly. Gloria, forever wheelchair bound? It was a thought too gruesome to speculate on.
The doctor reached a small room and held the door open for Victor. “I’ll let you have five minutes, but then I must insist that Gloria be taken back for some x-rays.”
Victor squeezed by him. Gloria lay in a harness, tilted back with her legs raised up in the air. Just hours ago she had strode so confidently to the stage at the auditorium, and now here she was on display like a turkey at thanksgiving.
“Hi,” he managed.
Gloria opened her eyes and found him. “Hi,” she said.
“Are you in pain?”
“Not really. I think they have me doped pretty good. It’s not all bad, eh?” She managed a weak smile.
“Gloria,” he said, and broke down completely. “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. I should have been there for you.”
“Victor,” she said. “You were. If it hadn’t been for you, they might not have found me for days. I shouldn’t have been driving out there in the middle of nowhere. That ditch…it was just so sudden. I didn’t even have time to think-”
“Don’t. Don’t even consider it.” He took her hand in his and held it tight. They were both quiet, the moment of physical contact reconnecting them to the days of they.
“Victor,” she said. “How did you find me? I meant what I just said. That was the middle of nowhere. I was just so stressed out about this award thing. Just kept driving.”
He bit his lip. “I…”
She stroked his hand. “Please. How did you find me?”
“I knew,” he said. “I had this…dream. And I just knew, Gloria. I just knew. You remember, don’t you? We were kids. You’d get hurt, I’d cry. Or I’d start a sentence, you’d finish it. What can I say? I just…you’re my sister. My twin sister. I knew. And I don’t mean I had a gut feeling. I mean: I knew. Without any doubt.”
Gloria looked into her brother’s eyes. Slowly, she let his hand drop from hers. She looked away.
“Gloria,” Victor said, pained. “You believe me, don’t you? Please.”
When she spoke, it was from some dark and suppressed place. “I believe you. I do.”
“Then what’s wrong? Tell me. What’s wrong?”
Gloria turned her face back to his and there were tears staining her cheeks. “I know exactly how you felt.”
Victor felt his heart constrict. “Gloria? You…did it happen to you? When did it happen to you? A dream? Is that what you mean? A dream-” He caught himself. A dream. She never had to read his journal.
A knock at the door broke the spell that was descending like night on the tiny hospital room. The doctor entered, followed by a nurse who brought forth a wheelchair. “Time to go for your x-rays, Ms. Alexander,” the doctor said.
Victor was too stunned to move. The nurse and doctor quickly and effectively took Gloria up in their arms like a sack of potatoes and heaved her into the chair. They made some noises of a conciliatory nature in Victor’s direction and started to wheel Gloria away.
“Wait!” He shouted after them. “Wait, Gloria! My dream! You took my dream?”
The nurse and the doctor, at the end of the hall, looked back in confusion. Then, in a horrible instant, Gloria turned her head in the seat to cast one final glance back at her twin.
He looked into her.
She looked back out.
Then slowly, mercifully, the white doors of the hospital closed between them.
About the Author
Tim Ford is a 24 year old writer from Calgary, Canada, currently living in Toronto. He spends his work day in the theatre industry as an office drone, and at night tears his hair out putting words to paper. To date, he has had four stories published, and six productions of his plays. Theft of Dreams is his first foray into the science fiction world, and hopefully marks the beginning of a long career.